Ever wonder what it would have been like if you had actually tracked down and met your celebrity heroes when you were a kid? Perhaps you would have become friends with them, or they would have even inspired you to embark on your own career in the performing arts.
That's just what lesbian writer Hillary Carlip did as a precocious girl growing up in Los Angeles in the early 1970s. And in pursuit of her favorite stars, Carlip just happened to discover herself.
In her charming new memoir, Queen of the Oddballs, Carlip writes about her Hollywood teen exploits, which include taking dance classes with the children of movie stars (such as Jamie Lee Curtis), hanging out in Carly Simon's dressing room at The Troubadour, sleuthing her way to the home of folk singer Carole King, and teaching her hero Lucille Ball to juggle—even if only by proxy (through screenwriter Bob Carroll, Jr.).
Carlip's dogged devotion to befriending her idols was rooted in artistic admiration. She recently told AfterEllen.com, “A lot of people have said, ‘the book is so full of celebrities.' I've hung out with celebrities, and I've done weird things with celebrities.” Carlip laughs, and adds, “But to me that's not nearly as interesting. I never thought of myself as someone who was fascinated with celebrity, because when I was young I wasn't. I was fascinated by the talent. They were just the most talented people I was exposed to.”
Carlip's enthusiasm and ingenuity may have gained her entry to the inner sanctums of rock legends, but her considerable pluck ultimately led her down a creative path all her own. In Oddballs, a teen Carlip writes in her diary, “If I could find Carole King, meet her, and watch her do Lamaze exercises on her kitchen floor, there's no telling what else I can do, right?”
And so begins an artistic life that sees many incarnations. Carlip performs a winning juggling act on The Gong Show, lands a role in the infamous disco debacle Xanadu, delivers singing telegrams to the Hollywood elite, and writes the cult songs, “Buffy Come Back” and “Beaver Cleaver Fever” with her girl-band Angel and the Reruns.
Along the way, Carlip also comes out as a lesbian and has tumultuous relationships with glamorous actresses, dancers, and even a famous soap opera star. She describes outrageous girlfriends who are actual drama queens, and whose exploits run the gamut from cheating on her with their exes, to whisking her away for a romantic trip to Italy.
Gun shy and finally able to appreciate the benefits of living single, Carlip tries—and luckily fails—to elude destiny when she finally meets Ms. Right (writer/producer Maxine Lapiduss, Ellen, Roseanne, Situation: Comedy).
As an adult, Carlip eventually settles on being an author. She writes screenplays (her experience of the script development process reads like a film industry cautionary tale) and a book giving young girls a forum to express themselves (Girl Power: Young Women Speak Out), and she launches a critically acclaimed website devoted exclusively to personal essay (FreshYarn.com).
She says of FreshYarn.com, “It's exciting that the site has built such a community. There are about 10 people that have gotten agents from it, people have gotten book deals from it. Really great stuff has happened. It's kind of what I was doing with my first book, Girl Power. Being creative is my lifeline and I want to encourage others to find empowerment in creative self-expression.”
The publication of Queen of the Oddballs has spawned yet another project for Carlip, a website showcasing the talents of unique individuals everywhere. “I'm conducting online auditions where people can express their creativity and oddball-ness through visual art, video, audio, writing. Then people can go online and vote for the Ambassador of Odd— someone to represent being unique and different. We're going to get a little panel of celebrity judges to vote on the final.”
Think of it as a modern Gong Show, but without the gong.
Carlip's memoir documents her lifelong quest to find her creative calling, and all the stops along the way. She seems to have done it all, and she has met just about everyone who's anyone along the way. Her playful recounting of showbiz hi-jinks and brushes with fame are fascinating.
But the more personal elements of the book are perhaps the most engaging. Carlip's writing about her relationship with her family (particularly her dying father who never really lived his own artistic life) and musings on the need for validation that has always driven her to pursue a life in the spotlight are especially moving.
In the end, readers will likely discover that Hillary Carlip's star turn in Queen of the Oddballs is amply entertaining, with or without appearances by her esteemed celebrity guests.
Get Queen of the Oddballs at Amazon