It was an early call and we were told to park at the Cinerama Dome parking lot, which is smack in the middle of Hollywood, near Sunset and Vine Streets, close to where the old Brown Derby used to be. The Brown Derby being one of the "in" spots for movies stars during Hollywood's heyday. We were bussed down to the still prestigious LA Tennis Club, in the mansioned and gated neighborhood of Hancock Park. There was a chill in the air and the breakfast wagon parked on the street, was handing out lumberjack breakfasts to the crew. You can tell right away when you get on the job what kind of budget the show is working with when you see the food. If they are handing out food with abandon, you know the budget is a big one.
The assistant directors on this shoot still seemed to display normal human emotions, so I surmised that they were either new to the business or would be canonized by the church soon. There are so many evil assistant directors in Hollywood, you might wonder if the Prince of Darkness himself is doing the hiring.
Carla, my 20 something friend and girlfriend of my once fellow Stand-In friend Mason, happened to be,there. We both found a patch of sun to stand in while we waited for things on the set to heat up. LA is a strange place where weather is concerned. No matter how hot it gets when the sun is out, it is almost always cold and damp when the sun isn't out. This I suspect is due to the lack of free flowing water the place would have if it were not for the aqueduct bringing in water from the great North. The indigenous foliage gets it's water from the moisture deposited by the cold damp air during the night.
It wasn't long before one of the Assistant Directors found us all and directed us to where they would be shooting for the day. The plot revolved around an Eskimo tennis prodigy, the main character Arlis the show's namesake had discovered. The "background actors" where the people in the stands watching the game or games as it were. One game was supposed to be in Australia, where we all had to look Australian (what ever that is). The other game was supposed to be on an American college campus, we knew not where. The action for the background consisted of watching the ball going back and forth and standing up and cheering on cue. Mostly the job entailed sitting in the sun, which happens to be one of my favorite things to do. To my delight, things heated up nicely as the day progressed.
Carla sat near by and chattered incessantly as she fussed and worried about issues concerning her wardrobe. People that do "background acting" work have always been a bit nutty, but this new crop seemed to display an "on the edge" sort of quality I hadn't noticed when I first began in 1976. These days the non-union people were working for $40.00 a day, which is a wage a person could live without if push came to shove. I figure the low pay effects attitude and the deportment of the people involved, thus the sense of abandon and unruly behavior I was noticing.
Crowd scenes in the film industry usually put people together who would not normally be together in real life. The mix can be something resembling a day at the funny farm. I guess it was because Carla was sitting next to me, that I found myself in the middle of a group of people that were all half my age. They were nutty little grown up children with facial hair and breasts. All of them seem to have headsets on. All bouncing and bopping to the tune of different drummers, as snippets of what they were hearing in their ears came out of their mouths spontaneously and at odd moments. The general conversation was a freewheeling stream of consciousness affair.
Two very fey young men, one black and one white, where reliving the dialog from the film "Mommy Dearest". One would chose some obscure line from the film and the other would answer, both doing their version of Faye Dunaway, doing Joan Crawford. I expected at any moment they would drag out the eyebrow pencil, to really get into character. This went on all day with these two magpies, they must have had the whole script memorized.
The guy in back of me, was some blond and buff piece of beefcake from Florida. He spent the day leaning over me telling me his life story. He was a male stripper that also did stunts. Everybody says they do stunts in the film business, I just listen and say nothing. He was a fugitive from Bay Watch where I supposed he made a big splash. He explained to me how he shaves his entire body for his strip act and how it drives the woman wild when they see he has no pubic hair. He also discussed issues concerning his costume which was a G-string or a thong bathing suit. Man, how times have changed in the world of men, I kept thinking, as I gave him my best "man of the world" expression.
Then there was the brassy blond in her mid twenties that looked like a cross between the blond (Patty) from the Andrew Sisters, and Bette Midler. She was a sort of poor man's Bette Midler in a way, ....crass without the class. She had a nose ring and her favorite expression was "blow me", which she found occasion to say over and over in the course of her rather jocular conversation. On the other side of me was the clean cut black guy who thought everyone else was crazy. He spent the day instructing me to look at the "booty" every time the girls in front of us got up to cheer for the Eskimo Tennis player. "Look at that booty!, he would exclaim, over and over and over.
As a result on this particular job, I spent the day looking at "booty", listening to a blow by blow description of male strip act, and listening to Carla discuss the intricacies of her wardrobe, which consisted of a few t-shirts and some thrift shop shorts. You must imagine all this going on at once and in between us all jumping up and cheering for an Eskimo tennis player we hardly knew, knowing even less about the story line of the episode we were working on. So this is my Walter Mitty life. A day before the mast. A day in the life of a Hollywood "background" actor.
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