Thank You for Being a Friend!

Los Angeles, 1991.  I’d been living full time in Hollywood for about a year, couch-surfing from one apartment situation to another until finally landing in a tiny studio apartment in an old walk-up building on South Detroit Street. Just me & my cat, Henry, sleeping on a futon with make-shift furniture made from cinder blocks I’d pilfered from a pile on the street. Tinseltown glamour, right? With plumbing to match! So one night when I needed a plunger for the bathroom and realized it was not a gadget I had in my possession, I went downstairs to my knock on my neighbor’s door. I’d seen her around: a gregarious, piano-playing photographer and aspiring filmmaker with pets of her own. I figured she would not only have a plunger, she’d be OK with my asking to borrow it!

And that was how I met Julie “J.D.” DiSalvatore. She was not only one of my favorite neighbors ever, but one of my most fun friends…even after I moved out of the building (first across the street and then to a small house in the Hollywood Hills). She and I saw each other almost daily and were constantly coming up with ideas for finding fame and fortune. We wrote screenplays, started a “Movies & Margaritas” night at a local bar and worked the LA nightlife scene in search of our proverbial “big breaks.” She took my headshots and ran around town the way only 20-somethings could do in 1990s Hollywood. I remember we were invited to my pal’s Birthday party whose theme was “Come As You Are…or As You Wish to Be.” We wore our pajamas and came as “Retired!”   When the Northridge Earthquake hit in January, 1994, we ran to each other immediately.  There was no electricity or phone service…so we made pitchers of Bloody Marys and played “Monopoly” while waiting it out.

She was a younger version of Bea Arthur’s “Dorothy” and I was certainly a “Blanche,” so the Golden Girls had nothing on us! (She lovvvvved Bea Arthur and was always flattered by the comparisons.)  In 2007, she wrote that she thought of me as the “Vera” to her “Auntie Mame,” (if you get that reference) and that she is Martha Raye to my Bob Hope.  We produced play readings, cooked big meals on a shoestring budget, watched old movie classics and commiserated over our love lives. When she got a job a directing an indie film, she cast me in a supporting role. When I did my first LA Cabaret show, she joined me on stage for a musical comedy improv. Most memorably, in the late 90’s, she directed me in a great production of the Lanford Wilson play “Burn This” at the Coast Playhouse. Alongside 3 other actors (Jane Clark, Kirk Geiger and Craig Damon), JD & I had a lot of margaritas and a lot of laughs….even/especially in times of stress, worry and trouble.  A true friend and “partner in crime!”

JD went on to become a well known personality in the West Hollywood LGBTQ community and a passionate advocate for Pet Rescue.  Even throughout her long battle with cancer, she devoted her time and talents to helping shelter animals, filming artfully produced profiles to encourage their adoptions.  I saw her for the last time when I was back in Hollywood for the 2017 Oscars and we had a “Burn This” reunion at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.  Although frail, she was in great spirits and her indomitable humor made us all feel more comfortable about the inevitable outcome she faced.  Thank goodness for email as it was a great way to stay in touch across the years and miles.  I’m going to miss swapping funny anecdotes and shared memories with this outrageously smart and funny lady.
Jane told me she saw JD the day before she died and that she was in bed watching the soap GENERAL HOSPITAL.  She explained that she had started tuning in when she got sick from chemo because “it was easy and entertaining to watch and you could miss days and it didn’t matter.”  She was amused by the fact that most of the characters and actors had been around since the 90s and looked exactly the same…which must have been comforting somehow.  Jane said she drifted off for a few minutes and then came back, looked at the TV for a moment and said, “I think I missed a plot point!”   Jane replied, “Yup…they just found out Sonny was alive.”  Same storylines as the 90s, too!  
I can imagine JD in Heaven, her wild mane of Salt & Pepper hair restored to its 1990s glory, wearing a head-set, carrying a Walkie-Talkie and telling other Angels where to position themselves to find the most flattering light.  She’s surrounded by all her animal angels and, knowing her as I do, when it’s my turn to come through the Pearly Gates, she’ll push St. Peter aside to make sure she’s first to greet me.  We will sing show tunes, drink Margaritas and laugh til it hurts.
Love you, JD…26 years flew by!
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