How to Do Hollywood the Wrong Way – Part Two

How to Do Hollywood the Wrong Way – Part Two

Feeling like a vampire, I threw on some shades and on four hours of sleep, I went to retrieve my car at the scene of the crime. I can tell you that tequila and herbal X are not your friends the morning after an epic night of partying. Frankly, I was amazed that my car was still there and it wasn’t jacked up.

Recovery was on my agenda for the weekend. I wanted to make sure I was in fine form for Monday. Plus, I had several things I had to do for various classes so the plan was to hang out at the beach and then work on some scripts.

After a day of playing in the sun and surf, I was ready to go home. The minute I walked in the door though, my roommate Stacey had other ideas. “Hey, remember that real cute guy I met in directing, Adam?” I nodded. “Well, he is throwing a party tonight at his place and he wanted us to come.”

Rolling my eyes, I told her, “Look, I have to do some writing and I have to be sharp for Monday.”

“Well, this is Saturday. You will have a day to recover.”

I realized that resistance was futile and that she would just bug the crap out of me until I relented. “Okay. When is this soiree?”

“10 p.m.”

“At least that gives me a little time to get things done and besides you will need the bathroom for several hours. You know 45 minute lips and stuff.”

Looking rather annoyed, she disappeared. Once again, derailment of my best laid plans. I spent majority of the night punching up scenes for my screenwriting classes.  Stacey was busy doing her primping thing and unfortunately, since I don’t necessarily heed my own advice, a bottle of vodka was calling my name in the fridge.

While I waited for drama queen, I decided to toss back a few Cape Cods. Finally, she emerged from her lair looking like Norma Desmond waiting for her close up. We headed into the night toward Loyola Marymount and whatever potentially bad decisions were awaiting us.

Once we got to the neighborhood, parking was a bitch. We ended up having to walk a block. LMU is located in a lovely suburb of Los Angeles called Westminster. At the time I attended the university, the area was rather posh but not like Beverly Hills outrageous. Adam’s parents lived in a really beautiful house which could have been featured on the pages of “Architectural Digest.”

I knew some of the people milling about so as I stopped and chatted with everyone, Stacey was whisked away to hold court somewhere. Lucky for me, I found the bar right away. I figured that sticking with vodka was probably a safe bet.

After several more drinks, I was feeling quite relaxed. Stacey had disappeared and I managed to find some people from my classes and spent majority of my time with them. I had to use the bathroom so after I was pointed in the right direction, I headed off.

The staircase to the upper level was magnificent. By the time, I reached the top, I couldn’t remember if I needed to make a left or right turn. I decided on the left. Wrong call, on my part.

Remember that scene in The Shining where a guy in a costume was in a rather suggestive position? Well, I came flying through the door and stumbled in to the 50 Shades of Grey dimension. For a moment, I had to pause and focus because I wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing. After I figured it out and became monumentally frightened, I hightailed it out of there before something insane went down. 

Getting my bearings, I decided to try door number 2 which was on the right. Stealing myself before heading in, I turned the handle and walked in to several people focused on cutting lines of coke on the bathroom mirror. They must have been ingenious because somehow, they managed to take the ornate item off of the wall. Not wanting to disturb the potential Scarface scene, I extricated myself rather quickly.

Giving up, I decided to leave before this became a police event. By now, it was midnight and the music was thumping pretty loudly. I fought my way through the teeming hordes of sweaty, dancing drunk folk and found Queen Stacey surrounded by her minions poolside.

Several people were already frolicking sans clothing in the pool. After leaving behind the Studio 54 house, I managed to somehow enter a portal into the 60s. Stacey and company were passing around joints and just walking into their circle left me in a “Purple Haze.” I told her I was going to motor and I was rather relieved that she and Adam had hit it off so I wouldn’t have to wait around for her. Not one to pass up recreational “activities” I took a couple of hits and left.

Thankfully, the drive home passed without incident. PCH was beautiful and the moon was out. I guess you could say it was the type of thing you picture when you dream of living in LA. The moment I was inside my house, I went into my bedroom and immediately crashed.

Sunday passed without incident and before I knew it, Monday rolled around. I was due to report for duty at 9:30, so that meant getting up at an ungodly hour to get ready. Extremely nervous, but dressed for success, I headed into the early morning full of excitement and butterflies in my stomach.

I arrived on time which was terrific. Making my way inside the building, I stopped at the security desk to pick up my pass. It was official! I now had access to CBS- Television City. I rode the elevator up to the production offices. The closer I got to the door, the more nervous I became. Counting to ten, I walked in to what was going to be a pretty intensive three-month gig.

Everything was pretty quiet. First order of business was to go see Billy in his office. Before I could knock, he opened the door and seemed rather surprised to see me.

“Oh, hey! I see you remembered where we were.”


“It’s pretty busy so let me take you around to meet some of the people.”

This was like a whirlwind of information. I met both segment producers, the producers, the research department and then I was ushered in to meet perhaps the scariest person of all, Peter Lassally.  This man was a legend in talk show host production. He was the executive producer of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson for years. He also executive produced Letterman’s show. 

Normally, I am pretty cool but this was enough to make me want to pass out! As it turns out, he was extremely nice even asking me about what I was doing at LMU.

After narrowly escaping a freak out episode, Billy took me to meet Tom’s assistant, Kelly. Kelly was a nice chap from the UK. He had been with Tom for years. He was in charge of basically running Snyder’s life on the show.

Another interesting bit was actually going to the studio and seeing where the “magic” happened. I really enjoyed this because I was wanting to get experience in television production as well. I was introduced to the “booth” personnel which consisted of the director and his group.

Introductions made, Billy and I walked up to the offices where my day officially began. I did your standard routines like help with administrative functions, mail, and even assisting Kelly with Tom’s fan mail. Then of course, there was picking up lunches and coffee runs.

Since my desk was the very first one in front of the door, I routinely got a glimpse of all incoming traffic. As it just so happens, I was involved with a task from the research department when I got the surprise of my life. I was in the midst of working on sorting the mail when Tom Snyder walked in. 

This was straight up bananas. I grew up watching the Tomorrow show and now this man was actually standing in front of me. I thought he would ignore me and just carry on but that didn’t happen.

“So, you must be the new intern?”


“Nice to meet you….”

“My name is Susan.”

“Nice to meet you, Susan.”

“It’s a pleasure, Mr. Snyder.”

“Call me Tom.”

Well, that threw me for a loop. Then he sauntered away to begin his day leaving me to quietly stroke out. Thankfully enough, the rest of the afternoon passed without further incident.

My internship only required me to be there three days out of the week. However, this quickly turned into five days. I was very eager to take advantage of this opportunity and to be honest with you, it was way better getting hands on experience then discussing theories in a classroom.

The show filmed on Friday nights and for the first part of it, I would man the telephones in case we got a call from our other executive producer, Robert “Morty” Morton. For all of you fans of the early Letterman years on NBC and CBS, he was a familiar face and also the executive producer of The Late Show with David Letterman. 

Of course, the very first night I helmed the phone, around 10:15, it rang.

“Hello. Late Late Show.”

“Hey, hi!”


“Yeah, this is Morty.”

Okay, at this point, I damned near dropped the phone. Be cool, don’t lose your shit, Susan.

“How are you, Morty?”

“I’m great. Who is this?”

I just looked at the receiver. It sounded like he was in his car or something and this whole conversation was unbelievable.

“I’m Susan.”

“Susan, can I speak with Tammy?”

Tammy happened to be one of the producers.

“Sure. One moment, please.”

Now, this phone was pretty standard and straight forward. The transfer button was not a big mystery. However, suddenly, I felt like NASA needed to talk me through the mechanics of this phone transfer from Mission Control.

After fumbling with several buttons, I managed to find the right combination. I rang Tammy’s office and announced the call.  Of course, when I hit transfer, how was I to know that I was actually going to send our executive producer into oblivion?

Smiling and feeling pretty confident, I immediately got a call from Tammy. She was pretty livid. I felt like I was being yelled at by Charlie Brown’s teacher. Fortunately, Morty did call back and this time, he reached his proper destination. Good times.

Weeks went by and every day was a new experience. One morning, I remember walking in to the kitchen area only to be shocked to see the comedian, Steven Wright getting a Coke from the refrigerator. Trying to be nonchalant, I gave him a nod and a “What’s up?” So smooth, I know.

Another fun experience was Friday night cocktails on the set after the show. It was sort of like a wrap party with a full bar. Tom was partial to vodka martinis. He actually made me a drink and we talked about going to Catholic school. Who would’ve thought that one day I would’ve been kicking it, knocking back drinks with a talk show legend? Priceless.

I also got to take a couple of turns in the production booth as well. One of the highlights is they actually let me do the teleprompter! No, I didn’t do anything crazy like Anchorman (F&*# you, San Diego!). The energy of doing a live show was exciting and just being in that atmosphere was better than any college class.

One memorable incident occurred in the elevator. I was bringing something to one of the producers. On the way down, someone got on with an entourage. Now, my pleasant ride was jam packed. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed this guy with a smug look on his face almost saying, “Yeah, you know who I am.” Years later, this wonderful individual would be the star of a show, we will call “40 Pebble,” on NBC. What I can tell you is at the time he was wearing these gigantic hideous green glasses. I remember that I wanted to punch that arrogance right off his face.

My internship was almost finished. However, it was going to go out with a bang. We were all called to a meeting in the conference room by Peter Lassally. David Letterman was coming to our offices to prepare for the Oscars. I could feel my heart skip a couple of beats. 

The very next thing I know, me and the other intern, Mike were shuffled into a closed-door meeting with Billy where we were given explicit instructions on how to handle Letterman’s impending visit. We could not engage Dave in any way. The kicker was we weren’t allowed to look at him! This news sucked really hard. Here I was getting the chance of a lifetime to be around someone that I had a crush on since I was sixteen and it was just going to be extremely awkward.

Activity was amped up in the office. One of the tasks that we were challenged with was creating a “playbook” for Dave to study of all the Oscar nominees and the films. This sounds easy, but it wasn’t. The research was painstaking and the actual construction was a bitch trying to get the binders together.

I won’t lie, it was also exciting. I spent several nights helping out until 2 a.m. Things were crazy, we were punchy but it was totally worth it. Finally, the books were assembled and waiting for Dave and his writers.

The day after one of the marathon playbook sessions, I entered the office only to be greeted by the exceptionally animated receptionist, Kathy. “Susan, don’t be too excited but Dave is here. So, make sure if you see him, don’t make eye contact and don’t talk to him.”

“Okay, Kathy. Sure.” Inwardly I thought if I accidentally glance at him will I turn into stone? Will I cease to exist? Shrugging it off, I grabbed some coffee and headed into the conference room to begin the task of sorting mail. This was a mind-numbing activity but it would help to take my mind off being nervous.

About half way through the sorting, the door to the conference room opened. I looked up to find myself face to face with David Letterman. Holy crap! Damn it! I just looked at him. We stood there for a moment. Immediately, I averted my eyes and pretended to care about the mail.

He left the room. Breathing a sigh of relief, the door opened up again, Letterman looked at me with this quizzical look on his face. Of course, me being so poised, I stood there with what I am certain was a look of abject terror on my visage. Thankfully, he left the room.  

After the Oscar ceremony, my internship drew to a close. Everyone was so gracious. The entire staff threw me a going away party. Even Tom and Peter Lassally attended and they sang, “Happy Trails.” That was something to see and a great memory that makes me smile to this day. Another parting gift from the crew, they put my name in the credits. I still have that VHS tape. You never know when it might come in handy. 

My learning experience ended. I didn’t know quite where the road would lead me. Then again, I was certain it would be exciting. 

Published by Susan Leighton Woman on the Ledge

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