"When I heard they were looking for a Fay Wray to ride on the King Kong float, I said nobody was going to play that part but me," croaked Suzanne Trimble, still hoarse from her New Year's Day exertions--screaming and squirming the five miles of the Rose Parade route in the clutches of the monster-size gorilla.
"I've always been a fan of the movie. When I was a child, my little sister and I used to pretend we were in Kong's hand and shake our hair and scream," said the 22-year-old actress whose antics 35 feet up on American Honda's award-winning float delighted the crowds last week.
"My father (actor Lawrence Trimble) even bought Fay Wray's floorboards for his house at an auction last year and that just added to my determination," she said.
She got the part when a friend who was working on the float passed along her photograph to float creator Rick Chapman, along with an assurance that she wasn't scared of heights. "It was just exhilarating. Feeling the energy of all those thousands in the crowd below roaring away, the adrenaline shot through my body. It was one of the most exciting feelings I've ever had."
Trimble has found, to her surprise, that her exploits have made her something of a celebrity. "People have been coming up to me on the street and in cafes saying, 'Aren't you the King Kong girl?' I never expected a reaction like that."
Friends are saying it could be a big break for her. After all, not every aspiring actress gets the chance to perform in front of a live audience of 1 million or so--with another 350 million watching on TV. And playing Kong's girl didn't exactly harm Jessica Lange's career.
But for someone who started the new year up in the air, Suzanne Trimble is a young woman with her feet firmly on the ground.
"If something comes out of this, then I'm all for it. But I only did it for the fun of it. I wanted the thrill of being in Kong's hand."
Her refusal to get carried away could have something to do with the memory of her last "big break," which turned into a fiasco.
Having made her cinematic debut in "Party Animal" ("a movie I'd rather forget") and then a lead role in "Claire," a romantic movie shot in Austria, Trimble was picked out by shipping tycoon Mahmoud Sipra to co-star with Trevor Howard and Peter Ustinov in his production of "The Khyber Horse."
"The movie was to be shot in Pakistan but we were brought to London for the first rehearsals. For three weeks I was treated like some sort of a star--the best hotels, chauffeur-driven limousines, fittings for gorgeous clothes. This is it, I thought, the big time."
Then the bubble burst.
Sipra was heavily in debt, the bailiffs moved in, the movie was scrapped and Trimble discovered she was stranded 6,000 miles from home.
"Sipra hadn't even paid for the air ticket he'd given me and I was warned I'd be arrested at the airport if I tried to use it!"
Disillusioned with the movie business, she stayed in London for six months, modeling and performing in experimental theater before returning to Hollywood and her family in April 1985. (Trimble, born in France to a British mother and an American father, grew up in Kent, England and moved with her family to Hollywood when she was 14.)
Since her return, she's been sharpening her acting skills with theater training, doing some TV work and living up to her family nickname, Cezanne, by painting. In fact, an exhibition of her work is scheduled at UCLA's International Center later this year.
Next month she begins her return to the big screen when shooting starts for "The Devil's Darling," a World War II movie directed by Bruce Morgan, in which she plays a psychic artist.
This time around she's not expecting anything.
"I was shockingly innocent when I first came here--from convent school in Kent to Beverly Hills High School.
"I've learned that there are some less-than-ethical people in this business who expect you to compromise yourself. I'm not prepared to do that. I'm not looking for stardom--I want to express myself artistically and experience new things."
In the last few months, "experiencing new things" has meant tightrope walking, learning African dance, walking on stilts and, of course, riding a giant gorilla.
"I'll miss that big ape," she said, taking a last look at Kong, who was about to be shipped off to a Honda display in Japan. "We had a good relationship!"