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Posted on 2003-09-24 00:00:00 by Denver

All My Children
I am sitting next to a man dressed as a cop in the ABC Television Studios in midtown Manhattan. I am dressed as a white trash criminal and I'm waiting for my call to come on the set of "All My Children". The man sitting next to me introduces himself by asking
"So what do you do to survive?"
His name is Kevin and he sells used cars in the Bronx. He's been on the show for a year off and on. The assistant casting director for the show likes him, and gave him a few lines when he'd first started, but now he works a few days every couple of weeks; whenever they shoot scenes at the Pine Valley Police Station.

"Did you know I'm black?" he asks. He is a mullato from North Carolina. Hurricane Isabel slammed into his state last week but missed the two hundred acres his mother had sold off to shrewd property developers ten years ago. It also missed his father's farm. A real Farm featuring.
His father - an old white man with one bum leg and a 44 magnum who can bring a bear down at a hundred yards with one shot.
The Indian dwarf farmhand - Who breaks lamas in Kentucky and catches wild horses by fish hooking them in the mouth
Their retarded bull - who died when he fell down in a mud puddle
His father's dog - who sleeps in on the weekends and herds cattle without any assistance.
"I've buried more dogs than you've licked stamps. One time I buried my dad's favorite dog and forgot to dig the hole deep enough so the paws stuck out of the ground. Dad punished me by making me chop a train car full of wood with an axe. That was in July of '87."
I could see buying a car from this guy.
"When I was older my Dad entertained himself by sending me out to hunt for a wompus cat, you know what that is? It's a creature half canine and half feline that lived in the hills of North Carolina. It's related to the snipe. It only comes out at night and is so anthropologically enigmatic that dogs can't smell it and won't bark at it."

"He also made me piss on a hot fence. When the pee hits it, the electricity comes right back at you. It's just like the third rail on the subway."

The stage manager's voice on the intercom cut through the afternoon reverie.


The extras- Kevin, Alex, Bill, Todd, Malachi, and myself are sitting around the big table talking baseball.

"Barry Bonds is the greatest Ball Player in the history of the game. Period."

"People say Babe Ruth was better but he never had to see a cut fastball from Randy Johnson. Or a fork ball from Curt Schilling. When he was batting they only had three or four pitches." Bill says.
Bill isn't an extra. He is a veteran television actor, a day player for All My Children. That means he is paid seven hundred and seventy six dollars per day to play a fully realized character that has up to ten, twenty or thirty pages of dialogue in each episode. Today he is going head to head with Susan Lucci's Erica Kane in the Pine Valley Police Station. His character, the interim Police Chief of Pine Valley, believes her boyfriend, Doctor David Hayward, has murdered a guy named Michael Cambias.

"Babe Ruth had a 44 inch bat. That thing touched a ball and it was outta the park." Todd adds. Todd is a white guy in his late twenties also playing a cop. Pine Valley is a small town with a lot of police activity.

"What does Bonds hit with?" Malachi asks. Malachi is a sports fan but he doesn't know too much about non-Yankees.

"Thirty-three. That's heavy." Farmer Kevin says, adopting the tone of an ex-minor leaguer. Earlier we had heard about those exploits. He wants us to think he is Paul Bunyan and a minor league baseball player as well as a good actor and a used car salesman in the Bronx.
"Most guys hit with a thirty-two or lower" he adds.

"Give me football any day over baseball." Alex says, "That's a sport." Alex is a former professional kick boxer who has been knocked out cold four times in competition. He is now belatedly making the transition into acting. "That's athletic. You get hurt."

"You know who really hurts you? It's not the linebacker fighting his way through the line, it's the five ten defensive back who's disguised like the color of the field and just when you're about to catch that ball, WHAM, they materialize and thump you." says Alex, continuing his thesis.

"It's not a football player I'd be afraid of, I fear a hockey player whose ugly and from Sasketchewan way more than I fear a defensive back from Pittsburgh who has all his teeth and a long term contract from Pepsi." says Malachi, an ex-boxer in his early forties, obviously Irish from Queens or Brooklyn.

"You know what I fear? Skiing. I don't like the slant of the ground." Jerry chimes in.

"Or roofing for that matter" I volunteer.

"How about Mike Tyson, I fear that man." Kevin intones.

"I was in a bad mood one day, and I was walking by Trump Tower" Alex jumps in, "And I looked up and I see Tyson and I don't recognize him and I'm just glaring at him and then all of a sudden WHOOP, in one second it dawns on me who I am looking at and my face just swoops away from him, I turned and he is glaring back at me and I'm thinking you can just glare at me all day long. Go ahead and glare buddy."

"I ran into him in front of Georgio Armani" Malachi says, "and this was back before his brain became scrambled. Before Buster Douglas. Before he bit the ear off Holyfield. And both of my grandfathers fought Joe Louis by the way. One of them was a fighter and one of them just bumped into him in a bar. Anyway, I was walking down the sidewalk and accidentally backed into him. He was with this entourage of black guys and he fell backwards a little bit and I said I'm sorry. And what he actually said was polite. He didn't do anything aggressive."

"Yeah, you're lucky he was taking his medicine that day." says Jerry.

"You know what I like about this city," Bill says, reflecting, "I like that I can walk out of my hotel room and walk five blocks to central park and see the Dalai Lama speaking to ten thousand people and then walk down Madison Avenue and run into Mike Tyson or take the subway up to the Bronx and catch a Yankees game. Sometimes I wish I was still here instead of sitting on my ass in Pasadena."

"I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger here last year," pipes in Kevin.

"Did you ever see Commando? Alissa Milano is Schwarzenegger's daughter. He is surrounded by seventy people shooting at him, missing him, and he runs out of ammo, reloads, and still blows them away. I'm a huge eighties action film fan." says Todd.

"What about when Rambo gets shot by a bullet, takes it out, and shoots it back at him?" asks Kevin.

"What about when Chow Yung Fat watches the bullet whiz by his face?"

"No," Todd interrupts, "THE BEST is in Die Hard when Bruce Willis falls seven floors down an elevator shaft and catches himself by his fingertips."

"That's a classic movie."

"That's acting."

"Hell yeah it is."

"Have you ever seen 'Faces of Death'?" asks Kevin

"Ohhhhh yeahh." says everyone.

"You GOTTA rent those."

"My brother-in-law has them, two and three."

"Did you see the one where the guy in Philly handed out flyers to his suicide and then blew his face off on national TV?" asks Malachi. "I couldn't believe how much blood came out of his nose."

"Did you see that one where the guy in LA set his dog on fire and then blew himself up while driving around on the freeway?" asks Bill.

"What about that one with the alligator? An alligator's top jaw has no muscle in it. So as long as you control the bottom part of the jaw you can stick your face in there," notes Todd.

"I heard pirhanas won't bother you unless you're bleeding."

"Did you hear about the Ferry in the Phillipines?" asks Malachi, "It was over boarded with 300 people and it had a leak and it started sinking and it was surrounded by crocodiles and they ate all of the people on board."


Like a fire alarm we are up and getting dressed and up the stairs to the big hangar on the third floor with the cameras and the soap stars and the twenty five sets including the Erica Kane Penthouse where the character named Bianca was impregnated. We walk by the abandoned meat packing plant where Ryan is trying to solve the murder of Michael Cambias. Farther down the warehouse I can see the Chandler Terrace where Greenlee du Pres and Edmund Grey are hosting a climactic dinner party in another one of the show's front burner storylines. I am sitting in the booking chair at the Pine Valley Police Station. I am a perpetrator who has been taken in for questioning. Behind me, in the Police Chief's office, Erika Kane's boyfriend- Dr. David Hayward, is being accused of murder.

"I've got evidence here that proves you murdered Michael Cambias!" The Chief of Police leans across the desk and stares at Erica Kane and Doctor Hayward.

"You can't prove that!" snarls Erica.

"The poison in his system," says the police chief.

"I didn't poison Michael Cambias," Doctor Hayward counters, "I only slipped that compound in his drink to chemically castrate him."

At the mention of chemical castration everyone on the set cracks up and shooting is interrupted.

"Quiet!" shouts stage management.

"What's my cue again Dave?" The actor playing the Chief asks.
They replay the scene. A little later Chief is interrupted by the District Attorney, Jackson Montgomery, played by Walter Willey, a tall, tanned fifty year old actor with a mini-pompadour flip and a deep romantic baritone. Walt joined the cast of All My Children in 1987, originating the role of the lawyer Montgomery, who's devotion to Erica Kane and his niece Bianca Montgomery has proven to be a source of strength and unconditional support for them time and time again. Walt is the second banana star of the show, currently celebrating his fifteenth year on the popular daytime drama. Bill goes up on a line and Susan Lucci feeds it to him. This goes on for a half an hour before the actors, who have the scripts hidden under the desk, can make it through the whole scene.

Susan Lucci never calls for a line or makes a mistake. She knows other people's cues. She spends not one extra moment offstage before the cameras are rolling. When she is called she makes a beeline from her dressing room to the set. She is immediately set upon by a woman with a brush and a woman with a makeup applicator. According to her website, Ms. Lucci has seen Erica grow from troubled teen to international beauty, progressing over the years from high-fashion model to philanthropist to magazine publisher. She's had nine marriages to six different men - Erica Kane Martin Brent Cudahy Chandler Montgomery Chandler Marick. She's been kidnapped, survived a plane crash, stared down a grizzly bear, posed as a nun, driven a race car and attempted a daring helicopter rescue of one of her lovers from prison. But she always rises, phoenix-like, from her own ashes.

The stage managers call for quiet each time someone blows a line or a shade needs to be pulled or they need a different camera angle. It is a three camera shoot, union guys, with a cadre of union stagehands off to the side waiting for a prop need or a light to be bumped with a pole or vacation days to roll around. Two guys with nothing to do (the "stunt coordinators") are standing in the back talking quietly about the Yankees. Another guy, the assistant property master, is reading Stuff Magazine. They are wearing t-shirts and cutoff jean shorts and speaking in outer borough accents.

We, the extras, the cops and the other perp, move about on the set pretending to file or talk on the phone or sit frozen in the task of waiting. Waiting to cross behind the pulled blinds of the shade to give the illusion of activity in the precinct booking area. Waiting for someone to crack a one-liner about impersonating a piece of furniture or what a waste of money acting degrees are. The other perp, Max, is seated behind the set and forgotten about. Max has a good look; long greasy hair pulled back, tattoos, but he is fuming at his level of inactivity. He hasn't brought a book or a monologue to memorize or anything. He is just steaming. The stage manager, David, a slump shouldered man in his mid-thirties with a headset, grabs my arm, checks my handcuffs, and whispers "What are you in for?"

"Bad checks." I mutter, and thinking, add "And holdin' up a liquor store and then shootin' my fiancé." And then I add, in a whisper- "and bad soap opera acting."

But the stage manager is gone. I had my second of direction. The rest of the day is mine.

Denver Latimer www.denverlatimer.com

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