By Jaan Uhelszki|
I am tempted to strangle Hallie Eisenberg with my Maidenform bra. She's that insufferable 3-foot-10 spokes-midget for Pepsi with ratty hair and reprehensible manners, channeling Marlon Brando's voice and threatening a hapless waiter who has the nerve to serve her Coke to quench her underage thirst instead of Pepsi.
Instead of snuffing her out at an early age, the folks at Pepsi-co thought she was so precocious that they signed her up as the "Pepsi Kid." They've stuck her in a retro Orphan Annie getup and starred her in nine commercials for the soft drink with the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Aretha Franklin, Faith Hill — and KISS. Which brings me to the strangling business.
Much to my dismay, the almost 8-year-old actress wasn't just featured in an advert with KISS; she dressed up exactly like the Kabuki Krusaders, sporting her own platform boots, rhinestone guitar and leather frock, and was made up to look like one of the band, just like I was, almost 25 years ago.
Up until the commercial aired on this year's Oscars, nobody had ever put on the Stein's Clown White, the black leather, and joined the fire-breathing quartet on stage but me. And I assumed it was going to stay that way, especially now that the glam-rock hybrids had launched their farewell tour and were throwing in their wigs and white face after nearly 27 years in the saddle. But no, I had to find out on Entertainment Tonight that the execs at Pepsi's ad agency were featuring Hallie in a 60-second commercial and she would wear KISS makeup and have her own custom-made guitar!
To say I was plotting revenge would be beneath me, but much to my shame, I called up the company's headquarters in Newburgh, N.Y., and demanded to speak to Hallie. I was referred to her agent and had to explain for the third time that day that I wanted to interview her. But if truth were told, I wanted not only to harangue the tyke, but also to discover whose idea this was, and to find out if she got to plug in her guitar.
Hallie's agent cautioned me that I had to wait until her young charge was home from school before I called, so I did some yoga cleansing breaths. Needless to say, they weren't working.
"She goes to school?" my poisoned thought balloons exploded. Fat chance. As I waited for the faux second grader to finish geography class, I began reminiscing about that cold Saturday in 1975, when I was momentarily let into the line-up. It was two years before the front lines of the KISS Army had even been a glint in Gene Simmons' beady eyes, and the four guys, fresh from the streets of Queens, N.Y., were only just getting used to the feel of nylon tights and platform shoes.
I, on the other hand, was an editor at CREEM, a glossy rock publication that we had audacity to proclaim was "America's Only Rock and Roll Magazine." I was trying to convince KISS' record label, Casablanca Records — so desperate for publicity for their masked rockers that they were even staging KISSing contests across the country to promote the band — that I would do an extensive story on their band. I called this story, "I Dreamt I Was Onstage with KISS in My Maidenform Bra," after an ad pairing women in their underthings, waking up in unusual places.
Much to my surprise, after little haggling, they agreed, only extracting a promise that I wouldn't refer to the band as a glitter band. Easier said than done, but armed with my marching orders I got my battered black Samsonite from the top of the closet, and packed essentials — black tights, black underwear, good black shoes and makeup remover. I hopped an Eastern Airlines commuter plane to the small southwest Pennsylvania city of Johnstown.
Battling frigid temperatures and near-crippling stage fright, and without the benefit of a rehearsal, I was semi-prepared to fool some of the people of Pennsylvania for about four brief minutes. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. First I had to endure Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter savaging my hair and makeup, outfitting me in their neo-Goth finery and ridiculing my ignorance of cosmetology. "How come you don't know anything about putting on makeup and you're a chick?" asked Ace, advising me to smear on cocoa butter to seal my pores.
Gene etched Maybelline black eye pencil on my dry-to-normal skin, sketching in his bat insignia, until he was unceremoniously stopped. "Hey! Don't make her up just like you," complained Paul. The band was fiercely competitive, so each member got to indelicately "take a crack" at me, sketching his own symbol on my face, so my masque de gig would be a combo of theirs, like the back cover of Hotter than Hell.
After the last line was filled in, I began to feel transformed. The thick makeup made me feel almost invulnerable, like a superhero, causing my innate shyness to miraculously melt away. As I paced back and forth in six-inch-high Charles Jourdan heels, the band's manager gave a pep talk about standing up straight, not watching the audience and looking like I belong there.
Then the road manager led us out into the dark tunnel that led to the stage area of this one-time Ice Arena. I trailed behind the other four, charged with adrenaline and bravado, and actually followed the band right up the stairs to the stage, almost forgetting that my part — "four minutes or one song, whichever came first" wouldn't come until the end of the set.
"OK, you're on!" the band's road manager finally shouted, pushing me on stage. Unbelievable as it may seem, the 5,000-plus crowd of writhing teen-agers seemed to melt away and I felt instantly at ease on the two-foot-high stage. At once, I was taken over by the thundering bass and throbbing drums, and I began to bob and gyrate instinctively, holding my red Fender guitar (that they refused to plug in) "low and sexy" as Paul Stanley instructed.
Once out under the lights, I dogged Paul's every move, getting into the macabre calisthenics of the act. "I wanna rock and roll and party every day," I shouted into the mic, realizing that the crowd had absolutely no idea who I was or, even worse, they didn't even realize that there was an extra KISS member. I remember thinking the only difference is I was the only KISS member with breasts. And to tell you the truth, I'd always thought it would stay that way.
The next morning, after we said our hasty good-byes in the hotel coffee shop, Gene Simmons said over his shoulder, "Whenever you feel like putting on that makeup again, give us a call."
I never got around to making that call. Instead, the band called Hallie Eisenberg to put on the makeup in my stead. No, it gets worse. The little brat had a professional makeup artist who slaved over 3½ hours to get Hallie to look the part.
"I got to choose what I wanted. But of course I chose the same thing everyone else did," Eisenberg tells me between not-so-adorable hiccups, when I finally got her on the phone. No having to suffer looking like a wayward Picasso like I did. Eisenberg chose a smallish tasteful star and a single lightning bolt.
"So you got to look like Paul and Ace," I tell her.
"Oh? I did? OK," she says from her New Brunswick, N.J., home, where she lives with her mother, Amy, a former clown, and her 23-year-old brother, Jesse, who stars on the Get Real sitcom.
Eisenberg, a Mariah Carey and Spice Girls fan, had never seen KISS or heard KISS or even owned a KISS record before she met them. While a source at Pepsi says the band members scared her because they were so tall, the actress demurs, and explains, "No, I wasn't scared, but the first time everybody thought I was." She insists, "When I got up there, they put earplugs on me, so I had a scared face because I was trying to read lips because I couldn't hear anything." Yeah, sure.
Much to my delight, Hallie tells me that they didn't plug in her guitar either, but she did get some guidance from the guys. "Gene Simmons showed me how they dance on stage, and showed me that thing he does with his tongue. Did you see me do that, too, at the end of the commercial?"
As for the makeup, three days later she was still sporting the blue eye shadow, even though her mother doesn't allow her to wear makeup yet. "I actually liked it," she says. "I didn't want to take it off."
Yeah, that's what we all think in the beginning.
Jaan Uhelszki is one of the founding staff of CREEM, Detroit's legendary rock magazine. She currently is a daily news reporter for Rolling Stone Online as well as a contributor to USA Today, Mojo and Associated Press. This is her first story for UnderWire.