My Impressions As An Extra In What’s Up, Doc?

Whats Up DocGuest blogger Anthony Piazza writes:

My first assignment came out of a “cattle call” that was held at the SF Casting Agency in the summer of 1971. The casting directors for Warner Brothers Studio were present at the office to select from hundreds of people (why, “cattle call”), those to be casted for various “extra” roles during an airport scene at SFO for the film What’s Up, Doc?. The agency had been around for some years, but at that time they were shy on younger people to fill roles as stewardesses and military personnel- thus, I became a Marine- but only for two days.

After reporting to the wardrobe truck and changing into my costume, I went to the set which was located at the TWA wing of the airport. The lobby there was enormous- which was lucky because between, cast, crew, extras, and on lookers it was filled to capacity. It was also hot- lit by many photographic lights- arcs, inky dinks, eye lights- you name it!

If you have ever worked on a set you will understand the saying, “hurry up and wait!”- and we did a lot of waiting! However, the one benefit of that was that I had time to meet a lot of other fellow “extras”, and made many future friends. One particular was Johnny Weissmuller Jr., we talked for hours about his Dad. He referred lovingly to Johnny Sr. as the “old man”, and it was evident in our conversation that we both shared the same admiration of him and his work. We also both had the same movie book, “Tarzan of the Movies,” and discussed that as well. We worked together many times afterward. The last time I ran into him, he was trying to contact a collector who had some of his father’s Olympic Medals (this was just after his father had passed away).

All the stars were present for the shoot- and it was a real treat: Streisand was and is undoubtedly very talented- gifted with a beautiful singing voice and an excellent talent for comic timing. Interestingly, she was more attractive in person than on film. She also had a very dynamic personality and exhibited ‘star’ qualities on the set.

O’ Neal I believe was overwhelmed by the crowds that flocked around him. His fame from the television show “Peyton Place” still pursued him and he seemed to shy away from the public when possible.

Bogdanovitch (in his signature tennis sweater) was there directing- very directorial in appearance and style. It was fun watching him in action.

I was also exceedingly impressed by a lesser know actress (at the time) who co-starred in the film. She would become a big star later, due to Mel Brooks (who, incidentally I got to work with a few years later)-  and I just have to say, “It’s true, It’s TRUE!” and you probably know who I mean. Madeline Kahn stole all the scenes I watched her shoot- and I knew then that she was going places. She was extremely outgoing in front of the cameras and surprisingly shy behind.

Another future alumni of Brooks’ films, Kenneth Mars was also present (very funny in person) and Liam Dunn (preacher of Blazing Saddles) also had a role as a judge. Also of note, the screenplay was by Buck Henry, another associate of Brooks (Get Smart).

There is a lot more I could say about this experience; because it WAS my first , the impressions have seemed more lasting. However, I will spare you of further rantings for now- but if you are interested, I will leave it for another day.

Tony Piazza is a retired Biologist, now returning to an earlier passion- film and film making.  During the 1970’s He was trained in, and worked professionally with many Hollywood production companies. He has had the good fortune to work with such legendary actors as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Fred Astaire to mention a few. He was also on the crew of several Quinn Martin television productions, including The Streets of San Francisco, starring Karl Malden and Michael Douglas. He is now a regular contributor to the TCM (Turner Classic Movies) website (Classic Member Union) where he has written about these experiences.

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