Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Cicely Tyson

I have been in 7 films starring Cicely Tyson. And with each one I am re-introduced to her and with each re-introduction she has no memory of our ever having worked together. Admittedly my first three films with her were just bit parts. So I will cut her some slack.

In 1974 I was cast as a carpetbagger in Ernest Gaines’ AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MISS JANE PITTMAN starring Tyson filmed primarily at the Belle Helene Plantation Home in Geismer, LA.  I can’t take credit for any of its many awards, but indeed I was pleased to have been a part of this award-winning project, which was the 2nd of the seven Tyson films I was a part of.

My character, after delivering his lines, was to then drive a buckboard down a dusty road off of the property out of the frame. I was in only one scene. When the props master hitched the buckboard to one of the horses, I admitted to him that I had never before driven a buckboard. His response: “Then you’re in luck. This horse has never pulled a buckboard.” Thanks a lot! For everything and everyone there is always a first. The horse and I managed to “get ‘er done.”

My third Tyson project was “A WOMAN CALLED MOSES” (another bit role). In this project I enjoyed the company of many other local thespians who, sadly, have all since passed: Ray Spruell (see my previous posts: Yosemite Sam and Jackie Gleason), Bob Earle (see my Steve McQueen post), Emory Hollier, Jim Steele, Don Hood (see my Dennis Hopper post) and B.J. Hopper.  On this particular shoot, which began early that morning, our scene was completed well after supper (around 9 PM). Our call that morning had been for 7 AM so we were well into overtime by 9 PM. When our scene wrapped, the production manager asked that we all go sit in a designated van which would return us to Baton Rouge. It was a viciously cold night, but the van offered warmth and comfort.

Thus settled, we all began engaging in small talk, highlighting the events of the day. Soon we got into telling jokes.  One led to another, to another, to another … as we looked at our watches. The time was now approaching mid-night. Steele said “I think I’ll go let them know we’re still waiting to leave.” With that announcement he was restrained by the rest of us. We knew a little more about the Screen Actors Guild payroll process than did Jim. He was new to film work. I said “No you’re not. We’re still on the clock.”

So the joke fest continued. It is now after 1 AM. At this point we started speculating on how much we’ll be getting in overtime. So the jokes continued until Ray Spruell told a particularly hilarious story and we all exploded into laughter … so much so that we were overheard by the first assistant director who ran to our van and said “You guys are still here?” Yep! “Have you signed out yet?” Nope! Anyway we all signed out and were immediately driven back to BR all the while playfully scolding Ray for costing us additional golden time with his “award-winning” goofy joke.

When our checks came in a few days later, the overtime for each of us amounted to just over $700. That was on top of the minimum daily scale payment. Had we not startled the AD with our convulsive guffaws, we may have accrued another $300-$400 in O.T.

Oh well we did nonetheless enjoy Ray’s little yarn. But was it worth the prospective loss in overtime? On reflection and since it came from the inimitable Ray Spruell and since none of the others are here to debate me on this, I’ll have to say YES.


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