Monday, March 20, 2017

STRICTLY ON BACKGROUND, PT. 7: THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL

When the call went out for a "Seedy 1950's Strip Club Patron," it didn't matter if it was the strip club or the patron that was supposed to be seedy. All I knew was that my ship had finally come in. Wearing tassels. 

I had been trying without success to get a gig on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for a few weeks. It wasn't that I was a fan of the show. Not only didn't I have a subscription to Amazon Streaming, this was just the work-in-progress pilot episode.

No, Maisel was set in 1950s New York, and would involve cool clothes and props. This meant, for a few hours anyway, I would escape several decades into the past and, if I tried, pretend that the 21st-century was the stuff of science-fiction novels. And if you watch the news for five minutes, it still seems that way. 

But how would I finally convince them that I was the guy they were looking for?


Ready to rip off Chuck Berry's publishing rights.
A few weeks earlier, my wife had taken several photos of me for consideration for the photo atop my blog page. While the intention was to have a 1940s vibe, I thought one in particular could definitely pass for the '50s. 

The flowers in the background, I hoped, wouldn't offset by too much the low-rent fellow -- talent agent? used car dealer? after hours gambler? -- undoubtedly enjoying his 12th cigar of the morning. This, I was sure, looked like the kind of guy who took in burlesque shows for relaxation.

The Maisel folks agreed. At long last, I would be putting my inherent seediness to good use.

The shoot was going to happen somewhere off Avenue A, an area I hadn't gone near in 30 years. The aura of junkies, winos, and other disreputables had given way to hipsters, NYU students, and yuppies looking for the next neighborhood to turn into a Starbucks/Chase Bank/Gap paradise. Still, there was enough of the old character to remind you of what used to be.

Sorry, girls, he's married.
It was a small group of extras at the holding area, no more than 15. Over the course of an hour, what had been a bunch of present-day New Yorkers were transformed into Eisenhower-era lowlifes and their flashy dates. What was left of my hair was slicked down to give me that On the Waterfront look -- even if no dockworker would've ever smoked the herbal cigarettes that I was given. (The smokes were optional, but I was eager to go all in.)

Picture yourself on the Lower East Side. What would you have made of the sight of over a dozen men and women wearing authentic 1950s clothing, casually walking through Tompkins Square Park on a sunny October afternoon on their way to work?

Whatever it is, it wouldn't have matched the shock of turning a corner to see a street where several 1950s autos were parked. I had always wondered what it was like to live in a Twilight Zone episode. Now I knew.

But the best was yet to come. As we waited outside the club while the crew set up the camera and lights, we were joined by the great Gilbert Gottfried (and his wife), whose weekly podcast is my version of attending church.

I couldn't believe my eyes. Oh my God, what's Gilbert Gottfried doing here? And how did he get such a beautiful wife? 

And then I took a second look. He, too, was dressed in vintage clothes. Holy cow! I'm going to be in the same scene with one of my all-time favorite comedians and a stripper! Where has this job been my whole life?

We were soon ushered into the club. I was given a "date", a "drink" and six or seven cigarettes. We were placed at an elevated table against the wall, and given instructions: applaud the stripper and laugh at the jokes told by the MC (Gottfried) and the actor playing an up-and-coming comedian named Lenny Bruce. 

I'm the guy on the right not wearing a hat.
Just to make sure I did my part when it came to seediness, I kept the cigarette dangling from my lips for most of the scene, which appeared about five minutes into the episode. Mrs. Maisel thoughtfully returns one of the stripper's tassels that had fallen to the floor, as the camera catches me applauding and taking a drag off a cigarette.

As usual, I'm onscreen a matter of seconds; you can't even get a look good at my clothes. Yet it took long enough to shoot that I went through all but one of the cigarettes. And I didn't even inhale.

While all the background jobs have been fun in one way or another, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was a real treat. It was my first period piece. I got to see Gilbert Gottfried up close. If I squinted just a little, that really was Lenny Bruce doing his classic "Airplane Glue" routine. (The bit went on longer during the shoot than the final cut.) And I learned first hand that burlesque shows really were as seedy as they're made out to be. Yes, I felt right at home.

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If you're interested, the episode can currently be seen for free on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06X9579J1/ref=s9_acss_bw_cg_317GPD_1c1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-5&pf_rd_r=YHB0PQVM0XYAFEZPND5W&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=40d364f0-73cf-4ecf-90ca-8141a69c045c&pf_rd_i=9940930011

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