My short-lived, yet eventful movie career
The year is 1966, and I have been cast as secret agent “Triple O Seven” in a 35mm version of the Living Screen. The “Living Screen,” is a 20-foot by 40-foot, movie screen made of 8-inch wide, vertical, strips of elastic. An actor behind the screen, watches until the image on the screen is about to disappear. He then slips between two strips of elastic, and behold, the screen image is now alive on stage, where he continues the action seen on the screen.
“Ron, I’ve hired a director from 20th Century Fox. We’re all going to Paris for a week to do a film. I want you to be in it,” my boss tells me. I will not be paid for this opportunity since I’m already working for him as his choreographer. The film will be shown at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas
When I was a young man in New York City, I studied the Stanislavski method of acting. I improvised fearlessly in class and one day I had a chance to put my efforts to work. It was a dance audition. “Can you sing, as well as dance?” the producer asks. “Yes,” I replied without hesitation, and belted out “I’ve got the world on a string, shaken like a hound dog.” Although stunned by what he had just heard, I got the job anyhow.
As we are getting on the plane, I ask the director, “May I have a copy of the script? I’d like to study my lines on the plane.” “Young man, you have no lines,” and enters the first class section, and I join the cattle at the rear.
Seeing Paris for the first time is a humbling experience. Everything you see is like “An American In Paris.” The the Arch de Triumph, the bridges over the river Seine, the gilded fountains, everything. I pop into a shop and buy a scarf and matching beret.
The next day is sunny and bright. We find a typical Parisian back street, to shoot the first scene. “Sir, could you tell me where my dressing room is?” I ask the director. “You don’t have one. Find a restroom, you can change in there,” he says insensitively. The lavatory costs me four quarters worth of francs.
Time is money in Paris, just as it is in Hollywood. The director puts his arm around my shoulder. I feel like Charlton Heston talking with C.B. DeMille. This is more like it. “Your name is Ron, right? Ron, in this scene I want you to run like the wind. You are being chased by two of the Evil Empire’s best agents. You run down those stairs, jump over the bench and when you get to that statue, freeze,” he says.
“Sir, may I ask, what is my motivation?” He recoils as if bitten by a snake. “Your motivation is to do the scene right, or I’ll scream!”
I decide to pull out all the stops. I race down the stairs, gesture crazily, even throw in a few dance moves. I give one of my finest performances since back in acting class.
The next day we go to a private airport. An old WW I bi-plane is waiting. “Ron, you sit in the front cockpit. You’re a daredevil pilot. I’ll shoot the scene from down low so it’ll look like you’re in the sky,” he says. The plane’s propeller roars to life. A smoke machine belches smoke. “Marvelous! Now leap out of the plane. I’ll splice in a shot of you floating to the ground in a parachute,” he says.
I struggle to get out of the cockpit. I fling my goggles away, twist myself free, grimace and heroically leap to certain death. The director shouts “Bravo,” and tells his assistant to bring me a bottle of Perrier.
On our final day of shooting, things turn ugly. We go back stage at the Follies Bergere. “The bad guys are hot on your trail. You’re trapped. You’re desperate. You decide to steal a showgirl costume. Then you hide among the showgirls on the staircase,” the director says.
I put on a costume and look in the mirror. The headpiece, bikini and bra are quite attractive, but the curly, black hair on my chest spoils it. I go on stage and at that very moment, I decide having a movie career isn’t for me.
Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.