"Can I take a quick minute to tell you how much I adore your show?" asked the waitress.
"Well, it's..." Phyllis started to say but changed her mind. Instead, she smiled. "Thank you very much," she said.
The waitress left. "I get that all the time, "Enjoy the show,'" said Phyllis. And instead of telling them, 'Well, we're not on any more,' I just... you know."
Folks, here is encouraging news. Failure has failed to thwart Phyllis George. Plunged into her first significant career crisis, the All-American girl from Denton, Tex., reached deep into her vast spunk reserves and came up perky. Only two weeks after the atrocity, this reporter witnessed with his own eyes a resurgent Phyllis, chipper as always, virtually humming with energy and good cheer, ready to zoom anywhere necessary for whatever TV specials, charity fashion shows, holiday parades or box lunches fate tosses her way. In short, she has prevailed.
This can only be good news for an America beset by economic difficulties, moral uncertainties and plummeting TV ratings. We need our Phyllis Georges intact for the dark days ahead.
No doubt about it. She has bounce. When this thing hit, Phyllis was flat on her back. Run down, enfeebled, zonked. The hectic coast-to-coast pace had caught up to her. Her doctor said, Phyllis, go home and go to bed. You're exhausted; you've got viral pneumonia. Phyllis went home and crashed. The very next damn morning what do you know but her lawyer is on the phone with the bad news. CBS has canceled "People." He just got the word from the network president. Phyllis is in a viral fog. Out of it. Prone. "OK," she mumbles weakly and rolls over and goes back to sleep. "Like a little puppy dog."
Much later she wakes to find she wasn't dreaming. She calls back the lawyer to make sure. The show's been canceled? Yes, he says. And now Phyllis feels... what?
Come on, Phyllis. We heard mad. Read it in the gossips. Get mad, Phyllis, don't take it lying down. But Phyllis doesn't show anger. The southern lady syndrome. In New York, she has trouble grabbing her fair share of taxicabs. She doesn't yell. she does, however, call the president of CBS. For an explanation.
"I just want people to explain things to me thoroughly. That's all I ask. If something like that happens you sit down and explain it to me so I don't feel like I'm a victim. I don't like being a victim."
The prez says he feels for her. He's upset for her. Hey, he liked the show. But you know, ratings. Some ratings. One week it was 59th out of 61 shows.
Phyllis was feeling the victim because her show got preempted twice and moved around and she felt it didn't have time to build an audience. And then there was the frustration of a quick-jump format that chopped off any long answers to her questions. "Some of the best moments in an interview you maybe didn't see because they just didn't have time to put it in a three- or four-minute segment." Finally, there was the irritation of seeing her last show, featuring Muhammad Ali, Kris Kristofferson and an exclusive peek at her friend Dustin Hoffman, never run. Phyllis is convinced that the exces didn't even watch it. "I think they looked at the ratings the night before and then said we've got to cancel the show."
Hey, maybe Phyllis is getting mad.
"I'll tell ya," she says. "What I have learned from this experience is invaluable."
"It's a rat race."
Phyllis says this not bitterly but in a matter-of-fact way. "It's a tough, competitive business," she says. Chalk up another lesson on the long road from Denton. Phyllis came out of the sheltered life there. "When I won Miss America I didn't know the boardwalk was made out of boards. I didn't and I had never seen an ocean. Twenty-one years old. That's weeeeeird." She was green as cactus. She brought her pet crab with her from Texas and out on the runway her new crown charmingly fell off. But the Force was with her.
Phyllis marched naive but unscathed through college sweetheartdom, through Miss Americaness and TV sportspersonship and holiday parade narration. Success followed success. Not this, her first setback.
"That was a little hard for me to digest."
But digest she did. She tends to be hard on herself, and so her friends were calling and saying this wasn't your failure, Phyllis, don't blame it on yourself. And things were rough for about a week, although she didn't cry, as she sometimes has on TV. "i/ never cried. Good for me. (She laughs.) No, I didn't cry, cause I have learned to be... a business woman." And then things were okay. "It wasn't that horrifying after I'd sat back and looked at it." And then Phyllis was up and around. With a vengeance. "I drove everyone crazy, I kept so busy."
And now in the funhouse mirror spirit of the media, having been knocked out of her job asking people questions, Phyllis was sitting in the breakfast nook of the Residential Hotel where she lives near the UCLA campus here, being asked a question about how she went about asking questions. No, don't turn away in horror and confusion, because this is interesting stuff, the fact that sometimes Phyllis had trouble asking celebs certain questions because she remembered what it was like to be interviewed. "It was awkward for me to ask questions that I'd find a hard time answering myself," she said. Such as, her interviewer asked. She thought. "Are you a womanizer?" she said. "To Jimmy Caan." Phyllis fairly whooped with the memory. "I just couldn't believe I had to ask that question." The worst happened. Caan replied, "What's a womanizer?" Caught her with the old answer-a-question-with-a-question trick.
Q and A is no easy task, you know.
Which may be why Phyllis wants to be a movie star.
Yes, she's reading scripts. They're stacked up on her desk right now. She's 28 and shooting for the big transition. It had to be. What else could truly test our gal's star potential but the wide screen?Phyllis is warm, she is pleasant, she is well dressed. She's got true spunk. She's got face. There is no stopping her. The eyes of Texas are upon her. So is the eye of CBS. She's still under contrct there for three more years at nine hundred eighty quadzillion bucks. You know they gotta find her something. But the eye of Hollywood winks strongest and Phyllis searches for the actress within her. She had good rapport with the camera. She maintains eye contact with the audience. They like her. She's got that million-dollar Miss America smile. She's got rhinestone jeans and boots with three-inch heels that bring her near the six-foot mark. She has a positive outlook on life. Sure, there are occasional hints of a darker side, but either Phyllis isn't too in (Word Illegible) or has the good sense not to blab her angst to newspaper writers. Under her constant activity lurks a dread of boredom, of emptiness. A suppressed desire to sleep and sleep. Behind her ambition perhaps stalks her hard-to-please mom, "my worst critic."
But so what? We all have problems. Even cowgirls get the blues. Phyllis gets along well with her ex, the Hollywood mogul. She has apartments on both coasts. She's dating but nothing serious. She has the confidence of the perpetual most-popular girl in class. She has fame, money, looks, health, happiness. She works to help handicapped kids. She has a song in her heart. She's learning to be more assertive now. She's private about her personal life. She doesn't do gossip on the air. She gets very involved with people. Love keeps her going. She doesn't want a day to pass when she doesn't accomplish something. Life is good, the future bright. The Rose Parade is coming up soon. The dead series is a dim episode in her past, fast receding.