Actor, Author, Director, Talk Show Guest Extraordinaire, Talk Show Host, Political Activist

And a Great Guy to to be around

In the spring of 1972, Charles Grodin was filming The Heart Break Kid, his first starring picture. He had had a great many small parts in TV and two small roles in movies. He played an inept buffon who turns into a rapist/murderer in Catch 22 and he played the doctor who delivers the ‘Baby’ in Rosemary’s Baby’. Hardly roles that foretold his future as a fine likable comic actor.

In that same spring, I had the pleasure of working for a month or so on the film portion of Heart Break Kid that finished the filming in Minneapolis after filming the first half in Florida. Up until then, I only had a little filming experience in a few TV ads, a local documentary, and two days working a car chase in Slaughter House Five. None of which foretold of the fun I had in spite of working the long hours, the exhausting labor, having to work under three jerks from the New York film local… fun because Charles Grodin brought a great sense of humor and reality to the proceedings.

Charles greeted everyone that came on the set the first time, shaking their hand, asking their name; and he never forgot their name, or failed to talk to them. When things got rough, Charles lightened things up, sometimes with intellectual humor, sometimes with a little corn.

For instance, one day after a hard rain, I was laying out heavy electrical cable, slogging through the mud. It was one of those times I wished I was back home at the Guthrie, which was dark for several months, in spite of the big bucks earned working the movie. Charles walked by and stopped and watched for a bit.

‘Just remember, Don’, he said and he burst into singing, There’s no business like show business’.

I flashed him a one finger salute and he laughed and went on his way still singing the song, ‘They smile when they are low…’

He played to a much larger audience when we were filming the marriage scene. It took place in a small church and the actual minister of the church performed the fake marriage. He thought that being in a movie would be fun. The ‘guests’ in the church had answered an ad asking for extras. They thought being in a movie would be fun. The cast and crew knew different; but we were being paid, they were not.

Elaine May, the director, was in a ‘Cut! Take it again from the top’ mood. After a few cuts, the minister looked at his watch and the audience gave a collective sigh of ‘oh no, not again’.

After another cut, Charles spoke to the guests. ‘See, folks, this is how movies are made. Sometimes filming a scene of a movie marriage lasts longer than some real Hollywood marriages.’ The crowd laughed and settled back. The minister looked at his watch. And Elaine said ‘Take it from the top.’

After a couple more takes we heard the welcome words, ‘That’s a wrap.’ The guests began to leave and the minister looked at his watch again. This time he smiled.

But Charles wasn’t through. ‘Folks. Folks,’ he said, and the guests sat back down. ‘I wanted to explain that our minister isn’t an actor but the actual pastor of this church. And the reason he kept looking at his watch is because in a short time he has a rehearsal of an actual wedding that will take place here on Saturday. He was getting nervous we wouldn’t finish up in time and he also realized that if he flubs his lines at the real wedding, nobody is going to yell ‘Cut. Take it from the top.’ The guests laughed.

Oh,’ Charles added, ‘He also wants you to know that you are welcome to stay and watch the real rehearsal.’ That got a big laugh from both the ‘guests’ and the minister.

Charles was a god- sent for Cybill Shepard. This was only the second movie for Cybill. Her first movie, The Last Picture Show, propelled her into a circle that was totally different from her successful teenage modeling career.. Plus she didn’t have her mentor, and current lover, Peter Bogdanovitch, holding her hand like in her first movie. He wanted to come along with her, but Elaine May said no way. It was also Elaine’s second movie as a director and she didn’t need Bogdanovitch interfering.

In her first movie experience, A New Leaf, she was screenwriter, director, lead actress, and had Walter Matthau as her costar and hand holder. It was critically praised and a tough act to follow.

The only true movie vet in the cast was Eddie Albert. Although his acting background was more in TV than films, he had been nominated for an Oscar seventeen years before. (He would receive and another Oscar nomination for his brilliant performance in Heartbreak Kid.)

Eddie was not on the set when he wasn’t in the scene being filmed. During off hours Eddie was busy catching up with old friends from his college days at the University of Minnesota.

Eddie was more than happy to help Cybill with her acting, but she needed someone to help with her insecurity about acting…and life in general. She was only four years removed from high school. This is where Charles and his humor saved the day. He always managed to get her to relax before a scene by cracking jokes. He also found time to listen and advice her.

And Elaine May was no stranger to his method of easing tension. Both Elaine and her former partner in the great improv- comedic duo of Nichols and May, Mike Nichols had been so impressed when they saw Chuck Grodin on Broadway, that they both used him as soon as they could. Nichols in his Catch 22. May in her Heartbreak Kid.

Both of these roles were great risks to him because of the dark character he portrayed and could have poisoned him with the public and future producers. He took them both in gratitude to Nichols and May for believing in him.

Elaine May soon discovered that not only did he have the talent needed to create his character, Lennie, as a jerk, who would not alienate the movie goers, he was also a wonderful friend to work with. He always seemed to know what to say and when to say it.

The key grip had been involved in the Florida filming. He told me how in the first few days, the screenwriter, Neal Simon, a celebrated veteran of stage and screen, thought he was the last word in this film and tried influence May’s decisions and methods. And also, Peter Bogdanovitch, via phone to both her and Cybill, tried to influence how Cybill should act in her role and how Cybill should be treated.

Elaine stood up to both these men and told them to butt out. And Charles spoke up and backed her ultimatum to these two pests. His actions against these two influential men could have hurt both his movie and his stage career. But he did what he thought was right.

Mission accomplished. Elaine was left to direct her movie and guide Cybill in such a way as to get a fine performance from her, and helped the young actress develop confidence in herself.

Charles Grodin went on to a successful career in movies. Robert De Niro, his costar in Midnight Run, praised Grodin, not only as an actor, but as a funny intellectual person that improved the movie with his suggestions and ad libs. He credited Grodin for making the film a success. And the two became life long friends. I imagine a great many who worked with him agree with De Niro.

Charles excelled in many more fields in the Arts and as an advocate for Human Rights. Sad to say I never had the pleasure of working with him after Heart Break Kid. I would have jumped at the chance to work with him again.

And now we have lost another fine human being who enriched our lives, but left us a fine legacy of his accomplishment… and for lucky ones like me, good memories of having known him.

R.I.P. Charles Grodin.

You can read more about the filming of Heartbreak Kid, in my blog post



EASTER WEEK 1972 – Oh yeah. Cybill Shepard, panties and bra, bring in the body-double. Wrap filming for the week. 

    I was looking ahead to a no-work Saturday and a nice call Sunday afternoon.

Easter Weekend!

The phone rang about five on my, up until then, lazy Holy Saturday. I knew it was for me. It was. The Local’s Business Agent.

‘I know you’re off the movie job today Need you. There’s a show at the Guthrie tonight. Acme Dance. They need another hand for one of the numbers. Easy gig. You’ll just working the one bit and then you can leave.’

‘Acme Dance! I suppose I’ll have to dress up in a Wile E. Coyote costume and drop an anvil from the center cove.’

“Whatever,’ the BA growled. ‘See someone called Sally. She’s the show manager. She’ll tell you what to do. Wear tennis shoes. You got to do some running.

‘Oh, have a Happy Easter tomorrow.’

In those days you never turned a call down from the B.A. unless it was a real emergency. It was too easy for him to lose your phone number for the next job.

I broke the news to my wife, who wasn’t surprised. Then I looked in the paper to see exactly what I would be working. It was modern dance out of New York, The Acme Dance starring Jaimie Cunningham. Never heard of it.

When I got backstage I asked Old Martin, the union man working the deck on the show, to show me Sally. He pointed out a man wearing a plaid flannel shirt, loose jeans, work shoes, and a baseball cap on backwards. Sally, probably short for Salvatore.

I introduced myself and when Sally turned around, I had to think twice. From the front, he was a she. She took the fancy carved briar pipe from her mouth before she talked. She had a raspy voice with a thick New York accent. She looked more like an extra in ON THE WATERFRONT than the manager of a dance company.

We went down in the underworld under the stage. She gave me two flashlights and showed me how to hold them, one in each hand, one hand on top of the other. The top hand grasping the thumb of the bottom hand so both flashlights would move at the same time.

‘One of your lights is going to hit Jaimie’s sunglasses. The other one on his crouch. You’ll be laying on the top acting step. Jamie will be the center of the three dancers on stage. The other two will be picked up by a boy dancer laying on your right, a girl dancer on your left. The flashlights will be the only front light. Miniature follow spots. It’s the first number after intermission. you’ll enter from the audience right vomatorium. You’ll get your cue to go to the step from the dancers entering with you in the blackout.

‘Sounds a lot harder than it really is. I think the old stagehand could have done okay with the flashlights but he just couldn’t run on and off. Too slow.

‘You got a lot of time to practice working the flashlight bit. The other two spotters will be down when it is ready to get into place at the mouth of the vom.’

She re-lit her pipe and left. She was the company manager, stage manager, tech manager, sound person, lighting designer and cue caller. Probably drove the van and got to sleep in the warehouse studio back in New York. In the world of dance, especially modern dance, the participants have to love what they are doing because the work is hard and the pay is small. Bet she smoked a pipe because pipe tobacco, like a can of Prince Albert, cost less than tailor-made cigarettes and was less work than roll-your-own smokes.

I had the flashlight bit down before intermission was over. I went into the darkness of the vom and waited. The two dancers, wearing robes and red cowboy boots, came behind me and the gal repeated what I had to do. The houselights and stage preset blacked out. I heard two ‘Go’s’ and I took off running. Saw the glow tape center mark and flopped on the stage, got my flashlights in position. I heard the two dancers lay on the step, one on each side of me.

Music came over the speakers, it was Nancy Sinatra’s big hit, THESE BOOTS ARE WALKING. Back lights came on and there were three dancers. I hit the middle one, Jaime, with my two lights like I had been told, sunglasses and crotch. He was wearing a kid’s cowboy hat, a kid’s two holstered cap guns, and red boots. Oh, and the sunglasses, aviator style. And that’s all. No tights, not even a dance belt. The other two dancers, one male, one female, had the same costumes on – or off, depending how you looked at it.

The three on stage didn’t do much dance movement except stomping their boots on the stage, in rhythm to Nancy’s singing about ‘And one of these days these boots are going to walk all over you!’

I flicked my eyes to my two companions and saw a lot of skin. A lot of skin! I came to the conclusion that I was the only one in this bit that was wearing clothes.

The song ended. The stage went dark. I heard ‘Black Out’. I shut off my flashlights and took off running down the vom. I heard my fellow spot ops run on stage. I darn near tripped over the two dancers’ robes. The audience applauded and applauded. But there was no bow lights. Instead, after a long period of darkness, quick change I thought, music came over the speakers, an instrumental western swing tune and the stage lights popped on.

I knew I was in the dark of the tunnel and out of the audience’s line of vision so I turned around.

All five dancers were on stage. No mini-spots from the front this time, full- up front instruments. The original three dancers had discarded their sunglasses and toy gun sets. The two that had been with me had put on cowboy hats. Five dancers wearing nothing but kids’ hats and red boots! And doing a modern dance version of a western ho-down.

‘Swing your partners do- see- do.’

You can’t make things like that up and you can’t take naked dancers swinging their partners too long. I turned and went down the vom to the underworld.

Old Martin was backstage when I came up. He was smiling and shaking his head. ‘If the gals down at Augie’s On Hennepin undressed that deep, old Augie’d lose his license,’ the old-timer observed with a chuckle.’

‘Yup,’ I agreed.

We wished each other a Happy Easter, and I went home.

Easter was spent in our traditional way and I took a nap before I had to go to work. The Ice Follies were finishing their four weeks at the Met Arena. I was a packer on the Out. I got there when the show started. The road propman and other packer, a college student who worked occasionally for the Union, and myself got the two props standards, two huge box-crates where all the props were loaded on, down on the ice, upstage of the curtains. As the props came off, we broke them down and stored them according to the directions of the road man.

Easy work, but it took a bit of practice before my partner got the hang of walking on the ice. The knees of his jeans and the seat got wet in a hurry. His welcome to working the ice show.

When the end of the show was approaching the wardrobe personnel came down on the backstage ice pushing loaded costume racks. The chorus came off stage. Peggy Fleming went on for her final number.

The quick- change took place on the back ice. Men and women milling around, finding their dresser. No need to removed their skates. There was the ripping sound of separating velcro, that invention that had changed the world of wardrobe people.

Out of the one costume, down to boy’s dance belts and girl’s panties and bras, then into their Grand Finale costumes.

I continued with my prop work, making sure I didn’t get in the way of the skaters. My young partner, on the other hand, stood in one place fascinated by the precision of the change. Well, I guess the correct thing was that he was fascinated by all the panties and bras.

The music changed. The skaters went on ice. Peggy stood in the wing waiting for her entrance. But my young green partner remained where he had been all during the change. I had to holler at him to get back to work.

He had a silly grin on his face as he slip-slided over to me.

‘Is show business always like this? he asked me.

“No,’ I answered. ‘Sometimes it gets down right exciting. They tend to tone it down during the holy days.’

Yup! Four score plus Easters Seasons have passed through my life, but none like the one in 1972.




Of all the weeks of the year, all of this had to happen on the week leading up to Easter and Easter itself.

Even with the name Ostertag, German for Easterday, Eastertime was always a quiet time for me. More holy day than holiday. Each one pretty much the same as all the others. But not in 1972. Never before. Never again.

It was the Guthrie dark time and I had been working the Minneapolis location filming of THE HEARTBREAK KID, the original, the one starring Cybill Shepard and Charles Grodin, for the better part of a month. Typical movie work. Bust tail for a while followed by doing nothing for a while. Long, boring hours. Sometimes have to get by with four, five hours sleep. Good food. Good money.

We had moved to a new location, heading into the wrap for filming in Minneapolis. After this one, there was only one more left and that one in St. Paul. This scene was the sex scene the cabin. If things went well, we were promised an Easter/Passover break until the Tuesday after Easter.

The log cabin was on an estate by Lake Minnetonka. We were setting up the lighting when Cybill Shepard came in and saw the interior for first time. She screamed for Elaine May, the director, and stormed out, vowing never to set foot in there again.

‘The Diva has returned,’ said the young, easy- to- dislike, gaffer, who, along with his dad and uncle, had been with the film since the start in New York. ‘Her bitching grows old in a hurry, but it makes us good bucks.’

‘Cool it, Abe,’ his dad warned. ‘ If she complains one more time about you, I won’t be able to save your job this time.’

It was Elaine May’s second time directing a movie. It was Cybill Shepard’s second time acting in a movie. May started in show business when she was three. Shepard hadn’t even been in show business a total three years yet.

Elaine May was a successful writer, actress, and a pioneer in women taken as serious comedians. She rose to fame in the improv stand-up comedy of Mike Nichols, and Elaine May. She had just finished the movie, THE NEW LEAF, which she directed and costarred in.

Cybill Shepard was a star teenage model whose cover picture on GLAMOUR magazine prompted Peter Bogdanovich to cast her in a starring role in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, the movie that made Bogdanovich into a major director and Cybill Shepard as a someone to watch, not just look at. The chemistry between the two resulted in the teacher and the student living together.

At the start of the filming Miss Shepard considered her movie fame as a sign she knew the business and tried to contradict some of Miss May’s directions. The first few weeks of filming were done in Miami and very difficult for May. Not only did she have she Neil Simon, the screenwriter, showing up on the set offering his two cents, she had arguments from her ‘star’; but they picked the wrong person to try to order around. Elaine May totally ignored Simon and warned Miss Shepard that getting a rep of being difficult to work with would damage a young career in spite of good looks and influential sleeping partners. She advised her to watch and learn from the pros in the cast, pros like Eddie Albert and Chuck Grodin.

Cybill took that advice from Elaine and caused no more problems on the set. Until the cabin episode and when May walked into the cabin she agreed with Shepard.

It was something out of a Hemingway story, not a romantic comedy. The walls were covered with animal heads, the shelves with stuffed birds, trophies from all over the world. May ordered them to be taken down and stored safely, to be replaced after the filming. Cybill’s refusal to the interior of the cabin was less artistic temperament than just common sense.

But common sense took a back seat concerning the scene to be shot in the cabin. Cybill’s contract, on the advise of Bogdanovich, stated that she would not appear in the nude. He said if she kept appearing nude in movies, it would hurt her career. Funny, he didn’t have the same concern when she was appearing nude in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, the movie he had directed her in.

Elaine said nudity was a must for this scene

They reached a compromise for this film. She would strip down to panties and bra and then a body- double would replace her. It would appear to the audience that they were seeing a naked Cybill Shepard.

Big whoop! If the body-double fools the audience into thinking that it is Cybill naked what’s the difference to Cybill’s career in the public’s mind?

Auditions for the body- double had taken place in New York and Miami as well as the Twin Cities. They were conducted by Erik Lee Preminger, an assistant of May. Preminger only recently took the name of Preminger as his own. He never knew who his father was while his mother was living and she forbade his father, movie director Otto Preminger, to let it out that he was the father of her son. Once she died though Otto claimed the boy as his.

Erik grew up in the wings of theaters watching his mother do her strip routine. It was second nature for him to scout for the body- doubles in strip joints. It was also his nature to brag about his casting couch routine. He had weeded the girls down to four and saw to it they were ready for their turn in front of the cameras.

The action took place in the darkness of cabin, with the two of them lit, supposedly, by the flickering of the flames from fireplace they were standing in front of. In the background the flames flashing against the log wall added to the romance of the scene.

Now the only way the fireplace flames can be controlled to suit the mood and the camera is not to have a real fire. You use a fireplace effect machine. A rotary spit with ribbons of gel filters flipping in front of the glow of a lamp, The spit is a few feet off the ground. The lamp lower. Properly placed it creates the effect of a small fire flickering. The actors stand in front of the machine and are softly illuminated by the false fire from the fireplace.

The spit is hand- turned by a gaffer laying on the ground by the actors’ feet.

‘That’s my job,’ young Adam declared.

‘In your dreams,’ his dad declared. ‘Don, you’re the effects turner!,’ he said pointing at me.

HB Kid.jpg

So late afternoon of Monday of Holy Week I found myself on the cabin floor turning the fire spit while a few feet away Chuck Grodin and Cybill Shepard rehearsed their lines and movements. There was a lot of laughing and joking between the two. At first they only pretended to take their clothes off; but once they got the lines delivered to the satisfaction of the director, they hastily undressed, or partially undressed, stopping at boxer shorts and panties and bra. Over and over. A few short breaks and then a long break for dinner while Elaine watched the video rushes of the scene. She would watch the film dailies later in the evening.

Back on the floor for me. More of the same. Finally a wrap was called and we were told the time of the call the next day.

The day started with a few lighting touch-ups for electrics while the actors got their notes from the director and then back on the floor for me. Only now when Cybill got down to panties and bra a time-out was called and a naked body-double took her place – a few feet in front of me. Over and over. Down to panties and bra. Exit Cybill. Enter the body-double.

Eventually a lunch break was called; but before we left the cabin, Cybill had something to say.

‘Elaine,’ she said loud enough for everyone to hear, ‘Do you know why all these people are in here? Some aren’t working. Just staring. If they are not needed I don’t think they should be in here. We’re not putting on a strip show for their benefit. I don’t want any gawkers in here!’

Elaine agree and gave the order only the essential workers would be allowed in the cabin. The others would be close to a radio in case they were needed.

At lunch I sat next to Hollywood, the other gaffer from our Local. We compared how are our day was going. He told me, doing nothing, except playing poker in the costume designer’s RV. He said he was tired of losing. I told him what I had been doing and I told him I was bored working the scene, over and over. He asked if I wanted to change places. I jumped at the chance. He smiled.

At supper break he said he wasn’t bored in the least and gave me some baloney about how much he was learning about movie making. I said told him I was more than happy to go back to the poker game. I would not want to disrupt his education. And I was expanding my education also. I was learning when one of the players was serious, bluffing, or just hoping. And I was ahead of the game.


I now more than got out of the mess tent when I heard someone calling my name. I turned and Cybill was behind me, chewing her bubble gum. There was a lot of smoking by the cast and crew but Cybill chewed bubble gum instead. She played with her gum. She snapped her gum. She blew bubbles with her gum. Her gum was ever present when she wasn’t in front of the cameras.

‘When I said I didn’t want all those people in the cabin, I want you to know, I didn’t mean you,’ she said. ‘I mean… you were working.’ She laughed. ‘And your face was so red. I don’t think it was from the FX. Trying so hard to be a gentleman and not peek. See,’ she pointed out, ‘Red just like now.

‘But I hollered because that turkey from New York was in there. Just watching. What a pervert! We caught him peeking in the window when we were doing the motel scene. I wanted him canned at that time, but his dad promised that the creep would behave.

‘Anyway, you coming back to work in there?’

‘No,’ I told her. ‘Not unless they tell me to. I got a hot seat in a poker game. But thanks for the clarification.’ I turned to go but she stopped me.

‘You’d rather play poker than watch me in the sex scene!’

I shrugged my shoulders. ‘Only when I am winning.’

‘Wait! Wait!’ she said holding up a finger. She started to blow a bubble. And continued. And continued. It was an impressive bubble. The kind that would win a ribbon at a county fair. It hid almost all her entire face.

Then she stepped forward, right into me. And she made sure the bubble hit my glasses…and burst. She laughed, stuck out her tongue, and ran away, leaving me to clean up the mess she made on my glasses.

As much as I wanted to be mad at her, I couldn’t. I had to admit it was a good prank on me. Bet it wasn’t the first time she played it. I was just thankful none of it got in my hair.

When we broke for the day, it was very late. We knew the four body-doubles were finished and thought the next day would be just putting everything in the vans and trucks until the next week. But Elaine had other plans though. She had one more body-double. It was Cybill Shepard’s stand-in.

The stand-in had been hired locally for the Twin City filming. Nice girl. Quiet. Somewhat shy. A student the U of Minnesota. When she waiting to be used, she always had a text book in her hands. She had politely hinted to Cybill that she would like a chance at the extra work. It would pay a full semester of school for her.

The stand-in had been present for all the cabin work and knew exactly what to do. It took only three takes. One for practice. One for the shot. One just in case. She was selected as the body-double. Preminger was left with four angry women on his hands.

We wrapped everything as fast as we could. That four day break sounded like a short trip to heaven.

I had called home before I left the location and my sweet wife had a steak dinner ready for me. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I wasn’t so much hungry as I was tired.

When she poured me a second cup of coffee she set the pot down and took my glasses off my face. ‘There’s something stuck on the frame’ she said.’ Looks like gum. How did you get gum on your glasses?’ she asked removing a small spec with her fingernail.

‘Long story,’ I answered.

She felt my forehead after she replaced my glasses. ‘You don’t feel hot, but your face is sure flush. Better get some rest. You’ve been putting in a lot of hours.’

‘Good idea!’ I said.’ Finished eating and headed for the bed; but on the way, I stopped off long enough to get wet in the shower, promising myself to do better later.

No problem getting to sleep. Bam! I slept twelve hours straight. Woke up and ate some pancakes. No meat on Good Friday, the holiest day of the Church year. Those twelve hours of sleep were such a pleasure, that I went back to bed and got ten hours more. But not before I took a long, long shower.

The first four days of Holy Week!

Panties and bra. Cut. Bring in the nude.

See you and raise you a buck.

The fifth day was indeed a day of rest for me. And a long, long shower.

Two more days to go in Holy Week 1972. No way would the last two compare with the first four.

But- if there is one fixed rule in Show Business, it’s this: The show must go on, but everything else is Subject To Change.

Wrap for now. More to come.


           the godfather Like most people who ever saw THE GODFATHER, I count it as one of my favorite movies. I have no idea how many times I watched all or favorite scenes in it, movie theater, TV, video tape, DVD. Recently, I watched a two hour documentary on the Godfather saga, very academic. There wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen or heard before, but I sat through it all, as if it was all new to me. But I knew a few stories that weren’t in the documentary. I heard them from some of the crew that worked on the movies. Actually, if they had been included they would have perked up the presentation by providing a little comic relief.

I am glad that I never worked on the film, (Of course, I never had the chance.), because working on a film ruins the pleasure of watching it for me. Instead of watching a scene, I think about what I was doing during the scene, or what happened during the work before and after.

For instance, ICE CASTLES, the original with Colleen Dewhurst, music by Marvin Hamlisch. Most of the scenes shot in Minnesota were on frozen ponds or ice arenas. And most of the time, I was freezing. I tried to sit through the movie once in a theater. I froze all the time I was watching it. Frankly, with the poor acting by the lead, and the soapy story, I don’t think I could enjoy it even if I hadn’t worked on it.

Then there is THE HEARTBREAK KID, the original, the one with Cybill Shepherd. So many things happened during that filming it requires a post of its own. One thing does stand out on its own though, a good many of the crew had just finished working on THE GODFATHER and had a some good stories to tell. For instance:

A Grip’s tale:

      “Brando was always clowning around. There’s this scene where he comes home after getting shot. He’s got to be carried up the stairs. Now he’s a big guy. We look around for a couple gorillas to carry Brando in the gurney  up the stairs. There’s a big grip and a big gaffer who jump at the chance. They break camera and get an extra $350.

         “So while the two go to wardrobe, Brando calls me over. He wants me to put a few sandbags in the gurney with him, and make sure they can’t be seen.

         “When the two come back, they lift Brando and the gurney. You can tell they are really straining. They manage to carry the load down the hallway; but when they get to the stairs, they set the stretcher on the floor. And not too gently.

         “One of them says to the other, ‘Just how much do you figure this fat f—k weighs.’

         “Brando, and the rest of us, crack up. Brando sits up. ‘That beer belly callis ME a fat f—k!!! Somebody get that guy a mirror.”


A Production Assistance tale:

Damn Brando got me bawled out by highway cops five, six times. The house location was a good hour’s drive from the hotel. Brando always wanted to ride in the crew bus instead of the limo. Not because he wanted to be with the crew. The bus was better to shoot the moon than the limo. Big windows, easy to open. For all I know he had a part in renting them.

         “He always had his bare ass sticking out the bus window. People driving along and seeing a bare ass sticking partly out the window. A lot of times, they’d honk and Brando would laugh and wiggle as it best he could. We had to go through some small towns. Boy, did he like that.

         “And when we stayed in the city, locations were shorter, more people on the streets, more cops, but it didn’t stop him from mooning.  

         “At first it was funny, but it got old. And it also got cold. We’d scream at him to close the window, and he’d just laugh.

         “We get pulled over by the cops and I’d be the one that got in trouble because I was suppose to be in charge on the bus and couldn’t make him behave. He’d pull his ass from the window, close it, pull up his pants. Ten minutes later, he be mooning cars again. We got phone complaints and letters of complaint and Brando still thought it was funny.

         “Studio had hired me to keep Brando in line. I got letters and phone calls from the studio telling me to do my job or they would find someone who could. I told Brando that and he just laughed and promised it happened, he’d get my job back for me. When Brando and Caan and Duvall were screwing around and mooning on the set, I didn’t care. That was Coppola’s problem. But in the bus!!!

         “After the day’s shooting, Brando always rode back in the limo. It was too dark to moon the cars.

         “Once I suggested to him that some people thought he was a pervert. He said he was rehearsing for his next movie, THE LAST TANGO IN PARIS. He laughed and asked me if I wanted him to get me work on it. I turned him down!”


A Prop Man’s tale:

Hardest film I ever worked on. I’d went through Alka-Selzer by the case. Food! Every other scene, they were eating. They hired two catering companies. One was the regular one for Craft-Services. The second was used every time we were filming a scene with food in it.

         “My crew and I would lay out the food for the scene. Coppola would come in, sit down in a chair, and nibble at the food. He’d get ready to shoot, and we’d have to get the food ready again. He’d yell cut, and pretty soon he’d be nibbling again. Guy drove me crazy.

         “I asked the powers-that-be to tell Coppola to leave the food props alone. They told me he was probably binge-eating because of nerves. He knew some of the suits back in the studio wanted him replaced. Maybe, but I doubt it. I think the guy just likes to eat.”


  A Sound Man’s Tale:

      “When the shooting moved to Sicily, almost all the New York crew were left behind. They picked up a new crew in Rome. But they took me with them.

         “Both my parents were born in Sicily, so I could talk Sicilian. It was my first language. I didn’t talk English until I went to school. And only some of the Italian crew could talk or understand Sicilian. I acted more as a translator than a sound man.

         “There’s one scene, Michael has just arrived in Sicily. He and his two bodyguards are walking down this road. There’s a shepherd with a flock of goats coming down a little hill, going the other way. The old guy and his goats had stopped our equipment trucks going to the location and they decided to use him and his goats in the scene. I had to talk to the him and tell him what we wanted. He agreed. It took a couple days to set it up and shoot it. The darn goats were harder to control than Brando had been.

         “I took him to the catering truck and made sure he got fed. The second day he brought lunch for himself and me. Nothing doing, he wanted to share his bread, cheese, and wine with me. We sat on a big rock and he laid out the spread. He had even gotten a glass from the catering truck so I wouldn’t have to drink out of his wineskin.

         “I raised my glass in an old Sicilian toast that my parents used all the time. It translated roughly to ‘May you live to be one hundred and than die with a smile on your face.’

            “He gave me a look. I guess a Sicilian would have said that he gave me the ‘evil eye’. He put the cork in his wineskin, stood up, and walked away. I tried to talk to him, but he just kept walking.

         “I went and asked one of the Sicilian onlookers what had happened. I was told that my toast was very inappropriate. The old shepherd was just a few months short of being one hundred years old. I was shocked.

         “My hand to God! I thought the old guy was maybe in his early 70’s.”

Frankly, I like watching movies; but as far as working them, the money is good, the food is good, the hours are long, the work is hard, and too often, boring. Yet, I know if I ever worked a masterpiece like THE GODFATHER, I would change my attitude as far as working in movies.