How Geena Davis Made Retail Work for Her

Susan-Sarandon-And-Geena-Davis-Recreate-Thelma-Louise-Selfie-Photo-665x385It is hard to imagine the superhuman Geena Davis doing something as mundane as working in retail. After all, she is six feet tall, with skin like living marble and eyes of fire. And yet this goddess, like so many of us earthworms, began her career behind a cash register at middle-of-the-road women’s clothing store Ann Taylor. It is what happened next that shows her supremacy:

“One time there was a window display where the mannequins were sitting at a table eating plastic food,” Davis tells NPR. “There was one empty chair, and I kept looking at the window.” She asked her co-workers if she should go sit in the empty chair. They advised against it. But Davis sat in the chair anyway.

“Somebody saw me do that, and then he stopped to see what was now going to happen. But I just froze,” Davis says. “I didn’t know, but I had an uncanny ability to be still.” Eventually, a crowd gathered on the sidewalk outside the window display. She could hear the comments from the onlookers, who couldn’t tell if she was real or fake. “When I felt like their attention was drifting, I would move kind of like a robot,” she says. “But then somebody said, ‘Well, that’s not an electric mannequin because it’s not plugged in.’ “

So the next time she sat in a window display, she put a tiny wire down her leg. “Because it was really subtle, it really worked,” she says.

The store then hired her to be a living mannequin, after which she got hired as a model, after which she got an audition for a small role in Tootsie (1982). Did she nail that very first audition because director Sydney Pollack glimpsed the goddess within, and also because he liked how she looked in the Victoria’s Secret catalog? YOU BET.

When I was ten, I wandered into the window of the Limited II in White Flint Mall in Bethesda, MD, struck a pose, and stood very still. A curious crowd gathered, no doubt wondering why this little Jewish girl thought she could pass herself off as a mannequin — perhaps the Limited was experimenting with a new ethnic collection? Yet people kept watching, and the staff thought it was funny, so they dressed me up and put me back there and I spent one very exciting afternoon of my life pretending to be inanimate. Then my mom bought me a green body suit and matching plaid skort and a pair of sweatpants that lasted fifteen years and we went home. Geena Davis went on to act in an unforgettable sex scene with Brad Pitt, win an Oscar, and be an example for women everywhere. Basically, what I’m saying is, we’re soulmates.

More from the NPR series My Big Break.

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