Bored on the Fourth of July

About 20 years ago, a colleague at work showed me a flyer for an open extra call for a movie being filmed in Dallas.  That happens all the time but this one was different in that they were looking for those with NY accents (I had a real one) and a family (I had a real one of those too).  So I went on my lunch hour.  It was over 100 degrees that August afternoon and the lines were long.  After about an hour, I gave up and went back to work.  On a lark, I stopped by there after work and was surprised that they were still seeing people.  The “audition” was a lineup where they said “No, No, No ,No, No, Yes No etc”. as they went down the line.  Of course I was a “No” and handed in my paperwork.  At least I had closure.

Roll forward 2 months when the phone rings.  It is the production company asking if we wanted to be in the movie.  They had our family photo we left with them.  They told us to report that Wednesday.  When the day arrived, my wife was not feeling well and she questioned whether or not it was a good idea to take our 11 and 7 year olds out of school.  So I went alone.  It was a great decision.

I arrived at a designated parking lot at 7am.  We boarded a bus who took us to a staging area.  At the check in, we were told where we were to report when got on the Set and were led to a building.  It was the community center for a church and was packed with movie people who were scurrying around along with a bunch of confused extras.  Finally someone asked if I need help and told me to pick out a costume.  The room was filled with racks of clothes mostly from thrift shops or Goodwill.  She picked out a shirt and a pair of short and pointed me to a make- shift dressing room.  As she led me down the hall, she was stopped by a supervisor who told her that so and so said they can’t use that kind of shirt.  “The collar is too wide”.  We made a substitution and she sent me to Footware since I was now barefoot.  When I got there, they asked what kind of shoes did I want.  I shrugged my shoulder and blurted out “I dunno”.  They seemed annoyed and I finally picked out a pair of black high top vintage PF Flyers.  I asked what was next and was pointed to Accessories.  The same conversation took place.  I had no idea what I was supposed to wear.  They finally suggested a watch which I said OK.  It was an old Bulova, weight about 4 pounds.  It didn’t run, had one hand missing but at least I had something.  Then I had to wait on line to get my costume approved.  I finally got to the front where I was met by the Costume Boss.  She looked me over intently.  She was in her thirties, I guess and was wearing some vintage clothes that didn’t seem to go together.  On her head was a hat that resembled something Carmen Miranda would wear and it had an actual price tag dangling down, ala Minny Pearl.  I didn’t get it but I guess she knows fashion and I don’t.  She scanned me up and down like a human MRI machine and finally pointed to me as if she made a sudden discovery.  She said “what you need is a hat” and gestured in the Hat department direction.  I told them I needed a hat and they asked what kind.  Of  course I replied I don’t know, you tell me.  They said that isn’t how it worked and showed me the hat bin.  I picked out a tan straw hat that reminded me of I had back then although the inside of mine was stained with mulberries from the time we stopped to picked them on the side of the road in Hampton Bays.

I returned to the Approval line which was now longer.  Since I was supposed to be a New Yorker, I decided to use some NY aggression and pushed my way to the front.  I caught her eye and asked if this hat was OK.  She was annoyed but said Yes.  Next was a check in line where they recorded what you were wearing which belonged to them.  It was all theirs except for my wedding ring.  We then were herded to an area and told to stand up against a wall.  Another women started to stare at me with her X-ray eyes.  She told me I needed a haircut which was a bit strange as I had one not more than 10 days prior.

Haircuts usually take about 10 minutes for me.  Let’s say I’m a bit folically challenged.  (My father would say, I’m not losing my hair.  I keep them in a cigar box at home.  Cigar box!  How old is that joke anyway?)  The stylist  proceeded to cut my hair and a half hour later he was finished.  I think most of he time he was deciding which individual hair needed to be trimmed.  I was finally going to the Set.  Over three hours had past since I first arrived.

They waited for an all clear signal and escorted us to the Set.  There we saw hundreds of others as we filled in the end section of a street line with people on both side.  We were lucky.  The others had been there for hours waiting for us.  The guy in charge explained that it was July 4, 1957 and we were on Long Island.  He wanted a lot of energy, noise since this was to be the town’s annual Parade celebration.  It would take a great deal of my acting prowess on my part since it was not July and 95 degrees but October and although it was warm the day before, a blue norther had blown through and temperature was in the 50’s and I was in shorts and a thin shirt.  Finally the action signal was heard.

We were all pumped up and shouting at first. Enthusiasm reigned.  Then we’d hear cut.  Technical problem and begin again.  After many tries, it was getting harder to constantly be excited.  I remember telling an assistant that the empty beer bottle we were holding wasn’t right.  It was a Stroh’s.  On Long Island at the time, you drank Ballantine (Yankees) Schaeffer (Dodgers) or Knickerbocker (Giants).  He schrugged his shoulders and moved on.  After an hour of standing and shivering, they got what they wanted and we were told to go to lunch and be back in a hour.  I ate mine in 5 minutes and decide to take a nap in the church.  When I awoke, it had the strangest feeling.  I thought I went back in time and although the clothes were familiar, the faces were not.  I finally remembered it was 1988 and I was in Dallas.

When we returned, the shooting had proceeded up the street.  Fortunately, I had gone back to my clothes and retrieved my sweater.  I wore in between takes and hid it during filming.  During the breaks, I’d look at what they did to some of the building.  I remember where they painted some brown under a pipe to make it look like it was rusting.  The next store front had tiny photos taped to the windows.  It was a real estate/ insurance/ notary kind of place, typical of the area.  The photos were of bungalows for sale.  Real photos of the period.  The bank across the street said Long Island Trust Company.  Its facade was of heavy stone to give the impression to depositors that their money was safe (the good old days, when banks could be trusted).  When you went up to the building you would see that it wasn’t stone, but painted to look so.  None of these features were visible in the film but the detail was necessary to give the proper illusion.

 They would occasionally gather a group of us together.  They would stare at me and move on and select someone else for an assignment.  I was getting tired and cranky and didn’t particularly like being passed over all the time. Above all, it was sooo boring.   While waiting, I remember talking with this older guy who was there.  He was annoyed and told me “They can’t treat us like this.  We need more breaks.  Wait until my agent hears about this”  Agent?  What are you talking about?  You are a stinking extra!   And then it hit me.

I’m not an Actor.  What am I doing here?  If I were an Actor, I wouldn’t have asked so many questions.  I would have figured out who I was.  I would have removed my wedding band and become the loser character that I should have portrayed.  I would have asked for long black socks to go with my sneakers.  I would taken those hideous thick black glasses that were offered to me.  MaybeI would have looked a bit cross eyed when the director was looking me over.  But it was too late and I was losing the thrill I once had.  Finally, they called it quits for the night.  We hung up our costume so we would wear the same outfit the next days filming.  I knew I would not be back.  I was not an Actor.

We did go to the movies that next December.  The opening scene in Born on the Fourth of July lasts a minute or 2 (2 days of filming).  In the time it took to say. “I should be over there, oh there I am”, my movie career was over.  I do have my $37 payment check for 12 hours of work and an appreciation for the details needed to fool the audience into thinking you were back in time.

 “Here’s looking at you, kid.  We’ll always have Dallas”.


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