Saturday, April 30, 2005

RILEY TO PLISSKEN TO PERRY: For Blaaagh, The Kurt Russell Progression is Now Complete

Frequent reader Blaaagh expressed disappointment after reading the Key to Mr. Hand's Spring 2005 Pop Movie Pop Quiz that I had failed to post a picture of Kurt Russell from Dark Blue, thereby completing the portrait of the actor's aging process from goofy kid (The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes) to indie action antihero (Escape from New York) to grizzled movie star/character actor. Blaaagh, your wish is my command.

Kurt Russell as Eldon Perry in Ron Shelton's Dark Blue

And while we're on the subject, maybe you'd like to tell your Kurt Russell story on SLIFR sometime. I think the comments section of this very post would be a great place to do it, if you're so inclined...


Anonymous said...

Kurt Russell is the perfect guy for your blog site. He was a minor league ballplayer in the Angels organization and was at AA El Paso when he retired from the game. The following is an entry from Wikipedia...

"Russell also had a baseball career (Russell's father had also been a baseball player for a while). In the early 1970s, Russell played second base for the minor league franchise of the California Angels (now the Anaheim Angels). He led his league in hitting with a .563 batting average. During a play, he was hit in the shoulder by another player running to second base. The collision tore the rotator cuff in one of Russell's shoulders. The injury forced his retirement from baseball in 1973 and he returned to acting."

His father, Bing, owned a minor league club in Portland for several years, and I think that Russell himself was part owner of a team for a short time.

And according to IMDb, Ron Shelton had wanted Kurt Russell to play Crash Davis in BULL DURHAM, but the studio wanted Kevin Costner.


Anonymous said...

Good point, Andy--as a Portlander, I know about his connection to that town's brush with baseball, but I thought he also played for the team...the Mustangs? I could be wrong.

All right, I'll tell the story, though I should warn anyone who might bother to read it that Kurt Russell doesn't actually appear in it. But I'm so happy to have a SLIFR item pitched, as it were, to me, that I'll fill up some space with the dusty tale, even though it reveals me for the fool I was (am?).

Fall, 1977: I was a freshman at the University of Oregon, playing a Delta Pledge (as was the author of this blog) in NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE, and skipping far too many classes in order to say "yes" whenever the casting people called our dorm phones to ask if we were available the next day to shoot. The latest jam Dennis and I found ourselves in was that we were chosen to be photo doubles for two of the principals for the car scenes, including the smash-em-up leaving the Dexter Lake Club, for the infamous "road trip." I was doubling for Boon (Peter Riegert), and I believe little 17-year old Dennis was doubling Flounder(Stephen Furst), which made no sense since Dennis was way skinny back then, and indeed has never been more than svelte compared with the 1977 Furst(who has himself now slimmed down admirably).

So, we were bussed out to the Dexter Lake Club (yes, it's really called that, or was) outside Cottage Grove (the town where the parade was shot), and we waited endless hours while they shot various bits of the scene. I remember the time out there fondly: for one thing, Riegert at one point called a group of us together in the cafe adjoining the bar to sing "Happy Birthday" over the pay phone to his girlfriend, who turned out to be Bette Midler. Another good memory: standing with Riegert, Tom Hulce and some others outside the club in the cold, drinking coffee, I in an identical costume to Riegert's, and he looking at me appraisingly, asking, "Are you an actor?" I, 18 and shy, looked down,"Well, I want to be...I've been studying since I was a kid, and I'm rehearsing a Synge play at school.." He cut me off: "Then you're an actor." It was a sweet moment for a lad.

Hulce was also memorably nice to me on those cold days outside the club: he gave me lots of advice, little of which I heeded, but he also told me something which smacked of New York stage actor snobbery: he asked me what my goals were as an actor, and I told him I loved stage but would most like to make movies, and he said, "Well, then, maybe you should choose another profession," or something like that. My heart sank. Given his subsequent success in movies, I forgive him on the grounds that he was young and new to movies....but given his return to successful stage work, maybe he was right. And now I'm a stage actor, so you figure it out. But he was kind and treated me with respect, and I'm grateful for that still.

Oh, yeah--back to the Kurt Russell connection. (Old people, you know, tend to get wrapped up in their reminiscences). Well, I have a few more before I reach the denouement. First, I did ride in the soon-to-be Deathmobile as Boon while it was swerving its way to the Dexter Lake Club, with stuntman Gary McLarty at the wheel, not that you can see the people in the car, but it's me and some other unknowns in there. It was fun...but I worked a whole day waiting for the crash scenes when the Deltas flee the club--until the filmmakers realized that Boon was driving the car in the exodus scene, so they didn't need me after all (they had to have a stunt driver do it). So I, sitting alone in the Dexter Lake Cafe studying, pissed off at missing a whole day of school for nothing, was visited by director John Landis, who sat down next to me at my table and told me he was sorry they had wasted my time, and that he appreciated my willingness to come out and work. He may even have laid his hand on mine, though time has obscured the details. So, I have to say, however much I might tsk-tsk Landis for his future movies, not to mention his actions, I think he's a good guy.

It was during one of my long waits in the cafe, while I was sitting with some other actors and extras, that some little kids shyly approached me. "Were you Dexter in 'The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes'?" they asked. Trying on the ill-fitting role of Cocky Guy, I answered, "Yeah, that was me. Did you see that?" Yes, they answered, I was really good, and could they have my autograph? Stuck now, I signed their napkins (to my slight credit, I signed my own name, not Russell's, but made sure it was scrawled unintelligibly: Best Wishes...etc.).

Well, the thing about me is, I've never been able to get away with dishonesty, not to mention cockiness. So, the next day, as fate would have it, I wore a University of Oregon sweatshirt to the set, and as I sat waiting for my call, studying French, the waitress who filled my coffee for the 18th time ventured to ask me innocently, " you go to Oregon?" "Yeah," I said without thinking. "Well," she answered, straightening her back, "my kids believed you when you told them you were a movie star."

I still feel like a slug when I think about that. The moral? It's too obvious to state, but here goes: don't pretend to be someone you're not...take pride in who you are, no matter how humble...blah blah blaaagh.

I hope you're all happy. I'm thoroughly, publicly humiliated now. But I do feel a little better about deceiving those kids, now that I've confessed.

Oh, yeah, and now I must say that Dennis DID shoot the crash scenes, and that is quite a story, too, just itching to be told...well, Dennis???


Anonymous said...

One more thing and then I promise to shut up: Kurt Russell is a terrific actor, much better than he's given credit for, and according to my wife, VERY attractive and "sexy" at this DARK BLUE stage of his aging.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Blaaagh: Thanks for the story! We'll file this post away for our upcoming "Stories about Animal House" article, eh? I hoped (too late, after I posted the request) that you wouldn't be humiliated, as it's a very good story, inside a whole bunch of other good ones. I'm glad you took the time to tell it.

And I think Andy's right: it never occurred to me that Kurt Russell, with his pedigree as a baseball player-turned-actor, would be the perfect patron saint for this blog. I'm gonna work on that. (Thanks, Andy!) Even Ron Shelton, an ex-minor leagure turned writer-director, could figure in there. I like Kurt Russell these days, too--"Dark Blue" was better than "Training Day," and Russell was damn good in it, and in "Miracle" too. Now I gotta get off this computer and give you a call...

Anonymous said...

Nah, I wasn't humiliated; it was long enough ago that I can chalk it up to youthful misjudgment. Actually, it was fun to dredge up the memories and tell the tale. I was surprised how vividly I could remember those days, once I got to thinking back on them.

Lester said...

TO: Dennis & Blaaagh, I would love to read more about your wild UO - ANIMAL HOUSE days. I thought I had heard most of the story's, but blaagh's account in this blog is one I have not heard. I'd venture to guess there are many more that I have not yet heard....Speaking of Kurt Russell and the made in Oregon connection, I think there is a movie that Kurt and Goldie Hawn made that has Oregon Coastal roots, "Overboard" which I though was a funny movie. Was this one actually filmed in Oregon?

Anonymous said...

Hey Murray! I was pretty sure I had bored anyone reading it into a stupor, so I'm glad you enjoyed it. I guess Dennis and I ought to get together and write up our musty ANIMAL HOUSE memories for this blog after all. I'm a total sucker for Goldie Hawn and her movies, even the worst of them, and I liked OVERBOARD, too (I'll put it in my guilty pleasures column). I think it was shot in Oregon, though I forget at what coastal town. Near Astoria, I think.