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SMALL TRIUMPH

Posted by Don Stitt on February 20, 2015 at 7:30 PM

DON STITT

SMALL TRIUMPH


The Internet Movie Data Base, or IMDB.com, is the internet source for veritas regarding what films a person has or has not worked on.


Because most of my acting work has been in the theatre, I haven't cultivated a lot of film credits.


But there was one film that I worked on in which I was so recognizable as to cause me to receive phone calls in the middle of the night from old friends who had just seen me on the late show.


The film was called The Wanderers, (1979,) and it concerned warring gangs in the Bronx of the early 60s.


Because one of the gangs was comprised of short Irish guys, I easily landed some extra work in it...provided I didn't have any objection to having my hair cut very short, to accomodate the period. (I didn't.)


Union negotiations being what they are, the Screen Actors' Guild told the producers that if they hired 100 union extras, they could use 200 non-union extras. Meaning that when shooting began on a cold late-autumn day at Van Cortlandt Park in The Bronx, there was a 2-1 ratio of hungry young men with no experience in film to professional actors with union cards.


Two funny stories resulted from this.


The first one was meal time. Our lunch break, around the (empty) Van Cortlandt pool, involved box lunches. Everybody got a sandwich, a bag of chips, and a soda.


Because Animal House was then a recent memory, one of the non-union performers, in an attempt at being funny, stood up and hollered, "Food fight!"


Consequently, roughly 200 box lunches and their contents were soon sailing across the rim of the empty Van Cortlandt swimming pool, and there was much laughter from the non-union sector.


When the chaos had settled, we heard an Assistant Director over a megaphone declaring, ""If it isn't cleaned up in 5 minutes, nobody gets paid."


And the SAG members chortled amongst themselves as the hooligans scurried to retreive their lunches from the bottom of the empty pool.


But the better story shows up in the end of the film.


The four "gangs" had been directed to advance to the center of the football field at the climax of the film, and stare one another down. Clint Eastwood style. Just a cold stare-down. The tension was to be subliminal.


Ah, but...once again...the ratio of non-union amateurs to professional actors was 2-1, so...


When the director called "action," the slow approach that all the gangs were supposed to adopt and adhere to was gradually overtaken by a normal paced walk. The normal paced walk was supplanted by a brisk walk. The brisk walk became a jog. The jog became a run. And the run became the charge of the light brigade. With hooting and hollering and wild gesticulations.


Mind you, this was entirely unrehearsed. The momentum of the enthusiasm among the non-union street kids became a tsunami. And there was no way to stem the tide.


The four "gangs" converged on centerfield and began a mock brawl. Spontaneously. With fake punches being thrown, and wrestling-style "take-downs." 


I was wielding a baseball bat, but I didn't succumb to the excitement. (After all, I was a professional.)


I think most of the union guys were expecting for the director to call for another take. But the improvised "rumble" was used in the final cut. And I have to admit, it looks pretty good, too.


I have lobbied for the IMDB to credit me as "Ducky Boy with Bat" for literally years now, to no avail. (Which I thought was odd, because I'm so visible.)


But last night, I saw that they had added the credit. (Woo hoo!)


It may seem like a small triumph, but I wanted to be associated with that completely spontaneous moment in movie history.


The moment when a major Hollywood film was hijacked by the amateurs...who made for an exciting, if unexpected, finish.


And now I have that credit.

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