Gopher jobs -- A look at the life of assistants to Hollywood power players

By A.J. Jacobs
Updated October 25, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

So you once had to make your boss coffee? Or pick up her dry cleaning? Ha! Kids’ stuff. In the entertainment world, assistants to the power players are subjected to abuses of a far more degrading nature. ”There are a lot of creative people out here,” says Mike Weiss, owner of the Job Factory, a Los Angeles-based placement agency. ”And they’ve been known to use their assistants creatively.” To wit:

You’ve heard of royal tasters, but… royal dieters? One film producer forced his assistant to go on various fad diets (a carrot-juice fast, a liquid-protein diet, etc.) to see which one worked best. Then there’s a TV titan who wasn’t in the pound-shedding mode. A former assistant on his popular ’80s sitcom says that each night, an underling had to get the star’s dinner from four different restaurants (the appetizer from one place, etc.). Even pickier is the movie agent who makes his assistant count out the ice cubes in his Coke. He likes exactly five.

Shrinking violets, stay out of the assistant pool. Among the more down-and-dirty tasks: delivering a producer’s deposit to the sperm bank; buying Depends for a TV honcho’s wife; and cleaning out an exec’s lactation pump. Former PA Mindy Morgenstern is one of the few who said no. Her boss at the time, a director, called her at 6:30 a.m. and demanded she pick up his sick son’s stool sample and deliver it to the lab. Morgenstern had a messenger do it instead: ”He punished me by making me pick up turtle food for his pet.”

Legend has it one TV producer wanted to test out his home’s new guard dog, so he forced an assistant to act the part of a trespasser. Another bold subordinate is required to heckle his stand-up comic boss at clubs with prearranged material, allowing the comedian to verbally humiliate him. One time, the hapless heckler got a little too boisterous, and an annoyed audience member beat him up, giving him two cracked ribs. Over at a prominent agent’s office, the fashion challenged must face a pair of sharp scissors. According to George Huang, director of the 1995 boss-from-hell movie Swimming With Sharks, if this fellow doesn’t like his assistant’s tie, he just snips it off. ”I couldn’t use that in the movie,” says Huang, ”because no one would ever believe that would happen.”