And Now A Word From Our Sponsor is the story of a soap opera about to sing its last note. The cast and crew is hoping the return of Frederick Wentworth, reprising his role as a dashing hero, can save the day. Anne is hoping his return doesn’t mean she’s going to have her heart broken again.
Anne Elliot paid the cabbie and entered the building housing rent-controlled, relatively cheap artists lofts, business offices, and the studios of Russelliot Productions. “Hi, John,” she waved as she passed security. She punched “up” on the elevator.
She wasn’t looking forward to the day. What little dialogue her character, Rebecca (Becky) Lindsey, had was filmed the day before. Today would be endless response shots to the dialogue of other actors. And she would also be one more body to bulk up the crowd for the huge party scene. For the past two days she had taken every opportunity to stay off camera so she could tug at the hideous green floral Alexander McQueen knock-off she’d been given. All the time wearing a pair of cheap high heels that hurt her feet.
The doors to the elevator slide open and she was relived to see she was making the ride to the sixth floor alone. When she’d first started as the innocent and fragile ingénue on the afternoon soap opera, For None But You Alone, Becky’s wardrobe been tailored to her slender frame. An important party scene would warrant a custom-designed dress with matching accessories. Back in the day, trendy designers vied to seeing their name roll on the closing credits.
In the early days of the show, Anne was the artless virgin, representing all that was good and moral in the fictional town of Kellynch Cove, Anytown USA. As the young lead, hers was the human face of a small coastal village, most noted for vacation houses and fishing shacks, which was quickly transforming to an up-and-coming arts community. The basis of the serial was the clash of the traditional, blue-collar solid citizens with modern, sleek sophisticates. For several years the show had been popular with all the right audiences, upper class women with money, college students with earning potential, and even a contingency of performance artists who could watch the show in the afternoons because they worked at night. Usually waiting tables.
After ten years, the show was losing ground with every demographic.
And, as everyone reminded her these days, Anne was no longer young and virginal. It was impossible to pass off innocence when over the years her character had been the victim of several attempted rapes, amnesia, an evil twin who turned out to be Becky’s split personality trying to kill her, a mysterious pregnancy, numerous broken engagements, one forced marriage, two murder trials—one ending in a conviction and a six-month stint in prison until being cleared of all charges—a brain tumor, and a stalker. A popular joke on all but the most loyal fan sites was that the mysterious pregnancy was due to alien implantation because Becky Lindsey and probably Anne herself were still virgins.
It wasn’t true, but just barely.
While Anne’s virtue was not untried, it wasn’t overused. “A woman with self-respect doesn’t pass herself around like a party favor,” was her mother’s favorite expression. Occasionally, Anne wondered what her mother would think if she knew how many celebrities started their careers with sex tapes. But then she would start wishing her mother had lived past the time when the World Wide Web was just about emails and the Dancing Hamsters. The fact was, sweet and endearing Becky was far more romantically active than Anne.
Anne entered Make-up/Hair. There were many times when the show employed extras who couldn’t read English so the sign of a winking, blue-eyed blond pointing to the door was supposed to show the way. For some reason, the girl’s outdated 90s makeup and outrageous, stylized flip annoyed Anne. She’d wait to mention it needing an update to her father until after his decision about whether to pull his advertising—therefore killing the show—had been made.
The glare of lights reflecting off the mirrors covering the wall above the counter was particularly aggravating today. On top of that, the place was like a chaotic prom night.
They were working on the last of the extras hired for the party scene. Some of them were doing their own makeup while hairdressers teased, brushed, and pinned their own hair or wigs. Most were wearing dresses as bad or worse than Anne’s. The extras came in early so the regular cast wouldn’t have to wait for their make-up calls. Anne noticed that a couple of them were wearing real designer dresses. For a while now she had been relegated to the back rows of scenes and storylines in favor of other, younger characters. This was the first time extras were more necessary than her.
“Hey.” Anne waved to one of the make up gals as she struggled to find a place for her coat and shoulder bag on the crowded rack.
“I’ll be with you in a minute, Anne.” Jane Smith called to her through a cloud of hairspray.
Anne nodded and leaned against the wall to wait. A few years ago she would have taken the opportunity to perfect her lines. That was in the days when she was carrying a principle storyline and it wasn’t unusual for her to have twenty pages of dialogue a night to memorize. That many pages put a crimp in her social life, but it had been worth it. Now, she had few lines and still no social life.
There was no sign that Jane would be ready for her any time soon so Anne got her attention and pointed to the catering table. Everyone was polite as she walked over. Polite and angry.
Her father’s money paid for the advertising that had kept the show afloat for the last fifteen years. Walter Elliot had bought the lion’s share of it just after Anne had come on the show. Now, in the mists of soap opera time, the legend was that he’d bought her the part of Becky Lindsey. Like the myths about her perpetual virginity, this wasn’t true either. However, to try and correct the error every time it was repeated made her look desperate, and guilty.
As usual, there were too many tempting choices so she examined every apple, chose the most perfect and made herself an espresso from the machine. She returned to the chaos of Make-up.
Just as she entered the room, Jane’s chair opened up and she was able to take a seat. Jane had been styling Anne’s hair since she’s joined the show nearly ten years earlier.
“This is a party scene. Real women do more to their hair than brush it and zap it with some hairspray.” Jane was teasing it a little to give it some lift, hoping to slip it by Anthony Poole, the director. “The guy is an idiot about women. No wonder your dad is dumping this relic.”
They looked at one another in the mirror. The reflection of the two of them was motionless while garish swirls of color passed back and forth behind them. Leave it to Jane to blurt out what everyone else in the cast and crew feared.
“He’s always yapping at me to ‘keep it simple for our simple girl.’” Jane broke the spell and started teasing Anne’s hair in earnest. “I’ll give the idiot ‘simple.’”
Anne’s head snapped back and stars danced before her eyes. “Ouch. You want to leave some of that on my head?” She could see that Jane was going to give Becky a real swinging updo, but she wasn’t sure she’d live to see the full results.
“I’ve won awards for my originality you know.” Jane leaned close and looked at Anne in the mirror. “Poole must think that Becky is like Sleeping Beauty: sexless and frozen in time.” She muttered as she dug through a drawer.
“Yeah, well … ” Anne couldn’t think of anything to say, but was saved when Jane stuck a peacock feather in her hair.
“We’ve always said that Becky’s styles were too little girlish. How about feathers—” She stuck a red, shiny comb at the base of the feather. “And Swarovski crystals?”
Unfortunately for Anne, the colors were just a shade or two off from the hideous green dress she would be wearing, but she was afraid to say as much to Jane.
Anne was again saved by an interruption. “Hey girls, I’ve got something to show you.” Alice Rook, a new girl from wardrobe came in with an iPad. “You are gonna love this.” She came up to the chair, handed Anne the tablet without saying anything and took a place behind the chair. “It was posted on You Tube last night.”
Feathers and crystals forgotten, Alice reached from behind and touched the screen. It burst open to a guy gyrating to a discordant Country Western tune. It took Anne a few seconds to realize that right there in her lap, with amazing picture quality and color, wearing nothing but a pair of chaps, a cowboy hat, and a smile, was a screen full of Frederick Wentworth.