Thanks For The Memory!
Nobody Said I Couldn’t Do It, So I Did It!
By Kim Carillo
Ahh the joy of youth. When everything and anything seems possible. I fell into my first job at the BBC in London when I was just 17. It wasn’t a career I had planned in any shape or form. In fact, it’s my mum I have to thank for this quirk of fate. She had spotted an ad in one of the national newspapers announcing that the BBC was recruiting and suggested I apply. So, without really thinking about it, I hopped a train to London, filled in some forms and did a couple of interviews. Before I got home the BBC had called my parents and offered me a job. It was a great job and, in retrospect, I wonder how the heck that happened! Suddenly I was working in television and, as it turns out, I loved it. A couple of years later came my dream job. I was19. It was the biggest show on TV and everyone wanted to be a part of it so, when I landed a position working for the show’s star, Michael Parkinson, I couldn’t wait to get started. ‘Parky” as he was affectionately known (now Sir Michael) hosted the prime time talk show and during the course of his career he interviewed over 2.000 of the world’s biggest stars. I say stars rather than celebrities because that’s what they were back then. By the time I arrived on the scene, he already had an impressive lineup of Hollywood icons under his belt. Astaire, Kelly, Crosby, Bacall, John Wayne, Richard Burton, Bette Davis… .the list went on and on. The moment these stars set foot in the studio, shrouded in mystery, it was an exhilarating almost magical moment! You have to remember the days of celebrities appearing everywhere to plug their latest movie, album, book had not yet kicked in. You rarely, if ever, heard someone like Fred Astaire chatting about himself. By the time I joined the team, Redford, DeNiro, Caine, Mirren, Gibson, Cher, McCartney, Midler, Manilow and Madonna were just some of the guests appearing each week. I guess Mike’s American equivalent would have been Johnny Carson. One of my many roles was to make sure the guests were taken care of…. escorting them to hair and make up … getting them to the studio sound and lighting checks and so on. Sitting in on rehearsals for music spots was one of my favourite things to do. Observing stars like Elton and Bette Midler (in her rollers sans make up) rehearse their numbers in what was an otherwise empty studio was exciting and such a privilege. I also got to witness a few Hollywood tricks of the trade in hair and make up too. Barry Manilow in a full set of hot rollers is not a sight I will ever forget but, I have to say, he looked pretty damned good in them! On occasion Hollywood actresses would arrive at the studios almost unrecognisable but, within hours, they’d appear on set, the glamorous icons we knew them to be. Women may not have had access to Botox back then but I soon discovered that these pros had their own box of tricks! One major Hollywood actress arrived in makeup and announced, “I do my own face darling!” And my goodness she did! While she unpacked the contents of an enormous make up bag, we started chatting. “You know, the whole thing about Clark Gable having bad breath was a myth darling. It simply wasn’t true and I should know.” As she kept the anecdotes coming, Marilyn Monroe, love affairs of the rich and famous and so on… I was spellbound, but couldn’t help being distracted by the visuals. Sticking what appeared to be a piece of very fine gauze under her chin I couldn’t help gawping as she pulled the two ends tightly into a knot on the top of her head. In a single manoeuvre she’d successfully annihilated her jowls! Without drawing breath, she pulled on a wig and Bingo! She looked a million dollars and twenty years younger! It was the perfect DIY face lift as long as you didn’t get too close! The night Muhammed Ali was on the show I brought my dad, a huge boxing fan, to the green room to meet the champ. It was just Ali, his giant of a bodyguard, dad and myself. Dad and Ali struck up an easy conversation going over fights they’d loved when about ten minutes in Ali asked…. “So Frank, who is your all time favourite boxer?” There was a dramatic pause, as dad mulled this over before replying with a smile: “That would be Sugar Ray Robinson.” You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. I felt slightly lightheaded as Ali regarded dad through narrowed eyes, before bursting out laughing and admitting: ‘Yeah, mine too!” Most of the year was spent working in London but for three or four months we would live in Australia where the show was produced in Sydney. Mike was an even bigger star there and that’s when my job turned into a 24/7 role. Overnight I found myself travelling first class in planes, appearing on the front pages of newspapers with my boss, being driven around by a chauffeur and living in the Penthouse Suite of an Australian up market hotel, The Sebel Town House. It was a hotel known for its discretion, which is probably why the place was always filled to the rafters with celebrity guests like David Bowie. If those walls could talk! Elton John and Renata were staying there when they got married nearby returning for the reception. Their surprise marriage caused quite a stir. Mike and Elton’s publicist, who was almost as famous as the stars she represented, was a bridesmaid on the big day! Prior to leaving the hotel she told me, “darling… I look like a pink swordfish” referring to her bridesmaid gown! It was all a little nutty to say the least! Suddenly, Sydney was mobbed with British journalists, some of whom had jumped on a plane from London with nothing more than a toothbrush! One of the most surprised at this turn of events was Elton's pal Rod Stewart. His congratulatory telegram read, “You may still be standing, but we’re all on the f***ing floor.” I certainly learned a few life lessons during that period. I came to realise that when you are a star at the top of your game as Mike was at that time, both you and your assistant (me) cannot spend a single penny. Everyone wants to give you “stuff” whether you want it or not and just when you need it least. Even cars were arriving at the hotel for us to use free of charge. We couldn’t buy a drink or a theatre ticket… everything was on the house. But boy can that come crashing down when suddenly your ratings drop a few points. It can be quite shocking how quickly your “friends” vanish! Over the years people have often asked me who was the most memorable celebrity I have worked with and it’s impossible to pin it down to one or even two. They were all pretty amazing and sometimes surprising in their own way. But I would have to say that the most surreal experience involved Hollywood legend Bob Hope! He’d flown into Sydney to be a special guest on the show for which our super talented Executive Producer had written some new fun lines for the classic “Thanks For The Memory”. Yours truly was holding them up on big white cards so that Bob could read them. Well… he was 80! After the show we all celebrated in the Green Room. Clinking glasses Bob puffed on his cigar and said, “Mike, let’s take these gals dancing!” It was fantastic! I was one of the “gals” and it felt like we were in one of his movies! Off we all went to a nearby nightclub where fellow customers were doing double takes convinced they’d had one too many cocktails. Bob Hope was not someone you imagined turning up at a Sydney nightclub! His energy levels were extraordinary and as we headed to the dance floor I couldn’t help but laugh at the craziness of the situation. When he asked what I was laughing at I shouted in his ear…. “Bob, don’t take this the wrong way but the last time I saw you you were in black and white and now here we are dancing together!” Without missing a beat he replied, “Well sweetheart… here I am in glorious technicolour! How about that?” Yes how about that indeed? And to think that none of it would have happened had it not been for my mum spotting an advert in the paper for a job that at first glance I wasn’t really qualified to do or have the experience to turn into a success. Turns out it’s a good thing I didn’t know I couldn’t do it, or I never would have done it. And what I’d have missed out on was a lot!