On the first day of her first job, Sandi Marx met her boss, Stephen. He left an impression that remains more than 30 years later.
Sandi Marx hadn’t made it on the New York show circuit, so she found herself behind the desk of a major talent agency. Her boss, Stephen, became a mentor, a friend, a dance partner. And during the early years of the AIDS crisis in New York City, he made a decision that changed Sandi’s life.
In her words:
It’s my first day at my first job and I am scared shitless.
I am sitting in the reception area at J. Michael Bloom which was this huge popular talent agency at the time and I was this ridiculously scruffy kid living this incredibly sheltered life living in my little shtetl in Queens. I was a hot mess. I was sitting there in my casual steppards from Ann Taylor thinking I looked like “business casual, ready to go!” I was a mess. And I had very little experience in the real world with the exception of a couple years at NYU where I really didn’t fit in because I graduated college with–actually high school–with a 740 combined on my SATs, so I wasn’t exactly a brain trust. And I wanted to be a dancer after so I kind of kicked around for a little while but I was kind of a mediocre in most ways kind of girl. But I thought, “Okay, this is it.” I’m going to learn how to be an assistant, I’m going to be working in a talent agency and this will be my big day.
So I’m sitting in reception, I’m so nervous, and out walks my boss, Steven, who is a vision of stunningness. He’s tall with this premature mop of grey hair and a little brush of a mustache to match and he was wearing a Crew suit with a matching tie and buckskin shoes, he was magnificent. And he led me back there, he could have led me down to Hell at the moment, I would have gone anywhere with Steven. He had these big blue marble eyes. Magnificent. So we go into the office and he’s telling me how to use the telephone, how to use the copy machine, I’m not hearing anything, I’m in the presence of greatness.
And I can tell right away because he has this huge personality that I’m also finally meeting my match, because I am a straight girl hiding inside a gay man’s body. And my body, arch, sarcasm, has finally found someone who will appreciate me for just being who I am. And I want him to be my friend and I want him to like me. And Steven is one of those people who has a million friends so I know I will be lucky if I’m included.
So as time passes, he teaches me how to talk on the phone with casting directors, how to scout for good talent, and more importantly how to saute soft-shell crabs, and what to wear at cocktail parties when it’s Business, and where the greatest sample sales were, and to reciprocate all I had to offer was to teach him the entire opening combination to “A Chorus Line: The Audition”. So at lunch at least three times a week we would lock the door and we would run it through, lunging, popping our heads, shouting…it was as if I had climbed through a poppy field, I landed in Oz and I never wanted to leave. Work was my favorite part of my life. And Steven enjoyed all the things that I seemed to enjoy so we were a match. And he was also generous enough to include me in his personal life. So I would meet all of these gorgeous people, mostly men, that were in his life. Some were boyfriends, some were just friends, but they would come and hang out in our office which sort of became like a salon. And he had this one boyfriend who was actually in the Navy and he showed up in his Dress Whites like right out of Fleet Week and he showed up and he was like my Richard Gere and I wanted to be Deborah Winger and I wanted him to just take me away. But his whole life was like that, it was just shiny and bright like a brand new toy that he wanted to play with wherever he went. Suddenly, though, things changed.
It was 1982 and we got this one phone call. Peter, a really sweet guy, a wonderful actor, was going to miss an audition. He felt really shitty, had a horrible cough, his doctor thought it might be pneumonia. Didn’t really think about it much. Two weeks later, Steven and I were at St. Vincent’s and were instructed to put on hospital gowns, masks, and gloves, because if we were going to visit we needed to be protected. He might be contagious or we might be contagious towards him. Now that was disturbing, but more disturbing was if you walked down the halls at St. Vincents, room after room after room, there were young men who looked like Peter and their families were also wearing hospital gowns and masks. Something terrible was coming. We all saw it, we all know it, but we didn’t really, really know what it was, nobody did. Time passed, weeks turn to months, and all those hospital visits to all these great guys turned into funerals and memorial services. One more beautiful than the other. Incredible tributes, videos, catered events, but we were at a point where we were becoming almost numb to this. We were bringing black outfits to work knowing at any time that we might be called to go to someone’s burial. It was as if this incredible 20th Century Renaissance with unbelievable talent–choreographers, directors, actors, painters–they were disappearing right before our eyes. Steven remained Steven: optimistic, beautiful, healthy, thank God healthy. But I think he started to take stock and realize that maybe there’s more to life than sitting at the same desk doing the same bullshit booking commercials. So he had the good sense because of these talents to become an incredible motivational speaker. He worked in large corporations, helping people get on track, and I had the great pleasure of replacing him and becoming a full agent at 25 years old, which is pretty good for someone with that 740 on her SAT scores. I didn’t know what I was doing but figured I’d give it a try.
And I tried to maintain the joy that Steven brought into my life which is something you can’t put a price tag on. And things went well for a long time and finally I was lucky enough to open up my own business. A huge wooden crate arrived and inside that crate were tall, white, beautiful tulip bulbs. Bright, all perfect standing straight, just like Steven, that’s what it looked like. It looked like a huge box of beautiful Steven sitting on my desk telling me, “You’re going to be okay. I’ve done my job and now it’s your turn. Keep the joy and the job, just do what you’re doing.” And I did and had a miraculous career for many, many years. Did things that I would never have dreamed I would do like slow dancing with Tony Bennett, or sewing Marisa Tomei into a malfunctioning dress, but nothing in all those years would come even close to Steven and I behind the locked door at 400 Madison Avenue dancing to Marvin Hamlisch.
Originally published at ImFromDriftwood.com. I’m From Driftwood envisions a world where every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer person feels understood and accepted, and every straight person is an ally.