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Hollywood Kids' Lament: 'All I Want is a Dog and an Agent'

June 19, 2005|Marjorie Miller | Marjorie Miller is foreign editor of The Times.

"The trouble with living in Hollywood," I heard my daughter say to a classmate recently, "is that you can never enter a national contest. Because the prize is always a trip to Hollywood."

"Yeah, it's not worth it," her friend said. "Unless you're from some wannabe state like South Dakota."

Wannabe states? Where do they get that at 11 years old?

My daughter doesn't actually live in Hollywood, she goes to private school there. But Hollywood has become her point of reference in the messy urban and emotional sprawl that is Los Angeles. It isn't unusual for kids to think their world is the center of the universe. In this case, however, the unreality of Hollywood is their reality.

The Oaks School itself is an oasis in the heart of Hollywood, with its leafy central patio and artsy education. But it sits in the shadow of movie billboards and building-high iPod ads. It is spitting distance from the Kodak Theatre, stage for the Academy Awards, and from the star-studded sidewalks near Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

We should have known we would be caught in the Hollywood netherworld when we first arrived here from abroad three years ago and went to the El Capitan Theatre. This was the first time we'd ever seen an audience of children sit through the credits. It was also the first time we'd been trapped after a movie ended because a crew was filming a movie outside. There was truly no exit -- at least not until they wrapped the scene.

Three years later, my daughters -- I have another who is 14 -- have caught on. They now insist on seeing films within days of their release. (A premiere is even better.) These days, they are apt to lean over at a particular scene and whisper, as one did during "The Last Samurai: "Justine's dad made that horse." Or, during "Holes": "See that? Katherine's dad made it." They know what the critics are saying about a film, although they don't care. They have their own opinions on the credibility of special effects, the quality of comedy and acting.

Like Army kids in a military town, they think it is normal for a parent to leave home for months at a time. Rather than being at war in Iraq, however, the Hollywood dads and moms are on location in New Zealand, Japan and Prague. And when kids return from familial visits abroad weary with jet lag, classmates nod knowingly. "Lewis is having trouble with his lines since he got back from Prague," my daughter said during rehearsal for a class production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." A real pro, Lewis rallied for the performances.

Like most Angelenos, the kids don't connect the Hollywood of film with the Hollywood that surrounds them, the underbelly of tattoo parlors and drug-tinged nightlife. They generally do not see the low-income housing, even though they drive by it. They don't notice the public buses they rarely, if ever, have taken. But when I point these out along with the immigrants waiting on street corners for a day's work, they catch on quickly and press to give spare change to the homeless vets.

A recent article on the MSN family website titled "10 Things Your Teen Won't Tell You" explains what's on the minds of American 12- to 18-year-olds, according to the editor of a teen magazine. Number two, after sex: "I want to be a star -- or at least be with a star!"

In Hollywood, this may be less about swooning than about what is perceived to be a real career option. Most kids have no idea how hard stars work, but Hollywood kids have had a glimpse. They know about set designers and makeup artists. They admire costumers. Some of these kids already have had bit parts in films and professional theater productions. Others have done commercials.

I can't think of anything worse for unformed tween and teen egos than casting calls, auditions and almost certain rejection: Too tall, too short, nose too long, eyes too narrow, voice too flat, just not right. Not perfect. My younger daughter is among the tweens who want to work in Hollywood. I tell her she is too young, that all she needs to do is learn, enjoy life and to be a kid -- albeit a kid in Hollywood. She stares at me with a kind of strained patience and pauses for effect. "You know, you're not very supportive," she says.

Later, she tries her father. "Pop, we need to talk," she says. "All I want is a dog and an agent."

I'm pretty sure kids in "wannabe" states don't say that.

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