Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Tuesday, July 15, 2003

The woman who taught Steve to skate

Sunday Mirror
July 13, 2003, Sunday
FEATURES; Pg. 24,25


Hollywood stars are fickle when it comes to fitness - one month it's power yoga, the next month Pilates. But on the beach in Santa Monica, in-line skating is the hippest way to keep fit. Health-obsessed Californians skate up and down the boardwalk, parading toned thighs and midriffs in tiny shorts and cut-off T-shirts.

You can often spot stars wheeling among them: Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson, Cher, Tim Robbins and Raquel Welch. But celebs who need a little help learning to keep their balance go to the movie industry's resident guru, Debbie Merrill, who claims she can get even the most uncoordinated students spinning and gliding in a few hours at her skating school by the pier. Debbie has worked with stars such as Jack Nicholson, Mick Jagger, Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Some celebs learn for fun, others for film roles. Recently she trained Lucy Liu for Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, who had to execute some complicated moves in a roller-skating derby scene. Debbie was also Lucy's body double for the particularly tricky manoeuvres. There were doubles for all three girls, who do these incredible stunts in a special steep-sided rink,' says Debbie. It's very dangerous and very fast. Lucy wanted to do it all herself so I helped her get stability and balance. I held her hand and took her around because she was real scared. To begin with she was shouting, "Don't let me go, don't let me go!" I said, "Come on girl, you can do this" then I let her go and she was fine and did the scene perfectly.'

Debbie used to be a professional figure skater in New York, and travelled round the world performing. She moved to LA in the 1980s dreaming of movie stardom. Now she often features in TV shows and commercials. She appeared on NYPD Blue, as well as teaching the show's star Kim Delaney, and skated with John Travolta in the film Get Shorty. I didn't teach John but I was sure he'd be a natural because he's such a good dancer.'

Her first celebrity client was Steve Martin for LA Story with Sarah Jessica Parker. He had to look like an expert doing tricks, spins and very difficult jumps. They wanted him gracefully "flying" on roller skates through a museum.' Within hours Debbie had him breezing along as though he'd been on skates all his life. He's very serious and didn't crack jokes at all, but he was so talented. He watched me and then just did it himself,' she says. It was really through him that I got started here. I saw him riding his bicycle a while ago and he waved and said, "Hi Debbie. when are you going to teach me roller-blading?" I'm hoping he's going to come for some more lessons because I have a little crush on him - and I think he's single.'

Debbie has never been married but says she is ready to settle down with the right man. If Steve or Brad Pitt show up, I'm ready - and they'll get free skating lessons.'
She won't reveal her age, but her face is lined ( because I spend all day long outside in nature') and she has a lean, tanned body. Petite with bleached blonde hair, she wears her trademark uniform, a skimpy stars and stripes leotard. Any exposed skin is covered in body glitter and she proudly announces she weighs 71/2 stone, thanks to a vegan diet. I tell people I skate, skate, skate, to look and feel great,' she says.

Debbie's latest movie is Legally Blonde 2: Red, White And Blonde, with Reese Witherspoon. I'm in two scenes. First I'm skating around the park in a cowboy hat, doing all my tricks. Then I'm in a rally towards the end. Reese is the nicest Hollywood star I've ever met,' she sighs. She said, "You look darling, how do you keep that cute figure?" And I said, "Look who's talking" because she's as tiny as me. I wanted to teach her to skate, but she was too scared because she once had a bad fall.'

Geena Davis, on the other hand, was fearless. I went to her house and taught Geena on her tennis court. She wore crash pads to cover her butt and legs and she was good right away, which surprised me because she's so tall. Tall people aren't as good because it's harder to balance.'

Debbie charges between pounds 18 and pounds 150 an hour and has a team of instructors. If people can't afford to pay, I'll give free introductory lessons, but when I go to homes in Beverly Hills to teach rich kids, they have to pay more.'

She also entertains at celebrity parties. I just love Melanie Griffith and her children,' she gushes. Melanie and Antonio had a birthday party here for the kids at Perry's (the pizza cafe and skate hire shop where Debbie's based). We did skate-dancing. It was such a nice family affair.'

Not all her clients are so easy, however. Juliette Lewis was one of the most annoying. She was always late, sick or wouldn't have change for the parking meter. But she was a fast learner because she has no fear. That woman would happily jump off a building.'

Debbie also coached Rosie Perez for White Men Can't Jump. 'She was one of my favourites,' Debbie says. She was scared stiff and before every take she'd get down on her knees and start saying Hail Marys. But I had her boogieing by the end.'

With Avril Lavigne's song Sk8ter Boi playing in the background, Debbie twirls around the car park doing crossovers, wheel-outs and pirouettes. Come skate with me, effortless and easily, we'll get you safe and go, you can do it I know,' she sings chirpily. Just leave these worries aside, I'll teach you those strokes and strides, so you can glide with pride, yeah, yeah.' And off she races along the beach, hair flowing, arms outstretched, disappearing into the distance.

Debbie's celebrity students

Debbie strikes a pose with some of her star pupils (below):

1 Arnold Schwarzenegger 2 Clint Eastwood 3 Juliette Lewis 4 Mick Jagger 5 Jack Nicholson 6 Lou Ferrigno (The Hulk) 7 Donald Trump 8 Robin Cousins 9 Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio 10 Marie Osmond

Debbie rates stars' skating skills...

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Prefers cycling to skating'

Clint Eastwood

He's gorgeous'

Juliette Lewis

Has no fear'

Mick Jagger

He ate sushi all day long'

Jack Nicholson

He looked like he was half asleep all the time'

Geena Davis

Surprised me that she was so good because she's very tall'

Melanie Griffith

Was very athletic so she was a natural'

Rosie Perez

Was so scared stiff, she'd pray every few seconds'

Steve Martin

He's a genius, a visual learner'

Lucy Liu

Was so good they hardly needed me as a body double'

Get Debbie's new how-to-skate video on her website:
Sunday, July 06, 2003

The British Love Steve

The Mirror
July 5, 2003, Saturday
NEWS; Pg. 6

FAVOURITE: Steve Martin

MOVIE fans yesterday voted Monty Python's Life Of Brian the Funniest Movie Ever.

Graham Chapman stars as Brian, mistaken for the Messiah, in the 1979 Python film that beat Chevy Chase's 1985 classic National Lampoons' European Vacation to the top spot. Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles - starring Gene Wilder - came third in the poll of 4,000 people by Choices Video.

Spokeswoman Hazel Laking said: "You'd have to be miserable to not crack a funny bone watching these movies. We have classic British comedies from Ealing Studios alongside modern masters such as Jim Carrey.

"And the appearance of two fairytales - Shrek and The Princess Bride - proves that everyone loves a happy ending."

Steve Martin was the most popular comic with four films in the chart - Dirty Rotten Scoundels, The Man with Two Brains, Planes, Trains & Automobiles and The Jerk.

The top 10 was: 1. Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) 2. National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985) 3. Blazing Saddles (1974) 4. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) 5. The Wedding Singer (1999) 6. Dumb and Dumber (1995)7. Airplane! (1980) 8. When Harry met Sally (1989) 9. Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1975) 10. Some Like It Hot (1959) 11. The Princess Bride (1987) 12. Shrek (2001) 13. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) 14. The Man with two Brains (1983) 15. Happy Gilmore (1996) 16. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) 17. The Lady Killers (1955) 18. The Jerk (1979) 19. Austin Powers International Man of Mystery (1997) 20. The Mask (1994).

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