“Atlas in Paris”
When I was a young model in Dallas, the first high-fashion photographer that I ever worked with introduced me to another model that he’d discovered (I’m going to call her Keri May here). She was working and doing “well” as a model in Paris but she was lonely. Keri and I got together once or twice when she visited Dallas after the photographer introduced us. During one of her visits, we agreed that it would be nice if I moved to Paris, worked with her agency and saw the Parisian sights with her.
A short time later, I called Keri and found that she’d talked to her agent about me and everything was set. She’d given him my modeling portfolio (pictures) and he wanted me to join his agency. However, I found out later, there was one small hitch, Keri had lied to her agent and said that I was taller and thinner than I really was. I think she thought that once her agent saw me in person he would be so impressed by my face that he would not care that I was not 6 feet tall and 100 pounds, in other words, that I was not a great model for the catwalk/runway. Most of my career I did cosmetic ads for such companies as Neiman Marcus, Macys, Allercreme, Emporium etc. and not much runway modeling. I took Keri’s word that things were all set and two months after my seventeenth birthday I flew to Paris. Predictably, when I got there and her agent saw my actual height and weight he was not pleased, but his attitude was that I would have to “work” much harder in order to justify his required financial investment in me (room, board, transportation etc.).
It did not instantly dawn on me what I’d gotten myself into. This man’s agency was a well-known and “professional” French modeling agency, yet what greased the wheels of THIS organization (unlike the agency I was used to in Dallas) was, what amounted to PROSTITUTION. It seemed Keri had lied to me, too.
It’s hard to say what tipped me to the fact that his agency was different. Perhaps it was the twelve and thirteen year old, six foot tall, pubescent, peasant beauties that littered my new bosses office (later I discovered he’d purchased these girls, and many more just like them, from their poor, French, peasant parents). Perhaps it was the fact that one was feeding him grapes while another stood fanning him with a large plume. Perhaps it was the adolescent that sat on his lap cooing and fawning while he spoke on the phone. I may have taken a clue from the male booking agent that I happened to encounter in the hall who wanted to make an appointment for a road-test, so to speak, so he could determine how diligently he might want to work to get me bookings and magazine layouts. I definitely became suspicious when, while zipping up in the tiny bathroom stall, my new boss burst in and thoroughly FRISKED me to determine, with his hands, what I would look like with no clothes. Afterward, he returned to sit at his desk again. I slowly followed and took a seat on the long sofa in his office.
After the frisking it finally became clear to me what kind of man I was dealing with. Upon that realization, I stood up and delivered a dramatic and impassioned speech as I backed out of his office and descended down a gigantic, rococo, marble, spiral staircase. I condemned my new boss (who had followed me and held eye contact as I descended the staircase) for daring to think that I would stoop to the casting-couch tactics that he and his agency employed. I declared that I would “MAKE IT” on my MERITS, (which happened to be inherited genes but I made the most of them within the bounds of an ethical framework which was my moral contribution). When my moral lecture was over and I arrived at the bottom of the staircase I realized that I had left my portfolio on his desk. A CHOICE POINT: do I go back up and retrieve my livelihood after a lengthy tirade degenerating this perverted stranger — attacking the very essence of his being — or, do I walk away not having to deal with the embarrassment, but more important, the wrecking of such an incredible performance? I CHOSE to take the practical step: I ran back up the stairs, snatched away my leather satchel from his desk and dashed out into the cold rainy streets of Paris without a friend, much money, sans speaking French, and without a clue as to what to do next.
As I started down the street the woman from the agency who had picked me up at Charles de Gaulle airport, grabbed me and motioned for me to get into her car. She dropped me at the smallest hotel I’ve ever seen. The elevator held two people and my room consisted of a twin bed, a small window, and enough room to put a suitcase. The bathroom was down the hall. Because I was expecting to live in Paris, I did not have a return flight home booked and I couldn’t get a flight out — with my type of cheap ticket — for a month.
~RISE TO THE CLIMAX~
For my sixteenth birthday my father had given me Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged.” For about a year before my sixteenth birthday, I’d been asking my father all sorts of questions about philosophy, ideals, and the meaning of life. I also wanted to know why he was SO different from all the other people I knew. What I thought so unusual about my father was that while kind, friendly, and very funny, he didn’t seem to give a damn about what others thought of him. He wasn’t rebellious about it, it was just that he couldn’t imagine any other way to be. When he gave me “Atlas Shrugged” he told me that if he could attribute to only one thing the way that he was, it would be this book.
Being that “Atlas Shrugged” is around eleven hundred pages long, and being that this was to be the first book I’d ever read (excluding school text books), I didn’t read it much during the year that I was sixteen; but I did take it to Paris with me. Now that it was Christmas and I was stuck in a room the size of a closet, with no friends, my modeling career derailed, my honor assaulted, not knowing the language, nor having any awareness of the city, having very little money and nothing else to do while waiting for my plane, I decided to read “Atlas Shrugged.”
Reading while laying in that tiny bed, day after day, night after night, going out only to buy myself coffee flavored eclairs from the bakery next door, was one of the greatest experiences of my life! By the time I got to Galt’s speech my mind was so altered, my spirit so uplifted, my ability to think and read so taxed, that I decided to take a break. I went out to try to find the LOUVRE since my aunt told me that I had to see it while in Paris.
So, I put the book down, being about two thirds through it, and I emerged on the street in front of the hotel. First, I walked across the street to a department store and bought a hat because it was one of the only French words I knew, and because I wanted a souvenir. Back in front of my hotel, I looked to the right and saw, just a few blocks away, a strange glass pyramid in front of an old, huge, distinguished complex of a building, so I investigated. For the price of walking about two blocks I found myself in front of the LOUVRE. I paid my entrance fee and started to walk through looking at the art of antiquity. After a short time I realized that this museum is huge and that at the pace I was going I might be there for many hours, which was NOT acceptable.
So, I decided to run. I literally did a running tour through one of the greatest collections of art in the history of man. There were only two times that I stopped to really study the art I was seeing. One time was when I found a great hall with dozens of people huddled around a painting. I went over and crowded in to see what it was. It was the Mona Lisa. I was truly unimpressed. After all, I was a beautiful model — all of my photos revealed a much better looking female and, in my aesthetic wisdom at that time, that was all that counted, so I pushed on. Painting after painting whizzing by as I searched for anything that touched me as much as the art I’d left back in the hotel room.
The only other time I stopped or slowed down was when I got to the sculpture. I was taken aback by two, towering, twenty foot, identical, Roman or Egyptian soldiers standing guard in front of the wing of the building that held the sculpture. I stood alone in a corridor panting and studying the beauty of their bodies and dignity of their souls. That was an amazing moment. But I soon returned to my tiny, dark and dreary room to continue to devour the greatest artwork I had, and still have, ever experienced!
With just day’s left until my flight, I continued to read night and day, unable to put the book down for much more than eating and sleeping — and as little of these as possible. When the time came, I paid my hotel bill and boarded my flight back to Dallas. I continued to read all the way home on the plane. I was nearly finished when I got off the plane and greeted my father who had come to pick me up. I took his arm and we sat in a window overlooking the planes on the tarmac. I told him that I LOVED the book and that it had changed me. I thanked him profusely for giving it to me. While back at home over the next few days I finished reading it and the moment I finished it I sat up in bed and said out loud “I want to see this as a movie!” Many years later, in the mid 1990’s, I learned screenplay writing and watched tons of classic movies and then wrote my own screenplay of “Atlas Shrugged” in order to see it the way I wanted it to be made.