The High Priestess of Sass
Forget the Books, Lafayette's Bad Girl is Taking on TV
When a Hollywood studio green lights a new TV show based on your
ideas—better yet, your Guide to Life—you better know exactly what
you’re talking about. Or at least appear that you do.
“I’ve been able to make people think I know what I’m doing,” laughs Cameron Tuttle, taking a break from turning her smashingly successful series of Bad Girl’s Guide books into what she and network execs hope will be a smashingly successful sitcom, The Bad Girl’s Guide. “I’ve been able to fake it so far.”
This nonchalant irreverence is classic Tuttle. The energetic redhead has always had a gift for talking the talk, and since 1999 she’s brought a generation of hip women along for the ride. Now, hotshot producers and TV stars are banking on Tuttle’s ability to turn “bad” into mainstream gold, giving her an office where, if she climbs out on the fire escape, she can see the letters H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D high up on a hill. They’ve also given her their confidence. “I completely trust this woman and her point of view,” says Jenny McCarthy, the bombshell comic actress who plays the lead in Tuttle’s sitcom. “That’s essential when you’re playing a character. Once we had that trust, all she has to do is write the jokes. I’m the monkey they wind up to tell them.”
Born to Be Bad
In the last six years, Tuttle, 42, has created a publishing empire that has generated more than $10 million in sales. She’s also been the spark of a new women’s movement—the leader of those sharp, self-reliant chicks from the Sex and the City generation. Since her first Bad Girl’s Guide was published, fans from ages 12 to 72 have been telling Tuttle that when they read it, they realized that they, too, were bad to the bone—and proud of it.
Although she’s currently shuffling between a temporary Hollywood apartment and her permanent home in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights, Tuttle’s bad girl teeth were cut in a two-story Tudor-style house on Upper Happy Valley Road in Lafayette.
Tuttle found Contra Costa in the 1970s to have a stifling, conformist “Stepford Wives quality,” and it rubbed her the wrong way. “How can you grow up in Happy Valley and not end up a bad girl?” she asks. “It was utopian on the surface, but underneath it was filled with intrigue.”
Testing boundaries and tiptoeing around social norms was always Tuttle’s MO. “I’ve always loved breaking the rules and seeing what I can get away with,” she says, with a saucy chuckle. “In sixth grade, I organized an after-school spin-the-bottle club. I can remem-ber learning the James Bond kiss—a body-to-body lip-lock—from this really cool boy who had moved to Lafayette from Berkeley.”
But it wasn’t all fun and games. Just before high school, Tuttle was faced with one of life’s cruel realities, and she toned down her mischievous instincts.
“My mom died of breast cancer two weeks before I started high school,” she says. “It’s hard enough to be 14, but to lose your mom … well … I actually needed to be a pretty good girl just to keep it together.”
Tuttle didn’t take the suburban slacker route through high school—her GPA would prove Ivy League-worthy. She was elected student body vice president her senior year, although “the reason I ran was to get out of class a lot.” It was not the only political office Tuttle would attempt to exploit.
“My dad was the mayor of Lafayette [during] my senior year in high school,” Tuttle explains. “All year long I was secretly hoping that I’d get pulled over by the Lafayette police for making an illegal left or something, just so I could say, ‘Don’t you know who my father is?’ ”
Also in her senior year, she landed the lead in the Acalanes High School annual musical. Tuttle had aspired to be in the musical since she’d attended productions as a very young girl. She capped off her dream-come-true with a typically Tuttle flourish: hosting a Dazed and Confused-esque closing night cast party at her Happy Valley abode that Acalanes alumni still whisper about. “I’m proud to say that no one was injured,” Tuttle recalls, “but it was a rager.”
Cameron Gets Creative
A few years after Acalanes, Tuttle found herself with a degree in English poetry from Brown University, and a résumé boasting positions at two prestigious Manhattan advertising agencies and In Fashion magazine. The real world introduced the ambitious young professional to new forms of authority—and the inevitable burnout from life in the ad game.
During a repeat viewing of a Thelma and Louise video, Tuttle had an epiphany—to write The Bad Girl’s Guide to the Open Road.
She soon discovered that writing the book was a lot harder than coming up with the idea.
“It was in my computer for seven years before it came out,” she says. “Writing that first book was a journey, and it scared me a little to write it. I’m proud of myself for sticking to it.”
The Bad Girl’s Guide to the Open Road was a hit when it was published in 1999. It’s format was perfect for people who no longer have time to read novels: The content is a series of sassy lists and bursts of prose about style, significant others, self-awareness, and plenty of sex. Although the book drips with sarcasm and irreverent humor, Tuttle says it registers with women from safe suburbs similar to the one in which she grew up.
“A lot of women struggle with playing by the rules,” she says. “There is a lot of pressure to conform to a type of behavior. The struggle to be good but secretly wanting to be bad, not just to be the perfect suburban housewife.”
Tuttle’s books contain her philosophy, which she describes as the Bad Girl Swirl. The Swirl is a state of mind and being where all is right in the world: a combination of empowerment, intelligence, and devil-may-care attitude, punctuated with heavy doses of humor. “They are totally chick books—fun and funny and totally irreverent,” says Lynn Carey, book club goddess of the Contra Costa Times. “The sense I get from the Guides is that women are just fine on our own, thank you very much, and don’t need to be on a constant search for a man. And that being a Bad Girl is a good thing—necessary, in fact, if you want to be my friend.”
It wasn’t just Tuttle’s wit and insight that made the book such a success; her marketing savvy also played a key role. The vinyl covers she conceived give each copy an on-the-go travel-guide feel. They also give the Bad Girl’s Guides just the right flair to stand apart from the Barrys and Bombecks in bookstores’ humor sections.
“It’s like a candy-coated vitamin pill,” says Tuttle, admitting that the hot pink color was her publisher’s idea. “They also make excellent flyswatters and coasters.”
When a lot of readers swallowed (at $14.95 a pop) the initial Chronicle Books publication, Tuttle left her job in the dust and quickly followed her hot-pink tome with three more Bad Girl’s Guides: Getting What You Want, the Party Life, and Getting Personal. Combined book sales soared well past a million copies. Subsidiary products, including calendars, stationery, and T-shirts, keep the cash registers ringing in Tuttle’s multimillion-dollar empire.
“I haven’t done nearly as much merchandising as some people would have liked, though,” Tuttle says. “I’ve stopped short of Bad Girls plush toys— just the thought of that much hot pink in our landfills …”
Stuffed animals may be off limits, but television is not. Tuttle started pitching the idea for a show in 2003. UPN bit, and Tuttle has spent most of the past year in Hollywood writing, tooling, and spinning comic situations for the sitcom’s first six episodes.
The difference between being the empress of the Bad Girl book universe and launching a new sitcom is that Tuttle has to work for “the man” again. She has to play well with others. Success in the fickle world of network TV can’t be realized by flying solo. A staff of writers surrounds Tuttle. Together they craft half-hour episodes laced with plenty of hip references and bawdy laugh lines.
“It’s kind of nice, actually,” she says of the collaborative creativity. “The characters in the show very much embody the attitude in my books, but my books have no characters and no plot. It’s been a great learning experience to watch other people come in and add their spin to it.”
The subversive story lines are lifted from Tuttle’s years in advertising (the pilot episode features the Bad Girls firing up a joint in a last-ditch creative effort to get an ad campaign finished) and garnished with requisite sitcom doses of misunderstandings, relationship lessons, and wacky best friends.
Tuttle’s TV persona—the star Bad Girl—has a perfect outlet in actress Jenny McCarthy, a former game show host, frequent Playboy cover model, and talented comic with a Lucille Ball-like lack of embarrassment.
“The first thing I thought was, Bad Girl’s … like the books?” says McCarthy. “Which is what everyone says to me when I tell them about the show. I had seen the books about a year before, browsing a bookstore. I opened one, and started laughing immediately. I never knew there were so many interesting uses for a maxi pad.”
Upon meeting, Tuttle and McCarthy hit it off instantly.
“[Cameron] is exactly the way I wanted her to be—smart, cute, friendly, and cool,” says McCarthy, 32, a successful author in her own right. (Her maternity book, Belly Laughs, was a New York Times best seller, and the follow-up, Baby Laughs, hit shelves in late April.) Tuttle is equally smitten with McCarthy, although when asked if the main character is directly based on her, she scoffs, “Oh, no. Jenny McCarthy could play me if her body were a juuuuust a little better.”
Demographics-wise, the best-girlfriends characters in the show should appeal to still-mourning Friends fans and to lovers of those comedies that women chat about around the water cooler. “Look at the success of Desperate Housewives—I’m optimistic that our show will be able to tap into that audience,” says Tuttle. “Or Sex and the City. We hope to show real women talking about real issues in a fresh and frank and funny way.”
McCarthy concurs. “The great thing about Desperate Housewives is that the audience gets to watch these characters do naughty things that we fantasize about, without actually having to do them,” she says. “I have the best of both worlds: I get to live vicariously through my Bad Girl’s character, then go home and be with my two-year-old son.”
The Future of Being Bad
The Bad Girl’s Guide premieres May 24 at 9:30 p.m. (following Britney Spears’s new reality show), but Tuttle isn’t counting on season-five syndication checks just yet. She’s not worrying about it either. When asked if “Forever Bad Girl” is likely to be her epitaph, her trademark irreverence fades a bit.
“The thought of being able to live comfortably on the royalties of those books is an incredible thing,” she says. “We live in a culture where you are expected to milk every penny out of any successful idea, and I don’t feel like I’ll need to do that. I never thought I’d think it’s time to move on, but I’m realizing that I’d like to explore other kinds of writing.”
So don’t expect Tuttle to pitch a Bad Girl Gets Touched by an Angel pilot. She’s cranking away on her first novel, a grown-up story inspired by children’s books. But she’s not done recruiting bad girls.
“My older brother, Crawford, and I couldn’t be any different. He lives in Sacramento and works for Arnold. He’s a Republican through and through,” she says.
“I adore spending time with my two-year-old niece, Olivia. I’ve been teaching her to say, ‘I’m a baaaaad girl.’”