|The delightful Miss Dornacker and Miss Goldberg, with hats.|
Whoopi arrived for the session early, so we perched in my front window-seat and talked 'comedy' while we waited for Jane. At the time, she was working with Berkeley's Blake Street Hawkeyes and already honing her characters—the junkie Fontaine, the Surfer Chick, the Crippled Lady and the Jamaican Woman—that would become part of The Spook Show. These staples were likely part of her show at the upcoming Great American Music Hall with Jane.
At that time, many comediennes chose the stand-up joke telling model which assured them booking in nightclubs and bars, where the short attention span of drinking patrons was rewarded with quick get-to-the-point punchlines. The tougher road to forge was character sketches, which seemed an inherent female talent and the province of theatrically trained actresses. Those that ventured into character work were a tougher sell to the club bookers and their audiences. Conversely, as a showcase for television or films, it was ideal to show ingenuity, range and versatility to possible casting agents in the crowd… if you could book yourself on the club circuit to pay the bills while waiting for your big break.
The most memorable part of our conversation, was her certitude of success and fame. She knew she was going to be a big star, and said so, out loud, in so many words, with conviction. Impressed with her confidence and long a believer in 'naming your intent', I had no argument with her sharing her mantra and plans for destiny. I understood the ego required for performing, so it was familiar in my world, not arrogant, rather matter-of-fact. She knew fame —big fame— was coming, maybe not knowing how it would transpire, but assured it was within her grasp. This was nearly a year before her off-broadway debut, Mike Nichols's 'discovery' of her talents, and 'the rest is history' inevitability…
Jane finally arrived in true glamazon style, costume changes, props and make-up bag in tow. The style contrast between the two was apparent, unimportant, so unmentioned. We got down to the business/fun of capturing the right image for what would become a flyer for the show. As an improviser, I was ready to play with their ideas and add mine to the mix, on-the-fly. Good photographic practices call for a variety of poses to yield surprises during the session and a range of choices afterwards. A bit like bracketing for exposure, it's a way of covering the bases while the talent is in the studio. During the shoot, despite encouragement from Jane, then me, Whoopi was reluctant to remove her hat for some alternate looks. It may have been the vanity of a bad hair day, but she was not having it, demurring our requests with a child-like reticence. After the bravado of her future trajectory talk, it seemed like a contradiction to her fearlessness and self-assurance. To this day her reaction still puzzles, and while we did convince her to de-hat for a dozen shots, I will honor her mysterious reasons and keep those in the vault for a while longer.
By the way, I believe Whoopi's dreams came true, as well.
|Re-animated fun from that shoot… |
an ill-advised and out-of-character idea from Jane's prop bag.