by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
August 10, 2008
GOODBYE, NORMA JEAN
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - The day before the casting call, I fantasized that they would take one look at me - my frizzy red hair, my bright smile, my aura - especially my aura - and hand me a major part. Hollywood money would flow through my hands. The recognition I've always deserved would be mine at last. The worry over the coming winter's heating bills? Vanished with the wind. How could they not see that I was meant to be a star?
It's my rough guess that more than 200 people in the Brattleboro area were having that same fantasy at the same time. Because when the folks casting Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock" movie got around to photographing me, at noon on Saturday, I was #109 and the line was out the door.
Yes, Ang Lee is making a movie about how 1969's Woodstock festival came to be, and he put out a casting call for hippies and extras in Brattleboro and Bennington, Vt. And I have to tell you, the hippies came crawling out of the woods - not the woodwork, mind you, the real woods - for this one.
Not only our young neo-hippies, but a lot of our oldsters, too - the ones who still have the same hair, although it's white now, and the same t-shirts and beads as they had back in 1969. The new wrinkle is, of course, wrinkles.
I must admit that back in the day, I was something of a snob about Woodstock. At the time I was just in from four - shall we say eventful? - years in San Francisco, where we invented the Be-In, among other things. One more weekend festival with too many people and too much music was, for me, "Been there, done that."
So, along with many others, I watched the damn thing on television. Who knew it would become a major iconic moment in the nation's cultural history?
I admit to trepidation as I parked my car in the lot at St. Michael's. What if I saw someone I knew? Would I be laughed at for thinking I could be in a film? Would it be a total rejection of the ethos I call "Joyce?"
Odd how a hard-won confidence built over a lifetime can wither in a few seconds.
Inside, I found bikers, artists, musicians, actors, carpenters and models. We had long hair or long dreadlocks, tie-dyed shirts, headbands, sandals and beads. In a glaring failure of research, however, I smelled no patchouli. Some of the younger hippies came with their children and their dogs. Some of the older ones came with their canes. Diversity did not flourish; everyone was white.
I was asked to fill out a questionnaire. Name, address and phone number, sure. Hair color, eye color, weight, sure. Measurements? Are they kidding? It's been years since I've taken my measurements. The question made me think of the bad old days when women were judged by how close they came to an hourglass, Marilyn Monroe-inspired, 36-26-36 standard of beauty rather than on their IQs, accomplishments and bank accounts. I just wrote 40-40-40 and let it be.
The question of nudity arose: none, partial or total were the choices. Nudity is not a problem for me - I figure it's a problem for the people who have to look at me naked. Once, a long time ago, people paid to look at me naked. (For a substantial check, I'll show you the pictures.) Those days are gone. So I checked "yes," but then I also checked "yes" for "willing to camp in a tent" when I meant, "Not on your life if there's a motel nearby."
Not far from me in the line was a tall, totally straight-looking Angela Lansbury-like woman whose short white hair was tucked under a denim hat with a sunflower sewn on top. "Are you trying to be a hippie?" I asked, surprised.
It turned out that she was a 77-year-old professional extra from Massachusetts, and this was her hobby. She had a Screen Actors Guild card, and she rattled off a long list of names of the films she'd been in. She'd worked with Martin Scorcese, and had just finished playing Richard Gere's grandmother.
The line moved slowly. When I reached the photographer, I gave her my photo and questionnaires and had my pictures taken. I noticed that right behind me, a stunning young brunette was pinching her cheeks for extra color.
Then I waited to be interviewed. When it was my turn, a charming woman explained that they would be calling people up as they were needed.
How much are you paying? I asked. "One hundred dollars for a 12 hour day," she said. So much for Hollywood money flowing through my hands. In 1968, in San Francisco, I had been an extra in the Richard Lester film "Petulia." They, too, had paid $100 a day. Back then it was a lot of money. Today it would barely pay for an oil change. It seems that being a Hollywood extra is exactly like being a freelance journalist - the pay hasn't changed in 40 years.
I was thrilled to be an extra in 1968, even though I could never find myself in the crowd scenes when I watched the film. I guess one good thing about growing older is that you develop a healthy respect for your rapidly diminishing time.
But the dream dies slowly. And if Hollywood calls, I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Lee.
A collection of Joyce Marcel's columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com. And write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.