In the far and dusty recesses of my attic, there is a cardboard box containing a jumble of high school memorabilia. I happened upon it the other day, took a few minutes with all that assorted old junk, and came across something that made me smile with delight. It was a letter from actress Alyssa Milano, circa 1988.
I was in middle school then. Milano was at the height of her Who’s the Boss fame. And it so happens that Ms. Milano has been a point of conversation around my Babble office lately, since she’s now the star of ABC’s Mistresses. Craig, a blogger here at Babble, recently attended a Disney & ABC press event in LA, which included a tour of the set of Mistresses. Being his editor, (and the former middle school girl who wrote to her) I of course pumped him for details about his trip: Did he speak with Milano? What was she like? Was she nice? Was she pretty? Was she genuine?
As it turns out, he met other cast members, but not Alyssa Milano. One anecdote he relayed from another cast member, however, was about Milano. Apparently, when she turned 40 years old, her husband threw her a 1990s prom-themed party and it was incredibly meaningful to her. Supposedly, she felt she missed something by not having attended high school (and therefore a prom). That’s what made me dig and find my high school box. I sort of wanted to find something that would make me remember high school fondly, because honestly, I hated the prom. Ugh! And frankly, the high-school-cardboard-box-transcendental-journeys in my attic are dreaded. Every time I see the box, I think about pitching it out, and then I always change my mind.
Okay, for you to really grasp the full context of how amazing it was for me to receive this letter in 1988, I have to explain a little about my childhood. I grew up in a very rural town in New England called Becket, Massachusetts. It was 30 minutes to the nearest grocery store. 45 minutes on a bus every day to get to school. No cable television. No call waiting. We bought our milk from the Police Chief up the road who also happened to keep cows. Next to my house was an 18th and 19th century graveyard, and I spent a lot of time there reading epitaphs. As for pop culture? TV? My entire television experience was like this: PBS and NBC came in fairly clearly owing to an antenna on top of our roof. ABC and CBS were fuzzy, and FOX was like trying to see through a windshield in a snow squall. And that was it. The people on TV seemed to be a million miles away from my little life in the country. Maybe even a zillion.
I have always been a writer and a little deluded, I guess, and writing letters to celebrities of all sorts always seemed a completely reasonable thing to do. I wrote letters to them all. I wrote to everybody from Bo Duke to Corey Haim to the President of the United States. And somewhere in between was Alyssa Milano.
I do remember writing Milano, and I’m sure I told her some variation of what I wrote everyone: I live in a tiny town and I’m a writer. I plan to move to Los Angeles one day. Maybe I’ll run into you at some point. Oh, by the way, do you have any advice for me?
I kept most of the return letters I received from the generous celebrities of my youth. I also still have an autographed photo of Bo Duke (also known as John Schneider, who — just to come full circle — appeared in season one of Mistresses).
Milano’s letter, however, stands out from the rest. It was particularly sweet, inspiring, and thoughtful. First of all, it’s three pages long, hand-written. She talks about how she broke into the business, the fact that she came from Brooklyn originally so I shouldn’t be discouraged just because I came from a place called Becket. It says that I should follow my dreams, “be all that you can be,” and wishes me good luck. She talks about her favorite jobs to date. Did she write it herself? Who knows? Its return address is the ICM offices in Beverly Hills, but its postmark is from Staten Island, where her family lived at that point. Maybe she had an aunt that loved answering fan mail. Maybe she wrote it herself. In any case, getting her letter made a difference.
So this is my return letter back to her reply letter of 1988. Alyssa Milano, I just want to say thanks for answering a girl from Becket who used to sit in a graveyard and dream big dreams. I did move to Los Angeles, went to film school, and have been writing for 15 years. Hey, maybe I’ll run into you at some point.