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  • maraalexandru

Debra Who?

When I left home, I had a feeling of freedom I'd never known. And yet I still felt pangs of guilt over leaving Mama and my beloved grandmother. There was only one place for me to go - George’s apartment. He happily took me in. I spent the next six months there. I got a job at Standard Shoes in L.A. while George worked in a factory. It wasn’t long when I realized it wasn’t going to work. If you recall, I mentioned that the “thrill was gone”. But George was my ticket out. And I took it.

Sometime around Christmas 1974 I begrudgingly moved back in with my parents. I spent as little time as possible there to avoid Mike. I spent most days in Santa Monica at the house of two sisters I had met when I was about 13 through a neighbor of mine. I mentioned them in an earlier blog. We grew to be good friends and eventually roommates. They lived with their parents in a gorgeous home on Marguerita Avenue. Carl Wilson of The Beach Boys lived next door. We regularly attended their concerts, always with backstage passes. We babysat their sons Jonah and Justin when needed.

Dad was working on an Irwin Allen TV movie called Adventures of the Queen. This was my first job in film as an adult. Mostly, I worked as an extra and occasionally was given a small "silent bit". As the year progressed, Central Casting sent me out on more gigs—Marcus Welby, Medical Center, Happy Days, Little House on the Prairie and others. It was that year working on Little House that I met my friend Cindy Clerico, who would later become Michael Landon’s third wife and widow.

Great times on these shows. Michael was particularly fun and friendly yet quite the stickler for quality work.

Some time in the latter part of 1975, Dad was offered a position as Production Manager on Wonder Woman, starring Lynda Carter. As nepotism would have it, Dad called me in to see if I would be a good fit to be Lynda’s stand-in. Our height was the same - check. My hair was blonder (so I darkened it) - check. Our coloring was the same - check. It was the cinematographer and Dad’s final decision. Naturally, I got the job. This was awesome. Long days shooting and often exhausting, but still a blast. Lynda and I became good friends and would have lunch together in her trailer. She was chosen out of well over a thousand women for this role. She was nervous and self critical, but she nailed it.

Dad and I worked on Wonder Woman for one season, 12 episodes I believe. I was fortunate to have had a small part in the episode, “Judgement From Outer Space” where I played (to put it nicely) a German lady “escort”. I was also up for the part of Lynda’s sister, Drusilla aka Wonder Girl. At least 50 of us screen tested for the part. And then it was down to just two, me and some other girl I’d never heard of... Debra somebody... ? Well, you guessed it.

I lost out to “Debra Winger”. Turns out she did pretty well for herself as the years went by.

I used to wonder how my life would've been different had I gotten the role...

A couple of years later, while working on another film at Warner Bros. I stopped in to see Lynda on the set of Wonder Woman. I knocked on her trailer door, and said, “Hi Lynda. It’s Mara. Just wanted to say hello”. Lynda opened the door and said, “I’m busy now.” And slammed the door. She had changed. I suppose fame had gone to her head. I later asked around the set. Her soon to be former make up man told me she was being beat up by her agent/husband Ron Samuels, and that she was afraid to leave him. She had also fired many of the crew that had been with her from the start - people who'd supported her and given her confidence when she lacked it herself. It was a sad thing to hear. But, that’s Hollywood for you. I’d like to think she grew out of that. I know that eventually she divorced Ron and later married a DC attorney, Robert Altman. They had a couple kids and have been married ever since. I hear she’s come a long way since those early years. I wish her the best.

Dad moved on to other films. The next on his agenda was again an Irwin Allen film, Viva Knieval. This time, I went off to work on Mel Brooks’ “Silent Movie”. It was absolutely a kick! Mel Brooks was amazing to work for. The laughter was constant and contagious. And the cast awesome - Mel Brooks, Marty Feldman, Dom DeLuise, Sid Caesar, Bernadette Peters, and of course the famous mime, Marcel Marceau. I had a part in a restaurant as a patron watching as Marty Feldman was lifted up into the air. (That's me in the green dress above) Funny stuff. It was an honor to be directed by Mel Brooks, a comic genius in my book. Marty and I became friends. At least once a week after work, we’d jet off to Barney's Beanery in West Hollywood for some good chili, a beer and a game of billiards. What a character he was and such a bright man. After a while, I got the feeling that he was interested in being more than just friends. However, that wasn’t the case for me. So I backed off from accepting future engagements at Barney’s.

So this was my life in the early to mid seventies. I worked in film and TV, eventually fully moved in with my two friends in a condo in Santa Monica and had the time of my life. When I was on hiatus, (weeks/months off from the studios) I hung out at the beach with all my buddies, swimming, surfing, playing volleyball -- and partying. Sometimes at the Playboy Mansion with “Heff" and other times at smaller parties with people like Don Johnson, Tom Selleck, Jackson Browne and of course The Beach Boys.

The 70’s were a trip.. Crazy, but fun - and I wouldn’t trade a single minute of it!

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