Archive for January, 2016


My Short-Lived Movie Career

January 29, 2016


The Methodist Youth Hostel on Adriatico Street in Manila, a compound of small ordinary-looking buildings, had become the place that most Peace Corps Volunteers would stay when in from the provinces. Both its location close to Peace Corps Headquarters and cheap rates made it ideal. Even with its shared bathrooms and barrack-style sleeping quarters, it was a luxury compared to most of our in-country abodes. Little did I know that this was to be the unlikely site of the beginning of my short-lived movie career.

One seemingly ordinary Friday in March of 1972 found me spending a weekend there along with a fellow volunteer, Bob Johnson. Bob had the semblance of a California surfer from his blonde Beach Boy hair to his laid-back demeanor, except that he happened to be from Brooklyn. We went through training together in the same group back in the states but saw each other infrequently since we had been assigned to different islands. This accidental reunion presented a welcome opportunity to catch up a bit. We had no idea what was in store for us.

The producers of the many B movies that were being made in the Philippines at the time apparently knew that this was the spot where young Americans tended to lodge. Whenever the need for extras of this type arose, this would be their first stop.

One such gentleman showed up on that Friday and spotted Bob and me. He asked us if we would be interested in making a little money by being in a movie. Having nothing in particular scheduled, we looked at each other, shrugged, and said, “Why not?”

At that time we had absolutely no idea what the movie was about, what kind of roles we would be playing, and most of all that this was to be the now-famous Tom Selleck’s film debut.

The movie folks drove us to the location in Manila where the scene we were to be in was being filmed. We soon arrived at Intramuros, a landmark of great historical significance. Built by the Spaniards during their colonial reign, the cave-like fort became infamous for its use as a Japanese prison during WW II.

And what were we going to be doing on this hallowed ground? Filming an R-rated scene for a trashy movie about devil worship!

The title of this cinema masterpiece was Daughters of Satan. Our one and only scene consisted of the flogging of one of the Daughters whose path had strayed from the coven, thus leading to her punishment. Bound spread-eagle and topless, she was faced with the choice of returning to her Satanic family or the prospect of some vile form of torture and death.

Bob and I played the roles of the “enforcer” warlocks. We sat on either side of the stone throne of the head witch who conducted the malevolent proceedings. And what an odd pair of warlocks we were! Bob was well over six feet tall, fair, and built somewhat like a lumberjack. I was dark, scrawny, bearded, and five-foot-eight.

Type cast?

Type cast?

We were dressed as we normally would have been: jeans, T-shirts, and flip-flops, not very warlock-like in my opinion. No matter. As the gathered coven, mostly Filipino extras trying hard to look evil despite their excitement at being in such close proximity to the naked bosom of a starlet, chanted “flog her, flog her,” Bob and I looked on, glaring with our sternest Satanic stares. My appearance was brief; after the opening part of the scene, there are but fleeting glimpses of me partly hidden in the shadows behind the flogging scaffold. I personally believe my best shots were left on the proverbial cutting room floor. I don’t recall exactly how many times the scene had to be repeated, but it turned out to be a lengthy affair with much waiting around in the tropical heat between takes.

At the end of the shooting we were asked to make up stage names (mine was Donald Wilborn, the best I could come up with under the hasty circumstances) and then paid seventy-five dollars for our troubles (not bad considering that equaled our Peace Corps salary for a month). Since he didn’t appear in our scene, we never did get the chance to actually meet Selleck.

Bob and I went back to the hostel with unanticipated money in our pockets and an unusual tale to tell. We finished up our Peace Corps lives over the next few months and then returned to the United States later that summer. Bob got married and moved away, and unfortunately I lost touch with him.

As time passed and I resumed my stateside life, I didn’t give much thought to this strange episode, at least not until one ordinary summer evening back home in Bergenfield.

My friends Johnny, Rob, and Chuck sat around the kitchen table at my house, once again reenacting the old “So, what do you want to do tonight?” routine from the classic film Marty. As I perused the movie listings, there I saw it: Daughters of Satan! Playing that very night at a theater in Englewood, the next town over!

We excitedly piled into the car and headed to the final showing of the night. Johnny tried to talk the older disinterested-looking woman at the ticket window into letting us in for free since one of the “stars” of the movie was in our party, but she only looked at us askance and asked if we wanted to buy tickets or not. My scene flew by in a couple of minutes, but we all had quite a hoot anyway.

Decades passed until Daughters of Satan unexpectedly resurfaced again.

Lunchtime in the faculty room at Pierrepont School evoked conversations amongst my friends and colleagues during which virtually anything could — and usually did — come up, including stories exchanged of our varied and often wacky experiences. I related the account of the making of my warlock scene, and it thereafter became kind of a running joke, culminating in two unique Christmas presents.

One year it came in the form of an original movie poster — amazingly procured online after all these years  — in which I can be seen, an illustrated extra looking for all the world like a young Charles Manson to the far left of the half-naked starlet who was, of course, the main attraction.


Another year not long after, I received a DVD copy of the movie produced in England, of all places. I henceforth had the ability to view this awful piece of cinema in the privacy of my own home whenever I so chose. Normally it just sits in its dust-covered glory in the bottom of a cabinet, but I do admit that I take a peek at my sixty seconds of “fame” every so often. But otherwise, Daughters of Satan has fittingly faded away into the twilight of the distant past.

Unless, of course, Selleck calls to do a sequel.


Peculiar People

January 10, 2016

Version 2

There are many unusual celebratory days in January (Fruitcake Toss Day, Bean Day, Houseplant Appreciation Day, Blame Someone Else Day, Penguin Awareness Day, and Measure Your Feet Day to name a few), but my favorite has always been today, Peculiar People Day.

The most interesting people I know, have known, or know about certainly fall into this category. This is not in any way a derogatory assessment in my view. After all, just what does “peculiar” mean?

Various dictionaries offer the following synonyms: unusual, eccentric, odd, curious. I, for one, do not consider those adjectives to necessarily be problematic. Being someone who departs from the ordinary is, after all, so often considered to be a good thing.

Think about it. Some of the icons of our society who are most revered are, well, peculiar. Unusual. Eccentric. Odd. The list is both long and varied, populated by individuals in all walks of life, people such as Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Oscar Wilde, Salvador Dali, Albert Einstein, Bjork, and Elon Musk. They share certain common characteristics like being creative, intelligent, intensely curious, and most of all nonconformist. Often we love them, sometimes we may not, but in either case, they are hard to ignore.

Why then are so many made to suffer for their peculiarities? It is ironic that in a country that purports to be the champion of individual freedom and respect for others that such a high premium is placed on conformity. Those amongst us who are different either by nature or by choice provide the diversity which most, in theory, accept as desirable. In practice, however, too often it is scorn and mockery that is their reward.

So perhaps this day might be the impetus to reconsider your thoughts about all the peculiar people in our midst. Maybe you will find something peculiar about yourself if you look hard enough. Even if you can’t, it might be time to acknowledge and appreciate your quirkier friends, acquaintances, coworkers, or family members. That is, of course, if they’re not off somewhere celebrating Measure Your Feet Day.