Hollywood feels like home to aspiring star

By Angela Gregory

Teuila Crisp's parents have a photo of her as an 8-year-old with her hair in pigtails and the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles in the background.

The pretty Samoan girl is now an attractive 34-year-old single parent of five who against the odds is breaking her way into the acting circuit.

Crisp is not so much a latecomer to the entertainment industry as a postponer.

When she was 16 she entered a Miss Pacifica beauty pageant in Los Angeles and was placed first runner-up. From there opportunities in modelling and singing started opening up.

A record producer offered Crisp a place in an all-girl group, and then a solo act.

"They wanted me to do R&B. Their goal was to make me a pop star."

But Crisp's parents, traditional church-going Samoans, were an obstacle to the young teen's dreams.

"They were very uncertain so I did not sign up. I was very disappointed."

Crisp says the agents told her to give them a call after she left school, but she never did.

"My father's dream was for me to be an attorney - he'd pick out careers for all of us.

So I went to university and majored in business and law, and minored in theatre."

Before Crisp had finished her studies her father was made redundant and her mother asked her to help out.

"That's pretty normal in our culture."

Crisp worked at Disneyland in restaurants and as an entertainment officer, then married and had her first two children.

After that marriage failed she returned to study business, became a national sales manager, worked in real estate and started her own company.

A second marriage followed with more children, but Crisp again found herself a single parent.

Now she is determined to break into television or film acting and "it's looking really good".

Crisp has picked up national television commercials and done infomercial work alongside Leeza Gibbons and Melissa Gilbert on shopping cable TV networks.

She landed a role in an award-winning student film, and has performed in live shows, musicals and music videos.

"I get sent Hispanic roles because there is not a lot of call for Polynesian women. They all think I'm Puerto Rican here - except for Samoan bouncers at nightclubs."

Crisp is not star-struck by Hollywood. It is the suburb where her father, Mulama Fomai, first settled in California in the 1960s.

As a child in Samoa during World War II Fomai had told his father he was going to live in the country of the Stars and Stripes flags.

"He saw the US flags waving when the war-planes were docking in Samoa. He had never seen a plane in his life and told his dad he was going to go wherever the flags were from because it must be a big powerful country.

"His father told him if he ever came here to do his best because America was the land of opportunity."

Instead, Fomai arrived in the States and "went drinking with the boys and getting into fights".

"They told him if he ended up in jail one more time he would be deported. The jail chaplain told him he needed God."

On release, Fomai started going to church.

"That's where he met my mother. Her father was a methodist minister from Upolu.

"They married and that was what kept him on the straight and narrow."

Fomai stuck to his job with a car-maker, was promoted to general manager, and the family could afford regular trips back to Samoa.

"Since I was 4 my father sent us kids back to Samoa every year on the DC10 via Hawaii to Pago Pago, and then to Savai'i. We would stay the whole summer."

Crisp says her parents wanted to make sure their children understood their language and culture.

"That's where I grew to love my people. I loved every minute of it, feeding the pigs and chasing the chickens.

"There were no televisions, one radio, and we'd played cards with my grandmother, Teuila."

At Christmas they would go to the church minister's house and sing.

This year Crisp is sending her children to Samoa for the first time. That will please her parents, who live in the Anaheim Hills, Orange County, where they moved in the 1970s and built a house.

"And now they are debt-free," says Crisp. "They have achieved the American dream."

* Angela Gregory and Martin Sykes' visit was sponsored by the Pacific Co-operation Foundation.

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