I have been a published writer as long as I’ve been a working actress and there are times when my two careers unavoidably merge. While I am completely thrilled with the book reviews for Down and Out in Beverly Heels, almost all the reviewers also identify me as a Dark Shadows actress. Over the years I’ve come to embrace the inevitability of always being referred to as the fiancé of vampire Barnabas Collins and I drew on that in creating the character of Meg Barnes in my novel. Meg once played Jinx Fogarty, an amateur sleuth in a wildly successful TV series, which means that no matter what she does in her life or career, she will always be known as Jinx, just as I will always be remembered as Maggie Evans and Josette DuPres. Just ask Sally Field what it’s like to always be reminded she was once “The Flying Nun!”
The downside for an actress like Meg Barnes, who has some celebrity attached to her name, is the harsh glare of the media when the spotlight is attracted for the wrong reasons. The tabloid press is rife with examples of wonderfully talented, successful performers suffering career meltdowns because of problems in their personal lives. In a nutshell, Meg faces intense public scrutiny when her newlywed husband turns out to be a con man, who bilks her out of everything she owns, and she ends up living in her “Ritz-Volvo” on the streets of Beverly Hills. Worse, her friends, law enforcement and the press all think she was in on the scam.
All of this is revealed in the first few pages of the novel because what really interests me as a writer and actress is how Meg rebuilds her life in the aftermath. What happens months later when the paparazzi is no longer on her doorstep―when she no longer has a doorstep!―and must deal with the pain and humiliation of having been stripped of everything she’s worked so hard to achieve. How does it change you? What do you do to survive? What is it you find in yourself that allows you to pull yourself back up? For Meg, it’s even harder to bear knowing that her life of comfort and security, and the enjoyment of doing work she loves, has been ruined through no fault of her own.
I’ve been an actress since 1966, when Dark Shadows first went on the air, and I appeared in the new Dark Shadows film with Johnny Depp in 2012, so I know how challenging it is to sustain a long career. Reputation means everything, and so many careers have been destroyed by a negative public image. Obviously, the process of aging also takes its toll, and leaving the profession for any length of time makes it even more difficult for an actor to find work again. Meg can’t afford to lie low licking her wounds. “Homeless and hiding it,” she ends up living in her car determined to eke out an existence until she can regain her livelihood.
Writing about a show business world that I am very familiar with, I don’t make it easy for Meg. It’s a tough, unforgiving profession in which even the most talented face rejection on a daily basis, but Meg is resourceful, resilient and blessed with a wonderful, ironic sense of humor. In the end she finds redemption and retribution. I care too much about Meg not to give her a chance to confront the person who plunged her into these dire straits, and also allow her to once again shine as an actress.