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On The Set : Short Subjects : PARODY ARTISTE JULIE BROWN HACKS AWAY AT TONYA AND LORENA

August 21, 1994|JANICE PAGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What's the only thing more frightening than a pair of 5-foot-2 females with a chip on their shoulders?

That same pair in ice skates and stilettos, argues "National Lampoon's Attack of the 5 Ft. 2 Women," premiering Sunday on Showtime.

With apologies to Nancy Reagan and Imelda Marcos, the petite and positively peeved queens of this two-part parody are Tonya (sounds like Harding) Hardly and Lenora (don't call me Lorena) Babbitt (Bobbitt). Both stories were written by Julie Brown and Charlie Coffey, the same pair who in 1991 brought us the Showtime comedy mock-umentary "Medusa: Dare to Be Truthful," parodying another notorious (and notably short) woman, Madonna. Additionally, Brown--whose credits also include the Fox comedy series "The Edge"--directed the Tonya segment and stars in both parts.

Given the spoof's title, a visitor to the set might have reasonably expected to see a kind of Lilliputian version of "Godzilla" in the making--hordes of Gidgets descending on innocent villagers from Lillehammer to Virginia, inflicting all manner of below-the-belt injuries and looting shoe stores of every available size 5 1/2 pump.

In short, this visitor was hoping for a room full of people just like me: 5 foot 2 (rounding off to the highest fraction of an inch) and eager to avenge the kind of lyric Randy Newman penned in "Short People": They got little baby legs/ They stand so low/ You got to pick em up/ Just to say hello.

Didn't happen.

Instead, the actors on the set of "Tonya: The Battle of Wounded Knee" were largely your regular-sized people. And the only person running amok for the camera was Brown, who--though just shy of 5 feet 2 under normal circumstances--was laced into figure skates for her role as Tonya, a comic costuming choice that actually made her about 5 foot 6 during the segment.

Likewise, Brown wears multiple-inch cha-cha heels for most of her scenes as Lenora (in "He Never Give Me Orgasm: The Lenora Babbitt Story"). Methinks the movie actually should have been called "Attack of the 5 Ft. 2 Women in Really Scary Footwear."

But, no matter. Shared height wasn't the only factor that compelled Brown to write and star in her tale of two larger-than-tabloids women. As the actress explains it, she and writing partner Coffey were at work on a "Medusa"-like parody of Michael Jackson when the singer was accused of child molestation, forcing them to scrap the project. ("Child abuse just isn't funny," explains Coffey with a sigh.)

Then, as luck would have it, skater Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed on the knee after a practice session, and people close to rival Olympic hopeful Tonya Harding were emerging as the bumbling culprits. Brown and Coffey had their substitute parody (with "Head of the Class" actress Khrystyne Haje as Nancy Cardigan), which turned into a two-part movie when they realized that the story of Lorena Bobbitt--who admitted slicing off her sleeping husband's penis but was acquitted at trial--paired nicely with the Harding tale.

"They're both these tiny, really violent women," explains Brown. "Even if Tonya was innocent, which I don't believe, she still goes after pickup trucks with a baseball bat."

And then there is the matter of fashion sense, or lack thereof. Brown spent so much of the 18-day shoot outfitted in garish, form-fitting fashions and damaged wigs that she says she started "looking at the crew people's clothes enviously."

"This whole piece is like a celebration of trashy taste," she says. And, accordingly, nothing in the script proved too tasteless to be included.

"If anything, it got more tasteless in execution," Coffey says with a laugh. "That's part of why (filming has) been so much fun."

Fun, yes. But for Brown, the project has proven grueling as well. First, there was the tight production schedule, then the physical demands of a role that required one 14-hour shoot in a 20-degree Culver City ice rink. To top it off, she's also playing her own role as mom. Her then-6-month old son visited the set on occasion, but when Brown couldn't bring him along, she says it was "like you left your arm at home."

Luckily, she had some help. Richard Wenk ("Vamp" and the upcoming "Scalpers") directed the Lenora segment. And Coffey, Brown's writing partner for 17 years, spent a lot of time on the set, offering on-the-spot rewrites and improvisations when necessary. During--and even after--the filming, news events of the day kept the cases churning, making the segments' wildly fictional conclusions the best solution in the end.

Still, all this along with the memory of the aborted Michael Jackson project, have made the writing team swear off satirizing nonfictional characters.

"We decided that we're never going to write about real people again," says Coffey emphatically. "You spend six months writing about somebody and then they go and strangle someone or shoot up a schoolyard."

Or become an actress.

"National Lampoon's Attack of the 5 Ft. 2 Women" airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on Showtime.

Janice Page, editor of OC Live! is 5 foot 2 on a good day.

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