ANDY WARHOL said we're each due 15 minutes of fame. I've been gypped.
I was a movie extra. If I don't end up on the cutting room floor, as we in show biz say, my stint in "Remembrance of Love" is so fleeting that I'm still owed some 13 minutes and 59 seconds.
"Remembrance of Love" is a made-for-TV movie about Holocaust survivors starring Kirk Douglas and Pam Dawber. My part was that of faceless space-filler. I was one of the huddled masses yearning to breathe Kirk Douglas' air. I like to think of it as a cameo appearance.
I answered the call for extras last summer when I was traveling through Jerusalem, where "Remembrance" was being filmed. I remember the flood of fantasies when I signed up, including an Emmy for best performance by an extra.
I was ready for fame's tide to wash over me. Instead it swept me away.
The extras gathered at 1 p.m. at the Jerusalem Hilton and were taken by taxi (a big deal in Israel) to the Old City for the day's filming. But my fantasy started to fade when the director -- I think his name was Jack but he didn't introduce himself -- started giving orders. In mid-sentence he stopped, glared at me and bellowed, "Do you understand English?" I wanted to tell him my vacant expression meant I understood all too well. It's just that I had never had anyone yell at me through a megaphone from five feet away before.
He certainly didn't fit my image of a dapper, sensitive, eccentric movie director. He wore a T-shirt, Bermuda shorts, a red baseball cap and a bandana tied around his neck with that I-took-great-pains-to-get-this-to-look-casual look. He spent much of his time running from movie flack to movie flack asking, "Was it wonderful? Was it really wonderful?"
Filming included the following scenes: A car drives through the Arab market; it blows up; a man is hurt; Dawber and some macho type drive up; they get out of the car; Dawber gets upset; an ambulance arrives; attendants take the blown-up guy away and Dawber gets upset some more.
My role was to shop in the Arab market, run from the blown-up car, watch Dawber get upset, watch the blown-up guy get loaded into the ambulance and watch Dawber get upset some more.
Five hours. Kirk Douglas didn't even show up. Five hours of being herded like cattle. "Extras get out of the way. Extras stand over there. Extras, we need you here. I'm talking to you. Do you understand English? Round 'em up, boys."
At one point Dawber broke a nail. All action stopped. The director threw down his megaphone, and makeup came running in from the sidelines. The diversion lasted long enough for me to steal grapefruit from the set's fruit stands.
By then I realized this was no big movie break, but for one (nameless) aspiring actress from New York, it was The Big Chance. She was, as we in show biz say, a concept. She hated it when other extras got more attention. She hated the guy positioned closest to the camera. She hated the guy who was given an Arab costume and was separated from the group for a bigger role.
She didn't just hassle the extras. She tagged along after Dawber, doting and asking questions. Dawber broke into a walk-run until she was safely inside what I called "star territory." That was where the stars' chairs were (yes, they really have chairs with their names on them). There are no barriers marking off star territory, yet somehow you know not to come within six feet of The Chairs.
Finally, when I was fed up with being herded around and feeling like I was developing cloven hooves and a penchant for hay, the sun saved me. The same force that closes down the Old City on Sabbath shut down the movie-making machine. I got my money and got out. I slept under the stars that night, seeking solitude and self-direction and vowing never to cash in on those 13 minutes and 59 seconds.