Acting My Age

Helvin

While going through my files, I came across a story I wrote for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1983 about supermodels Marie Helvin and Jerry Hall.

Helvin, the brunette, was (but is no longer) the wife of David Bailey, the English photographer who discovered Twiggy. Helvin got her start modeling in Japan, and moved up to fashion work. She was 31 when we met and living in London where she had been voted as one of the 10 women with the best legs. You can see why.

Hall, the blonde, was (and is no longer) the common-law wife of Mick Jagger with whom she had four kids. A native of the Dallas suburb of Mesquite, Hall had recently created a sensation by baring a breast for a Ralph Lauren ad. At 27, she was giggly and girlish, and had a wonderful, kid-sister quality that made you feel like her new best friend.

I interviewed them at Helvin’s parents’ Honolulu home where they were collaborating on a book about modeling. We talked about nudity — which they both agreed was OK if it was in Vogue — the rigors of runway work, modeling in shoes that were too small (Hall said she had big feet) and being covered with makeup that caused two weeks of acne (Helvin).

Two more things stand out. One is that while high-fashion work was fun and paid well, they said print work paid best because it was year-round. The other was that despite an abundance of beautiful younger models, the top money-makers even then were baby boomers over 30 — namely, Lauren Hutton and Cheryl Tiegs.

After the interview, photographer Ken Sakamoto suggested a photo of the three of the three of us, and it’s hanging on the wall in my office to remind me how unpredictable and amazing life can be.

Two months after that photo was taken, an 11-year relationship ended unhappily, and four years later I moved back to the mainland. In 2001, I was laid off from my job just as the dot-com bust began. I was in my 50s, journalism was withering and I couldn’t find work. I refinanced my house — twice — freelanced, worked in a warehouse and had waking nightmares of living under a bridge.

I had supported myself all my adult life, and I was good at what I did. I felt helpless and lost.

But in 2004, a director named Steve Colby asked if I’d ever done any acting. I hadn’t. “You should consider it,” he said. “You can make a lot of money for not very much work.”

His mentor, George Watkins, invited me to his 60th birthday party, and on the wall of his office I discovered a picture of George with … Jerry Hall.

George introduced me to an agent that night who agreed to take me on. She told me to have some photos taken and, glancing at my graying hair, added, “And don’t do anything to your hair.”

My first job was a photo shoot for BellSouth where the 30-ish photographer put things in perspective.

“You’re great,” he said. “Clients are looking for people like you who have that weathered look.”

Since then I’ve been the aging boomer as a doctor, hospital patient, professor, homeowner, executive, consumer, golfer, gardener, grandfather, etc. I don’t get a lot of work, but what I do get is a godsend.

And Colby was right: three years ago I was hired as an extra in a Delta Airlines commercial, but was recognizable in the commercial and paid as a principal. That “bump,” as it’s called, enabled me to pay off the balance transfers that kept me afloat financially, and a personal loan as well.

This is my tenth year at it, and I’m doing pretty well. Spiritually, mentally and emotionally, my life is better than it’s ever been. I’m recovering financially, too, but as far as I can see retirement is not an option. On the other hand, I’m getting paid to act and do print work in my dotage, which proves that when it comes to miracles I can’t see very far at all.

 

2 thoughts on “Acting My Age

  1. Mike Gordon

    Aloha John!
    Crazy that I found this but I did. Not sure if you recall our time together in the Today section. It was a lifetime ago. Good to see you are doing well. I have often wondered where you landed.
    Mike

    Reply
  2. John Christensen Post author

    Great to hear from you, Mike. I do remember you, and hope all is well with you. Atlanta’s been great, but I do miss the islands.

    Aloha,
    John

    Reply

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