The video: “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty.
The girl-now-woman: Devon Kidd (Devon Jenkin).
How old were you when you appeared in the “Free Fallin’” video?
Hmm…old enough to skate a half-pipe that led to professional downhill skateboarding—first female against 200+ men, many with tattoos everywhere and longer hair than me. Where are your manners, young man (LOL!)—never ask a girl her age, silly. Wink wink.
Where were you living at the time?
Manhattan Beach, CA. Great place! Ever been there?
What music videos, shows, or movies had you appeared in prior to that?
I was the Wienerschnitzel girl for several years during the Lakers’ three-year championship sweep. I didn’t do too much before, but certainly after. The “California skateboarder/surfer girl” type wasn’t in the limelight, of course, except for Malibu Gidget.
How were you cast?
This is the fun part. I was doing a modeling shoot with gold medalist Cathy Rigby for a water ad. I was a gymnast. While I was in the middle of the shoot, I received a call from my agent saying “There’s a music video audition. I don’t know if you want to do it. It’s a small job.” I asked who the artist was and what the song was. When she said, “Tom Petty, ‘Free Fallin,’” I jumped! I asked the photographer of the shoot what time we’d be done, and he said in an hour or so. I asked my agent if they could change my audition time to later. As I waited quite anxiously, had a hard time sitting still for the shoot—but the enthusiastic energy I felt inspired a great shot! I was able to be let go early.
I drove from Sherman Oaks to Melrose Boulevard, West Hollywood, and went to Aardvark’s second-hand store. Two men who loved to dress women helped me find the perfect outfit. Then they directed me to a Wal-Mart-type store to buy cheap fifties-style peg shoes. (The hairstylist on the shoot [had done] my hair fifties style.)
I had more fun getting to the audition. When I arrived, I saw a huge line of ladies looking similar to myself out the door and around the building. I ran in to sign in. I was full of smiles while everyone [looked bored] waiting for their turn. I was like, “Are you kidding me? This is amazing! How can you not be excited!” When it was my turn, I auditioned with two other ladies. One of them starred as Priscilla in [a] TV movie about Elvis Presley, the other was an old friend of mine from high school—a boarding school in Arizona. We hadn’t seen each other in years, so you can imagine how much fun we were having.
I was asked back to meet the director, Julian Temple. He asked if I could skateboard and made his hands go up and down. I had been skateboarding nearly every day after school since I was 3-4 years old. I responded, “You mean a half-pipe?” He said, “Yes, that thing.”
My enthusiastic passion came prior to the audition. I was living on the north shore of Oahu, listening to “Free Fallin’” over and over on top of the mountain while gazing into the most stunning sunset wondering what I was going to do with my life. The lyrics captured the essence of my attention inspiring me in a direction that took hold of my dreams.
Do you remember what happened next?
How can I forget! After the audition, I went home, cancelled all of my plans, and just stared at the phone. My agent called me and asked, “Are you sitting down?” I said, “No, I can’t. Okay, I will. What happened?” She said, “You got it!” I said, “I got what?” She said, “You got the lead.” I screamed, I danced like the movie with Tom Cruise in his underwear, and I said, “Thank you to Jesus!” Yes, I really do love Jesus of Nazareth! I couldn’t have done anything or got through anything without Him. He is my hero, my savior!
Where was the video filmed?
Hollywood Hills, Sherman Oaks.
How long was the shoot?
How did you feel making the video?
As you can see, I felt great! I [did] wish I had more time to prepare. During the last audition the director said that we were filming that next day. Not much time to brush up on skills. No worries—it all came back and it was good! Amazing how fast childhood experiences flash forward to the greatest moments! The best part of the video was standing on the half-pipe—there was [that] awe-inspiring look that many people remember. I was capturing the freeze-frame miracle moment—the most incredible, super-huge full moon—directly in front of me, I’m skating with cute guys, Tom Petty is singing my favorite song of all time to as if I was his love interest (I’m such a fan!), and an awesome sunset behind me. It doesn’t get any better than that!
What was the hardest part of the shoot?
Reading the directions wrong! Long story left behind :)
I’m madly curious. Can we bring it back?
On the second day of the shoot, I [allowed] several hours—4+ hours [to be precise]—[to get to] the shooting location. It takes only 45 minutes to 1½ hours to get from Manhattan Beach to Sherman Oaks—so I thought. Mind you, here was no traffic! I would have been a minimum two hours early.
I realized [in] my nervous enthusiasm, I read the directions on the wrong side of the paper. I began to panic when I couldn’t find the location of the shoot. I’m thinking, “Was the shoot private and I missed the signs?” Overwhelming fear began to [transform] into devastation. [I finally get] my absolute dream job—and I couldn’t find it!
I parked on the side of the road, took a deep breath as my head fell on my steering wheel, and prayed. Then I noticed there were directions on the other side of the paper. How could I not see this? I felt so incredibly discouraged and, more importantly, I felt devastated for everyone waiting for me on the video shoot. I freaked! I quickly drove to the correct location on Ventura Boulevard. I hit one stop light after another. The sun was behind me—directly in my rear view mirror. Squinting from the bright sun, I looked to my right and there was the shoot…and then, right in front of me [was a light turning] red—along with a car passing right in front of me. Yep, I hit the car—right in front of everyone on the shoot.
I felt broken! The people in the car that I had hit were startled but fine; I was scared to death and worried if they were okay. The awesome crew noticed it was me and ran over to get me out of the chaos while a tow truck took my Jeep to a car shop down the street—a whole other story.
The crew immediately put me in makeup and we shot the hot dog scene.
How was it to work with Tom Petty? Or did you not meet him?
We didn’t talk much, but when we did, we were just shooting the breeze while he was playing tag with his daughter. I wish I got to know him better. We certainly have a lot in common.
What did you think of the video?
I absolutely love it! Julian Temple created a masterpiece of time-traveling into the future, kind of like Back to the Future.
What did your parents think of it?
My dad thought it was great, but thought I was nutty when racing professionally. I was like, “But dad, you built me a skateboard when I was 3-4 years old and said, “See what this thing can do and get back to me.” So I did, there you go. Everything has a greater purpose than what we can see in that time.
What about your mom?
My mother passed away when I was 11. I’m sure she would have been very proud of me. When we were kids, my mother would make us pick out a present on Christmas Day to give to a sick child at St. John’s Hospital in Redondo Beach. Not a fun thing to do as a young child considering we appeared to be quite financially challenged growing up; my mom worked three jobs to make ends meet. Skateboarding was a way to get around without having to put any pressure on her.
What did your friends think of it?
They thought it was awesome! Most of my friends were guys. They skated and they would take the credit for my skating abilities. Riiiggggghhhhttt. Actually, they did give me pointers and encouraged me to keep going, so I do give my friends a lot of the credit. My girlfriends were excited and a bit jealous. I hate jealousy—it just doesn’t make sense! Everybody has a purpose in life…find it, love it, and live it! Don’t rain on someone else’s parade because you haven’t found yours. Be inspired instead—life is just too short! Live it well while you can.
Did the video ever affect your dating life in any way (i.e. when you first told boyfriends you were the woman in it)?
Yes and no. I was always a California skater/surfer girl so I was just being myself, and the men I attracted also skated and surfed. The bummer part was when they took my life for granted and used it to their advantage to excel in their own lives—boasting more about the girl in the video versus appreciating me a person. You can see why many people in the limelight would create an alias—just so people can be themselves around you or treat you as a human being. Whatever the case, it was me, it was my life, and I chose something that came with challenges like any other chosen vocation/career. It is what it is…and I love it either way.
Did you receive fan mail? If so, do you still have any of it?
Shockingly, I received a lot of fan mail. I never saw myself as famous. I just saw myself doing what I love to do and it led to things I never dreamed of. A lot of people dream of being famous—that wasn’t me. I dreamed of rising to the top to make a difference that inspired people to have faith in themselves, and if fame can do that, then I did my job!
Did the video generate any controversy that you know of?
Ya know, there’s controversy in everything, which is why I prefer to move on and not dwell on the things have no meaning for today. Sure, I would love to set a lot of records straight, but I [more] prefer to let it go. Thanks for your understanding. Life is good—let’s keep it that way.
Willing for any kind of elaboration? Are you referring to public controversy or private, interpersonal controversy?
Devastatingly (sigh), one of the girls in the video was murdered. People thought it was me. I would prefer to focus on her life-legacy.
There were many controversies. Let’s just say I’ve never felt more misunderstood while understanding (without blame) why people see the way they do.
To give you an idea, for many years, I volunteered at a shelter for at-risk, underprivileged teens. On Christmas Eve, one of the teens I worked with wore the most perfect shirt; it said it all: “I’m not evil, just misunderstood.” I asked him what his shirt meant to him. His humbling response: he just wished someone cared enough to see his side of the story. My heart sank understanding exactly what he meant.
Then he said, “Why are you down here with us? Looking all rich and stuff?” To him, my simple attire was rich. He added, “Shouldn’t you be with your family tonight?” I responded, “I am with my family.”
The teens and I all hugged and said our goodbye for the evening; I headed for a midnight Christmas Eve church service at the Rock Church in San Diego. Miles McPherson, pro baseball player turned pastor, was preaching. He said, “As a gift to Jesus for the gift of life He’s given you, turn to the person directly behind you and tell them what you are most thankful for.” I turned around to share the experience of the teen shelter.
I reached out to shake a young man’s hand behind me, and he said, “Devon! It’s me, Michael, from TTC!” TTC is the teen shelter I had just come from. I’m so not kidding. I had worked with this young adult for over a year, mentoring him through fitness to go after his dream to enroll in the Marines. Then one day, he was gone. It was his time to go, but no goodbye. I’d wondered if he was on the street again.
The world stopped before me with a miracle moment that doesn’t get any better than this! Tom Petty [was] singing my favorite song over loudspeakers again!
What were you paid?
Given that it was so long ago, I thought you either wouldn’t remember or would be fine sharing. Do you remember?
Oh, yes, I remember. Let’s just say seven is a good number. If we made the video according to entertainment industry standards today, I probably could retire early. ;)
Did you watch the MTV World Premiere of the video, and if so, where and how did that feel?
I was really excited! I was literally watching a dream come true on TV. Growing up skating finally made sense. I didn’t think about it; I just did it by faith for [a] reason I wasn’t aware of until that point.
Were you ever recognized in public? How often and when last? Any stories about that?
For a while, it was tough to accept fame from it. I was focused on doing my job and having a blast doing it. I never really thought about people actually coming up to me and asking for an autograph. It was always the other way around. I loved hearing how inspired people were; hearing their stories really humbled me. I remember driving in Manhattan Beach, looking to my right at sunset, and seeing a little girl trying to learn how to skateboard. It was quite surreal. [In] the “Free Fallin’” video, the girl is going through time discovering her identity and the identity of the times.
Speaking of which, the part of the video [with the] “hippie rocker” character—where the guys get into a brawl while I was crossing my legs reading a magazine in a chair—this seemed to happen quite often after the video in real life. It felt like I was living in a matrix where people [had] made a video of my life before it even started. I was surprised that people have recognized me—even today.
Did you appear in other music videos after that?
Yes, and many commercials, TV shows, and motion pictures (professional stunts).
If you ever met other women who were female leads in a mainstream ‘80s rock video, who?
Not really. I wish I would have; that would have been a blast to meet women who shared similar experiences. Would love to hear their stories. I’m sure they are quite profound and inspiring.
If you went to college, where and what did you study?
Biola University. Degree in organization leadership, minor in theology with an emphasis in eschatology. Yep, I have a passion for truth—Biblical prophecy. My dad was a NASA aerospace engineer who was a key inventor of XM radio. The universe had to be created, it could not exist; otherwise, the physics of cause and effect just wouldn’t make sense.
What are you doing these days?
I am a fitness specialist, ski conditioning coach, etc. All the fun stuff. My passion is inspiring people to have faith regardless of their circumstances. Go big with passion of heart!
Where do you live?
California is always my home, [but] I live in Colorado—next best thing to Cali. I miss the beach but love the change of seasons with snow.
If you are/were married, what was your future husband’s reaction when he learned you were in this video?
Well, some things are better left personal. Anyone who embarks on a journey in the entertainment industry [has] to expect [that] people will see them [how] they want them to be, not as they really are.
Do you have kids, and if so, how old are they?
Reread [my answer to] question #1; they are old enough to live their life’s dreams.
Would you be able to share anything more—how many you have, what they are doing generally?
Yes, I have two absolutely gorgeous daughters, Kirra and Elise. They are my special “little big” girls—who are taller than me. I’m trying to renegotiate my life contract with God. It’s not working very well. I had them soon after the video was made. I am very protective of them. Kirra (Angel Kirra) is an aspiring gifted artist/fashion designer and Elise (Weesypooh) is an aspiring chef/businesswoman.
What do they think of the video?
They love it and so do their friends. Raising them was a blast—skating down the streets. Neighbors didn’t like me very much at first, but as they got to know me, they were inspired to want to skate themselves. Skating is not a crime. It is an outlet like any other sport. It is a way of life that takes you places. It’s a legacy of love on a stick that rolls with the times—something the video touched on from one scene to the next.
What did you think when you first heard from me?
I was hoping you would. ;) I got “the memo from above.” Seriously, I think it’s awesome you have a passion for something like this. I hope you are excited about all you hear and are inspired to accomplish great things in your life! It’s nice to know I can help in some way.
“Memo from above”—does that mean you knew you would hear from someone about this, or even knew you would hear from me specifically? If so, when did you get that message, and how, and what exactly did it say?
LOL! Be careful what you pray for right? I mean this in a good way. I had a sense someone was going to contact me sometime in the future, then in the near future. It’s not a prediction or intuition; it’s something much more than that. It’s a gift of understanding the power of prayers and believing they are answered. It’s not religious; it’s a just a special personal relationship between me and Jesus.
Has anyone else ever interviewed you about this? If so, who, when, and for what publication?
Many publications have interviewed me, but the most memorable was Rolling Stone (#576, 4/19/90). Awesome!
Have you appeared at any fan conventions to sign autographs? If not, would you?
I have and yes I would; any opportunity to inspire people to go for it is humbling success!
Did you stay in touch with anyone from the shoot?
When was the last time you were in touch with them?
Good question…brain freeze.
How do you look back on the experience?
The video had more purpose than I could have ever imagined. It set the stage for reaching out to kids from all walks of life with respect, faith, and inspiration.
Anything you’d like to add?
The video allowed me the respectful opportunity to speak to hundreds of kids from all walks of life about believing in their dreams, trusting their life has a greater purpose that’s worth the painful work to get there, and how to use fitness as a tool for their success (with skateboarding in particular as an outlet for their frustrations).
Tweet about this interview to @tompetty, @benchten, and @devonkidd!
Copy and tweet to help me find more 1980s music video girls:
Real research question: if you know the Annie Hubbard who was in 1984 Night Ranger video “Sister Christian,” pls contact @MarcTNobleman
Real research question: if you know the woman—even just her name—in 1986 Cinderella video “Shake Me,” pls contact @MarcTNobleman
Real research question: if you know woman—even just her name—in ‘87 Richard Marx video “Should’ve Known Better,” pls contact @MarcTNobleman
The Girl in the Video: epilogue.