Vp Issue 8: "Now It’s Our Party: Profile, Ilene Chaiken"
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universe. Because Chaiken identifies herself as a writer above all else – she proclaims it like some women proclaim themselves as lesbian – her work is sometimes very personal. In her L Word writing, she channels her personal experiences mostly through two characters: Jenny and Bette. Jenny Schecter, played by Mia Kirshner, is the young fiction writer who moves to Los Angeles to be with her boyfriend, Tim Haspel (Eric Mabius), but quickly starts questioning her sexuality and her love for him. Bette Porter, played by Jennifer Beals, is a type-A personality museum director whose life unraveled before her eyes last season as her seven-year relationship with Tina Kennard (Laurel Holloman) came to a stunning conclusion in the season finale. While the character of Jenny is fueled by Chaiken’s post-college experience of moving to L.A. as a young writer and discovering her sexual self, the character of Bette is more like Chaiken’s adult self, juggling a committed relationship with the demanding schedule of a high-powered career.
While growing up in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, a middle-class suburb of Philadelphia, with “strongly Jewish-identified” parents and two brothers, Chaiken developed an affinity for subculture. She ditched her high school prom to go to a porn festival with one of her classmates. She began studying graphic design at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, but changed her major to film in her junior year. At this highly regarded institution that boasts an impressive list of alumni, including Talking Heads front man David Byrne and glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, the majority of students and professors set their sights on installations at the Museum of Modern Art – not on Hollywood. But Chaiken had stories she needed to tell. After graduation, she worked in London and New York until finally settling in Los Angeles where she began as an agent trainee at Creative Artists Agency (CAA). In the early 80’s, it was almost unheard of for a woman to gain acceptance into the male-dominated trainee program at CAA.
She began as a reader and worked her way up to an assistant for one of the partners. In the mid 80’s, then head of CAA Michael Ovitz placed her as a “D-Girl” (Development Girl) for producers Armyan Bernstein and Alan Greisman. She stayed with them for three years. When the pair split, Chaiken followed Greisman to Aaron Spelling