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POISED ON THE BLINK OF FAME : Or, My Two-Second Role on 'Cagney & Lacey'

January 12, 1986|KAY MILLS

Maybe you caught my act on TV the other night. More likely you didn't. Andy Warhol says everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. But, Andy, times have changed. Our moment in the spotlight is down to about two seconds. And I just had mine.

For those of you who just tuned in, I resisted the lure of Tinseltown and TeeVeeland for years. Not for me the power lunches, the ratings games, the image (and pool) to maintain. Then came a chance to bid on a walk-on part on "Cagney & Lacey" in an auction benefiting the Downtown Women's Center on Los Angeles Street.

Visions of Emmys danced in my head. I'd bid. I'd play a crusading lawyer or a cop on a tough case. I'd be discovered without ever eating at Schwab's. I'd star in a spinoff. I bid. But I was up against high rollers. The parts--eventually two were offered--went for $2,200 each. But not to me. I was disconsolate. Fame had fled.

Executive Producer Barney Rosenzweig came to my rescue. He saw my article in this very space. He said a walk-on was no big deal. There are "no lines, no 'star turns,' no bands playing Irving Berlin or even Stephen Sondheim." But if I didn't want to take his word for it, I should come anyway "should you find yourself shopping for a pair of rhinestone sunglasses." He didn't have to ask twice.

So I showed up at the set off Avenue 26. I had my name on my trailer door. No star, though; that should have made me suspicious. I elected to be a bag lady. After all, the women of Skid Row were responsible for my big break. Lucille Ball had nothing on me in the costume department: baggy sweater, two pairs of trousers, threadbare coat, gloves and tennis shoes with holes in them and the canvas fishing hat Henry Fonda must have worn in "On Golden Pond."

It was great fun, even just watching. They shot three scenes that I got to walk through. And through and through, when somebody forgot a line. I met Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly and Al Waxman and a very nice young actor who said if I wrote anything more, I should remember that his name was David Eisen, E-I-S-E-N. I've got the photos to prove I was there.

A good thing, too. Came the night "my" episode was airing, from the hillsides of San Francisco and Silver Lake to my cousin's house in Martinsburg, W. Va., whole families were poised by the tube. "There she is," one friend yelled, and there I went. Two seconds of blurry airtime behind a startled Chris Cagney. Now I know how actors feel when their scenes end up on the cutting room floor. Now I know how my friend felt after she dug up tons of TV footage for use in "Urban Cowboy" and then it wasn't used. She moved to Zimbabwe.

Many walk on, but few are seen. We began to wonder who were the folks who did get their mugs clearly on camera. Whose uncle was the guy in the fedora following Cagney and Lacey down a city street, and whose brother-in-law was the guy in the white jacket in the hospital cafeteria? What tony charity got money from the the guy in the background in the French restaurant?

Reviews were mixed. Several people watched a Hallmark special instead. One got a phone call at 10:12 p.m. and missed my debut. Another said I shouldn't base a career on my new visibility. Four recognized me from the hat. Martinsburg has not been heard from yet, and no agents have called. At least Howard Rosenberg couldn't pan me.

I should stick to what I know. After all, my colleague Frank del Olmo was on the evening news that same night talking about the City Council election. And he was clearly visible, even without a hat.

Lest I sound ungrateful, I'm not. Cagney and Lacey still would be proud of me. I didn't flinch and I didn't cry. That was show biz. Barney was right. "A walk-on part is just that," he had told me. "One walks on; then, hopefully, off." And back to reality.

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