I once had a gig as a security dispatcher in Hollywood.
I was one of several guys who sat in the camera surveillance room all day watching people on video monitors. When someone would do something bad, like shoot someone else or steal a pen, I’d call the police or send a security officer to deal with it, depending on the severity of the crime.
While on a break one day, I walked by the boss’ office and he called me in. His name was Jim Chaffee, and he’s still one of the best bosses I’ve ever had. His shock of red hair set over a freckled face was a bit impish, in a Howdy Doody sort of way. I’m pretty sure Jim would shoot me if he knew I called him Howdy Doody on this blog, so I hope he doesn’t read this. He got that a lot.
But I had great respect for him, mainly because when he introduced himself to us while the security team was first being assembled, he confessed that he used to be the head of Disney security but had to step down because of a nervous breakdown. I don’t mean Disneyland, or Disney World, or Disney Studios; I mean he was the head of security for the entire Disney corporation, and Mickey Mouse drove him insane.
So here he was, candidly telling us about it, explaining why he was once head of security for a huge corporation like Disney but was now the head of security for what is basically a glorified mall, and I liked him instantly.
He liked me too, I think, because he always gave me cool gigs. We did a lot of overtime, working at private parties and events that were held on the property, and I was often asked to show up in the evening so I could stand around in a suit and look like a secret service agent while celebs walked the red carpet and schmoozed at the parties.
You always see those guys in the background when event photos are snapped for People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, US, etc.. and I was in all of those at one time or another.
After calling me into his office on this particular day, Jim asked if I’d like a special assignment on Wednesday, which was two days away. I said maybe. He said it was driving Gwyneth Paltrow around and doing whatever she asked. I said “Hell yeah!”
He didn’t give me any specifics because he didn’t have any, beyond the fact that some production company was taping a TV show, Gwyneth was a guest, and I’d be her on-camera escort. Jim had asked me to do this on Monday, so Tuesday took about a week to go by. On Wednesday morning, I arrived on time at the appointed place and, sure enough, there was Gwyneth, getting her picture taken.
I’d arrived in uniform and an observant assistant figured out that I was probably the security guy who’d been assigned to her so he approached me, asking, “Are you the security guy assigned to her?” He pointed at Gwyneth.
“Yes I am,” I said, and then I pointed at Gwyneth.
“Good,” he said, “Go down into the fifth level of the parking garage and get one of your security carts. When we finish this segment, we’ll all be down there to meet you.”
He actually pointed at the elevator door, like I didn’t know where it was, just like he’d pointed at Gwyneth Paltrow as if I didn’t know who SHE was. Real high opinion of security people, this guy.
I got one of our carts and fired it up, which sounds more impressive than it really is since it was an electric golf cart. About ten minutes later, the elevator doors whooshed open and the whole crew came in – including Gwyneth and a particular British actor who I didn’t know would be a part of this whole thing, Alan Cumming.
The director of the TV show came over to me and asked, “Are you the guy who’ll be taking Gwyneth and Alan around the parking garage?”
Well, I didn’t know until that moment that it’d be Gwyneth and Alan, and I didn’t know we’d be staying in the parking garage but, yeah, I was the guy.
The director took all of three seconds to give me my directions. “Just take them around like they can’t find their car. They’ll tell you where to go. Got it?”
Gwyneth jumped in beside me and extended her hand. “Hi, I’m Gwyneth,” she said. I think it’s cool when celebrities do that when they know perfectly well that you know who they are. It’s courteous and, trust me, not all of them are like that. Martin Sheen is just about the nicest guy in Hollywood. He does it, and then he pays your utility bills for you (as long as you’re not a Republican).
Alan jumped on the back of the cart while the director got onto another cart with a driver and cameraman, then away we went, off to look for Gwyneth and Alan’s allegedly lost vehicle.
The director’s cart paced alongside ours while the camera stayed on us as we zoomed through the parking garage, up and down levels, left and right, cutting through rows of vehicles while the two of them shouted at me, “This way! Now here! Turn LEFT! Turn RIGHT!”
It was thoroughly zany.
At one point, I must have gotten too excited or something, because I took a ramp a little too fast and put the cart up on the two right wheels, which almost pitched Gwyneth out onto her butt. Alan and I grabbed her and pulled her back in, with the camera rolling all the while. That is where I almost killed her. It wasn’t much, really, but it makes for a good post headline, does it not?
Shortly thereafter, I had to stop for a car backing out of a stall so Gwyneth looked over at the lady driving and said, “We’ve lost our car, we’re so retarded!” I could tell that the lady recognized her, but it was unclear as to whether or not she approved of the use of such a non-politically-correct phrase being uttered by one of America’s sweethearts.
We eventually found the car and, of course, it was a black Range Rover. I had a suspicion that they knew the location of it all along. We said our goodbyes and, as they got into it and drove away, Gwyneth turned and blew me a kiss.
While on a break the next day, and passing by Jim’s office, he called me in (he did that a lot) and asked what the Gwyneth Paltrow gig was all about. I told him everything except for the part about almost killing her, because he liked me and I wanted to keep it that way.
He asked if I’d found out what they were taping. I hadn’t, so he gave me the number of the production company – which I called – and a nice man on the phone explained that it was for a talk show that Alan Cumming would be hosting on the Oxygen channel and that Gwyneth was his first guest in the pilot episode.
UPDATE: For years I thought this had never aired. We looked for it on The Oxygen Channel without success and never found anything online. That is until one morning in August of 2012 – TEN YEARS LATER – when Dorian was looking at Alan Cumming’s blog and found it in a listing of projects Alan has worked on. It’s fairly awesome to see this a decade later, having never seen it at all. I come in at 6:47..
NOTE: Of course, the segment where I drove them around in the cart is edited down for time, and they took out the part where Gwyneth shouts “we’re so retarded!” for the obvious reason. Another interesting thing is that, at about two minutes in, she actually complains about winning an Oscar.
TECHNICAL NOTE: It’s all obviously pretty scripted, but as the head dispatcher at the time, I can tell you that if someone called on an assistance box from the parking garage, YOU KNEW WHERE THEY WERE CALLING FROM. What if someone had just been assaulted and couldn’t speak?
The officer in dispatch had been told to ask Alan where they were, which we would have never done in real life. Instead, we would have said, “Okay sir, I see you’re on the sixth level at station #4, someone will be there in a moment to assist you, please stay where you are.” We also wouldn’t have told someone to “Go over to those guys.”
Reality TV is anything but real, friends. But you already knew that, I’m sure.