Everyone has a Dirty Dancing story. This is mine. In the mid-80s, a year out of Oxford University and a year into an investment-banking career at Manufacturers Hanover in London, I decided to dance. I quit my job, packed my bags and moved to Los Angeles. I wanted to cut a rug in Hollywood.
My first job was at Triad Artists, Inc., one of the principal talent agencies at the time. Among a large roster of clients, they represented a young actor called Patrick Swayze, best known for his ensemble character work in films The Outsiders and Red Dawn, and for his television part in the miniseries North and South. He was about to start shooting his first movie as a leading man -- Dirty Dancing -- for an indie film company called Vestron Pictures.
Like 'Baby' Houseman (Jennifer Grey's character in the movie), I was seduced. My Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze's role of a lifetime) was Hollywood. The town dirty danced to a different beat and it did not take much to be smitten. As I shimmied up the ranks, from delivering scripts in the mailroom to getting on a desk as an agent's assistant (sort of a glorified secretary), I made the metamorphosis from agent trainee to motion picture literary agent.
After my promotion, my old boss Joe Rosenberg took me out on the town to introduce me to the players. The first breakfast I had at the famous Polo Lounge in The Beverly Hills Hotel was with Joe and Steve Reuther. At the time, Steve worked at Vestron Pictures and Dirty Dancing was his baby.
As we got cozy in a plush booth, with a bevy of waiters doing a graceful ballet around us -- ice tinkling in tall glasses, coffee streaming out of an elegant silver spout, leather-bound menus gathered with the arch of an arm -- Joe introduced me as "Charlotte, our new lit agent."
Of course, I knew Steve's gravelly voice from the phone, as I always listened in on calls I made for Joe when I was his assistant, surreptitiously taking notes and offering tips. Still, here was the man, lanky with a head full of salt and pepper curly hair. Steve was very excited about Dirty Dancing.
"That's our Patrick Swayze," said Joe.
"He's gonna be a star," said Steve.
I had a great time at breakfast. Though I did not say much, I was a blossoming mover and shaker, dancing with the big boys. Steve invited me to the film's premiere. I thought he was nice.
Julia Phillips, who penned You'll Never Eat Lunch Again in this Town, was less kind about Steve. She wrote, "Steven Reuther ****s himself into a job at Vestron. He almost marries the woman, but they split up badly instead. She, who was there first, and helped Austin build the company, loses an executive war with Bill Quigley and is fired. Steven, meanwhile, goes up the executive ladder. His credit is on a dozen turkeys and one hit, Dirty Dancing."
I expect at some point Steve got ****ed himself, the price of doing business in Hollywood. But the legacy of one hit is enough. The train of Dirty Dancing was about to leave the station. Steve, true to his word, sent me an invite to the premiere. It was a fun party, lots of tap dancing for a young agent like me, plenty of glitter and glam. But the real magic of the evening unfolded on the silver screen: the sizzling chemistry between the stars; a fairly-tale of a story by screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein; plenty of hot and dirty dancing, choreographed beautifully by Kenny Ortega and directed skillfully by Emile Ardolino; and of course, Patrick Swayze.
Dirty Dancing came out August 16, 1987. For a low budget movie made for a mere $5 million, it went on to become one of the highest grossing films of 1987. A star was born. Sometime after the release, Patrick Swayze visited our Century City offices to meet literary agents in the quest for finding him new material. We all rifled through our inventory for good scripts.
I rushed to the meeting with my stack. He sat in a chair at the round table, our Sir Lancelot, tall and handsome. He looked directly into my eyes when I was introduced: they were hazel and kind. I was not starstruck, but struck by how soft-spoken, low-key and quietly intelligent he was, as the meeting began.
Years have gone by now. I quit Hollywood in 1995. Done with dirty dancing, I set off to waltz in fresh pastures. But I remain grateful to people like Joe, Steve and Patrick Swayze, who I met but that one time, all those who let me have a whirl on the dance floor.
For a while back there, I had the time of my life.
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