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She wrote the book on almost stardom

Stacey Grenrock Woods chased fame for years, and failed. So, she turned her life into the humorous `I, California.'

July 23, 2007|Shawn Hubler | Special to The Times

It's easy today to be almost famous. Semi-stardom is never more than a YouTube moment away.

But there was a time when almost fame involved scratching and clawing and give-give-giving. And even then -- even after you, say, tap-danced your toes off and got into the same child-acting school in the Valley that Helen Hunt once attended and hustled to auditions and then dropped out of Cal State Northridge and hung out on Sunset Boulevard and waited tables and did a test centerfold shoot for Playboy that didn't appear until 20 years later, but still, there you were, shivering in a corset -- what did it get you?

If you're Stacey Grenrock Woods, a pretty funny tale.

"I just wanted to be noticed," Grenrock Woods, now 38 and well past the almost-fame thing, explained on a recent weekday afternoon.

A slender, sweet-faced writer and comedic actress -- she looks a little like a young Diane Keaton and was once cast as a teacher on the WB's churchy hit "7th Heaven" -- she was lounging, as usual, in the Los Feliz apartment she and her husband, a musician, have rented for seven years.

She did eventually score some gigs that were noteworthy by late-'90s standards. She was the talent booker at the storied Viper Room. She was an early player on "The Daily Show," interviewing people who danced with their cats and made statues of the Blessed Virgin out of dryer lint. She had a recurring role on Fox's "Arrested Development" as Trisha Thoon, the TV newscaster. Then, four years ago, she became a contributing editor at Esquire magazine, where she is the resident sex columnist.

In other words, as with so much in L.A. (lives, freeways, lighted matches in brush-fire season), one thing sort of led to another. This month, Scribner released her comic account of her adventures, "I, California: The Occasional History of a Child Actress, Tap Dancer, Record Store Clerk, Thai Waitress, Playboy Reject, Nightclub Booker, 'Daily Show' Correspondent, Sex Columnist, Recurring Character and Whatever Else."

If that sounds like the sort of "California" book title that tends to come straight outta Manhattan (and in fact, she said, the title was mostly her New York publisher's brainchild), the text is that rarest of California stories -- the kind written by someone who actually is from here.

"I never thought of myself as a typical Californian," said Grenrock Woods, who was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley and who has never lived farther away from her parents' Sherman Oaks home than Mt. Washington, just east of downtown L.A. "I don't go to the beach and I'm not tan and I'm not particularly mellow. I try to be, but I'm not. The people who actually are from California aren't probably what people expect us to be."

The book isn't typical either. "It's not about agents and producers," she said. "The people who come here do that -- the Gold Rush people -- but not the regular kids who grow up in California."

This, of course, doesn't mean those regular kids don't dream of stardom as much as the next person, which is the running joke of Grenrock Woods' memoir.

"I've never known what it's like not to want to be famous," she writes, in a chapter on her childhood entitled "A Mile in My Jazz Shoes."

"For me it came in mildly: in Sherman Oaks, in the amber hours after dinner when the family lolled around the TV and took to their pacific doings: needlework, telephoning, watching 'Ironside,' dreaming.

"I wanted only to entertain."

That quest took Grenrock Woods through years of dance and acting classes. ("Once one commits to a life of show business," she writes, "time is measured not in seconds, minutes or hours, but by the consistent pulsing of your miserable, hot toes from inside Capezio jazz shoes.")

The big break never quite came -- she apparently failed to "pop," in child-actor parlance -- but still, by her early teens, she recalls, her older sister was complaining that "I flipped my hair and spoke of agents and auditions, and bragged about hanging around the set of 'Silver Spoons' with my friend Julie, who was friends with Ricky Schroder."

And the yearning lingered, even when she became old enough to drive her mom's Celica over the hill and onto the rock-and-roll streets of Hollywood.

In her living room, the decor of which might be described as late-century starving artist -- couch, coffee table, chair, TV, abstract oil painting by Grenrock Woods herself (whose father is a retired commercial artist) -- she and her husband noted that the proximity to celebrity is in some ways a motif of the whole Valley, which for generations has served as a sort of show-business bedroom community.

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