The Hollywood Starlets are forming an eye-opening lineup of actresses
and models for a team that will mix knockouts and strikeouts on
a tour intended to bring Hollywood to small-town America.
Something unusual was taking place at a park in Woodland Hills. Softball tryouts were literally stopping traffic on Shoup Avenue, as men who couldn't care less about the sport were screeching into the parking lot and volunteering batting tips to nervous hopefuls. Rookies who were more concerned with broken nails than brokenbats were getting advice on eyeliner, cellulite and hair spray from veterans nobody would describe as grizzled.
And a bubbly blonde who plays a lady wrestler on TV named Tara the Southern Belle was discussing Super Bowl XXI.
"I know a New York team won it," she said without conviction. "I think it was the Jets."
Softball ability and an intimate knowledge of sports were not requirements for the 37 models and actresses who showed up one warm Sunday to try out for the Hollywood Starlets, a Valley-based all-woman team that will visit 16 to 20 cities during the summer months when Hollywood production takes a break.
"It's hard to rank the importance we put on certain things, but I'd say looks, talent and softball ability in that order," said Lori Tideman, the Starlets' road manager who owns the team with Ben Bernard, owner of the New York Yankees' Double-A farm team in Albany, N.Y.
Tideman, called L.T., is a 23-year-old dynamo, 1984's Miss San Fernando Valley and former Canoga Park High twirler who manages to juggle modeling with school (she's a senior at Cal State Northridge) and a part-time career selling Mary Kay cosmetics (she just won a burgundy Pontiac Firenza).
For the previous four summers, Tideman played and road-managed the Hollywood Cover Girls but decided to form her own team when the Cover Girls management, she said, became more interested in showing off their players' bodies than their personalities. Every year the uniforms became smaller and tighter, which made it exceedingly difficult for opposing players to keep their eye on the ball.
"I want the Starlets to still be glamorous but have a wholesome All-America look," she said. "I'm looking for girls who are fun and sophisticated. People in these small towns come to our games with their families to see a little bit of Hollywood, but we want to get away from T and A."
"Yeah, riiiiight," said a skeptical Steve Katz, who had nearly cracked up his car on Shoup Avenue when the sun glinted off a Spandex leotard. "These girls are knockouts." Katz and a buddy, Dave Goldman, detoured from their Sunday drive and were watching the tryouts behind a chain-link fence. Not even the Dodgers affected Goldman this way. All he could say was "aaaaaay!"
Katz and Goldman were among a few dozen spectators who wandered in and out of the park during the four-hour tryout that was organized by Tideman like a well-oiled beauty pageant. First, the women were "interviewed" in front of five judges, including Hollywood producers and casting directors. Questions were along the lines of "Why do you want to play for the Starlets?" and not "Who backs up the catcher on a play at the plate?"
Sitting at a long red table festooned with balloons, the judges were looking for women with personality, energy and spontaneity who will need the ability to wing it during games. When they go out on tour, the Starlets will play local male celebrity teams prior to minor league games. Like the Harlem Globetrotters, they will entertain fans with shtick and, like the Globetrotters, they will never lose.
"There's no sliding, diving or bunting," Tideman said, "and I can guarantee we'll win every game."
On the road, the Starlets also must make appearances on local radio and television shows as well as at banquets and shopping centers. They've got to be troupers, which is why Tideman requires them to have professional acting or modeling experience.
"Recognize me? I did the Sine-Off commercials on TV," said Virginia Watson, enlivening the interviews with a breathless Marilyn Monroe imitation. "I think it would be great to be a Starlet. I think they'd like me on the team. I'm a lot of fun."
But can she hit? "I'm an athlete," she said later, standing behind the backstop. "I have a brother who's in the Kansas City farm system. I was a cheerleader at USC. But I'm also an actress. I can act like I can do anything. I'll act like a hitter. I haven't gone to the batting cages to practice, but I know I can come out here and kick ass."
When a woman would finish the interview, she'd grab her glove (perhaps borrowed from her kid brother) and trot out to the dirt infield. Hitting grounders was L.T.'s father, Bill, called Mr. T by the girls. Tall with white hair and glasses, Tideman has been coaching his kids for years, starting with his son in T-ball. He will coach the Starlets every Sunday until they go on the road in June.
"We'll start with the basics, like how to put a glove on," he said, perhapsexaggerating.