11/13/09

I Was the Real Ugly Betty

I have been a fan of “Ugly Betty” since it premiered. I’m not happy that ABC moved it to Fridays at 9 p.m. since that seems like a death knell for the series, but we’ll see. Besides the eye-candy sets, the snarky humor, and the insider’s glimpse into magazine publishing, know why I like it? Because I WAS Ugly Betty. For real.

It was my junior year of college. Picture it: NYC, the winter of 1995/96. Me: a frumpy, naïve college kid who’d never plucked her eyebrows or seen a Manolo Blahnik. Though I didn’t share Betty’s affinity for ankle socks and heels, my idea of fashion was a boxy Esprit blazer, pleated (!) pants, and chunky, rubber-soled loafers. Maybe even Doc Martens, I’ve blocked it out. Not pretty. Even less so because I had bad skin and was still carrying the “Freshman 15” -– or in my case, the “Freshman 22.” I would share a photo, but all pictures from that era have been burned.

I had this idea that I might like to work in magazine publishing. I’d grown up hoarding Elle magazines and making collages from the NYT Sunday Style section. Plus, I fancied myself a writer. At the time I was an editorial intern for a *tiny* local paper in upstate New York. So over Christmas break, I applied for and got an internship with a glossy magazine in New York City. The big time, people!

The magazine was called “Swing,” and it was a general interest publication for Gen-X’ers, NOT a porno, as I grew weary of explaining to people. Playing the role of Daniel Meade was David Lauren, son of the famous Ralph. (BTW, I learned that Lauren is pronounced like the girl’s name, not all Frenchy –- “Lau-REN” -– like people usually say it.) David was a preppier, more disheveled, equally charming version of Daniel. He was one of the few people in that office who looked me in the eye and thanked me for giving up my winter break to lick stamps for no pay.

The offices, sadly, were nowhere near as glamorous as Meade Publications’ digs. It was a Madison Avenue address, but the cramped quarters were cluttered and fluorescent-lit, and you had to ask for a key to use the bathroom.

Also, there weren’t any characters nearly as colorful or devious as Marc or Wilhelmina, though there was an Amanda-esque junior editor who wore glittery eyeshadow and got invited to events at the Met and MOMA. There was also an extremely unpleasant photo editor with B.O. who once bitched me out for not taking a message properly.

My sole friend at the magazine, if you could call her that, was a fellow intern named Sloane or Skye or something like that. She had grown up in Manhattan, attended fancy prep schools, and wore tight pants and Gucci belts. Coming from a campus where overalls and pajama bottoms were considered acceptable daywear, I’d never seen such an exotic creature as Sloane. She came to work with stories about her boyfriend’s exploits with “Leo’s posse.” Leo, as in DiCaprio.

I didn’t have any madcap adventures like Betty, unless you count running for the bus through a foot of slush or my encounter with a crazy homeless man. Nor was there any romance. (Have I mentioned how unfortunate-looking I was at the time?) I did once spot a supermodel on the street, one of those tall, blonde girls from the mid-‘90s. (But doesn’t that describe pretty much EVERY supermodel?)

I didn’t write a single article, interview a single celebrity, or attend a single event. I just stuffed envelopes and answered phones for 5 weeks. As thanks, some of the staffers took me out for a fancy lunch. I distinctly remember their words: “We’re not dessert people, but you go right ahead.” Can’t you just see Wilhelmina saying that to Betty?

Ah, good old “Swing” magazine. The experience that convinced me I wanted to stay as far the hell away from New York City as humanly possible. Too bad for me, it didn’t cure me of my lust for the glamorous world of magazine publishing. Which is why I ended up at “Maryland” magazine after graduation. But that’s not nearly as good of a story.

LINK O’ THE WEEK: Check out this site for all your Ugly Betty news. Turns out Marc was recently on NPR. Cool!

5 comments:

Tina G. said...

I find it very hard to believe YOU were ever an Ugly Betty! It's just not in your jeans/GENES! ha!

Mom2Miles said...

Did you miss the part about the extra lbs., the unplucked eyebrows & the bad skin?! Trust me, "ugly" is a positive spin. ;) But thanks for the compliment!

Amber Page Writes said...

I'm glad to hear you survived your Ugly Betty days. In journalism school, I dreamed of getting into glossy mags, but never had the guts to actually try.

I'm guessing that was a good thing.

Melinda Leigh said...

You were cute back then, too. Then again, I was sporting overalls and clogs most of the time- so I was easy to impress.

Momma Comma said...

Hey Mama, I totally feel you!

Even though I never worked at a mag, I've certainly written for my share and believe I LOVE that show because I feel like I was her in JHS - glasses, braces, chunk and all.

She represents triumph over the shallow and I LOVES it! Great post :)

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