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Three score and ten or more

Friday, January 19, 2007

My Adventures as a Big Time Movie Actor

January 19 My Adventures as a Big Time Movie Actor.
We went to Savannah today to look at a sale at Worldmart and get Janet away from the house, the water aerobics and the physical therapy.  On the way home there was some discussion on the local PBS station about the old Chatham County Jail in Savannah.  It brought back some memories so I thought I  would tell you about some of my adventures as a big time movie actor, some of which happened in the old Chatham County Jail.  I will tell you a story that I would call “Mostly True”.  It is only mostly true because it happened in the mid seventies and then later in the eighties and it was long enough ago that I can’t remember many of the names, and I have become suspicious about my memory of events that long ago.

This adventure has its roots in a motion picture that was made in Statesboro and environs five or ten years earlier.  The movie was eventually called Buster and Billie and starred Jan Michael Vincent and some quite lovely young lady whose name is among those I don’t remember.  I got involved with the film because it was a film about southern teen-age angst, and most of the supporting roles ended up being played by students from the Acting Program at Georgia Southern College where I was Director of Theatre.  It  happened that I was directing a production of You Can’t Take It With You at the time, and several of the kids that were in the movie were also in my play so I had to juggle rehearsal time a little for the shooting schedule.  As a result I got quite well acquainted with the director who was a heck of a nice guy and who treated my students very well. (A fair number of them worked in the set decoration and continuity of the film as well, a good start for a potential career.)  In fact a few of them were so impressed with him and with themselves in the film (it got pretty fair reviews) that they quit school and went out to Hollywood to make it “big”.  All in all it was a good experience.  As a member of the Georgia Theatre Conference board at the time, I even conned the director into serving on a panel at the Georgia Theatre Conference in Savannah that year.

I then went on about my business of teaching theatre and he went back to his business of directing films and time flew.  A few years later an announcement appeared in the paper that they were filming a television movie in Savannah to be called Orphan Train with Glenn Ford, and, I believe Julie- Julie- I can’t remember except that she played the Belle of Amherst some years earlier, and I had met her backstage at a play in Long Beach California twenty years earlier.  The announcement identified my “old friend” or at least “old acquaintance”, the director of Buster and Billie as the director.  They were holding auditions for day players (small speaking roles) and extras in Savannah, and having some time free, I decided that since I knew the director and one of the stars, I might have a good chance for a role.  

I went down for auditions, but of course met only the casting director and no one else I knew, but they read me several times for the part of the “judge” and again for a policeman or bailiff in the court (not sure which anymore) and finally cast me as the cop.  I was given sides (a partial script for the scene) told to memorize them and come back on a specific day to film the part.  This I did, but when I walked in and was sent to get a costume, the costumer more or less exploded because I was much too large for the costume.  (We couldn’t say that the costume was too small, could we?).  If you want an ego blow, watch a costumer go out to the line of people getting ready to be extras and cast a guy in your part, without a reading or anything else, because he was the right size for the costume.

At this time, they were stuck with me (and I knew they were, as an old SAG member, thought they didn’t know it, I knew I could make things uncomfortable if they just left me hanging—of course the fact that I hadn’t identified my SAG membership in auditions would have gotten me in trouble too, but. . .. ..)  Actually they were very nice and they dug up a costume for me, blackened my beard and made me really scruffy and then hung me up by my ankles in a room in the jail where the young boy hero was to be questioned.
The second unit director (whom I discovered later was the son of my old acquaintance) came in, looked at me and said something on the order of “With a guy like this hanging there, who in hell is going to look at the action in the scene, take him down and get him out of here.”

They did as they were told, and, since I was made up, and had to be paid a day player’s wage anyway (which is more than an extra) they put me back into the jail with my well made up hands sticking through the bars (actually flat slats of steel in a sort of basketweave pattern) and my head up close for a pan down of the cells as the little boy is walked back to the back and placed in a cell.   I then took off my costume, washed my face and hands (at least a little) put on my street clothes, picked up my check (which wasn’t bad for a day’s messing around) and went home.

When the movie came out, I THINK I recognizes one of my hands sticking through the bars, but I am not sure.  I never did see my “friend” the director or any of the major actors in the film except the little boy they were questioning and jailing, and I have no idea who he was.    Oh Well..


At 9:52 PM, Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Another great anecdote. Keep them coming.


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