Saturday, March 5, 2011

My Death Race Experience

This week, the new movie Death Race opened. This film is based on an earlier film called Death Race 2000, that starred David Carridine. I haven’t seen the new version, but the older version was filmed in 1975. Why am I discussing this seemingly irrelevant blood bath film? For one, I had a bit part in the ’75 original version. Here’s how that came about.

A call came into the gym requesting three bodybuilders for a bit part in a film being shot in an art museum in Pasadena. In those days, bit parts payed about $100 a day, which could provide a bodybuilder like me with about four months of liver tablets. I answered the call, and showed up on the set in Pasadena. Also showing up was a well-known bodybuilder at the time, Don Peters, and one other guy who I don’t recall. Peters was in great shape, since he was preparing to compete in a major contest. I knew Don from my days at Vince’s Gym, and I was glad to see him. He was always a nice guy. We were herded into a small room near the set, after being told that a “closed set” scene was being shot involving a love scene between Carridine and the female lead. it seemed that hours passed while we patiently waited in that room, and the lack of available food (movie sets are usually replete with food, but this was a low-budget cheapie) added to our collective discomfort. Finally, I rose and said, “I’m going to find out how much this gig is paying, because I’m getting tired of all this sitting around.” I was told that our pay was only $25.”That’s it, I’m out of here,” I told Peters. He then suggested that we first find out exactly what the job entailed. “You guys are going to play masseurs, giving massages to the female actresses,” said an assistant director. I then decided that since it wasn’t a training day, I had some time to kill. But my biggest surprise was yet to come.

Within a short time, the private scene ended, and David Carridine emerged from a back room. I had heard that he, too, trained at Vince’s gym, although you could never discern that from his physique. Wearing a black elastic costume when I first encountered him on the set, he appeared tall and skinny, with no evidence of any muscle on his lanky frame. I made some brief conversation with him to kill some time (anyone who has ever worked in movies knows that most of the time, you’re sitting around, waiting). I then noticed that there was another guy on the set, who, having seen Peters now wearing his costume of a tank top and shorts, was walking around with his lats flexed, sneaking an occasional furtive glance at Peter’s impressive muscularity. In case you’re wondering, I was not the object of any attention, since I was in what was politely called in those days, a “bulking phase,” meaning I had about the same level of muscle definition as the Michelin man, although I did have fewer rolls in my abs. The “lat man” looked pathetic, since he was clearly intimidated by Peters. I attempted to talk to lats, and quickly noticed that he seemed to have a speech impediment, since one side of his mouth seemed paralyzed. He provided terse answers to my questions about his previous acting work, and I took an immediate dislike to the guy.  Later, he unsuccessfully tried to pick up the actress I was massaging (between takes, of course). She seemed to be as put off to this guy as I was. Eventually, we were called to the set to commence filming our scene. At that point, several actresses appeared, wearing bathrobes. I assumed that they were wearing bathing suits underneath. But when the bell rang for the scene to begin, and the director yelled,”Action!”, the women doffed their robes to reveal that they were wearing… nothing. All the other guys now had nude women lying on their massage benches, with the exception of me. “You’re massaging the female lead, she’ll be out in a minute.” Sure enough, the female lead did show up, and promptly lay on my table, nude. She was gorgeous, and I could feel my face heat up as I deftly applied my version of Swedish massage. One of the other actors in the film, a local radio personality named “the real” Don Steele, later told me that he got a kick on the expression on my face when I first realized that our message subjects would be nude. It was tough work, but it had to be done. The actress I massaged that day, Simone Griffith, went on to do a TV series with a then unknown actor named Tom Hanks. David Carridine later gained some weight and played the title role in Kill Bill, parts one and two. Don Peters did well in his contest, but regrettably passed away a few years ago. When I saw him many years later, I reminded him of our mutual acting gig, and he jokingly told me to keep it down, since his wife was nearby. Oh, and that obnoxious actor who flexed his non-existent lats around the set? Around a year later, I was reading about a movie in production that starred this guy, and I was astounded that anyone would even hire him. His name was Sylvester Stallone, and the film was called Rocky.