Gaylee is launching a new career. It took six decades and some false starts. Gaylee got into showbiz as an extra a few years back. Her once down-the-street neighbor in Birmingham, MI, had an agency placing extras. She cast Gaylee in “Scream 4” with Neve Campbell. (Gaylee’s one line was cut). In “Whip It,” Gaylee sat atop a rusty overturned garbage can in the parking lot of the Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle. Until 2 am.
A girl’s gotta pay her dues.
One summer day, a scene in “Scream 4” was shot in a bookstore in Northville, MI. The a.c. was turned off because it was too noisy for the sound equipment. It was 98 degrees outside and, due to the lights, even hotter within. Gaylee got heat stroke and had to go home. During a winter snowstorm, Gaylee worked on a Zombie Horror indie in an unheated former auto plant. She sat on the cement floor until 3 am and came down with bronchitis.
“You work from 6am to midnight for bupkis. I decided being an extra wasn’t for me. I wanted to be a real actor.”
She looked for acting classes and theatrical agents in Michigan and landed a part in “The Margarine Wars” (2011), shot in Michigan. The comedy stars old timers Terry Moore (Oscar nominee for “Come Back Little Sheba,” ex-wife of Howard Hughes), Doris Roberts (Raymond’s mother in “Everybody Loves Raymond”) and Dee Wallace (the mother in “E.T.”).
“I was working with real actors. They treated me like I was one of them. They watched out for me and gave me tips on how to maneuver on the set. I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven. At one point, I couldn’t believe I was sitting in my car running lines with Terry Moore.” As a teen, Gaylee read about Moore and Liz Taylor, Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn in movie star magazines.
Margarine Wars takes place in the ‘60s when—I kid you not– margarine was prohibited in Wisconsin because of the dairy industry. Using margarine was a bigger offense than smoking marijuana. In the film, Wisconsin ladies bake with margarine smuggled in by 3 friends, including Gaylee who’s coming down with Alzheimer’s and is a tad forgetful.
“It turns out I do Alzheimer’s well,” Gaylee says.
That wasn’t Gaylee’s first brush with stardom. At 11, she attended a class at Willoway Playhouse in Bloomfield Hills, MI., a summer stock theater. (George C. Scott and other famous actors performed there on a stage built in a former barn.) “I got to play an evil spirit who screamed and lured people to their deaths. The minute my foot hit the stage, I knew this was what I wanted to do for my whole life.” Her father disapproved. He forbade her to take any more acting classes or to try out for school plays.
Gaylee’s now 72. Long-time husband Fred suffers from advanced Parkinson’s. This would not seem the ideal time to pursue Gaylee’s life-long dream of acting. That hasn’t stopped her. She and Fred moved to LA (where they have family). She found 2 more agents, a theatrical one and a commercial one. “They think I’m really good at playing a crazy old lady. They call me ‘quirky’ and like my ‘big’ personality.”
When they first moved to LA, for 8 months Gaylee and Fred lived in a nursing home. That didn’t stop Gaylee either. She enrolled in acting class 2 nights a week at Beverly Hills Playhouse. (Past students include George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer.) She had promotional pictures taken. Her agent thought she looked too young and advised her to retake the shots and let her hair go grey. That look depressed Gaylee. She’s gone back to dying her hair. She bought grey wigs.
In a soup commercial shot at a house in Dearborn, MI, a year ago, Gaylee appeared as a Muslim grandmother. “Everyone there was Muslim but me. The director asked, ‘Are you Jewish?’ Yes, I said, but I always wanted to be Muslim.”
Gaylee has also taken classes on structuring a screen play and on how to behave at an audition. Meanwhile, she had cataracts removed and hips replaced. “Before I couldn’t see or walk. Now as Bionic Woman, I can go on auditions.”
Gaylee’s fellow students are “20 year-olds who are gorgeous and sweet and talented. I tell them, ‘You’re going to be a star, and one day you’re going to need a mother. Just remember: I’m your crazy old lady.’”
I’ve known Gaylee for years through our mutual writing careers. She has always been quirky, as her agent says. Several years back she owned her quirkiness when she combined her first name Gay with her middle name Lee. The change suits her.
Meanwhile, she deals with the challenges of a daughter with Asperger’s and a husband with Parkinson’s. She hopes to start a blog on both subjects, along with the challenge of achieving stardom in her 70s. With her humor, writing talent and “big” personality, I say this “crazy old lady” has what it takes.
Break a leg, Gaylee.