Among the Stars!

Submitted into Contest #144 in response to: Start your story with somebody taking a photo.... view prompt


American Creative Nonfiction

Among the Stars!

By Cal Kirby

I was a kind of nervous when I asked Jack Warden if I could take a photo of him. He said, “Sure.” And then I was a nervous wreck when I asked Al Pacino the same thing and he also agreed. Wow, two stars right there and I was among them!

Back in 1979 when I was working part-time in film, TV and on stage, I got a call from my agent, at my regular day-time job, and was asked if I could work for five days in a movie as a stand-in for Jack Warden? I immediately said yes and then asked for particulars. Dagmar said, in her German accent, “Report to zee Baltimore Courthouse at seven in zee morning and vear a business suit.” I asked who else was in the film and she said, “It stars Al Pacino.” “Wow,” I exclaimed and then the line went dead. Dagmar was very, very abrupt and business like.

I went into my boss’ office and cleared my 3-days of vacation (two of the 5 days were on the weekend), and explained what was happening with my film career. My boss was very understanding and, since I worked for the federal government, I had plenty of leave. Fortunately, I had a job that was easy to manage the time off. I would tell you, but then I would have to kill you. No really!

My wife, Linda, was always understanding and supportive of my acting hobby, so she was thrilled that I was going to be doing something I liked and getting paid, as well. She said, “At least you’re not out spending money on golf or some other expensive hobby.”

The next morning at 6:30am, I parked in an all-day parking garage near the courthouse off Lombard Street--I like to be early. I checked in with the Second Assistant Director (AD), Bob, to get my instructions. He told me that I was going to be a stand-in for Jack Warden, who was playing the Judge in this courtroom drama, called “…And Justice for All.”

“I have never been a stand-in before, what do I do?” I asked. Bob said, “You just stand where they tell you and move as the director, the 1st AD or lighting people tell you.”

I was excited! While I had worked in a number of TV shows and worked in several films and TV series as an extra, I had never been a stand-in for a movie star. I was thrilled, because I really liked Jack Warden and the films I had seen him in, especially “12 Angry Men.”

Bob told me to report to Wen Phelps, the 1st AD, in the judge’s chambers behind the court room. I went to the room and there was a large camera, a cameraman, the 1st AD, Wen Phelps, a soundman, a lighting specialist and a variety of assistants. Then I saw the director, Norman Jewison. He was a big-time director and I was nervous just to be in his presence. He had directed many block-busters, such as, “In the Heat of the Night,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The Thomas Crown Affair” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He was the biggest named director I had worked with to that point, and even after.

Seeing me standing in the entry way, he motioned me to come over. He said, “Hi, I’m Norman, and you are?”

”I’m Cal,” while shaking a little. I hoped he didn’t notice.

 “Well Cal, I need you to go into this bathroom here and stand in front of the mirror, so the lighting director can get the lights set for Jack’s scene. When Jack comes in to do the scene, you can stand over by the closet and watch Jack do his thing.”

I stood where I was told and moved a few times for the lights to be set correctly and for the mirror to be sprayed so it didn’t reflect the lights.

Jack Warden came in the room in his Judge’s robe and stood waiting while the lighting adjustments got finished and the camera was moved into place. I was told I could move over by the closet and then Jack walked into the bathroom and introduced himself to me. I was thrilled.

I must tell you, the scene was hilarious. You must see the movie, because the scene is hard to describe. It involved a shot-gun and Jack’s mouth.

The scene was finished just before noon, after several takes and re-setting of the scene to different angles. There was also a lot of just waiting around for things to get moved and the lights adjusted.

I was dismissed and reported back to Bob, who said, “Cal, you’re finished for the day, report tomorrow, same time, same place and wear black jeans or slacks and a leather jacket, if you have one.” Fortunately, I did. Hopefully, I would see Al Pacino the next day.

Bright and early the next day I arrived in front of Bob and checked in for my day’s assignment. Bob said, “There is a bus outside that will take you and the rest of the extras and Al Pacino’s stand-in, Ron Lewis, to the Martin Marietta Airport at Middle River. This had the feeling of a big adventure.

Arriving at the airport, we saw several trucks, a couple of big Suburban vehicles, a helicopter and many crew and technical people running around setting-up the equipment and lighting stands. This looked to be an exciting day.

We got out of the bus and Al Pacino’s stand-in, Ron, and I were directed to go see Wen Phelps, the 1st AD. Wen told us we were going to be spending sometime in a helicopter. Ron and I both sort of gulped, since neither one of us had ever been in a helicopter. Wen said, “Don’t worry, it will be stationary on the ground, with the blades turning, but you won’t be going up in the air.” “Thank God,” we both said.

When the time came and the lighting people and camera crew were ready, Ron and I were taken over to a two-passenger helicopter and told to get in. I got in the pilots’ seat and Ron was the passenger, the same places as Jack Warden and Al Pacino would be seated.

The helicopter was anchored down to the asphalt and then the blades were turned on. Ron and I sat there looking at each other wondering if what Wen told us was really true, that we “won’t be going up in the air.” The lighting director leaned into the cab of the helicopter with his light meter and checked whatever they check for that sort of thing. Ron and I settled down and started enjoying our prime positions and had a bird’s eye view of all the action. Also, it was warmer inside. Spending some 45 minutes to an hour in the helicopter making small talk while the crew did their thing, was kind of pleasant.

We were told everything was set and that we could get out of the helicopter and that the scene was ready to be shot. We still didn’t know for sure what the scene entailed.

Just then, a familiar figure emerged out of one of the two Suburban’s and, low-and-behold, there was Jack Warden walking right toward Ron and me. Talk about exciting on a cold, crisp November day by the water.

I had my instamatic camera with me and was bold enough to say, “Mr. Warden would you mind me taking a snap-shot of you before you start working?” He said “Sure, but hurry. It’s cold.” I snapped my picture and then he was gone in a flash to the helicopter.

Then I got lucky again. From the second Suburban, Al Pacino came out and was holding his overcoat tight to his body. It was really getting cold. Again, being bold, I asked Al if I could get a shot of him. He stopped, looked at me strangely, and then said. “Yeah, why not.” I got some good pictures that day, but was told later by Wen, that I really shouldn’t bring a camera to these things, that it was not professional, and that was the last time I did.

While Al and Jack, my new buddies, were shooting their scene in the helicopter, Ron and I were standing over by a couple of cars trying to stay warm. While standing by a blue Chevy Impala, the person in the driver’s seat rolled down the window and asked if we wanted to sit inside out of the cold. We jumped at the chance and got into the back seat. We sat there for an hour or so waiting for the helicopter scene to be finished and did small talk. The driver said his name was Jeffrey and we assumed he was with the crew or a Teamster driver. He didn’t talk much. Later when the movie was released and I went to see it, it turns out the guy we had been sitting with for over an hour, was Jeffrey Tambor, who had a pretty major role in the film. He also went on to become a pretty big star in his own right, having earned two Primetime Emmy’s as the Lead Actor in the comedy series “Transparent.”

On day three, I was working as an extra and not as a stand-in. I had been told the previous day to come dressed as a “Longshoreman” type. So I came bundled up in jeans, a heavy winter Down-jacket, and a black stocking cap. The extras were outside the court building and were being sent at different times along the sidewalk and up the steps when “action” was called. They were shooting a scene of Al Pacino running down the stairs to a car at the curb.

During one of the many stopping periods waiting for cameras, lighting, actors, etc., a couple of us “Extras” were standing on the sidewalk talking, when what looked to be a “Bag Lady” approached us and said, “What’s going on?” I said they’re shooting a movie. She said, “Who’s in it?” Someone else said, “Al Pacino.” “No way,” she said. “I went to school with him. Is there some way I can talk to him?” One of the other extras said, “Maybe! Walk over to that guy with the walkie-talkie and ask him.” This was getting interesting and as she moved toward Bob, the 2nd AD, we sort of laughed about her going to school with Al Pacino, since she looked 20 years older than him.

We saw her talking to Bob and then Bob got on the walkie-talkie. About five minutes later, Al Pacino comes running down the steps, grabbed this woman and swings her around in the air. Our jaws dropped and we stood dumb-founded watching these old friends getting reacquainted. We found out later that she was indeed older than Al, but they had been in acting school in New York together. You just never know.

The next day, I was standing in for Jack in the courtroom and was in for a major surprise. Norman Jewison came in after I had been sitting in the judge’s chair for lighting and camera angles and said I could take a seat down below. I walked down the steps and seated myself close by in case I was needed again. Then Norman walked over to where I was sitting. He was making a movie screen view with his thumbs and forefingers, trying to picture what the shot would look like from that angle. While he was standing there., Al Pacino walked up, then Jack Warden, then John Forsythe, and then Craig T. Nelson. There I was surrounded by some pretty notable screen and TV stars. I kept looking up from my seat and wishing I had my camera, because no one was going to believe this life “Among the Stars” story. After about ten minutes or so that I was in La La Land, the group broke up to get ready for the next scene.

Norman was through with his scenes requiring me to be a stand-in. So, back in the court room as an extra. This turned out to be an exciting day. Al Pacino was marvelous in this courtroom scene as defense attorney, Arthur Kirkland.

Craig T. Nelson, was acting as the prosecuting attorney, and was presenting the case against another Judge (John Forsythe) who was being charged with rape. Al Pacino’s character had been coerced into acting as the judge’s (John’s) defense attorney. Al’s character didn’t like the judge, but he had no choice in defending the corrupt judge (John) because of the threat of losing his license to practice law in Maryland.

When the prosecutor (Nelson) finished his arguments, the defense counsel (Al) got up and said that the prosecution had not presented a case against the judge to convict him and there was no case. This is really a great movie courtroom scene. There was a lot of heated yelling about “You’re out of Order,” “No You’re out of order,” and a gunshot. Not wanting to spoil the ending for those who have not seen the movie, I will not elaborate further.

Working in this film was probably the most exciting time I ever had on any of the approximately 40 movies and TV shows I worked on.

Yes, life “Among the Stars,” is exciting and I have pictures to prove it.

The End

May 04, 2022 19:21

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Michał Przywara
20:41 Jun 07, 2022

I think above all, this story conveys a feeling of excitement. I could see a similar story written from the POV of a jaded or bitter narrator, but here there's just this refreshing sense of "excited to be here." Every sight stands out, every person is an interesting new acquaintance. Even seemingly mundane things like sitting and waiting in a car are made exciting by the people you run into. For example, "it turns out the guy we had been sitting with for over an hour, was Jeffrey Tambor" sometimes you just never know who'll hit it big :)...


Calvin Kirby
18:00 Jun 17, 2022

Thank you Michal. I just now discovered these comments. I am not really familiar with the workings of Reedsy and didn't realize I had comments on my stories. I am sorry it took me so long to say thanks. I can't wait until next week to share your story with my group. I just love your story and can't wait to read more of them. I will give you feedback after the group meets. 😀


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Thom Brodkin
16:29 May 11, 2022

Cal, this was such a cool story. It was personable and relatable. I can see and feel the excitement and nervous energy you had. I'm so glad you are continuing to write. I can tell you love it and you have a gift for writing very readable stories. Congrats on making the recommended list, it's well deserved.


Calvin Kirby
18:38 May 11, 2022

Thanks Thom. I enjoy writing, but after reading so many enjoyable stories, especially yours, I feel inadequate. I will probably be using one of your stories again for my literary shorts group in the near future. If I do, would you be willing to come on for a few minutes to talk to the group again? I will let you know what story I selected and when I will be leading the group. Anyway, thanks for your nice comments. Cal


Thom Brodkin
18:46 May 11, 2022

As long as I can fit it in I’m always available for your group. It was a joy to spend time with you. Let me know when and I’ll do all I can to make it happen.


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