DOWN AT Watson Rink the week before Thanksgiving Paramount Pictures began the shooting of Love Story, to star Ali McGraw of Goodbye Columbus -again as a Cliffie. I had met Marty Richards, casting manager and so forth, at a press reception on Tuesday and smiled at him sweetly, so here I was on Thursday morning at eight o'clock, reporting as directed.
Marty put his arm around me and said, "You go freshen up in the ladies' room sweetheart and then we'll see where to put you." I went into the lades' room to see what I could do about an instant transformation into sure-fire star material....
Gingerly I opened the door and stepped out; the place was deliberately kept as cold as possible because of the ice. Marty, who is extremely alluring and conscious of it, turned from the two blondes he was squeezing to direct me to a spot on the bleachers where I was to await the checker, who would sign me in for my day's work. While I had been effecting the unnoticed transformation, several hundred more people had arrived. I joined them on the bleachers to wait.
Over in other sections I caught glimpses of friends. Of all these people, 125 were hired from the Screen Actors' Guild, 125 were specially-recruited students from Harvard-Radcliffe and Brandeis, and the rest were curiosity-seekers who would each get a dollar for dropping in and signing a release in case they actually appeared on film. As it turned out, these dollar people probably got the best deal. The professionals and students were committed for three days of misery. Those benches were hard, and it was much too cold to take off any of the clothes you were fortunate enough to have brought, which meant that shifting your ass involved a good deal of clumsy commotion and perhaps a spilled coffee or two. The work crew must have collected a fined assortment of fallen articles from under the benches each evening: a few copies of Valley of the Dolls or Myra Breckenridge, maybe a Nat Sci 5 notebook, a Radcliffe bag lunch, assorted widowed gloves.
No one really knew what was coming off except for the signer-in, who was establishing order person by person. Since each person wanted the whole business explained, it was nine-thirty before he got to my area. Meanwhile the working-class sector of the production crew had brought out four large coffee machines, styrofoam cups, plastic spoons, and so forth, along with a huge box of packaged coffee-cakes. Each package had one yellow roll with sugar frosting smeared against the Saran wrap that held it and a pat of margarine on a blue paper napkin. I ate the frosting off mine with a cup of coffee and sent it and its wrapping to join millions of others under the bleachers.
The cameramen had begun setting up the lights and we were herded into a coherent crowd to be background for some shots of a Harvard-Cornell game. The time spent on the actual filming was not much, but setting up shots and organizing extras and other such chores stretched one or two short hockey sequences into a three-day stint. The hero, Oliver, is a hockey player from Winthrop House, and Jenny (Ali McGraw) comes to see him play. As Ryan O'Neal, who plays Oliver, had never been on skates until two days before, Bill Cleary, the freshman hockey coach, stood in for him on the long shots-wearing a blond wig that curled out from under his helmet (but only an inch or so) just like Ryan's hair. All the other players were regular Harvard under-graduates except for one specially hired French-Canadian who has two lines (in French-Canadian).
In order to preserve their non-pro status, all the Harvard team-members had to give their pay, which would have been about $100 each, to charity. But at least they get to show off on film. I expect if I am lucky I might see my glove waving in the corner of a rousing-cheer scene, or perhaps the end of the Harvard scarf that was handed out to me (and carefully collected at the end of the day).
The skaters swept around the rink performing all sorts of fancy maneuvers again and again for the cameramen. It should come out looking fantastic. For a few sequences the director Arthur Miller (who just did Popi ) had the camera fastened between two hockey sticks with a skater moving it over the ice after the puck. The whole contraption looked like a large but frail vacuum-cleaner as it swooped in and out of the players trailing the puck.
But Hiller has sworn not to use any too-artsy techniques, like the slow motion in Goodbye Columbus as Ali bounds toward the river for a swim one balmy evening. Altogether, Hiller impressed me as the most intelligent person around. He strolled up and down the ice in his huge grey-green parka, looking out from the fur with deep brown monkey-wise eyes in a face that does not look so much lined or aged as well-used.
In addition to Oliver on the ice they shot Ali in the sidelines (shouting "Knock his block off Oliver!") and Oliver's father on the other side-although that might have been another game. There's a lot happening on location that you never see on screen. I couldn't figure things out exactly, but sometimes we were at Harvard playing Dartmouth, and sometimes at Cornell-with the help of a few banners and some desultory interior decorating. Cornell lent its uniforms on the condition that its team be shown winning, but Dartmouth seemed to consider it an honor to be represented at all. The Harvard uniforms came as a package deal along with the players.
I Meet My Co-Extras
Now naturally you're waiting for my revelations about Ali and Ryan and the gang, but they were all the way they are meant to be: very-nice, and so-human, and not-a-bit-standoffish. But it was the other small people who were surprising: they too were the way they're all cracked up to be by worried mothers and column-writers. One was a girl who made her living as an extra. She had what amounted to a routine acting job-"except it's very hard to get work." This stint in Watson Rink was even duller than most, she told me, but still it's not a good way to earn a living. "It's just once you begin, you can't give it up."
She had worked for Preminger last summer, as one of the only eight extras "That was a real break. Here I hardly know who Hiller is, but there we all got really close. Preminger's a tyrant: he has a reputation for making his stars cry, but he'll always apologize afterwards. He makes his cast nervous: it gets more out of them."
I asked her if working so closely with Preminger made any difference to her career. "Oh it's fun, and I learned something all right. But being a star.... There are so many people all wanting the same thing. I'm still just an extra-on call when somebody asks the agency for a young woman."
I met a guy who wasn't in SAG (Screen Actors' Guild) but whose brother's roommate's friend shared an apartment with Marty Richards or something like that: he was being an extra and helping with the paperwork and taking an entrepreneur's holiday all at the same time. During the nights he runs a nightclub in Boston, but that is by no means all. He has enough pies to use up toes as well as fingers: an electronics firm in Massachusetts with outlets in Long Island, some real estate deals, and of course eventually he will take over his father's business.
He kept on telling me how hard he had to work to keep all the accounts in order but it was fun-he was accomplishing something. "I want to make my money myself, not just let someone invest it for me." No, he didn't want to stay in entertainment all his life. The people are fun and it's okay while you're young, but it isn't suited to a serious businessman's mentality: he thought in terms of receipts, not glamor.