THE SPECIAL part two
One can now easily surmise that much of his excesses may have been the result of what we now know as ‘delayed stress syndrome.’
One more great story-teller was one of my favorite actors Ross Martin. Perhaps it was because he always reminded me of my brother. He is known primarily for his work on “Wild Wild West.” But before that I knew him as a wonderful character actor, who primarily played a villain. He was anything but a villain, and as is invariable the case the actors who play the worse sort of scoundrels are usually delightfully winsome. Ross was the epitome of lovable. On some set that I cannot even recall what it was it was so unmemorable, but which was undoubtedly “Wild Wild West.” He told Linda and I stories that kept us entertained all day. Our favorite was about his dogs. They were truly city curs. To remedy this he would take them on outings up in the mountains, hoping some of their natural abilities would manifest themselves. But alas, these dogs were destined to remain ignorant of their hunting instincts.
However, one experience had to have some effect on them. As Ross strolled through the woods with his canine companions they came upon a porcupine. The dogs began baying and barking in the unmistakable howl of a hound. Ross then with his hands stretched far apart would mimic their baying, as his hands opened and closed quickly like two dogs barking. He then brought his hands swiftly together as if approaching a porcupine. And then the baying turned to yelping in pain as his two hands drew quickly apart. His two canines experienced why porcupines are to be avoided. Once Ross was able to collect his animals he would spend the rest of the afternoon removing porcupine quills. Ross’ telling of this tale was truly that of a dramatic genius and a joy.
ONE YEAR BEING AN EXTRA
Well it had been a year since I began this “Wonderful World of Extra Business.” There had indeed been wonderful times, But also a lot of dull sets, doing your crosses making the background look busy or occupied, being the atmosphere for some show that didn’t last the season, or production that might never be sold, but at least there was food on the table and the bills were paid, and I had my own car.
I had worked movies, television, even commercials, froze on the beach in December, sweltered in a fur coat in August, all for the “common cause.” Worked as well for Jerry Lewis in Family Jewels, with Max Baer in Beverly Hillbillies, With Rock Hudson on Blindfold, where he called me “Snow White,” those dark tresses again. With Sinatra in “Assault on a Queen,” and both “Our Man Flint,” and “In like Flint,” both totally forgettable experiences, except for the horror one day as we were to panic trying to flee what would be depicted as a exploding volcano. It was filmed at the treatment plant at El Segundo, and we are running on the open metal grating on gangways, and stairways. Imagine doing that in high heels and a bathing suit? Some actually did panic, one man I understand lost a finger when someone stepped on his hand when he fell on one of those gratings.
Then there were the Elvis pictures. In Harem Scarum, some obnoxious fellow kept trying to make time with me, and then a dear camel spit on him. I have loved camels to this day. Be it “Tickle Me,” “Girl Happy,” or any of the others they all seemed the same; music, lots of girls, and always a fight or two. They were always filming one it seemed, and it did feel like Elvis was doing a weekly sit-com. Elvis was always quiet, and almost shy on the sets. Linda worked on “Clambake,” with him, and at one point sat in his chair as the Extra seating was quite a distance away. It was fine with Elvis, but the First Assistant director had a hissy fit, as Linda put it. Elvis would quietly solve the situation.
An interesting sidelight, Elvis embarrassed easily, and disliked the necessity to lip-sic his songs when they were being filmed. One set, I have forgotten which one, but it doesn’t matter, his cadre of “cousin,” were acting up setting off, of all things, firecrackers under the seats of the various participants. He was seated quietly, as was his nature, not far from me. As I would always read between takes, I looked at him cocking my head to the side toward these “cousins,” as if to say, “what’s with these guys.” Elvis just smiled sheepishly, and hunched his shoulders. His look said it all, “What’s the use.” I found him gracious, unassuming, but he always seemed quite lonely.
Neither Linda nor I had difficulties on the sets any longer. We just would not put up with nonsense. My innocence was still there, but protected by a strong resolve to no longer be bulled by the lecherous, the offensive, or those trying to exercise what they perceived as their supposed position of power. Our resolve became obvious, and by standing up for our rights; we saw second assistance fired, directors forced to back down, and principles actors apologizing. Once I held up production, actually they held it up because I would not romp around the set in my slip. There were plenty of girls that would, but they always seemed to want me to do such idiocy, probably only because I wouldn’t. Our attitude became such common knowledge that it was whispered that we were either the mistresses of those high up in the tower at UI, perhaps Lew Wasserman himself, or perhaps his granddaughters. We cared what they believed, of course, but some rumors can be of help, as long as we didn’t have to deal with some of the nonsense that passed as so necessary for some people. At one point it was rumored that I was the love child of Vivian Leigh, ridiculous. But some saw a resemblance and then the surname Leigh that I had chosen.
(Continued next month 83)