Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Midnight Man

 It was announced in early 1973 that a major motion picture was going to be filmed in and around Anderson and Clemson.  It would be called "The Midnight Man" and would star Burt Lancaster, Susan Clark and Cameron Mitchell.  Lancaster would also co-direct the project.  Since I was on top of the theatre world at Anderson College, it made sense that I should be in the movie, so I went to an audition in downtown Anderson.  Burt's son Bill was there.  He was also going to be in the movie.  Bill Lancaster went on to write "The Bad News Bears".  Bill and I hit it off, and he recommended me to his dad for a part. 
 As they began filming, there was a need for a bar in Anderson, but the county was dry, so they had to get special permission to construct a bar downtown for the movie.  It was Catherine Bach's first film.  She was nervous, but still pretty.  I watched the filming of her scene with Burt and Bill. 
 I had not gotten a call to come until late one night to report early the next morning.  Also coming with me were my friend Jimmy and his friend Ed.  We were to wear nice clothes for a scene in a bar/dance club in Clemson.  I wore the same outfit that I had worn in "Blithe Spirit".  I loved the outfit.  It was a cardinal red jacket with red and black polyester pants with deep cuffs. 
 When we got to Lamar's in Clemson, it was raining and we didn't know where to go.  We walked into the front door of the club, and they were filming another scene.  They had to cut the shot.  I thought they were going to make us leave the set, but we were able to stick around.  We did get to see Cameron Mitchell, Susan Clark and Ed Lauter.  We waited for a few minutes until it was time to bring us into the club.  There were about 10 of us in our group.  They put Jimmy at the bar, where they were serving real beer at 8:30 in the morning.  Ed and I were picked to dance on the dance floor with girls.  While we were standing around, Burt came over to me and said he had a special job for me.  I was going to be cast as Susan Clark's teenaged love interest, and he wanted me to dance with her.  He asked me if I knew how to dance, and I said no, so he spent 15 minutes teaching me the moves.  Years later, I met Jack Palance and told him that Burt taught me how to dance.  He joked that he didn't know that Burt could dance.  Burt told me to do the best I could. 
 There was a jukebox in the club.  A tech guy looked at the records and only recognized one--"Rocky Mountain High" by John Denver.  Not the best song to dance to, but it was slow which would help me.  I met Susan Clark.  She had been in Playboy a few months earlier, and I couldn't get it out of my head that I had seen her naked.  I was 19.  That was a big deal.  Susan was all business.  I tried to break the ice with her, but she would have none of it.  Burt wanted to rehearse our scene of dancing together.  I did the dance moves that Burt had taught me, but Susan wanted to dance faster than me.  We kept stepping on each other's feet.  She got her foot caught in the cuff of my pants and almost fell.  She was tripping me with her feet.  It was not a match made in heaven.  She started to cuss me out for being clumsy.  Burt, who was directing the scene, told her that I was doing the best I could, and he stood up for me.  She threatened to walk off the picture if she had to dance with me.  So, to appease her, my role was reduced.  Instead of being her young love interest, I was moved to dancing with a 17-year old high school girl, who was much better looking than Susan.  In the film, Susan is dancing by herself.  It kinda looks strange. 
 Another problem we had was the dialogue.  Between the music and the dancers, they couldn't hear a bit of dialogue that had to be given between Bill Splawn, who played the club owner, and a waitress.  So, I learned something about illusion.  In fact, there was a phrase used a lot by the tech folks--"We deal in illusion".  Our shoes were making too much noise on the dance floor, so we took them off and danced in our sock and stocking feet.  It made for a little sliding around the floor.  In the film, you never see our feet.  Another bit of illusion was the false wall that they built in the club.  It made the club bigger depending on the camera angles.  They removed the wall and had the camera about two feet from me in one scene.  Burt said not to look at the camera.  It was pretty hard to do. 
 It took 4 hours to film a scene that took about a minute of film.  4 hours of dancing to a John Denver song.  Our legs were about to fall off.  Jimmy got drunk at the bar.  I got a check from Universal Pictures for $16, which was pretty good for 4 hours of work.  About a year later, the film was released.  Jimmy, Ed and I went to the premiere in Greenville.  We watched the film, and halfway through the two-hour movie was our big scene.  I was 16-feet high.  It was a shock to see it.  The movie itself was very good.  It was a murder mystery.  After the movie was over, Jimmy came up to me and asked for my autograph.  He was kidding around, and then strangers came up to me and Ed and asked for our autograph.  I guess the strangers thought we were somebody.  When the movie came out, I was a student at Presbyterian College.  A lot of folks recognized me.  I saw what fame was like, and I liked it.
 The movie was never released officially in the United States on video or later DVD.  It was on TV some, and on video overseas.  I don't know why it never has been.  I think it was also Ed Lauter's first film.  Morgan Woodward played a state senator.  Mills Watson was in it.  A week after my scene was filmed, Susan Clark was quoted in the newspaper about how nice the folks were that she worked with.  I guess she had blocked out our encounter.  It was just as well, but the interview came over as being kind of fake from her.  I liked Burt Lancaster, and he allowed me to use him as a reference for my future work.  I also learned from that experience that the bigger the star, the nicer they are.  Burt had won an Academy Award for "Elmer Gantry".  Susan had been in Playboy.  Burt was very nice to me.  Susan was not.  Nothing more needs to be said.

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