The Real Truth in Advertising

My Do It Clairol ad

I was living the life in Malibu. Beachfront. On the water. Waves crashing, lulling me to sleep. On the street side, the monotonous drone of Pacific Coast Highway was its own kind of white noise. Everything was good in the world.

My agents phoned about an interview. They always called auditions interviews. Some director in New York wanted to hear a recording of my voice reading the script for a commercial. No on-camera audition required. I was the only actor in Los Angeles requested, not that I knew this at the time.

I landed the job and took off for Miami, Florida. Filming would be in Coral Gables. At the hotel, I was met by “it” director Melvin Sokolsky, who gave me the warmest hug. Sokolsky had been an award-winning photographer who, at the age of twenty-one was invited to join the staff of Harper’s Bazaar.  He also contributed to Vogue, Esquire, McCall’s & Newsweek. In 1969 he embarked on a new career in television commercials. He would eventually win 25 Clio Awards, the Oscar of the ad business.

One night I ate at Joes Stone Crab = life altering

One night I ate at Joes Stone Crab = life altering

Melvin’s entourage in Florida included his wife, Button, and son, Bingy. Oh yes, and the ad agency people. The suits wasted no time in saying they found me a questionable casting choice. They weren’t shy about expressing their disapproval in front of me. Clairol always hired top New York models for its commercials. What was Melvin doing casting a little hippie chick with hairy armpits and ear-piercings? I was barely five feet tall, not exactly a fashion model. The last Clairol girl they hired was a gorgeous amazon. Hers was an ad I took note of – and was honored to realize I’d been handpicked for the same campaign.

Melvin revealed he’d seen me in a Hallmark commercial and loved the sound of my voice. He didn’t care what I looked like — he wanted a real actress, not some stiff model.  I wanted to believe him as my morale was pretty low after the Mad Men tore me apart. I think I believed him. Seduction began. All the focus from the director and his family was on me. At night we went out for meals together and during the day, we worked on the big budget Clairol ad. In those few days of being wined and dined (in my case, Coked and dined), I was ready to be friends with Melvin, Button and Bingy for life.  I think I can say now, looking back on it, that the experience was life altering, even if for the director, and everyone else involved, it was just another job.

Although the commercial had a large budget the set was just a basketball court in the middle of a public park. The hotel was more of a motel. On the first day, I met the hair and makeup person. His name was Tommy Baratta. Tommy would go on to fame as a personal chef to Jack Nicholson (and the author of “Cooking for Jack”) and open two popular restaurants: Biz Bistro in Aventura, Florida, and Marylou’s in Greenwich Village.

But that was later. This Tommy was a lovely guy who met me one minute, and the next told me to strip and get in the shower with him so he could dye my hair.   Truth in advertising and all that. I wasn’t happy about this, as I had not been told I had to dye my virgin hair. (After all, it was the one part of me that was still a virgin.) I had never even blown my hair dry, let alone colored it. Tommy said trust me, and there we were showering together. I kept my bathing suit bottom on and he was in his bathing suit and suddenly I had dyed hair. Welcome to Hollywood, via Miami. I’m a free spirited sport so it was fine. Until it started to grow out and I saw the roots.

Spending so much time together, I learned that Melvin had been the fashion photographer who’d shot the iconic “bubble pics” for Harpers Bazaar, shot all over Paris and the river Seine in 1963. This same artist would soon take the still shot of me that went into fashion magazines during the Clairol campaign. Ali MacGraw, yes that Ali MacGraw, worked as his assistant and stylist before she began her own modeling career that Melvin was instrumental in launching.

Melvin's bubble image.

Melvin’s bubble image.

On the first glorious and sunny Miami day of shooting, Melvin gives me a key bit of direction. In the ad, I’m supposed to say, “I do it,” as in “I color my hair.” He leaned in and said, “I want you to look directly into the camera and tell the world ‘I fuck.’” Oh I can do that, I thought. Each take when I say, “I do it,” I am thinking I fuck. Brilliant casting. Brilliant directing.

After the Clairol commercial aired, I got a call from my boyfriend’s father. He was a famous actor who had been in “The Godfather.” He called, he said, to tell me he thought I was a terrific actress — that in 30 seconds, I could tell a story and convey so much. I was so thrilled by the phone call I carry the compliment to this day.

Thanks for the direction, Melvin.

Melvin Sokolsky and his wife Button moved with their son Bingy to Los Angeles in the mid to late 70s and still live in Beverly Hills. Bing Sokolsky who was the dolly operator at age eleven on our shoot in the park in Coral Gables is now a cinematographer with an impressive list of credits. I lost touch with them years ago. But a few years ago when a book of Melvin’s photographs was published, I went to the gallery and got a signed book.


Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami is where I had my first taste of stone crab.  Also a life altering experience.

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5 Responses to “The Real Truth in Advertising”

  1. DeeDee Lancet says:

    I love a good back story and
    Fredde this is a great one! You
    have led a charmed life, because
    you are sooo charming, you’re a

  2. Linda says:

    Loved reading this greatbstory … while we’re in Coral Springs, Florida.

  3. jennifer dudley arbaugh says:

    Sounds of PCH.. I lived for awhile in that upstairs bedroom .. roomed with you and Kimberly. I was sure a car was going to come crashing through. Steve March visited a lot and took great pride in bullying me… Not sure why I didn’t crush him..

    The commercial is great! They could of saved tonsa bucks and shot it at a local playground in Pacific Palisades.. but it’s always a great time to spend the client’s money..

    Still in the Tropics


  4. Pauli says:

    Loved the whole fucking thing.

    They should have hired you for the Nike ads.
    Instead of saying:
    Just do it!
    You would probably have said:
    Fuck it.

  5. eileen says:

    Great writing. ……

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