I forced my way between Jayne Mansfield and Elizabeth Taylor to gain access to the dressing room mirror, the only one in a room for five performers. There were three other similar dressing rooms and I imagined they all had the same electric chaos.
‘Steady on, Daniel,’ Jayne said in his deep, melodious voice, ‘let’s share the mirror, dear. There’s plenty of time.’
‘Sorry, Mark,’ I said with a weak smile, ‘I’m just nervous, this is a little weird for me.’
Mark laughed and winked. ‘You call this weird? You should see the party afterwards! Don’t worry, Daniel, you look fine, you’re a perfect Hillary Judd if ever I saw one.’
‘Just mime and smile,’ Jim said, adjusting his Elizabeth Taylor wig. ‘The punters won’t see you’re nervous. You look fantastic, by the way,’ Jim said, looking me up and down, ‘Mark’s right, you’re a perfect Hillary Judd, just perfect!’
‘Thanks,’ I said weakly, frantically adjusting my auburn wig and hoping my false eyelashes didn’t stick together like they did in rehearsals. This was my first appearance in the Blue-Girls Review and I was as nervous as hell. After all, it wasn’t everyday that I dressed in women’s clothes and paraded in front of an audience!
Broke and penniless, I had auditioned for the Blue-Girls as my last desperate act and had not expected to be selected. It was the most famous of the male revues and toured Europe often.
I hadn’t eaten for two days and felt light-headed and weak as I waited in the audition room, slowly following the line of hopefuls that wound past the table where the three people, who made the final decision, sat.
The three of them looked terribly bored and stared at each candidate while sipping coffee or tea. It was the traditional ‘cattle call’ and I hated every minute of it, even though I had endured hundreds of auditions just like this.
Suddenly, the room had spun and the next minute I was blinking and looking up at a circle of worried faces who stared down at me. ‘Are you all right?’ an unfamiliar voice asked and I had tried to smile. ‘Uh…I think so,’ I had murmured, moving to sit but a hand rested on my shoulder, gently pushing me back down.
‘Take a minute, dear,’ the voice said and I looked up into a smiling male face. ‘When did you last eat?’ he had asked with concern.
‘I can’t remember,’ I said honestly.
‘I thought so. Let’s get some food for you.’
A short while later I was seated at a table, drinking a cup of tea and hungrily scoffing a meat pie.
‘Yes, thank you. I’m Daniel,’ I said to my benefactor.
‘Mark,’ he introduced himself with a smile. ‘I haven’t seen you around the revues before.’
‘First time,’ I said between mouthfuls. ‘I don’t know how I’ll go.’
Mark smiled as he looked me up and down. ‘I think you’ll just be perfect. You remind me of someone but for the life of me I can’t think.’
‘Are the auditions still going?’
‘Yes. You are still going to audition?’
I shrugged. ‘I have to. I’ll pay you back for…’
The line had shrunk and I was two from the dreaded table, listening to their chant of, ‘thank you, next, thank you so much, next!’
I expected to hear the same when I finally stood in front of them but the two men and one woman stared at me.
‘I’m Daniel James,’ I said softly.
The three of them glanced at each other and then leaned back in their chairs to study me.
‘I haven’t seen you before,’ one of the men said, hands behind his head as he looked me up and down.
‘No, my first time. I’m probably hopeless at it,’ I said with sudden honesty.
‘Everyone has a first time,’ the woman said softly, smiling as she also examined me closely.
They continued to stare at me and I was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable when the middle one suddenly smiled. ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’ he asked the other two who just nodded. ‘Daniel,’ he said, pointing, ‘could you go to that room and wait for a few minutes? We’re nearly finished.’
‘We may have something for you. You do want a job don’t you?’
‘Of course,’ I said quickly and walked to the waiting room, feeling the envious looks from the remaining auditioning actors.
One other young man was waiting in the room and we smiled nervously at each other. ‘Daniel,’ I offered.
‘Liam,’ he introduced himself in a lilting voice. ‘I do Kylie Minogue, who do you do?’
‘Ah…I’m not sure…’
The door opened and the two men and the woman entered with smiles. ‘I’m Mick, this is Veronica and Baden. Have you got your photos, Liam?’
Liam nodded and pulling some large photographs from his bag, showed them to the three.
‘Gorgeous,’ Veronica said with a smile, ‘and we have the dress that will be perfect.’
‘Can you sing?’ Baden asked Liam who shook his head. ‘Pity,’ Baden said, obviously disappointed, ‘you’ll just have to mime.’
‘Can you be here tomorrow for costume fitting?’ Mick asked and Liam smiled broadly.
‘Of course. Thanks a million.’
Liam vanished through the door and the three turned their attention to me. ‘You said this is your first time, right?’ Mick asked.
‘Yes,’ I murmured.
‘Let me guess, you’re an actor?’ Baden asked scornfully. ‘Trying to be Colin Farrell or some one?’
‘Trying to be,’ I said defiantly. I don’t look anything like Colin, he’s a real hunk!
‘This pays well,’ Veronica said walking around me and looking me up and down. ‘I think he’s even the correct height,’ she said to Baden, as if I wasn’t even there.
‘It’s Daniel, isn’t it?’ Mick asked, leading me to the table, gesturing for me to take a chair. The others sat with him, all staring at me.
‘Yes,’ I said at last, ‘Daniel James…’
‘Daniel, have you heard of Hillary Judd?’
‘Of course. She’s wonderful.’
Hillary Judd was a British born actor who had achieved global fame with her roles in three blockbuster movies. The roles had all been diverse and she was one of the best known actors and faces of our time.
Nominated for an Oscar twice, Hillary Judd now lived in America and, it was rumoured, almost engaged to a certain Senator whom everyone was picking to be a future President.
‘Well,’ Veronica said slowly, ‘you’re the spitting image of her.’
I was shocked. She was beautiful and I was, well, I was a bloke! I know, some would say I was short, slight of build and a little effeminate but definitely a bloke all the same.
‘Is this a wind up? Some sort of joke?’
‘No, definitely not a joke,’ Mick said calmly.
‘But I don’t look like…I look…me…?’
‘Yes, you!’ Baden said firmly. ‘It’s difficult to impersonate Hillary Judd because she has such a fresh face and our boys rely heavily on make-up. You have her eyes and facial structure. Those eyes are her trademark and you have them, you really have them! It’s a little uncanny.’
‘The eyebrows will need to be reshaped,’ Veronica murmured, leaning in to inspect me more closely.
‘Daniel, none of the other drag revues have a Hillary Judd because it is bloody difficult but you’re perfect!’
‘Perfect? Does that means I get a job?’ I asked cheekily.
‘We can trial you,’ Mick said, ‘but I’m betting you’ll be a smash.’
‘What will I have to do?’
‘You’ll dress up like her, walk on stage and mime with the others when we do our cavalcade of stars.’
‘Dress up?’ I said weakly. Wear women’s clothes and make-up? My fingers trembled at the thought of it. I couldn’t get away with it, could I?
I remembered that time I had gathered enough courage to actually wear women’s clothes. The result had been, in my eyes, hideous.
‘We’ll copy the dress she wore in Chorus Girl. It’s the best known.’
I remembered the poster for the Chorus Girl movie and guessed the long cream gown was the one they were talking about. I couldn’t look as beautiful as her, could I?
‘Want to try, Daniel?’ Mick asked.
‘I’m not sure if I could…you know…dress…I’d look pretty stupid…’
‘Let us be the judge of that,’ Baden said with a wink, ‘we’re the experts.’
‘We’ll help,’ Mick added. ‘It is a job, Daniel.’
‘But…I’m a bloke!’
‘So is everyone else in the revue! The punters expect to see blokes in drag! It’s the act.’
‘You wouldn’t look foolish, Daniel,’ Veronica said, reading my mind.
I made my mind up.
‘Why not?’ I said quickly. It was a job after all.
So here I was on opening night, squeezed into a corset, padded and plumped and poured into a cream slinky evening gown, about to walk onstage and I felt I had a million fluttering butterflies in my stomach.
I had the same butterflies the first time I was dressed. Baden had helped, firstly telling me to shave everything.
‘This is our live saver,’ he said with a grin, dangling a flesh coloured garment from his fingers. ‘This wonderful piece of engineering keeps you all tucked away, if you know what I mean,’ he said with a wink and I blushed a little.
‘It helps if you’re not too big.’ He raised an eyebrow. ‘You’re not too big are you, Daniel?’
‘No,’ I mumbled truthfully, ‘I’m not.’
‘Of course, some of our boys take hormones so there’s a little shrinkage.’ He winked again.
‘Female hormones. Now, let’s try you in this.’ I stared at the corset. ‘It’ll have to be tight, I’m afraid,’ he added maliciously.
The transformation had been amazing and now I was about to step on stage as a woman, as Hillary Judd!
This isn’t Hamlet, I thought, but it’s bread on the table, even if I look ridiculous! A man in drag! Of course, that was exactly what the revue was – men in drag!
Everyone had helped me with the costume and make-up and when they finished, a reasonable version of Hillary Judd smiled nervously back at me from the mirror. I know I was simply a caricature of Hillary Judd but a perfectly acceptable facsimile.
I had felt awkward and clumsy but Baden and Veronica brushed over it and told me to stand still on stage and mime. That’s all there was to it or so they said!
There were times when I wondered what I was doing, that I was becoming something I wasn’t, but I told myself that every actor takes on roles that require costume and this wasn’t any different. Or was it? It didn’t help that I looked a whole lot better as Hillary Judd than I did as Daniel James.
After surviving the first performance, I even began experimenting a little on the second and third shows. Mick was over the moon when he told us the season had been almost sold out. The reviews were flattering and I smiled when I saw one critic said it was worth the price of the ticket to see Hillary Judd miming badly.
‘Don’t know if I mimed badly,’ I protested and Mark laughed.
‘My dear, we all mime badly, it’s what we do!’
On the fourth night, I saw a woman and two men in dark suits standing at the back. Everything about them screamed Police and I wondered which one of the boys was in trouble.
I had cleaned my face, removed the wig and was saying good night when Baden slipped in, looking worried. ‘Daniel, there’s some official types out front who want to see you.’
‘Well not you specifically, they wanted to meet the person who impersonated Hillary Judd.’
‘Probably a better offer,’ Mark teased. ‘You’re off to the big time!’
I laughed at that. Of all of us, Mark was the one who knew what the big time was. He was the star and a close friend of the actor Catherine Lawrence.
‘I’ll go and see what they want,’ I said and smiled at Baden. ‘Don’t worry, Baden, I’m not in any trouble.’
They were waiting in the office and the three examined me closely when I walked in. ‘You wanted to see me?’
The tall one smiled formally. ‘Yeah, we sure did,’ he said in an American accent. ‘I’m Agent Carter, this is Agents Smith and Jackson.’
I nodded and smiled nervously. ‘I’m Daniel James.’
‘Glad to meet you, sir,’ Agent Carter said with a broad smile. ‘That was a hell of a Hillary Judd out there. Very believable.’
‘How tall are you?’ Agent Smith asked, her eyes openly appraising me.
I ran my fingers through my hair. ‘I’m five foot ten.’
The three exchanged satisfied smiles and I wondered what this was all about.
‘I expect you’re wondering what’s going on,’ Agent Carter said with a grin, like he read my mind. ‘Well, actually, yes.’
‘Can we buy you a drink or a meal? We can explain then.’
‘There’s a restaurant next door,’ Agent Jackson said, his eyes still wandering over me. I supposed I would be safe just walking there.
‘All right,’ I said slowly.
The waitress put the drinks down and I waited until she had walked away before asking, ‘who are you exactly?’
They exchanged glances again and then as if prearranged, produced identification which I studied carefully. ‘Secret Service? What is that?’
I had an inkling but wanted them to explain themselves.
‘We protect important people, very important people,’ Agent Carter said knowingly.
‘Like your President?’
‘And others, people who may be President.’
‘I don’t actually see the connection with me…’
‘I know,’ Agent Carter said and I guessed he was the senior, perhaps the leader, of the three. ‘We’d like to be frank with you but we need some confidentially agreements signed. If you were willing…’
‘Why would I be willing?’ I cut in. ‘I don’t really understand at all…’
The entire thing had taken on a spooky feel and I didn’t want to hang around much longer than I had to.
‘It could be a job, a well paying job,’ Agent Jackson jumped in.
‘In the States,’ Agent Smith added urgently and she appeared worried, perhaps concerned I was about to leave.
‘America?’ I asked stupidly and Agent Smith nodded.
‘We’ll give you five hundred pounds to sign the confidentially agreement,’ Agent Carter said calmly.
‘What? Five hundred…to sign…
‘Yes, in cash. Just sign the agreements, listen to what we have to say and consider our offer. If you say no, you keep the cash and walk away.’
‘But you can’t tell anyone,’ Agent Jackson said.
‘Ever!’ Agent Smith concluded.
‘Well…’ I stared at them. Five hundred pounds!