Howdy! A New Year is a-comin’! Every December 31st my liver begins to cringe.
What Ho! For the open highway—on a November to remember Babs and I drove to Southold on Long Island’s North Fork for a shoot—not a turkey shoot—a movie shoot. “The Romantics.” Book, script, direction by a magical lady, Galt Niederhoffer. I asked her if she remembered meeting me once in Cincinnati. “No,” she said, “I’ve never been to Cincinnati.” “Oh,” I said, “Must have been another Galt Niederhoffer.”
Babs and I portrayed guests at an outdoor wedding at the Oldfield Vineyard, abutting the swirling Peconic Bay. ‘Twas colder than a teacher’s wit. Handsome Josh Duhamel was getting hitched to beautiful Anna Paquin, daughter of Candice Bergen. Elijah Wood and Katie Holmes were fellow shiverers. Watching off camera was visitor Tom Cruise, dandying baby Suri on his knee, a fringe benefit. Suddenly, rowboats pulled up. An army of paparazzi came ashore, set up camp, and shot us all day. They ran through more film than our cameramen.
The bearded preacher was a jolly Irishman, sporting his family shillelagh. I asked him if that was a rod or a staff to comfort us. He said it used to be a rod. Alas! Now it was just a staff.
The landscape–seascape ceremony was interrupted by a sudden downpour, courtesy of a big truck carrying ‘rain water’ and pipes, sending us all a’scurry. Most of us were not (repeat: not!) alerted to this dampening of our spirits. All of us got drenched. Babs was wearing snazzy duds. Later, she got on her cell phone and gave our agent what for— “You’ve heard of ‘Mad as a wet hen?’ Well, I’m mad as a wet Puerto Rican!” All of us wetbacks cheered her on.
Conversely, when Peter Cushing was young, he came to America for a spell and acted as one of Laurel and Hardy’s student-tormentors in “A Chump at Oxford.” The Brit bugabooers were required to get thoroughly soaked in Hal Roach’s famous dunking pool. “Cut! Print!” The cold and wet actors emerged from the un-heated water, only to be welcomed by Laurel and Hardy, all smiles, who presented them towels, coffee, donuts, and hearty handclasps.
The following week we worked nearby at a yacht club. Hoorah! We were sheltered, enclosed by canvas roof and walls. Very intents. We were seated at tables for the pre-wedding dindin. During the meal, members of the family and friends rose to the occasion and proffered toasts to Josh and Anna.
Now, years before, I tried out for the lead in the National Company of “How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying”. I walked out onto a stage. All was dark, save for a puny glow from the required upright lamp. I sang “Everything’s Up To Date in Kansas City” with gestures. All was silent. Then, quietly, out front, “Thank you.” “How do I get out?” “Same way you came in.” Since then, I have a recurring dream—I’m opening tomorrow night in an outdoor production of “How to Succeed,” flying bugs and all. Una problema. I don’t know my lines, my songs, my blocking—It’s called “The Actor’s Nightmare.”
Now, here on “The Romantics” set, my dreams came true! I was Josh Duhamel’s foxy grandpa McDevon. I thought I was a silent witness to the proceedings. Rutt Roww! The cameras pointed to our table. Director Niederhoffer handed me some pages. I saw straight off that grandpa gave a toast, a rather x-rated toast. Words, words, words, and I’m slow of study. Good stuff! I prayed. “Please, Lord, don’t let me flub the dub.” We rehearsed. I had laryngitis from the previous week’s chill. I sounded like a Welsh coalminer. I rose and tapped my jigger of whiskey with a knife, shattering the glass. “Ooops!” got the first line ok. What’s next? Stalling for time, I brushed shards from the salmon-colored dress of the lady next to me. I plucked slivers from her hair. Old granddad was sloshed. I ad libbed, “I love your outfit. Makes me want to swim upstream.” I managed a take. Ms. Niederhoffer wanted more angles of the same speech. I gave her lots of choices, no two alike. I picked up a dinner roll. “I propose a toast!” Next, I toasted with a chunk of the broken glass. Next, I plum forgot a line, mid-toast. The show must go on! (Why?) I came up with, “I will now whistle and dance to the tune ‘Nola’.” Would have done ‘er, too, but grandson blared my bawdy line. I carried on. I could have gone over to Candice Bergen and sat on her lap. I could have moved my lips. Candice could have said my lines without moving hers. I could have sipped a glass of water as she spoke. Actor’s nightmare, indeed! Here was I blurting out one of the raunchiest wedding toasts in filmdom history to a tent full of strangers. Babs says I made ‘em laff, the crew applauded, the extras lauded. Galt Niederhoffer hugged me, my first ever hug from a director. My fate lies in the editing room, not on the floor, I hope. Seňor Scissors, please be kind. Babs says I had a small part—nonsense! I had a cameo~ there are no small parts. Only small dressing rooms.
All I know is what I read in WESTERN CLIPPINGS. I was happy to read in an issue that ol’ Sweet Toes is rated #42 in the Western Writers of America’s list of top 50 western TV shows. Happy to see that there is still a bunch of western writers out there.
The ghost of Hamlet’s father intoned, “List, list, o, list!” The American Film Institute loves lists: The 100 Best Flicks, The 100 Best Flick Music Scores, The 100 Funniest Comedies, etc. I love lists. Here’s a sampling of my 100 long-forgotten flicks (entire list on request); “Lassie Get Down” (UK title: “The Big Heist”); “Charlie Chan in the Wac’s Barracks”; “Preggers Sue Gets Married”; “The Haunted Outhouse”; “Abbott and Costello Meet the IRS”.