The best job I ever had was pushing the APPLAUSE button for the television show Truth or Consequences.
I graduated from college in December and had four and a half months to kill before heading to graduate school in Sweden. I moved home and the job search began. My first job lasted one night. I put cheese on frozen pizza crusts and waited for the delivery phone to ring. As this was almost on the Sunset Strip, a night job and in the early swinging 70’s, my mother was worried for my safety. I was worried for my sanity. Four years of college led to this?
So I quit my job at Pizza Man He Delivers. A few more days were spent reading the classified ads, which in those days were divided by gender. The columns had male plumbers and female secretaries…. and the ubiquitous Girl Friday.
I finally went to an employment agency on Wilshire Boulevard and landed a job at Union Oil. This paid $66 a week after the agency got their cut. The salary was two dollars over what I would have gotten on unemployment. All I had to do was Xerox every document that had ever passed through the company. I’m not joking. There was so much stuff to copy that they didn’t allow me to lower the protective lid. I photocopied 8 hours a day so Union Oil could move into its new, modern building. To this day, I’m waiting for the permanent eye damage to kick in.
My lunch was invariably a can of V8 juice and cold hamburger patty to which had been added Lipton’s onion soup mix. I tried to teach myself German from a small dictionary while I ate. It was a lonely job, but I took satisfaction in knowing that I would be getting out and the other people I worked with were stuck there.
The mind-numbing boredom of the job soon took its toll. On a day off, I ventured into the world where I was sure I belonged: a television station.
I walked into the lobby of KTTV and immediately stood out. The station had an ad in that day for a manual labor job. I was the only female and the only Caucasian in the room. A man swung through the front doors, asked me why I was there and in a swashbuckling move, took me up to the set of Truth or Consequences. Three weeks later I got a call that someone had been fired and the job was mine. All I had to do was seat the audience, push the APPLAUSE button, and generally act as a “page.” The people who seated the audience for the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson were “pages.” And the kids who hustled around the Senate and the House were “pages.’ I didn’t get the title, but I did the same thing.
After that I went to work at Union Oil for 8 hours and came home for a quick meal before driving to Hollywood and the set at the studio. I loved my night job. It was fun seeing the excitement in the faces of the people who waited in line outside. They were thrilled to be there, and were often from far away places. I remember noticing the vintage 1930’s era tie one old man was wearing as I collected the entry tickets. I complemented him and he insisted on giving it to me. It was a beauty.
As I learned the ropes of seating the audience, I also learned how the whole “set-up-the –audience-to be- thrilled” worked. Just as the audience was seated, a man—the one who hired me—would come on stage to “warm up” the audience. He would do his shtick until he would hear a secret sound. Known only to the staff, someone would utter a low moan into the sound system. This was a sound no one would normally hear unless one was listening for it. At this point he would introduce the official announcer for the program, Charles Lyon who would, in turn, finally introduce the now primed crowd to Bob Barker.
When my confidence grew, I realized the power I held in my hand. On of my favorite amusements was to push the APPLAUSE button, watch the sign light up and hear the audience clap away like trained monkeys. I soon realized that the man who hired me was a jerk…and that’s being polite. One night I went to the sound booth, uttered the low secret moan and quickly returned to my place in the audience. He grandiosely introduced Lyon; the curtain opened and there was no one there. But because I was pushing the APPLAUSE button the crowd was rabid and the man with the alliterative name was caught off guard.
During my months at that job I got to witness Olympic athletes, astronauts, fading stars and moviedom greats. If there was anything involving a pie fight, I took home the leftovers. But my favorite night came when I invited my parents and an out of town business associate of my father’s. I taped off their front row seats with masking tape and seated them after the rest of the audience was in their places. As my parents sat, I turned to my mother and said, “Mrs. Barker, Bob said he’ll meet you after the show.” The women behind my mother were all a twitter.
When Bob Barker came on stage to pick contestants for that night’s show he unwittingly selected my parents. I’m sure this was an employee breech of some kind, but I knew I was off to Sweden soon, so it didn’t really matter.
My parents were separated and Barker told my mother that a young, good-looking woman would parade by my father in a room off stage. “What will be the first thing he notices about her?” My mother responded: “Her bosoms.” My father was secretly filmed as the woman sashayed by. Then Bob Barker brought him on stage and asked what he had first noticed about the nubile young woman. My father didn’t miss a beat. “Her personality.” For that he won a vacuum cleaner and was stopped at least once in an airport by someone who recognized him from the show.