Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Have Belly Will Travel by Tanya Lemani

Tanya Lemani. Have Belly Will Travel. Baltimore: Publish America, 2007.

This is the autobiography of Tanya Soleimani, a Russian born in Iran who came to America and knew from a young age she wanted to be an entertainer. She learned as a little girl she could gain attention by being entertaining. Her first love was ballet. When she sought employment dancing ballet, she instead first found work as a belly dancer at a Las Vegas hotel. While she took dancing and acting seriously, she realized that belly dancing would become that which distinguished her.

Tanya danced in Pinky Lee’s show, even dancing laughs when she once accidentally ruined his hair piece. She danced at the Iranian Embassy in Washington and was proposition by the Ambassador, earning an early lesson in life that some men make presumptions about belly dancers. Tanya also learned early on that “the show must go on”, as she once continued a play after tearing off a toe nail and fainting from the blood.

Tanya tells of several traumas in her life. She had to cope with her father’s suicide, being the victim of date rape, and unplanned pregnancy and abortion.

Moving to Hollywood, Tanya found work modeling furs and wigs. Her first interview at the Hal Roach Studios was conducted with the interviewer requesting she sit on his lap. She was hired to be a stand-up for Barbara Luna. The studio shortened her name to Tanya Lemani. Tanya discussed the sexual harassment she faced from a director who exposed himself and propositioned her. She lost that job yet was moved to another film.

Tanya found an agent and from that more work appeared. Her dancing skills helped her find employment at MGM Studios. She hired a publicist, Dick Bernstein, which was a great career move for Tanya. Her name appeared in Reporter, Variety, and other papers. She got to work with Gregory Peck in the American Cancer Society campaign and appeared in such TV shows as “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, “I Dream of Jeannie”, “Burke’s Law”, “The Wackiest Ship in the Army”, “McHale’s Navy”, “My Mother the Car”, and “Gambit”.

Tanya continued belly dancing at various clubs and appearing in plays. She again learned “the show must go on” while appearing with Mickey Rooney and observing Rooney continuing appearing in the show after his wife was murdered in a murder-suicide with her lover.

Tanya worked in a movie with Rod Taylor. She credits Rod Taylor for grabbling the collar and telling off a man who had propositioned her on the set.

Tanya appeared in “Star Trek”. The show’s cult following has included Tanya as a cult star.

When Tanya’s agent announced he was tired of the movie industry and was quitting, Tanya feared her career would suffer. At the same time, she also thought, incorrectly, that she had an unplanned pregnancy. She admits the combined stress caused her to have a nervous breakdown. She credits Dick Bernstein for helping pull her through and for getting her work on “The Johnny Carson Show”. She unfortunately found a schizophrenic agent from which she was once again rescued by Dick Bernstein. She states she finally learned to relax, overcome past traumas, and enjoy life and love, with assistance from William Shatner.

Tanya found work in The Monkees’ “Head”, Elvis Presley’s 1968 television special, in “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice”, and “The Flying Nun”. “The Flying Nun” incorporated several pregnant nun jokes as the actress portraying the series’ lead nun, Sally Fields, was pregnant in real life.

Tanya mentions a director while casting who exposed himself and propositioned her. She turned him down. She mentions she still won the role and the two of them worked together without ever mentioning the incident.

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