Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.
“Can I get off early...pleeaase?”, I begged my Waycross Post Office supervisor, J. B. Carter at 6:00 in the morning right after we dispatched all the mail going to the other 3-1-5 towns in our vicinity. J. B. didn't say yes right away—so, I was left to twist in the wind a little longer.
He came by my letter case 30 minutes later—“Take off!”—and I did, running across the floor to punch my time card, scooting out the back door, down the dock ramp, and through the parking lot to ol' Blue, my usually-dependable Ford F-150 pickup. I hopped behind the wheel, turned my key in the ignition, and...nothing. Not a sound did she make. My career on the silver screen ended with a dead battery.
Several weeks earlier, while reading the newspapers during morning break, I came across a casting call for extras in the 1989 movie, Glory, to be filmed on Jekyll Island, just an hour drive to the east from Waycross. You remember—the Civil War film that starred Matthew Broderick and Morgan Freeman—and not me.
I went to the casting call, was selected to be a newspaper artist, and had already been outfitted for a costume, when the day for filming came. I was an hour away from certain cinematic celebrity when ol' Blue decided not to come through. Fate sure do have a way of keeping us grounded—leaving us to wonder sometimes what might have been.
Almost 30 years later, my son, Connor, drama major at the University of Georgia, sent us a heads-up in April about a Clint Eastwood project—The Mule—being shot on location in Augusta, Georgia in mid-June with costars, Bradley Cooper, Dianne Wiest, and Eastwood's daughter, Alison.
The Mule, an upcoming American crime film written by Nick Schenk, is based on the true story of Leo Sharp, a World War II veteran in his 80s, who became an unwitting drug dealer and courier for a Mexican cartel. Eastwood produces, directs, and plays the role of Sharp.
Connor told us they were looking for extras—male and female—18 years and older—and that if you owned a vehicle, it might make it into the movie too. He had already applied and suggested that his mom, Lynne, and I do the same. So, we took selfies from the waist up—one smiling and one not—filled in the rest of our personal stats, attached our photos to the email, clicked send, then forgot about it in the weeks that followed.
On June 11, I woke up to see an email from Tammy Smith Casting, asking me to confirm if I could be in Augusta for filming the movie's funeral scene at 8:15 the next morning. Now, most anybody that knows me well knows that The Outlaw Josey Wales is my favorite movie of all time. And Clint Eastwood—a man's man if there ever was one—I had been watching him since his Rowdy Yates days on Rawhide.
My days of Glory had passed; so, I was not about to let this chance fall. Forgoing sleep, Lynne and I packed into my reliable 2017 Toyota RAV4 and zipped off into the darkness up Highway 15, Woodpecker Trail, pulling onto the early morning streets of Augusta at 7:20, a cool hour ahead of schedule.
My first stop in the film business was a two-story building on the Paine College campus, where I filled out tax forms, personal information, and was instructed to drive my RAV4 a couple blocks up Central Avenue to the Bethlehem Advent Christian Church, renamed First Lutheran for The Mule.
I met some of the other extras as we waited inside the church for Mr. Eastwood to arrive. One of the show's casting managers chose me, Greg Nye—owner of Augusta's Mattress By Appointment—and two other ladies to act as casual funeral attendees conversing outside in front of the church as the funeral entourage was walking out, led by Clint himself.
After seven or eight takes, we all took a break in the social hall in the rear of the church, then filed into the sanctuary and took our seats awaiting the next scene. Have mercy! Clint Eastwood was sitting on the left side, midways between the pulpit and the front doors!
I calmly sat down a couple pews behind the man when, to my dismay, one of the producers suggested, “Since you were the ex-husband of the deceased, wouldn't it be better if you sat on the front pew with her family?”
Clint moved forward—and further away from his biggest fan from Waycross, Georgia. A stodgy, little production assistant began to move up and down the aisle, casing the cast of extras. He stopped at my pew, tapped me, the lady next to me and the gentleman next to her, and said, “Come with me”. I got up, allowed the lady and gent to walk ahead and file into the second pew, then took my seat right behind Clint Eastwood's talented, gray head.
I was busting inside at my good fortune, when a few minutes later, the little fat guy came back and stood next to me. I could hear the gears turning behind the spectacles on his bald head and was shouting in my mind, “Don't you do it! Don't you...”. “Sir, come with me,” he said.
Back to my original pew I shuffled, to be replaced by a woman, who I'm sure they felt was a more appropriate mourner for the deceased female character, played by Dianne Wiest, who was most-assuredly not in the wooden casket in front of us.
Following the multiple takes—close ups, wide angle shots, cameras shooting from the pulpit into the audience, and the other way around—they dismissed us. I inched slowly to the front with all the extras, positioning myself to be right next to Josey Wales and thinking about what I was going to say.
Just as I got close enough so's I could count the hairs on his hand, a young fellow from the right side of the church swept in front of me to meet his hero. Ah well, it's funny how fate has a way of keeping us grounded.
Several weeks later, I received a crisp check for $79.35 after taxes, which included a $25 bump for my Toyota being a part of the funeral procession. I haven't heard when The Mule will be released. I'm just hoping they leave my south Georgia mug in some of the scenes. It ain't everybody that can say, “Yeah, I was in a Clint Eastwood movie”.
1939 was an epic year for Hollywood's movie industry, yielding a slew of classic films—Gone With the Wind, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Wizard of Oz, and Of Mice and Men. It was also a great year for movie extras—especially those under four feet tall.
I hope 2018 is another great year for movie extras—just so I can say,
“Uncle Dave Griffin—Coming To A Theater Near You!”
21st Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival
Advance 3-Day Passes:
WRDW : Channel 12 News : Augusta, Georgia video clip
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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