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Talent Agent Hopes to Guide Her Clients Into Blossoming Careers

August 31, 1987|WENDY HASKETT

LA JOLLA — The elegantly old-fashioned paneled elevator that rises from the lobby to the reception area has carried jugglers and impersonators, break-dancing acts, people who can talk with 20 different voices, and beautiful young girls yearning to become the next Christie Brinkley.

They go to the offices of talent agent Bea Lily. Talent agents are a rare breed in San Diego.

"When I started, 10 years ago, there were five talent agents in San Diego, and 388 in Los Angeles," she said. "Now there are 3,000 in Los Angeles, and still only five of us here!"

Lily was at her desk. Books containing photographs of clients covered half of it. Behind her, two dome-shaped windows framed a picture-postcard view of summer sky and the red-tiled roofs of Girard Avenue.

Although many talent agents in Los Angeles handle only a few clients--"Sometimes, if he or she has a million dollar property, it's only one ," Lily said--in San Diego it's sensible, she believes, to diversify. She handles every type of talent, from novelty acts to models.

"Right now I've 175 names on my books, but I'm only actively involved with about 25. In this business they come and go a lot!"

Chez Reed, a young singer who screens applicants for Lily, put his head around the door, at this point, to say that yes, they certainly do.

"Every day is different. We're never sure what's going to happen," he said.

"Sometimes they dance through the door. Or they come in singing," Lily added. "One young black puppeteer--he's currently working in a hotel in Long Beach--lugged in four life-sized puppets, attached them to a frame, stood in the middle, and did an imitation of the Jackson Five."

Where does she find jobs for all these people?

"Mmm . . . Sitmar cruises . . . hotels in the Virgin Islands. Something different comes in every day. Earlier this morning Channel 51 called, looking for an animal act, and then a jewelry store in Horton Plaza called looking for look-alikes of the cast of 'Dynasty' to model jewels in a September fashion show."

When asked if she has any look-alikes who resemble the cast of Dynasty, any Joan Collinses or Linda Evanses, Lily said that unfortunately she doesn't.

"But we do have a Burt Reynolds and a Don Johnson."

Lily finds she often develops a feeling of affection for her novelty acts, but it is finding talent for commercials, she admits, that pays most of the rent. Commercials are big money and the lure of it brings many stories of human drama up in the elevator.

"One day a young Irish woman came in with two little boys, aged 4 and 5. She hated her American husband, she told me, and she was hoping the 5-year-old could make enough money from a commercial so that she could take the children and run."

The 5-year-old was a pudgy, shy little boy, Lily said.

"One of my own children is shy, and my heart went out to the poor little kid . . . it was so obvious he didn't have either the looks or the personality the people who make commercials are always hunting for."

"But all the time I was interviewing him his 4-year-old brother, Timothy, was sitting in that chair over there . . . " she said, indicating a rocking chair by the window. "He kept pulling faces at me, trying to make me laugh. He was covered in freckles. He was a natural!"

The outcome of that story, Lily said, was that Timothy made a commercial for McDonald's, earned $5,000 in a single weekend, and the mother flew back to Ireland with her sons right after cashing the check.

The percentage Lily takes of her talent's fees is set by the unions and the state labor commissioner. A national commercial, she explained, is a joy to both agent and client "because it can bring in returns for a year or more."

Learned Spanish Early

Lily is bilingual, something she feels people living in a border town, like San Diego, should be. Her father felt that a girl growing up, as she did, in the border town of Corpus Christi should speak flawless Spanish. He sent her to a convent-like girl's school in Mexico City for a year.

Currently, the easiest people to find commercials for, she said, are bilingual, attractive, young Latinos "because many companies, such as Johnson & Johnson's baby products, make two commercials at the same time--one to be shown in Mexico."

The easiest novelty acts to place, she added, are magicians and comedians.

And the hardest?

"Oh, harpists! Definitely."

If she were giving advice to anyone interested in a career entertaining others, said Lily, it would be to start early.

"In childhood, if possible, because there are years and years when you have to do 'freebies' to polish yourself into a professional."

A 40-year-old housewife who is told by her friends that she's a "riot," and that she ought to be on Johnny Carson "because God only knows, Lorraine, you're as good as anything he has on," is, Lily stressed, very unlikely to make it.

There is work for mature models, but, again, Lily stresses, the work usually goes to those who have matured in the business--"in other words--professionals."

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