In 1978 I was doing a show on Broadway called The Crucifer of Blood. It was early in my career, the show was successful, and I wasn’t terribly well known. The publicist of the show had this bright idea—I could be queen of the New York car show that year!
It’s not something I leapt to do, because I’m basically shy, but I would have done anything for our play. I said, “What does one wear to be queen of the car show?” She said just wear your street clothes, as if I had something appropriate in my closet for the occasion. I remember exactly what I wore—it’s burned into my brain: a rust-colored jersey skirt with a floral chiffon blouse. I don’t even think I had my hair and makeup done.
I met the publicist at the door, and she handed me a tiara that looked like it came from a party store. It was metal, but it could have come out of a cereal box. I don’t know if you remember the Coliseum in New York. It was like you’re walking into a great palace. We got to the top of the escalator, and here is what I saw: a bright room with a big revolving platform full of cars, and women in bikinis. It was opening day, and the press were slowly circling around these women. Dread mounted in my throat when I realized how excruciatingly inappropriate I looked!
There I was, in my street clothes and my pathetic tiara, with this publicist trying to convince everybody I was queen of the car show. Nobody even took a picture of me. How could I compete with big breasts and bikinis?
It was the most devastating moment. I think I was numb. I was so mortified, I couldn’t even cry. In kindergarten I was the kid too shy to play the drums. I had to play the triangle, because that little ping was OK and not as forward as banging on the drums.
The mistake certainly affected me. I was clueless. I was naive. I’d been compromised and made to look ridiculous. Maybe there’s a limit to being accommodating—one should accommodate, but only so much. As my husband says, “Do mental gymnastics to put yourself into a situation, to try to envision everything that could possibly happen.”
That experience made me much more wary. It made me stick up for myself more. What would the lesson be? Don’t wear street clothes if you’re meant to be a queen.
Interview by Ramin Setoodeh