Meryl Streep and Me

Growing up in Newark when Eisenhower was President, recreationally speaking, was filled with baseball and double feature movies. I liked John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis and Sidney Poitier. Suddenly one summer, I decided to become an actor; to see me up on the screen, being able to say, “That’s me.” Surely a dream and I knew that; on the other hand, the allure of being on the cover of a Hollywood magazine was powerful. By autumn, I decided to become a pharmacist but never fully gave up a dream of becoming the next John Wayne (we were the same height and his father was a pharmacist. I did my research).  Determination always lurked nearby.

On Feb 3rd 1981, a voice in my head said no more pharmacy career and at that exact moment, a commercial on the radio announced the Edison Valley Playhouse was looking for actors for the Broadway play ‘Frankenstein.’  Interplay of divine intervention and determined dreams?  My supportive wife came with me to the audition, except I couldn’t see her, as she disappeared below the theatre seat, mortified with embarrassment as I read only two sentences; an end to a promising career?

Cut to November 1997. My sister Hildy called to tell me filming of a major movie, ‘One True Thing,’ starring Meryl Streep, William Hurt and Renee Zellweger was going on that night in Maplewood, New Jersey, where we used to live. Without hesitation, determined and in a dreamy state, I threw on my mustard stained favorite sweater and ran out of the house, as my supportive wife yelled, “Give up already. You’re not going to be in a movie.”

The shoot was in Maplewood Center and police had everything barricaded so you were several blocks away. Since they were not shooting yet, you could get through, if you had to get a container of milk or pizza from the stores on the set. Hildy and I decided on a slice of pizza and proceeded to set an enduring New Jersey record for sharing a single slice; two hours. When the set exploded into activity, including a snow making machine (It was a Christmas scene) I suggested we get closer and watch.

Standing underneath the old Maplewood theatre marquis, we were enthralled. Do you ever get the feeling someone is standing next to you?  I slowly turned; there was Meryl Streep (right next to me and looking ghastly as she was playing a woman near death), the rest of the cast and director Carl Franklin. Naturally, I spoke to her, telling how much I admire her work. Divine intervention next brought over a production assistant with headphones who assumed I was part of that elite acting entourage.

“We need to place you now. Better come with me.”

I gently elbowed Hildy in the rib and we followed the fulfillment of dreams and determination.

‘Do you know everything you have to do for this scene?” He bluntly asked.

Recalling Richard Pryor in ‘Silverstreak,’ I said, “It’s been a long trying day. Why don’t you go over everything again?”

When they yelled action, I decided to split from my sister, push a few well-dressed extras out of the way, albeit gently, and position myself as close to Meryl and the camera as I could, after all we were friends now. After the first take, the director instructed the cast (the scene was the lighting of a Christmas tree in the town square) to be natural and not try to jump into the camera. That was me jumping into the camera. We did four takes, singing ‘Silent Night’ and I was joyous because I was about to be in a movie. After a supper break, back on the set, another production assistant looks at my mustard stained sweater and asked if wardrobe approved it.

“Wardrobe?” I was perplexed and was promptly asked to leave the set. Career was over; done in by a mustard stain from a rolling Madison Square Garden soft pretzel.  I heard they did four more takes that night.

A year later we went to see the movie on opening night and of course my scene made it. Goals, dreams and determination had paid off. I saw myself on the screen and probably a little obnoxiously, told all the people sitting near me, “That’s me and my co-star Meryl Streep.”



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