My more constant readers – and anyone who knows anything about me, really – will remember my complete distaste for the “What kind of (blank) are you?” quizzes. I’ve expressed how dimwitted I think they are and how I’d rather do all sorts of distasteful things than take (or even read) one.
So, imagine my feelings when, sometime last week, in order to commemorate the 500th post on another blog to which I post, someone (who will go unnamed to protect the guilty) suggested we create one of those very quizzes to allow that blog’s loyal readers to figure out whom they most resemble among the (otherwise-talented) writing staff.
One of the questions was “What will make you walk out of a show during intermission?” Now, despite my refined tastes, I am proud – or is it ashamed? – to say that I’ve never walked out on any play, no matter how bad – and I’ve seen plenty of bad theatre in my time. There have been times I’ve been sorely tempted to bail, but I’ve always persevered to the end. (Note written after I’d finished writing the content below: I was going to discuss the plays I’ve come closest to walking out on, but after describing the events below, I didn’t want to take the time. Suffice it to say, I’ll probably deal with them tomorrow. What a birthdays present that will make!)
To my remembrance, I’ve “walked out” on only a handful of things. The only movie I’ve left early was actually one I was in. It was back in 1979. I was lying in bed early one morning, and got a call from an extra agency with which I was registered. They asked if I wanted to work that day, and I told them “sure.” They gave me an address in the West Adams district of Los Angeles, and I rushed to get washed and dressed and head into the city.
The West Adams district was all right enough in those days. Heavens only knows what it’s like now. (Seems nice enough) It’s near USC, and is, to quote Wikipedia, “one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, with most of its buildings erected between 1880 and 1925 … It was once the wealthiest district in the city, with its Victorian mansions and sturdy Craftsman bungalows home to Downtown businessmen and professors and academicians at USC.” Because of the look of the neighborhood, it gets used a lot when movie and film producers want to shoot somewhere local that still resembles a suburban Midwestern or non-Los Angeles location – especially a period one. In this case, it was Chicago, circa 1934.
I arrived at the location – which I assume was someone’s home that had been rented and redressed – sometime after 9:00 am, and was fitted with a period suit. They wanted to give me a period haircut, but I was in rehearsal for a show at the time, and a 1934 haircut really wouldn’t have worked, so they accepted it and pasted it down. I walked into the house for the shoot and was met by the sight of a number of women in various states of undress. The set was supposed to be a whorehouse, and I was one of the many Johns. The women themselves were perfectly nice, if a little compromised by their costuming (or lack thereof), but we all acted like adults and got on with the work. In my case, that consisted of a lot of walking up and down stairs and dancing with one of the girls to a recorded piano track. There are a couple of shots of me still in the finished film, the most compromising of which is me doing that very dancing, my left hand clutching a chrome martini glass and my right hand clutching that woman’s ass. It’s not exactly my finest hour.
At the end of shooting – sometime in the late afternoon/early evening (I had a rehearsal to get to, after all) – they asked me to come back the next day, but I told them that I had a previous commitment (the show I was doing) and couldn’t. They seemed genuinely disappointed, but, despite the credits of the cast members – one Oscar winner, and at least three cult actors – two of whom are big favorites of mine (and one of whom chose to remain unbilled; I can’t blame him) – and a major writer, it’s an awful, awful movie. When I saw the final product (on a double bill with a horror movie about rabid bats – or something; I know it involved bats), I saw the scene they’d wanted me for the next day. It was, more or less, another brothel scene, only this one outdoors. It was not pretty. It was almost a cliché of 70s exploitation/drive-in movies, except the filmmakers were serious.
I did not regret the decision to not go back.
But during the screening of the movie, I drank a large soda that went right through me, so I was forced to choose whether to stay and gut it out or to leave and find relief. Once I knew my scenes were complete, I chose the latter course, so it remains the only film I’ve ever walked out on. Some time later, I either saw it on television or rented it (I know I’ve rented it – and more than once), and watched to confirm it was as bad as I remembered (and to see the ending). And I have to admit, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was. It was worse. Far, far, worse.
In retrospect, I do not regret the decision I made to walk out on the screening.