The Star Factor: Jaclyn Smith, Max Factor and Me
I came face to face with Jaclyn Smith the other day. Well, not exactly face to face. The former Charlie's Angels TV star was smiling down at me from a banner mounted above the clothing racks and shelves a Kmart, racks stuffed with the cheaply made clothing lines of Sophia Vergara, Nicki Minaj, Adam Levine and Jaclyn Smith herself.
"Hi there, Jaclyn," I thought to myself. "It's been a long, long time. Wow, are you ever looking good!"
I certainly haven't aged as gracefully. I was a twenty-something in-house copywriter at Max Factor, fond of red eye glass frames and rainbow suspenders, when we met briefly back in the early 80's. And Jaclyn? She wasn't just the gorgeous spokesperson with the sultry voice who touted Max Factor's Epris fragrance (anyone remember "Part of the art of being a woman is knowing when not to be too much of a lady,"?) she would always be the beautiful Kelly Garrett, the only one of Charlie's Angels to stay with the television series from start to finish, forever young in syndication.
We met to record a thirty second radio spot I'd written for a special gift item; a small bottle of Epris cologne tucked into a silvery egg for the holidays. It was a nifty little stocking stuffer – the marketing gurus at Max Factor were big on stocking stuffers - at a perfect little price point. It was a simple co-op ad, the idea being that retailers could plug in their "Available at XYZ Drug Store. Just $8.95." Too mundane a task for Max Factor's ad agency, Wells, Rich, Greene to bother with, I got the plum assignment. Not that there was a whole stable of Don Drapers fighting for the job; I was the sole staff copywriter. I spent my time trying to come up with color names, writing package copy and sales material. Thrilled, I worked on the radio spot like I was crafting the Great American Novel. Like it was my big break. It wasn't my big break. But because I'd written it, I got to go to the recording session. Or maybe, as I think about it now, I got to go because I was seeing the chief fragrance marketing guru at the time? Or did that recording session come first, and the romance later? A variation of the age old question, which came first, the chick or the egg? Except I was the chick and he was - okay, this isn't working.
I don't remember how it came to be. After all these years it doesn't much matter. What I do remember is that I went and sat in a dark, black duvotine-draped, booth-like room and listened while Jaclyn Smith recorded my copy. My copy. Not a word of which I can recall even though I can clearly see the sheet of paper with its typed paragraph illuminated in the soft glow of a solitary lamp while Jaclyn Smith stood in front of the mic a few feet away and read the 30 second spot over a couple of times. "How do you want this line read? Like this?" she asked. "Or this?" trying out a couple of variations in her soft Texas twang. Starstruck — Jaclyn Smith is reading my copy! — and flushed with the thrill of it, I barely heard the words but agreed the second emphasis was the way to go.
It didn't take long, less than half an hour, and after a few murmured thank you's, She, sleek and elegant in head to toe black, slipped out and away and I never saw her in person again. I returned to our offices on Hollywood Boulevard where I sat staring out my 12th floor window, dreaming up nail polish shade names and wrote, not advertising, but package copy on my Selectric III typewriter. Across the street tourists searched for Jaclyn Smith's footprints at Grauman's Chinese Theater. They would find Marilyn, Cary Grant and Judy Garland. But they wouldn't find her there.
Jaclyn's fans would have to wait until 1989 for the star to get, not her footprints, but at least her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You can still find it today of course, right around 7020 Hollywood Boulevard, just across the street and a few stars west of Grauman's, which even in 1981 wasn't officially called Grauman's Chinese anymore. The legendary theatre was bought by the Mann's chain back in the 70's and more recently in a bit of irony, taken over by a Chinese conglomerate.
Jaclyn Smith's star might actually be visible from the office window I used to stare out of seeking inspiration. I wouldn't know. I left Max Factor in the mid-1980's, running off with that marketing guru to live together and start our own business. Around the same time Max Factor left the building too, relocating its international headquarters to New York, discarding its Hollywood roots like used cosmetic sponges. Later I would wonder if I should have flown east too.
The Max Factor offices in Hollywood are long gone, so is the ground floor Hamburger Hamlet where I used to eat lunch with product managers and display designers. Epris hasn't been found on drugstore shelves in years and the only place you'll find an IBM Selectric III nowadays is in a museum or a vintage e-bay store. That relationship with the marketing guru, and the business we started together, both eventually withered and died. The guru himself is gone now too. His son contacted me a few years ago to let me know his dad had passed away, his mind, sadly, severely destroyed by dementia.
But Jaclyn Smith remains. Her face, still beautiful, is all over K-Mart. Her star, embedded in Hollywood Boulevard, will shine forever. But I remain too. Not so shiny maybe, but I'm happy to be here, looking up.
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