Big hair and black velvet catsuit: A 1990s time capsule

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, February 18, 2016

I had quite forgotten that my former longtime manager, now retired from the entertainment industry, had sent me an email that she was cleaning out her office and would be sending me a box “filled with goodies.”

So as I was leading my young horse, Forrest, up the driveway, we both spooked at the enormous cardboard box, covered in fluttering, clear plastic to protect it from the rain, deposited, for whatever reason, by UPS, just behind the opened gate.

Nudging it with my foot, I could tell it was quite heavy and Paul was good enough to come to our rescue when I texted an SOS, as Forrest might be strong, but a pack mule he is not.

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Indeed, Paul drove up to carry the thing back, remarking over its weight and when I came into the house a few minutes later, I couldn’t imagine what might be inside as I plunged the short bladed paring knife into the tape that was bound twice around it.

Inside was something like a time capsule from the 90s: stacks of old publicity photos (Mama Mia, my hair!), manila envelopes stuffed with magazine covers and articles, newspaper clippings — all generated from a publicity firm handsomely paid to make sure that I, in the day, like all other actors and comics, remained ‘relevant’ and in the public eye.

‘Perceived heat,’ is what Paul and I always jokingly referred to it as: making sure a performer is often mentioned in ‘People,’ or the like, and booked on all the talk shows so that those producers who are casting new TV shows and movies assume one must be terribly popular, making it a safe bet to choose you for their latest project.

And there before me were those ‘People’ clippings and blurbs … but what gave the box its greatest weight was the stack of videos (VHS, natch) bringing back, in a moment, all those seven-minute appearances, many I had quite forgotten about, on ‘Oprah,’ ‘The Tonight Show,’ Lordy, a 1992 Bob Hope Special with a young up-and-comer called Jeff Foxworthy, several Joan Rivers (she didn’t pay anything, but would fly you and a guest, first class, to New York and put you up at the Plaza, so who’s going to turn that down?), five appearances hosting ‘Talk Soup’ on E! TV, a performance at the White House, along with several talk shows and game shows long canceled and little remembered.

“What are you going to do with it all?” Paul asked, pausing as he refilled his coffee mug.

“I dunno,” I said, dumping everything back inside the box and re-sealing it with the shredded tape. “We don’t need any more clutter in the house. I can ditch a lot of this stuff.”

“At least keep the White House tape,” he suggested. “That’s pretty cool.”

“I don’t even know if any of these can be converted to DVD,” I mused. “They’re pretty old and probably the tape has faded. But maybe that one and a couple of Joan Rivers. I miss her. Anyway, I’ll deal with it later. I need to finish up in the barn.”

Truth be told, I don’t know if I will convert any of those tapes. It’s not like I have any offspring to pass them along should anyone be interested when I’m long gone. And after all, memories seem sweeter than a video image on a one dimensional screen, and the best images weren’t recorded: standing backstage with a very rude and very funny Milton Berle, waiting for Mr. Hope to finish his opening monologue, seeing Joan in the make-up chair, her tiny dog curled up on her lap, Jay telling me, as we cut to commercial, that he had no clue who the band that just performed were … none of those things are in the box, but the box did stir them up in my brain like a snow globe, taken out once a year to enjoy.

Nah, I don’t need the videos. I don’t need to see proof of those days. And I sure as hell don’t need to see proof of that big hair or black velvet catsuit …