Monday, September 15, 2014

My Movie Debut with Lauren Bacall

The recent death of Lauren Bacall brings back memories of seeing almost all of her movies and reminds me of my movie debut.  The Portrait, a 1993 movie made for TV, was filmed in the Raleigh-Durham area, and when there was a call for extras I signed up.  I was hoping to see either Bacall or Gregory Peck who was her co-star.  I had forgotten about signing up when one Friday I got a call asking if I could show up on Saturday at the Governor's Mansion as an extra in the movie.   A room in the Mansion was supposed to be Peck's office on a college campus.

In the telephone call I was told to dress in something that wouldn't stand out in a crowd--not a bright color for example.  When we first arrived on Saturday we were sent to wardrobe.  I had dressed in a subtle rust colored shirt waist dress, and my outfit was approved.  Some folks had to choose a "costume" from those provided by the movie set.

The first scene in which I participated was a large group of us supposedly attending a concert.   The camera just panned across the group.  If you blink you won't see me.

Then the director, Arthur Penn, called about a dozen of us out and he looked us over and chose three of us.  We were supposed to be college professors---ironically I was the only one of the three that was.  I wondered, "Do I look like a college professor?"  (What does a college professor look like anyway---actually a pretty diverse group.) We were going to be doing a scene in the Governor's Mansion which was supposed to be the "office" of Gregory Peck who portrayed a college professor and the husband of the Lauren Bacall character.  I was so disappointed that Peck was off somewhere else filming and there was a stand in for him, because in the scene it only showed his back.

But sure enough Lauren Bacall was there, and I spent the afternoon filming with her.  I had no idea how long it took to film just a snippet of a film.  The three of us extras were supposed to be walking along outside of Peck's office and I was supposed to wave at a colleague across the way just as Bacall comes dashing out of the office and runs into the three of us.

 As soon as the director yelled "action" we were supposed to start across the hall and Bacall was supposed to dash out of her husband's office.  The director kept yelling "cut" and we kept repeating and repeating this scene.  There was only once when the three of us extras missed the cue, and it had to be repeated.  I'm not sure what happened the other numerous times. 

We had been told that we extras were not to talk with the actors, unless they first talked to us. At one point, they stopped filming and made some comment about the floor squeaking when Bacall rushed out of the office.  They brought in several moving blankets that movers use and taped them down on the floor to muffle the sound. (I would have thought they could have digitally removed the squeaky sound.)  At that point Lauren Bacall walked over to me and asked, "Do you think that is going to be safe for me to dash across?  Do you think I may trip?"  I couldn't believe I was standing there being asked a question by Lauren Bacall.  I told her I was pretty certain it would be safe.  That was in 1992 or 93, so she would have been about 67 or 68, but she was in great shape and looked to be no more than 50.  She was very beautiful.

When the movie was shown on television some months later, a friend of mine in Lattimore taped it and when I and some of my friends got together for a viewing, we had to stop the film and look at it in slow motion to see that I was really in the movie.  That was more fun than the actual filming.  I never see a movie now without thinking how tedious it is to film just a short scene.  So should you see The Portrait,  when Lauren Bacall comes rushing out of her husband's office,  it is I that she almost runs into. 

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