Hey, your shoelace is untied

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I know it’s not April 1 yet, but I’m setting the stage for a new venture. And I just wanted to get your attention. So bear with me.

I have joined (been wheedled and coerced into joining, actually) the 2015 A to Z Blogging Challenge. Beginning tomorrow, and continuing for twenty-six days in April, except Sundays, I’ll be posting a short piece on something….anything I want….that begins with a designated letter of the alphabet, in (alphabetical) order.

Bloggers, neophytes and veterans, from across the globe are taking part in the fun (I’ve been assured it’s fun). More than a thousand people, all ages, all kinds of experiences, writers, non-writers, wanna be writers, have signed up.

I have a few possible topics picked out but hey, followers, ideas and suggestions are most welcome. Pick a letter…..let me hear from you!

I’ll keep up with my So You Want To Be In Movies posts, too. I wouldn’t want to leave you hanging since I mentioned the real movie work was just beginning.

Don’t fall for any April Fool jokes! You probably don’t even have shoelaces.

This looks like a pretty good one, though.image

So You Want To Be In Movies, Part 3

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Okay, this post will be a bit out of sequence. Let’s talk about:

3. You are a prop. You must move when and where the little PAs tell you, in exactly the manner they command, or risk their exasperation and maybe even ridicule.

The job description here describes PAs as ‘gofers’ but they don’t agree with that. They are in charge of you bunch of idiots and don’t forget it. They carry clipboards and have earphones and yell ‘Settle down!’ frequently. Because you and the Crowd people are a large and noisy…..crowd. The PAs want you to listen. They have instructions for you. Such as:

‘No talking on the set. Listen to the director. Move quickly when we tell you. Absolutely no cell phones and NO PHOTOS. Don’t talk to the actors. Pay attention to what I tell you. Don’t leave the set.’ And a lot more. These are your acting classes. Listen and learn. Because your rookie mistakes will really annoy the PAs/gofers/storm troopers.

Here is where I will mention a point out of sequence. In No. 10, I say that by the end of the day, you will be plotting the death of at least one PA. And likely more. You will. Collecting candidates is part of the fun.

There was a particular PA who was one of those permanently disgruntled people. Nothing was to her standards. She spent the whole time disgusted with her charges. She frowned forever, and then she criticized without mercy. One particular extra’s transgression was spilling a cup of coffee. Now, remember, there are five hundred people being randomly herded from place to place on short notice, stepping over cables on the floors, lights glaring down, dodging actors, directors, makeup people, everything happening at once. Something could spill. She fumed at the spiller, stomped off (and she was of a size and shape to really stomp), grabbed paper towels, and came back to yell, “This is what pisses me off!” What, a little spillage?

Another prince of a guy whined, “Single file, people. Don’t you know what single file means? Didn’t you go to kindergarten? One at a time is single file.” For the record, I did not go to kindergarten. Nobody paid any attention to him, anyway.

These two are in for a tough life. image

Okay, so your PA gets you onto the set…if this is your first time in movies, well, now it gets interesting.

4. The set looks nothing like whatever it’s supposed to be. Ok, maybe a little, but it’s surrounded by those notorious Green Screens that will, in the final production, make the scene real. Or faux real. 

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Movie magic happens now. First, I watched a guy spitting faux blood onto a precisely predetermined spot for about ten takes. After each take, someone had to clean up the faux blood and then replenish fresh faux blood in the actor’s mouth. The process was monitored closely by a couple of directors, crew with lights, crew with a SteadiCam, makeup artists….all going on at the same time. In the actor’s face.

This is where we put our acting instructions to use. Our direction (from the real director!): “okay, you fans are in an outdoor arena and you are all for the hometown guy. When I say ‘Action’, I want you to go crazy, yelling, screaming, jumping, interacting with each other. High fives, fist pumps, lots of smiles.

“I will also say Noise or No Noise. No Noise means you just mime the crazy yelling and screaming. The actors will be delivering their lines and we have to hear them.” Mime, huh? It was fun, actually. My two new friends and I were the best mimes in the place by the end of the day. And the most enthusiastic screamers!image

Our work has just begun. Stay tuned.

NOTE: photos in this post are not of the actual production.

So You Want To Be In Movies, Part 2

Note: all photos used in the post are stock photos from the Internet. No photos of the actual production have been used.

As promised in my last post, I want to elaborate a little on some of the things that might happen if you’re going to be an extra in a movie production. If you read the other post, you know it’s not all glam. Well, most of the time it’s not even part glam. Let’s take a look: 

 1. You and five hundred other aspiring ‘stars’ will be warehoused in a big holding area where you will follow shouted orders from very young production assistants. It might be very, very early in the morning.

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Well, yes, for a crowd scene, you need a lot of people….a crowd. Some of the crowd have done this before but others, like you, have not. Don’t expect explicit direction. It’s like going through Customs in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. You look around nonchalantly, hoping to catch some clues, maybe sneakily following a person or two who seems to have the right stuff, peering at signs written in skinny marker and therefore unreadable. Finally you smile at a stranger and take the plunge….is this where we check in? 

 With any luck, the two of you are in the same state of confusion and you will find out together. You sign in and fill out your paperwork: name, address, photo ID, all the stuff you need to be paid. You also sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement saying you won’t discuss the production and its content. (That’s why I can only give general info here.)
 

Then, off to wardrobe. Again, forget the glam. You will have been given a list of what to wear and bring as appropriate to your role. The wardrobe people, who have 499 other mostly amateurs to deal with, are short and sweet. ‘Like this, don’t like that, do you have another color this, that’s too bright, that’s too white, okay, just go with what you have on. Next….?’ Oh, and never mind hair and makeup. You do that yourself, heaven help you.

I forgot to mention time. I’m happy to report that I did not have to show up at 5 a.m., all dressed, coiffed, and made up. That would have been bad. My arrival time…..the crowd people’s arrival time……was late morning. 

2. You will be mingling with The General Public. The General Public comes in all sizes, shapes, colors, ages, delusions of grandeur, and varieties of cleanliness. 

This part was kind of fun. I saw two women sitting at one of the many long tables scattered around the room and thought OK, sit down. They looked normal. We bonded. One was a self-described Diva who took lots of photos of us and the other a distant cousin of Larry Fine of Three Stooges fame. Both had been extras in other productions and they took me under their wing.

Milling around the room….the size of a professional sports arena….were the rest of The General Public and this is where the people watching takes on a whole new fascination.

Talk about diverse! Really every possible demographic was represented. Stick thin girls slouching along languidly, staring down from their six inch platform heels at the lesser orders, their male counterparts in those new skinny suits that look outgrown; young people probably cutting school; senior citizens looking like they wanted to run away; a group of guys doing stretches…..gotta be limber…..; muscular guys with big arms, shaved heads, and the required scowls; wow!

And the clothes choices, well…..let me just say that one woman was wearing a hat obviously stolen from Jed Clampett, shredded black lace hose, and a poofy little non-age appropriate skirt. The skirt was not, shall we say, weight appropriate, either.

There was one wonderful woman who danced the entire time. Never stopped. Earbuds hooked in, all by herself, whatever else was going on, standing, sitting, walking….just in her own little world of dance. I mean, she never stopped. I liked her.

And then there were the people who didn’t take personal cleanliness personally at all, and had not done so for some time. The odors…GEEZ, people, you’re in a crowd of strangers! Seriously. I caught smells that other humans shouldn’t be emitting. That’s enough of that.

So You Want To Be In Movies?

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NOTE: ALL PHOTOS USED WITH THIS POST ARE STOCK PHOTOS. NO PHOTOS OF THE ACTUAL PRODUCTION HAVE BEEN USED.

Well, who wouldn’t, right? The glamor, the excitement, the bright lights, the fame, the cheering fans……

So when I had the chance to work as an extra in the local area production of a major motion picture, I jumped at the opportunity to add ‘movie actor’ to my life resume. Why not?

The experience I had was many things: exciting, exhausting, boring, frantic, funny…..and much, much more.

I came up with a list of the ten most important things to remember if you want your shot at being on the big screen, just in case you get the acting bug. Here goes:

1. You and five hundred other aspiring ‘stars’ will be warehoused in a big holding area where you will follow shouted orders from very young production assistants. It might be very, very early in the morning.image

2. You will be mingling with The General Public. The General Public comes in all sizes, shapes, colors, ages, delusions of grandeur, and varieties of cleanliness.

image3. You are a prop. You must move when and where the little PAs tell you, in exactly the manner they command, or risk their exasperation and maybe even ridicule.

4. The set looks nothing like whatever it is it’s supposed to be. Ok, maybe a little, but it’s surrounded by those notorious Green Screens that will, in the final production, make the scene real. Or faux real.image

5. You will dress as you’re told. In pre-approved colors. So even if you are indoors and the scene is supposed to be outdoors in cold weather, you will broil in coats, hats, scarves, under the big hot lights.

6. It takes a very long time to do one little piece of a scene. I mean little. It’s done over and over and over…..

7. You will hear all kinds of conversations going on among your fellow extras. You have no idea the kind of things you’ll hear. You will learn new things.

8. You will make new friends, too. Or at least new acquaintances. Be open. Remember: the General Public.

9. You will watch the real stars go through their paces, from stand-ins to rehearsals to takes. Again, it takes a long time. So just be quiet.

10. You will be so exhausted by the final wrap that you will abandon every direction you have been given by those bossy PAs and will do as you please. Also, you and some of your new friends and acquaintances will plot the death of at least one PA. MAYBE MORE. And it will be very late. Very.

So that’s a short intro to what you might expect as you take an entry level job in the motion picture industry. In the next few posts, I’ll elaborate on each of the Ten Points with more details, insights, and descriptions of the fun. Stay tuned!

Christmas in the Hurtgen, 1944

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December 1944. The 308th Engineer Combat Battalion of the 83rd US Infantry had moved from Steinsel, Luxembourg to Gey, Germany, where they were dug in from December 18 to 25. It was the coldest, snowiest winter Europe had seen in more than thirty years.

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Hitler’s army was pushing a last ditch counteroffensive against the Allies and the 308th was in the thick of it. It would become the bloodiest battle of the war: the Battle of the Bulge.

The Engineer companies supported the Infantry regiments in their attack and support missions. They worked on extensive road repairs and maintenance, mine sweeping and mine laying, bridge demolition and construction, splinter proof shelter construction and assistance to Artillery battalions in getting to forward positions.

Roads in the area were in very bad condition from heavy shelling. Shell fragments covered road surfaces, causing the engineers about fifty tire punctures daily as they hauled gravel in dump trucks to fill shell holes. Working long hours and having support from a Corps Engineer Battalion who worked exclusively on the roads, they kept the most important roads open.

For my dad, SSGT Harry J. Kirby, Jr, Co. C, and for most American GIs, no matter what else was going on, it was still Christmas. Herr Hitler was really making himself a nuisance with his Panzers and their big guns. The 83rd pushed back with all they had. But hey, it was Christmas.

Just before Christmas, Harry and the fellas found a treasure trove of beautiful glass Christmas ornaments in the cellar of a ruined farmhouse. Just what they needed!

In the forest, they picked out the perfect fir tree, not difficult in the Hurtgen Forest. In between their regular duties, they decorated that little tree and had their own little Christmas there amid the deep snow, bitter cold, and booming shells.

One of the guys had his camera. The gang gathered round the tree for a ‘family portrait’ and the soldier promised he would make sure everyone got a copy of the photo. It was a warm moment in the midst of a bleak winter far away from home for these American boys.

This is not the 308th, but these guys celebrated, too.

This is not the 308th, but these guys celebrated, too.

A few days later, in the hell that was the battle in the Hurtgen, that soldier was killed. Dad never told us his name or I would remember him here. But no one ever saw the precious photo of that Christmas tree, that little piece of home.

 

 

In 1994, the veterans of the 83rd returned to Europe, visiting Gey and the Hurtgen. Driving through the dark, dense forest, the old soldiers murmured to each other about ‘snow’ and ‘so cold’ and ‘minefields’ and ‘tree bursts’. It was a solemn moment for them, rife with memories.

Engineers Jim Prentice, Al Siverio, and Harry Kirby. June 1994

Engineers Jim Prentice, Al Siverio, and Harry Kirby. June 1994

The 308th departed Gey on Christmas Day 1944 and pushed on through Ossogne, Janee, and Biron, Belgium, where they remained into January 1945. In the beginning weeks of the new year, the 83rd was employed in the 7th Corps zone to defeat the German breakthrough in the vicinity north of Houffalize, Luxembourg. On 21 January, they assembled near Hamoir, Belgium, for rest and rehabilitation.

More peaceful times in Gey, June 1944. Harry's grandson, Mike, is at the far right.

More peaceful times in Gey, June 1944. Harry’s grandson, Mike, is at the far right.

 

 

The Real Santa Claus

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imageI know a secret about Santa Claus. He came to my house, and I wasn’t even asleep and it wasn’t even Christmas yet. And I found out something nobody else on Earth knew. And they didn’t believe me!

I was about six years old. I was watching Uncle Miltie on TV (bonus points if you know who that is!) when the doorbell rang and mommy went to answer it. I paid no attention, engrossed in the slapstick antics on TV. Mom came back through the vestibule, all excited. “Babe! Look who it is!” And in walked Santa Claus. Right into our living room. I mean, seeing him in Gimbels Toyland was one thing, but wow. This was huge. Wow.

He was quiet and soft spoken and had a sack with him. He was shown to grandmom’s great big chair that we weren’t allowed to sit in……but of course, he was Santa.

“You are Marianne. Come and sit with me,” he said softly, holding out his arms. I was the shyest little girl in the world, but what could I do? I went. He helped me up on his lap so we could chat.

I was face to face with the real Santa Claus. Not the kind in the big store. The one who comes to your house. I mean THISCLOSE. He asked the usual questions, I gave the usual answers. And the whole time, I stared at his face, mesmerized. I had noticed something. Something earth shattering. I remember thinking, “Wait til I tell them!”

Well, we finished our conversation, I got a candy cane, and he told me to get right to bed. To be honest, that kind of annoyed me. We were always allowed to watch Uncle Miltie! But well, you can’t argue with Santa, right?

He left and mom, dad and gram were so excited! The real Santa Claus, not one of those helper guys, came to our house! I was calmer. I had insider info on him now and I wanted them all to know.

“Santa Claus is colored,” I announced importantly. They were very surprised, to say the least.

“No, he isn’t. He’s white,” mom said. “He was just here…you saw him!”

“Yes,” I agreed. “I did. He was wearing a mask.” I had studied that mask up close and behind it, I saw a colored man. Can’t fool me.

“Well,” said mom, “he wears the mask to keep his face warm on the way down from the North Pole in the sleigh.”

I remember so clearly thinking “Well, okay, you can still think that if you want to. But I know he’s colored.” And that was fine with me. You can fool the whole rest of the world, but not me. Nope. Santa Claus is colored!

I kept this intelligence to myself from then on. It was my biggest, most spectacular secret.

I never forgot that night or that Santa. Even when nobody believed me. In his honor, I have a ‘colored’ Santa among my Christmas decorations to this day, a memory of a truly magical night and a truly magical visitor.

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Keep believing, my friends!

Christmas and The Rosh Hoshannah Kid

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imageIf you have read my blog a few times, you might recall how I was born on Rosh Hoshannah and delivered by Dr. Nathan Steinberg, an Orthodox Jew. If not, you can go back to September’s posts and learn how I, The Rosh Hoshannah Kid, learned to respect Judaism because of him.

As I grew, ‘Jewish’ to me was still, as I like to say, just another ‘ISH’. And in the Second Street neighborhood in Philadelphia where my dad grew up, and where my brother Harry and I spent many happy times, especially holidays, there were Jewish people we knew well. Like Mr. and Mrs. Bellow, who ran the deli/candy store at the corner; Julius the butcher, who had some funny writing on his store window (dad said it meant Kosher Butcher); Harry Zweig, the painter and paper hanger across the street; and the Weinsteins at the shoe store where we got our school shoes (Buster Brown).

They were JewISH, we were IrISH, and some neighbors were PolISH. As it should be.

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One December day, walking with dad through the forest of Christmas trees for sale at Lamplugh’s (Irish) fruit and vegetable store, I mentioned with seven-year-old concern that it was awfully close to Christmas but Julius and Mrs. Bellow didn’t have their Christmas decorations up yet.

Dad chuckled. “Well, they’re Jewish.”

I knew that. Yeah, so what?

“Jewish people don’t have Christmas.”

How can that be? We ALL have Christmas….let’s not be selfish….we should let them have it, too.

He delivered the news that shook little me right down to my Weinstein Buster Browns:

They don’t want to.

Whoa. Unbelievable. I will never forget the shock! They don’t WANT to? Dad was a great kidder, but that’s not funny. How can they not WANT Christmas?

That was the first time I learned that Jewish wasn’t just an ‘ISH’, but a belief in God, and that Christmas was a religious holiday that had to do with a different belief in God.

Took me many years to come to terms with that but I was a little mollified when I discovered there was a Jewish holiday, Hannukah, happening around the same time as Christmas. It took even longer to grasp the fact that the two are not at all related……but still…..a winter celebration.

Now I’m ready to celebrate everyone’s winter holidays. It’s all about the return of the light to clear the darkness. Always good.

I guess that long ago revelation cleared up a little darkness for me! The Rosh Hoshannah Kid and The Big C: lesson learned!

In honor of Dr. Steinberg, the Bellows, Julius, and the others, I hang a dreidel on my Christmas tree every year, and a little bag of gelt. I think they would like that.

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Merry Christmas!

 

Giving Thanks

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November 1944. The Allied armies continued to take Europe back from Hitler’s iron fisted grip. Success followed success and the Americans had pushed from the beaches of Normandy all the way to Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Hopes were high that the end of the war was near.

In Luxembourg, the 83rd Infantry Division continued to patrol east of the Moselle and Sauer Rivers between Bollindorf and Sierch Les Sains. The 308th Engineer Combat Battalion supported the infantry regiments with mine removal, obstacle removal, road reconnaissance, bridge construction, ferry operation, road repair, and instruction in booby traps and mines.

Co. C, 308th, was stationed in the little town of Steinsel. To the GIs, it was a little slice of heaven. Neat, clean, friendly……with a bakery that turned out the freshest, most delicious bread they could imagine. Sure beat the heck out of K-rations.

The fellas patronized the bakery so frequently, in fact, that the lieutenant had to order them to cut it out. There wasn’t enough bread for the townspeople when the GIs bought it all up.

The people liked the young, friendly American boys and when they discovered that November marked the celebration of that most American of holidays, Thanksgiving, they wanted to do something to show their appreciation to the soldiers far away from home. So the Steinsel folks invited individual GIs to share a Thanksgiving meal at their homes.

My dad, SGT Harry J. Kirby, was off duty, hanging out with some of the other engineers in the town center. Some young boys approached and with a few words in English and German, plus lots of gestures, the fellows understood that they were invited to dinner. One of the boys tugged at Harry’s arm. ‘Come with me,’ he urged. ‘My home. Please, eat.’

That was how dad spent Thanksgiving 1944, at the home of the Pleimling family, feasting on rabbit with all the trimmings Luxembourg could manage. He never forgot that kind gesture, and talked of it often to us when we were kids. Luxembourg was his favorite memory.

In 1994, we took dad to Europe to mark the 50th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. On the itinerary was a visit to Luxembourg and well, it’s not very big…..why not go back to Steinsel?

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With two other engineer vets who had been in Steinsel in ’44, he found the town, not much changed in fifty years, still neat, friendly, beautiful.

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He also found the Pleimling family. And again, they invited the GIs into their home. Josef Pleimling, descendant of those other generous Pleimlings, had not been born yet in 1944, but he, his wife, and son served coffee and cakes from that long-remembered bakery to three old soldiers who still were surprised at the warm welcome they received.

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At the Pleimlings’ home in Steinsel, June 1994: my dad, Harry Kirby, Mrs. Pleimling, Josef Pleimling, their son; Al Silverio and Quinto DiAntoni, also engineers from the 308th.

Thank you, Pleimling family….and all the liberated citizens of Luxembourg who made it a Happy Thanksgiving 1944 for the 83rd Infantry.

You gave these engineers from the 83rd some warm and pleasant memories they were able to take with them when, only a few weeks later, they took part in the Battle of the Bulge.