Thursday, February 16, 2017


Rummaging through my biographical dossier reader cjdahl60 discovered that along with my voluminous “writing credits” there were also seven “acting credits”, leading to queries about those experiences. 

(Further IMDB investigation reveals that I also have one “music credit” (I wrote the theme song for Best of the West.  Call me “Mr. Versatility.”   Substantially unbalanced in the direction of the writing, but still.  How many songs is Aaron Sorkin credited with?)  (I did not look.  It could be a lot.)

The first thing to notice is that of my seven “acting credits”, none of them were solicited by me.  Friends and colleagues said, “Do you want to do this?” and I said, “Yes.”  I never auditioned for any of them. 

How much better would I have fared as an actor had made legitimate efforts in that direction?  An unanswerable question.  Like asking how well Bo Jackson might have done if he had exclusively played baseball rather than the combined baseball and football.  The only difference is that in Bo Jackson’s case, people actually discuss that.

Anyway… acting.  What comes immediately to my mind?

Makeup.  A costume.  The “butterflies of excitement” rarely experienced by a writer.  (As distinguished from the “butterflies of anxiety”, which I am experiencing right now. )  You show up and you’re “in it.”  Not behind the cameras.  In front of them. 

Believe me, it’s different.     

Not that I ever starred in anything, but that has little to do with it.  I felt the same jangly exultation playing the “Guard” in the Toronto Hebrew Day School Purim pageant.  Though I’d have admittedly been more excited had I played “Mordecai.”  (A substantially larger role, in the production and in the history of Purim.)

Let’s break down those seven “acting credits”, shall we?

Two of them involved miniscule speaking parts in films written, directed, starred in and produced by a longtime friend of mine who makes movies on his iPad.  He includes me in his productions, partly because he knows I can competently do the job but mainly because he always has, perceiving my active involvement as a personal “Good Luck Charm.” Making me less a working actor in this scenario than a thespianical “Rabbit’s Foot.” 

I was paid nothing, and neither film enjoyed a theatrical release.  Which, jumping ahead, can be said about every film I ever appeared in. 

Another “acting credit” involves a Hart and Lorne (Michaels) Terrific Hour Canadian television special, where, in a sketch I co-wrote, I portrayed one of the renowned “Corsican Brothers”, wherein, in traditional “Corsican Brothers” fashion – in which when one brother is injured the other brother feels the pain – I was engaged in a furious battle, involving each imprisoned Corsican Brother attacking himself mercilessly to get the other Corsican Brother to talk.

(I have seen a tape of my performance as a Corsican Brother.  To my eternal embarrassment, you can see me laughing during the scene.  As Robert O’Neill my Actors Workshop teacher would have observed, I was at that moment “loving myself in the art” more than loving “the art in myself.”)

So that’s three.  No Oscars.  No (Canadian) Juno Awards.

Four.  (And I have to move this along.  I have a lunch date with my financial adviser.  Which I look forward to.  For his congenial company.  And for the tangible reassurance that he has not left town with all of my money.)

I was a “Regular Performer” in The Bobbie Gentry Show, a “summer replacement” series that ran four episodes and went pffffft.  Every week, I performed material that I had written, including a “telephone sketch” playing a character called “Charniecki” whose hard-to-spell moniker he was continually clarifying:

“That’s ‘Charn’, as in ‘charn bracelet”… and then you add a “niecki.’”

Hey, I didn’t force them.  Somebody said, “Do it.”

Then there were two movies…

Ivan (Ghostbusters) Reitman’s Cannibal Girls, where I played “Third Victim” in a film that was entirely improvised.  Needing someone who could invent usable dialogue, they came to me for my writing abilities rather than my acting chops, which proved so deficient that when they finally bumped me off they dubbed in another actor’s agonized screaming.  That was definitely not me dying.

On the heels of my breakthrough debut in Cannibal Girls, I was hired to act in The Merry Wives of Tobias Rouke, the producers of which ultimately ran out of money, stranding the tins of unedited footage of the movie in the trunk of the director’s car.  

From which, to my knowledge, it has never emerged.

There was nudity in that movie – I recall one scene where the actress’s wardrobe was… nothing.   Despite their pleading imprecations, however, in a scene they claimed called for it but that nobody had “heads-upped” me on that requirement, I adamantly refused to remove my “long-johns.”

My enduring recollection of that experience was me, standing underwear-clad in a swampy pool of water for what seemed like hours, while a school of minnows nibbled hungrily at my submerged lower parts.

Ah, memories…

Finally, a writer-friend and co-creator of the short-lived but noteworthy Buffalo Bill invited me to essay the role of “Crazy Eddy” Felsik, the “Human Salmon”, a man made “Buffalo-famous” by repeatedly traversing Niagara Falls in a barrel. 

I had one line.  An important one, being the scene’s climactic “button.”

The shooting of that scene involved numerous re-takes, which were undeniably because of me.  (I knew that because after every take, the director came up and asked, “Can you do it any better?”) 

As I stood in that barrel, sweating profusely in my wet suit under the punishingly dehydrating lights the foremost thought in my mind was, “If I could only rewrite this line.” 

There’s this statute called the “Taft-Hartley” Rule, stating that you can be “waivered” for just one acting job before being required to join the union, of which I was never a member.  After that single performance, I did not acted in television again.  I like to think that was due to the “Taft Hartley” restrictions rather than my underappreciated performance as “Crazy Eddy” Felsik.  (I am telling you, it was the material.)

Anyway, there you have it.  Seven “acting credits”, two owing to my employer’s superstition, three doing material I had written myself and four which never made it to the theaters, for which my cumulated stipend was zero.

Hardly a Streepian oeuvre.

But you know what?

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

1 comment:

frank said...

Bobbie Gentry was so upset at her show cancellation she's still in hiding.