Perched in the middle of a noisy Ventura Blvd. singles hang-out, working on her second bottle of mineral water, Julie Brown held her earrings out for inspection.
From her left ear, she produced a silver heart which dangled below a matching silver ball. From her right, a huge ruby globe attached to a gold hoop.
Hardly a matching set. “That’s OK, I have four holes in my ears so I have lots of choices,” Brown said, brushing back a tangled mane of henna-red hair.
If invaders from Mars crash-landed in Studio City and demanded an audience with the Valley’s Cinderella of Cool, you’d send them to Julie Brown’s castle. Armed with a barbed wit and a fondness for the kookiest corners of pop culture, this tiny, red-headed dynamo is quickly making the leap from video cult heroine to showbiz personality.
To use Brown’s Valley Speak lingo--she’s a goddess in progress.
Initially known for goofy novelty hits (“The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun”), she’s graduated to MTV stardom, courtesy of “Just Say Julie,” a weekly half-hour spoof which bashes every video pop tart from Tiffany to Tawny Kitaen--and has quickly become one of MTV’s highest-rated programs.
After years of delays, Brown makes her film debut May 12 in “Earth Girls Are Easy,” a colorful musical-comedy which, she also co-wrote. Despite the critical kudos the movie is now receiving, the film sat on a shelf for two years waiting for a distributor. In between movie-promotion junkets, Brown has also been shooting “Julie Brown: The Show,” the pilot for a proposed CBS-TV comedy series which is described as a “Dinah Shore for the ’90’s gone awry.”
“I think she’s totally unique,” said co-producer Ann Beatts, whose comedy credits include writing-producing stints on “Saturday Night Live” and “Square Pegs.” “You always hear people described as multi-talented if they can simply read cue cards and open supermarkets. But Julie is smart, funny, loveable and has a great body. She can write, sing, dance--I bet she can even roller-skate and paddle a canoe.
“She’s very reminiscent of Lucy and of Gilda Radner. They all have this very direct rapport with their audience--they make you feel that it’s incredibly important that you like them.”
It’s easy to see why the ebullient, busty comedienne is such a hit as MTV’s resident sex-bomb satirist. As hostess of a show set in a kitchen with an ocean liner-shaped sink, a stuffed white poodle (with shades) and a couch made out of artificial grass, Brown celebrates Valley schlock in all its giddy, giraffe-print splendor. Like Pee-wee Herman and Buster Poindexter, she’s created a real-life cartoon character who tightropes across the border between camp and cool.
A parody of an over-amped, bitterly-competitive airhead, Brown’s MTV alter-ego gets most of her laughs from heaping abuse on the channel’s endless parade of video vixens.
On a now legendary “PMS” episode, Brown throws herself tearfully in front of her TV set, snacking on dog food and dissing a Debbie Gibson video, growling “How does she get guys like that? She’s only 16--what sexual tricks could she know?” Later, having mistakenly aired a Tiffany clip, Brown tears the video out of the machine, heaves it across the room and--waving a rifle--shoots it like a skeet target, screeching, “Kill it before it multiplies!”
In person, Brown is considerably less frenetic, but still appealingly fiendish. Exhausted after a long day of rehearsals for her CBS show (“How do you like my stress cough?” she said, hacking away) she marshalled enough energy to take a visitor on a mini-tour of the Valley. The first stop: a neon-drenched Gap outlet on Ventura Boulevard. Brown quickly darted inside, cruising for V-neck sweaters.
As she left the store, two bags under her arm, she pondered her other vices--besides shopping. “Let’s see,” she said. “Iced coffee . . . Hair dye . . . Is that a vice?” She laughed. “Wait a minute. How about boys? It was so obvious I forgot about it for a second. You don’t ruin your life over coffee, do you?”
Actually, it was Julie Brown’s biggest break that almost ruined her life. After knocking around doing stand-up comedy and bit parts in sit-coms, Brown collaborated with writing partner Charlie Coffey and ex-husband Terrence McNally on “Earth Girls Are Easy,” a musical fantasy about a trio of horny aliens whose spaceship lands in a Valley Girl’s swimming pool.
The trio sold the script in 1985, with Brown slated to play the leading role. A star was not born.
“I really crashed and burned,’ ” she explained, heading east on Ventura Blvd. “It was the ultimate professional nightmare. The whole point of me writing it was that the part was for me. But then they told me I couldn’t star in it. They could only get it made with a name actress. I wasn’t big enough. They wanted a real star.”
Eventually, the producers landed Geena Davis. Brown settled for the second-lead of Candy, a ditzy Valley beautician.
“After all that, the movie went into turnaround,” she recalled. “Finally, it got picked up by (the DeLaurentiis Group) which made the movie--and then they went out of business! So we had to screen it for everybody and finally Vestron got interested and they’ve been real enthusiastic about distributing it and then Geena won an Oscar, which is just a miracle.”
Brown shrugged. “It’s been 4 1/2 years since I first started doing this movie. I mean, I could’ve had children or gone to college already!”
“Earth Girls” is such an affectionate satire of the Valley’s loopy life style that it makes you wonder where Brown got such a keen eye for pop excess?
“My family was very middle-class in the sense that everything looked perfect,” she explained. “It was very Beaver Cleaver. But I don’t think it was very real. It was like we were all on TV or something.”
At the movies one afternoon as a kid, Brown saw “Bye Bye Birdie.” “It changed my life,” she said. “I still want to go see Ann-Margret. That scene in ‘Birdie’ where she squeezes her breasts together . . . “
Brown beamed. “I think it finally made me understand what it was like to be a woman.”
This new sensibility did not make Brown an ideal parochial school student. “I think I got my attitude that the world was totally bizarre by going to Catholic school,” Brown said. “It was like Nazi prison camp. The nuns made you into robots. They’d scare you, even sneak up behind you and hit you. It was the most repressive environment.”
On the other hand, Catholic school gave Brown a sense of theatre. “The Bible stories were all so theatrical, so melodramatic. It’s the same way with the Valley. It’s essentially suburbia, but it’s so close to Hollywood--with all the studios in Burbank--that the the theatricality has seeped into suburbia and made it--well--suburbia, but bigger than life. So it has this great cheesy side to it.”
Always eager to find new material, Brown often drags her friends off in search of the lowest rungs of pop culture, whether it’s a pit-bull contest in Riverside, a swap meet in Pasadena or a Dean Martin lounge show in Las Vegas.
“I like to put a lot of stuff into my head,” she said. “My writing partner and I went to a Connie Francis concert and it was so amazing--we got the whole concept and feel for our next movie. We were laughing so much we had to cover our mouths. We kept furiously scribbling all the plot points on our Connie Francis programs.”
“Earth Girls’ ” bumpy progress taught Brown a valuable lesson. “You have to separate yourself from your work and learn to value yourself as a person,” she said over dinner. “I think show business is a great job, but it’s not your life. You just can’t let all the show business stuff take over your life.
“I learned to value my friends and my personal life, because it’s important to have people you can depend on, that you can be vulnerable with and just be normal with.”
Her friends value Brown’s loyalty in return. “What makes Julie special is that she didn’t wait around for someone to write her movies or shows--she did it herself,” says songwriter pal Allee Willis, who designs the sets for “Just Say Julie.” “And let me tell you, she definitely looks out for her friends. We do similar work, but she’s never competitive. In fact, she’s tossed a lot of work my way.”
Brown took her personal-improvement regime one step further. “I kicked all the psychos out of my life,” she said firmly. “I had a crazy relationship, which I got out of. I stopped working with some crazy producers. I cut myself off from . . . “
She sighed. “The thing about psychos, especially Hollywood psychos, is that they can be very fascinating and totally compelling. They are never boring. But it gets a little scary when you try to have a real life with them.”
Brown rolled her eyes. “I mean, I loved the Sex Pistols, but would you want to be in a relationship with Sid Vicious?”
She laughed. “Hey, Madonna. Some free advice. Find a nice accountant!”
Promoting one of her pop parodies on MTV, Brown sat in for Julie Brown, MTV’s black veejay of the same name, who was off quietly having a nose job--at least until her namesake announced it on the air. “I came on and said, ‘Hi, I’m Julie Brown after plastic surgery,’ ” recalled the comedienne, who is now known in MTV circles as Julie (West Coast) Brown.
Impressed by her tart sense of humor, MTV eagerly gave Brown her own show. With a kitschy atomic-age set designed by Willis, “Just Say Julie” has become a camp classic. Shot on a low- low budget (“the whole thing costs about $1.50" says Willis), “Julie” is videoland’s first self-referential satire. Asked to show current clips during each show, Brown mercilessly lampoons MTV’s non-stop array of videos adorned with scantily-clad models and dancers.
On a recent show, titled “How To a Model Day,” Brown aired a popular Whitesnake video which features the band’s shaggy-maned lead singer, David Coverdale, and sexy footage of model (and Coverdale girlfriend) Tawny Kitaen. Pretending to be Kitaen, Brown narrated the clip in a breathless whisper.
Whenever Kitaen popped up in the clip, Brown would squeal “That’s me!” When Kitaen and Coverdale performed a steamy love scene, she cooed: “Look, I’m sticking my tongue in his ear. That’s always important to do in a video, because then they ask you back to do more videos!”
Brown loves to joke that she was a Homecoming Princess in high school because she got both “the cheerleader and the low-rider vote.” She’s clearly a Valley insider--only a gal who drove her Volkswagon through the hallways of her high school science building (“Hey, I got laughs!”) could offer such a dead-on imitation of this vacuous Valley chatter.
So what does Julie Brown, a lowly earth girl who’s become the princess of Planet MTV, really want? “I’d love to just have a regular job,” she said, almost wistfully. “It would be great if this CBS show happened, so I could go to work everyday, see the same people and come home at night and have dinner and watch TV.
“My life has been so chaotic, that a normal job looks pretty good to me. I know it sounds so predictable, but predictability can be very reassuring.”
She shrugged. “And hey--having your own TV show is a pretty fun job. Who’s going to argue with that?”