Barely In Time:
Confessions of a SIT Extra
By Jo Addie
My story begins with a light bulb idea one day late in April of 1979. I had a sudden notion how much I wanted to go back to Mackinac Island, with my husband, who had never been there.
My only visit had been when I was 3, and how it impressed me! Those are my earliest clear memories of my life. I vividly recall walking down the incredibly long hallway at Grand Hotel, thinking how strange it was that there were windows on top of the doors of each room (transom windows which when opened, allowed air to flow from front to back of the hotel). I cried when I couldn’t go bike riding with my parents, because back then there were no bike seats for children. Instead my great aunt and uncle took me on a carriage tour into the interior of the island, where the Indians did a dance show, and I got a little tom-tom drum as a souvenir. I skinned my knee in the pool at the hotel. We also took a horse-drawn carriage to church.
Jim was enthusiastic to the weekend plan and we made our reservations to stay one night at Grand Hotel for a Sunday late in May. The anticipation I felt to revisit such a magnificent place grew day by day, but even before we left, we learned of something wonderful in the works. Being both avid film nuts, we'd been watching a movie on TV, and we were discussing the film as the news came on. Ordinarily, we don't make a point of watching the news, but here was Chicago anchorman Bill Curtis sitting next to--could it be? I did a double take...."and coming up, we'll have an interview with Christopher Reeve, who's in town making a movie". We'd both been very impressed with Chris in Superman, so naturally we listened anxiously, and were shocked to hear him say that after 4 days in Chicago, they were off to Mackinac Island to finish the film! Our trip was only about a week away--would they still be there filming on our weekend? Would we have the slightest chance to actually see a scene being filmed? The possibility was so tantalizing.....
Upon our arrival on Mackinac, the whole island was abuzz with talk of "The Movie". Upon check-in at the Grand, we inquired if the film company was still there, and were happy to hear they were headquartered in what was then called The Inns of Mackinac, (now Mission Point) on the opposite end of the town. They even suggested we go over there and make inquiries as to what was going on! No one had to tell us twice.
As we strolled near to the buildings, we saw a strange sight. Was it actually a CAR on Mackinac--yes, two men were rigging up a little silver roadster with water tanks and sprayers, for a rain scene to be filmed the next day.
As we continued to the production office, we wondered, what are they doing today? We walked in and met the casting director, Bill O'Hagan, who thought we were inquiring whether we were needed as extras. We hadn't even entertained that notion. We'd come to see if we could watch, but were disappointed to learn they don't work Sundays and since we were only staying through the next day, we would not be needed as extras. However, he did kindly tell us where filming would take place on Monday, so we planned to be over there bright and early, to watch!
What a fun day it was! Here we were able to mingle among the crew, to ask questions while they filmed the scene where Richard drives up to Laura Robert's house, to speak to her at the door.
They’d installed mailboxes on the street for Richard to check numbers as he drove! There are no mailboxes on the island, or mail delivery, as residents go to the post office to pick up their mail. It was a lovely sunny day, and here they were making it rain!
The members of the crew we spoke with told us of the whole plot--the portrait obsession, the time travel--oh, it was so enticing! We couldn't believe the lack of need for security that day--no one was around! We felt almost like invited guests. I asked Chris for his autograph during a break. The little card I’d asked him to sign was in my purse, the card the Grand put on your pillow with their carriage logo, along with a chocolate, at turn down. On the bottom of the card it read, ‘Sweet Dreams’, and Chris looked at that and smiled and said, “Sweet Dreams?”. I was a bit embarrassed and told him that is what the Grand puts on your pillow.
I spoke at length to Chris' costumer, Greg Hall, who toward the end of the day, was telling us about the ballroom scene at the Grand, with 200 costumed extras, to be filmed over two nights, coming up in about 12 days.
Starry-eyed, I offhandedly said, "Oh, I'd love to see that", knowing, after all, we were leaving in an hour to go home to the Chicago suburbs. But Greg said, "Well, why don't you come back? It'll be a closed set, but if you ask for me, I'll make sure you can watch." The words stunned me. What a concept! I looked at Jim, who then worked at Chicago's classical music radio station, and he said, "Why not, YOU can go!"
How those days before "the shoot" dragged. How I floated on the idea of being there--watching all those people dressed in 1912 costume cavorting in the Grand's dining hall, playing out a scene of past opulence. My excitement grew each day, up to the day before departure.
That Wednesday night, we played racquetball, and oddly enough went on to bowling, and got home around 3 in the morning--yeah, weird, I know, for midweek. Jim said of my proposed trip, "How are you going to get up at 7, drive all day, and be up all night watching the ballroom scene?" Still wide awake, I answered, "I won't be tired, my excitement will keep me awake, and maybe I'll get a nap before the filming starts."
Well, when the alarm went off at 7, we were both comatose. Jim probably turned off the alarm in his sleep. And when my cat woke me up at 5 minutes to 9, I awoke in a screaming panic. "It can't be true! I'm going to miss it!", I cried, bursting into tears. You see, Mackinac is a good 8 hour drive from my home, and at that time of year the last ferry to the island leaves Mackinaw City at 5 pm, and if you're not on that ferry, you don't get on the island that night. I wasn't even packed. Jim, my understanding, supportive husband, said, "Go! Just GO! If you don't make it, just stay on the mainland and watch the second night." Not understanding the film business, I shrieked, "Oh, what if they finish everything they need tonight? I'll still miss it all!"
As I frantically threw stuff into my suitcase, he wrote down the directions, and I was out the door within 15 minutes. When I left, we thought there was a chance to make it. But I wasn't on my way a half hour when I realized that 5 o'clock Michigan time is 4 o'clock Chicago time. I had one less hour than I thought! It now seemed totally hopeless. I couldn't believe it. My dream was shattered. I thought of turning back, but I was so worked up, I drove on faster. On the road, with my map sprawled open on the seat, it appeared that I was making good time, and I started calculating miles per inch and miles per hour. I figured that if I drove as fast as the car would go, I might make it. And if I didn't, I'd miss the ferry by minutes. So on I sped. I don't like driving fast. It makes me very tense. My speedometer only went up to 80, so I have no idea how fast I was going. I had visions of a police car over every rise, around each bend, waiting to haul me off to jail, for going so fast. Wouldn't Jim be surprised to hear from me from prison?...so before each rise or turn, I slowed for a peek, then resumed my maddening pace. Hours passed by, and still I drove the car as hard as I could. I pulled into the dock with 12 minutes to spare! An eight hour drive reduced to six and a half hours. Jim won't believe it. I felt like kissing the ground. And I burst into tears knowing that I would be able to see flowing skirts and tuxedos that night! On the ferry, I had the worst tension headache of my life.
When I arrived on the island, I checked into my little hotel room and did some necessary freshening up. Then I walked over to the Inns, my head pounding all the way. I walked in where the security guard sat, checking the now-dressed extras out. They’d been having call-times from 3 pm on, to dress in their costumes, and they were getting into carriages and on their way to the Grand. It was 6 pm. I slumped into a chair to catch my breath. He recognized me from before and asked, "What are you doing here?" "I came back to watch tonight. Could you please call Greg Hall and tell him Jo Addie is here?" He called Greg on the radio and Greg, already at the Grand, gave instructions to come over and look for him. As the last few extras filed past me on their way to the hotel, I sat there, tingling at the thought that it was really going to happen, and I'd be there, on the sidelines, to watch.
A familiar-looking man walked in, and the security guard got up, spoke with him quietly, then they both looked my way. I could tell they were talking about me, I didn't know why. The man was Bill O'Hagan (Extras Casting Director and “Rollo”), and he looked at me and said, "I don't have anything for you tonight, but come see me tomorrow." I nodded obediently, (not comprehending what he was meaning) and then realized that the guard had asked him if I would be able to be outfitted for the scene! Come back tomorrow--to possibly be in the movie! What a concept! I sat a few minutes longer, talking with the guard.
Another man came in, the second assistant director Don, whom I had spoken with on the previous trip. I didn't think he would, but he recognized me, and said, "What are YOU doing here?" I told him I came to watch. He said, "You came ALL THE WAY from Chicago -- JUST TO WATCH?" Well, it didn't sound at all foolish to me, until he said it. I was embarrassed. "You're not in costume or anything tonight?" No, I said. "Well, go up to wardrobe, and see if Opal has something for you". The words almost stung. "Really?" He said, "Go on, tell her Don sent you." I floated up those stairs. I entered a cluster of rooms, wardrobe women still bustling after helping dress about a hundred ladies. I knew that the extras had all been outfitted weeks ahead, the chances were slim. I asked for Opal, gave her my message, and she told me to wait out in the hall for ten minutes. Then her assistant came out and said, "Follow me."
We went into a small room, where there was a single dress hanging, a pale pink chiffon with ecru lace and beaded trim, a "ditty bag" hanging with it, complete with shoes, hat, and slip. Opal came in and looked me up and down. "Yes, this will fit you. Someone didn't show up." (Now, when there are two hundred extras and one or three don’t show up, it’s not important to replace them, so I knew it was a bizarre circumstance.) Before I knew it I was getting into the lovely dress, and was led into a tiny room full of accessories, where I was handed long white gloves, jewelry and a beautiful beaded bag. Then came inspection.
Opal had me turn around and with a frown said, "Oh no, that will never do." The wide neckline was exposing my bathing suit strap marks from last year's tan. "Ladies back then never went in the sun.” I figured, well there goes my opportunity. She then said, “When you get to the Grand, get a security girl to take you to a make-up man to touch up those strap marks." Nodding, I thanked them all, the dressers, Opal, the security guard, and stepped outside in stunned disbelief. I was the last one dressed for that night. A moment later I was on my way through town. I felt just like Cinderella--here I was riding in a carriage, in a beautiful dress, and indeed, on my way to the Ball! Jim will never believe this!
At Grand Hotel, the lower lobby was filled with happy people in costume. My heart jumped at the sight. Regardless of age, we were all children again, playing dress-up. For a movie! The quality of the garments was awesome. All authentic. And they had a sort of magic to them. When you were in them, you became a different person. We all did. Men started bowing to ladies. Ladies blushed, and curtsied. Having just met, they walked arm in arm, complimenting each other on their fine attire, using the ultimate in good manners. What was truly strange, even our language altered, and we all spontaneously began speaking in English accents. And since we were in the Grand Hotel, on Mackinac Island, it was as though we really had all been transported in time. Like the hotel of the past was alive again.
I wandered around until I found a security girl, and relayed my instructions. I followed her up through the main lobby where lights were being set up. Dinner was still being served to paying guests, and the crew had to wait until they were finished before taking over the dining room. It was about 8 pm. We started up the stairs and through the long hall. And I began to feel like I'd caused a problem with these blasted tan marks. They don't usually put make-up on extras, I imagined.
A door was partially open, and she knocked. Immediately to the left of the doorway was another door, the bathroom, where Paul Sanchez, the make-up man who always wore a Stetson hat, was laying out his tools of the trade. She told him what was needed and asked if he had time. He said sure, come in. She turned and said, “Just come back down when you’re done.” I came into the room and headed on the diagonal for the bathroom, and spotting another man sitting in the far corner on the bed. Reflexively, feeling like an intruder into somebody's privacy, I said a polite, "Hi." As I went through the doorway to see Paul, I realized that the man was Christopher Plummer -- and I was evidently in his dressing room!
There I was with a Hollywood make-up man working on me, while Mr. Plummer stood in the doorway enjoying a cocktail, and the three of us all chatting like we're old pals. Jim would never believe this! Paul put me at ease right away with his pleasant, down-to-earth manner, and Christopher Plummer was just as you'd expect him to be, suave, handsome, a true gentleman with remarkable style. The makeup took a while because Paul was thorough and made up my neck and face as well. When I left, Mr. Plummer, who, by that time had gone back to reading his script, got up as I thanked him for the use of his room, and opened the door for me! I heard him say something nice about me to Paul as I went down the hall. I had to get to a pay phone and call home!
In the phone booth in the lobby, I related to Jim the past hours' details, while still not believing them myself. But all I had to do was look down at my dress, to see it was really true, discovering new details as I did. I don't have to tell you his reaction. He didn't believe it!
Upon crossing the lobby, I spotted Bill O'Hagan again, now dressed in his costume as “Rollo”. I suddenly hoped he wouldn't notice me, remembering HE told me to ‘come back tomorrow’. But he did a double-take, and with a confused look said, "You made it!" I felt like somehow I'd "gone over his head" and quickly explained how I'd visited before, was recognized by Don, and all the details. We were instant friends, and while we chatted he asked if I knew how to dance. I told him I'd been a dancer all my life, and with that he took me over to a small group he'd assembled learning an old fox trot, gave me a partner and ‘cast’ me as one of the dancers.
Hours of waiting, and talking and having a wonderful time later, we were all part of the long dolly shot in the dining room where Richard looks for Elise. I’m sitting at a table near the camera on the left at the beginning of a cut of the dollying left to right. We were excited to catch a glimpse of the newly arrived female star, Jane Seymour. It was her first night of working, too. While most of us had never seen her before, there was no doubt she was breathtaking, radiant even from a distance. Sometime around 2, after a tremendous dinner of the hotel's food, we were setting up to do the dancing scene, Richard cutting in on Elise. Two new friends, also dancers, and I were standing on the dance floor waiting for the scene to begin filming, as instructed. From behind us came Christopher Reeve, to ask, "Now, how do you do this dance?" Momentarily stunned, the other couple went into their step count, but they were flustered and did it in a rather confusing way, and he wasn’t able to get it. I started to show him and do it more slowly. He stood across from me as I counted the steps out, and he did them with me. Then he stopped, bent down a bit toward me and said, "Are you the dancing coach?" After all the events of the day-- it was such a ludicrous question, I just laughed and said, "Uh, no." And he said, "Well, you know you should be, because you really look like you know what you're doing," and he walked away! All this in one incredible night . . .
The second night I met more wonderful people. Bill O'Hagan introduced me to his long time friend, whom he’d known since their military days, Britt Lomond, the Production Manager. These two gentlemen became almost like my "dads" on the island. "Are you dressed warm enough?", loaning me a jacket for chilly evenings. They knew I came to the island with only a couple outfits, planning a short two-night trip. I was washing my underwear in the sink--good thing I was wearing costumes 15-16 hours a day! I ended up staying for three weeks, relishing every minute of work--if you can call it work--in nearly every 1912 scene with background people. Extras were paid $25 per day, plus overtime, after 8 hours.
After the second night's shooting ended at 6 am, Britt and I stopped for breakfast on the way back to the Inns. We sat in the restaurant and talked about movies as the sun rose, until they opened at 7. When patrons started filing in, they of course noticed the woman in the movie costume sitting with the silver haired gentleman, and a few timidly approached us to ask me for my autograph. This was more than embarrassing. I begged off, explaining I was "only an extra", and that I was sitting with the Production Manager who surely had the autograph to get. But Britt was very gracious, and insisted I fulfill their persistent requests. He later very kindly explained to me that one is "never JUST an extra," and "we couldn't do a period film like this one without people like you to give it atmosphere". He also asked what my husband did for a living, and upon hearing he was an audio engineer he wanted to meet Jim and talk to him about stereo systems. Then he surprised me by saying, "if you can get him to Detroit, I'll fly him up in the film plane." The exposed film was flown every day to Detroit in a small plane contracted for this important errand, then transferred on to California to be processed and returned the same way the next day to be viewed by the crew as dailies. Our only car was parked at the dock--but luckily Jim took the train to work. So, a week later, Jim hopped a plane to Detroit and came up to join his Alice in her Wonderland for the weekend. He even worked one day in costume in the theater scene! And he brought me some more clothes and underwear! But we had been sharing the experience right along, for as soon as he heard I was working, Jim went to the library and got a copy of “Bid Time Return” and was reading it daily. We'd talk on the phone each night, and I'd tell him every detail about the scenes we did, ‘he said this, she said that,’ and Jim would say, "you know what happens next?".....since we didn't film in sequence, HE was able to fill in the holes for ME! Later on, I was given a copy of the script to read, and it remains in my SIT collection.
It was so interesting to watch the movie making process. The collaboration of so many experts from diverse fields, to make each scene work right in every detail, was fascinating to me.
Is there really such a thing as Movie Magic? Yes, there is. I can tell you for sure there was a powerful sense of magic the day we filmed the lakeshore scene, where Richard first encounters his Elise. It's a lonely windswept stretch of beach with large pebbles instead of sand. Those twisting trees are unlike any I've ever seen elsewhere--they surely only exist there, where two lovers meet despite the obstacle of Time. I wondered that day if, when I saw the film, I would see the crew standing around in their T-shirts, the huge scrim to reflect the light, the camera on its small crane. And though the crew usually does all its work before the actors come in, and since they're just on "standby", most of them don't even watch during the actual moments of filming. They usually whisper, read a magazine, drink a soda. But on that day, for that scene I remember all eyes riveted on the action. It was a gentle meeting, but full of drama, and when the director yelled "Cut", everyone looked at each other with raised eyebrows, nodding with prideful smiles. We all knew then, for certain, we were making something extraordinary!
The breakfast scene on the lawn of the Grand where Robinson confronts Richard was a pure joy. Clusters of extras developed little scenarios all over the place. The sky was perfectly clear, the air was crisp. We did several takes as the camera dollies across the scene from left to right to Richard, seated at a table. The take they used was where I was walking (dressed in a green and black riding habit, top hat with a green scarf tied in a bow around it and carrying a riding crop under my arm) with a partner across the lawn, almost in sync with Robinson as he crosses the lawn. What you don’t see in the film is the long string of linen draped tables, laden with huge shrimp and lobster and other delicacies that the Hotel spread out for the scene, depicting a lavish breakfast buffet. We wiped our chins as we thought how we’d relish this food at lunch. But it was strictly for props and “unfit to eat” after sitting out in the sun, so it was all thrown away! I must say though, that when we filmed at the Grand, we ate the Grand food, which is the best you can find anywhere. We were able to dine on their awesome buffet while filming inside, wearing white lab coats over our costumes to protect them. That was a bizarre sight--we looked like 1912-costumed doctors and nurses! And while working outside on their expansive property, the menu included steak-burgers that melted in your mouth!
It’s remarkable that Grand Hotel offered the use of its property to the film company for free -- AND they fed all the cast and crew when filming there. The constraints were considerable though, because the company had to work around a hotel full of guests, and not impede their enjoyment of their stay. At all times of day or night, there would be guests standing around watching whatever they could see being filmed. We sometimes ate in the hotel’s staff dining room, but wherever we ate, the food was delicious.
I'm unable to say the same for the Inns of Mackinac, now defunct. When we filmed on location there, in the theater, we were mortified to endure buffets of food we couldn't identify. And what was left untouched one day seemed to reappear for a second chance the next. I recall being in line with Chris one day as he hesitantly surveyed the mystery meat. He broke our puzzled frowns by saying, “I can name that food in five bites,” and we dared him to Name That Food.
As an extra, you are placed in a scene at the discretion of the assistant directors, or production assistants. Naturally, if you are given a strategic location, where you can be readily distinguished, the chances of your working often are very slim. You can be used more frequently if you are less prominent, and beyond that, wearing different costumes allows you to be different people! As thrilling as all of this is, we’d often disguise our fondness for working long hours and follow the “routine” with a blasé air. We would be told while shooting whether we’d be needed the next day, or we’d inquire in the Casting Office, and be given a call time. We’d also be told what sort of person we’d be playing, a townsperson, a hotel guest, a bellhop, maid, etc. Then you’d report to wardrobe, separated into men’s and women’s sections, where there stood expansive racks of vintage clothes--day dresses, evening gowns. I was told that the clothing was primarily from one woman’s massive collection. She had traveled the world collecting vintage clothing and was renting them for Somewhere in Time. Slips, shoes and other accessories came from the Universal studio lot.
Each time I was costumed, Opal (Vils) was amazing. She’d look me over to figure my dimensions, go over to the racks and select a dress that would just fit. Mind you, back in 1912, one couldn’t go into a store and buy clothes off the rack. A seamstress would sometimes stay with a family for weeks, making custom outfits for each individual--they were not sized. And yet, with her vast experience, Opal could fit you with her eyes. Then that outfit and all its accoutrements would be hung in another room with your name attached, in case you’d be called to wear it again. I wore 5 different costumes, the riding outfit, including boots, 3 day dresses--my favorite being a lavender cotton lace, and the pale pink evening gown.
Once dressed, the ladies would often need to report to the Hair and Makeup Room, where our hair would be pinned up, or our hats would be put on properly by the hairdressers. It was here we’d often see the “stars”, because while this room had one wall of glass and natural sunlight and two walls of mirrors it was the perfect place for the stars to have their makeup and hair done. I was fascinated to watch Jane’s long hair being done up by Greg Mitchell. He used pieces called “rats”, traditionally made from horse hair and shaped like large donuts, as the foundation for her lovely Gibson Girl style, to give it fullness, just as they did in the past. It would take well over an hour to create.
Early on, in one of those times where Chris had been having his makeup done, (before we really knew each other) I was in the Hair and Makeup Room to have my hair pinned up. I was with a friend I’d made and she was the funniest woman I’ve ever met, Susan Engle. We both were so totally thrilled to be working on this picture, we sometimes acted like little girls in that when Chris walked by, Susan would pretend like she was swooning to make me laugh. So on this occasion, I had been given a brooch for my first time wearing the riding outfit and it was to be pinned onto the ascot of the silk blouse. I was trying to get the pin on, and having great difficulty pushing the pin into the silk. I started crossing the room, toward where Susan was standing, “Will someone help me put this pin on?” To my surprise, Chris came over and said, “I’ll do it.” So here I was, standing there, with Chris, who was bending his face near mine, struggling with his large hands to get my pin placed020 in the right spot on the ascot -- with Susan standing behind him, but in full view to me -- making faces like “OH MY GOD!” -- and I had to try not to crack up. After some tense moments, he finished, then stood back to check his work. I hoped it would be ‘perfect’ but we both saw it was very crooked in the mirror, so he said, “I’ll do it again.” And there we went through it again!
Over the years people have frequently asked me, “What was Christopher Reeve really like? He is exactly as he seemed on TV interviews, candid and honest, with an easy smile, not the least bit affected by his fame. He had no idea how handsome he was. He exuded positive energy--very optimistic, cheerful, congenial, upbeat, with a refreshing childlike quality--by that I mean he was enthusiastic and animated about whatever he was involved in. You could not meet Chris and not like him. I never heard him complain about anything. I guess you’d say he was the kind of guy everyone would enjoy having as a friend. I can’t help but admit to being a little thrilled when after working a while on the film, Chris and I were on a first-name basis.
When I wasn’t dressed in costume and working on the movie, I made a point of hanging out among the crew and watching. I worked for most of three weeks on the film, and I ended up being in all the 1912 scenes that have background people, except for the park scene, just watching that day. I show up ten times in the film, but for some of those places, you have to know where to look to find me.
The company never took for granted the miracle of finding everything they needed for the script on this remote island. Think of it--they needed horses and carriages, a theatre with a stage, a college campus/classroom, as well as a magnificent hotel. In the postwar forties, the Moral Re-Armament Movement came to Mackinac Island and built a complete filmmaking facility. Their intention was to make propaganda type films, to ‘morally re-arm the nation’, so there was this huge production complex, including sound stage, prop shop, carpenter shop, copious warehouse space for wardrobe and set storage, the theatre with a stage. They only made one feature, and then moved to Switzerland. The entire facility later became Mackinac College for about five years. (The dormitory building was were where the cast and crew were housed, and it was very sparse and very early 50s in its decor.) Then, it had all lain dormant for nearly thirty years, as if the island was waiting for this movie to be made there! (Only Richard’s modern apartment, the Lake Shore Drive scene and the interior of the old library were shot in Chicago. All other filming took place on the island, not a frame was shot in LA.) The old theatre sure came in handy. One night there was a party there, where the members of the cast from Chicago's Second City entertained us with an impromptu show. Audrey Neenan, Tim Kazurinsky and Bruce Jarchow, (actors on the stage with Elise's company), were hilarious doing some of their bits and a lot of improvisation.
I was also on hand the Sunday afternoon they showed Superman there for anyone who wanted to see it. As we all hoped he would, Chris attended the showing, to the delight of the audience. He came in just before house lights came down to keep a low profile, but when there was a technical problem with the soundtrack in the second reel, and the film continued several minutes without any sound, Chris stood up and told all of us what dialogue we were missing, until the problem was solved. This was even reported to the Michigan press, and the story has become island lore. The Detroit Free Press newspaper printed stories of the filming at least weekly.
Much was said about the wonderful atmosphere on the set. Normally, on a location there is a definite strata of “Cast” and “Crew”, with the stars being given special treatment. But on SIT, everyone was issued a Schwinn bike to get around on, and everyone stayed in the same dorm building, albeit Chris and Jane and Christopher Plummer had better, larger accommodations than the rest. Even Chris talked about that unique circumstance often, how it was ‘like summer stock’ with everyone palling around and being equal. I remember an article in the Free Press saying, “While the rumors of cast and crew skipping to work together holding hands is not quite true, the reality is not far from it.” What a nice report -- and yes, the magic of the island’s atmosphere affected everyone. We felt like we were making something beautiful in a beautiful place far from ‘reality’.
I was sitting nearby on the porch of Grand Hotel when Richard Matheson was being interviewed by a reporter. He said, “This is like a dream come true for a writer. Not only have they invited me to be on hand for the filming, which never happens to a writer, but if they want to change my words, they ask my permission.”
I was impressed how Jeannot Szwarc directed the action. In my mind prior to this experience, I always thought directors were autocrats, barking orders about the set in an intimidating way. His style was so gentle, so polite. You could tell he had respect for all the people under him. He let the actors play the scene first the way their instincts led them to do it, and if he wanted to alter that performance, he went up to them quietly, privately and suggested what he wanted, or how to improve it. When he was happy with the take, he would call out, “El Printo”, and everyone would chuckle.
Jeannot said on his own private interview with me, regarding his style, “I think a director is like an orchestra conductor. He cannot tell people how to play, but he can make sure they all play together well.”
I remember how pathetic Chris looked after the closed set filming of his escape from the horse barn. At that time, Chris was highly allergic to horses, (which he later overcame) so he always rode his bike to and from the set location. But that day he had to endure a long exposure, and before he slipped into the building where everyone was being housed, we glimpsed his red face and very swollen eyes.
And I’ll never forget how I peeked through the scenery during the closed-set filming of Richard and Elise’s first kiss. This was one of those days I was able to watch filming, because of the friends I’d made. My vantage point was similar to the camera’s, and I held my breath as I watched each delicate moment unfold. My eyes filled with tears. Could anyone have improved upon it? I am certain it is the most romantic kiss ever filmed.
I had opportunity to talk with Susan French and Bill Erwin, too. She was a true lady in the classic sense of the word, yet loaded with spunk, with a twinkle in her eyes and a sparkling sense of humor. And he was such a friendly person with a glorious sense of humor, who regaled everyone near him with anecdotes and word play. Toward the end of my filming experience, Britt suggested that when I returned to Chicago, that I apply to work on The Blues Brothers, which was filming there. Several crew also suggested that I pursue working in commercials, since my prior work experience had been in radio, as a writer of commercials and doing voiceovers. Since I hadn’t done on-camera work, Britt told me to talk with Bill Erwin about commercial acting, and I did. Bill explained to me how to get into that area of acting.
But my most memorable day of all was yet to come. Film crews typically work six days a week, with Sundays free. What to do on your day off? My ballroom dance friend, Susan Anderson, lived locally on the mainland in Petoskey, and she invited Chris, Greg Hall, and me to come to her house located on a small lake, initially, to go water-skiing. Chris invited Jane to come along, and the plan was to ride our bikes through the woods to the island’s uncontrolled airstrip, where Chris would lift us “off the rock” in his own plane. The weather was uncooperative for water sports, cloudy with some drizzle and only 53 degrees. So Susan altered the plan and suggested bowling.
Now, I had always sworn I would never fly in a small plane, but I made an exception that day! Chris adored flying, and as a capable private pilot, he had flown himself to Mackinac in his six-seat single engine plane. He didn’t get to fly as much as liked with his career in high gear, and he needed to log a certain number of flights each six months to keep his license current. So instead of going right to Petoskey which is a short flight, he took us on an extra two legs to Traverse City first, about a forty minute flight each way. With Jane in the co-pilot seat, we landed there, only to change co-pilots when Greg went up front; then we took off again to Petoskey. I’ll never forget how wonderful it was to talk with Jane, one-on-one, during that leg of the journey. She was so captivating, so warm--and opened up very candidly about personal aspects of her life to me, even though it was the first time we were actually conversing. At the Petoskey airport, Susan picked us up and took us to her house for a brief stop.
Then it was on to the bowling alley, a very crowded bowling alley. While we procured a lane and got our shoes, (Chris asking for a size 13) I wondered if “the stars” would be mobbed and because of being in public, and their day off be compromised by not being able to relax and enjoy themselves...since the local papers reported almost daily on the filming. They put us right in the middle lane--but surprisingly only a few people noticed us, recognized them, and quietly approached for autographs. Even the man and his two kids who were sharing the scoring desk took a while to realize who was playing alongside them. We ate pizza and lost ourselves in the fun of the game. Frankly, none of us were tournament material, but Chris claimed the high score in both games. Chris and I did the scoring duties. I still have the bowling sheet as a cherished keepsake.
On the way back to the plane, we stopped at a roadside produce stand and purchased some delicious Michigan fruit. Jane invited me to sample the black cherries she bought, and I begged off, remembering the red cherries from our own tree at home, which were incredibly sour. She was so surprised I’d never tried the black variety, she urged me again, so I obliged. Yum! Now every time I eat black cherries, which I really love, I think of her.
I got to be “co-pilot” in the cockpit with Chris on the short flight back to Mackinac. I never imagined how much a small plane gets buffeted by air pockets. Chris described how he loved to fly in those conditions, “flying blind” with the thick clouds totally obscuring your ability to see -- following instruments only, and how exciting it was to drop below them and be “on course” in this case seeing Grand Hotel from above and descend to the short runway. I must say it was quite thrilling to be up front, with the airstrip looming closer and closer, sitting wide-eyed and watching Chris deftly make the descent to a skillful landing. It was the third of July.
What a memorable day!
The tough part was, since it was a big secret that Chris had flown his plane to the island, and was flying during filming--something Universal and the film company wouldn’t approve of because of it being ‘risky’ or ‘dangerous’, I couldn’t tell anyone of our adventure! When my pals asked me what I did on our day off, I had to say, “Oh, nothing”! But I have photos of our marvelous outing.
On July fourth, (of course a holiday), as the crowd of now-plentiful tourists and islanders gathered to watch the fireworks, Christopher Plummer strode up nearby, and we chatted during the show. My work on the film was finished, but I left abruptly the next day due to a sudden serious illness in my family, my father-in-law suffered cardiac arrest. I had to hastily pack and go and regret that I didn’t have the opportunity to say a proper goodbye to all the special friends I’d made. And yet, my story doesn’t end here.
My pal, Susan Anderson stayed with us on her way to move out to California some months later. She promised to find out and let me know when the screening for the cast and crew was to take place. She visited Greg Hall on the set of Battlestar Gallactica, on the Universal lot, and on that day bumped into the woman from the production office for whom she’d been a “gopher” during SIT, and who was presently in charge of invitations to the Screening of the film for cast and crew. Upon hearing that Susan now lived in the LA area, she was promised an official invitation for the Big Night coming up on Friday, April 11, just under 2 weeks away.
When Susan called with the news, we were thrilled! We made our plane reservations immediately to fly in the night before. I called Britt Lomond right away, and asked if it was possible to get an invitation. He said he thought there was a good chance, but 4 days later, called me back with the horrible news that he couldn’t obtain one. Normally there wasn’t such “tight security” for screenings, he said, but since the rumor on the lot was that the film was very good, perhaps they were afraid that people would just crash the event. He suggested that I call up my other friends on the crew who might not be attending and ask to use their invitations. I did just that, phoning Jack Wilson, the make-up man. Jack was anxious to accommodate my request, as he never attended screenings, but said he’d check to make sure it was all right to do so. Phoning back two days later, he told me he’d asked but the answer was no. We were out of ideas. After waiting so anxiously for 8 months to see the finished film, we were horrified that the screening was going to happen without us. We did not leave the night before, but cancelled our plane reservations.
On the morning of the special day, I awoke in a deep depression. Jim called from work to say he felt the same. He said, “You know we should have gone. We could have gotten all the way up to the door, and they could turn us away, but at least we’d know we did everything possible to see it.” I lamented, “Why didn't you say that yesterday?” He replied, “You know, I think we should still go. If we don’t, we surely won’t have that last chance to see the film. Even IF they stop us at the door, we’ll have a vacation for a few days. If I can get reservations this afternoon that will get us there in time, we’re going!” And a few minutes later, he informed me we had two hours to catch a plane. Here I was again, throwing stuff frantically into a suitcase!
We called Susan to tell her to pick us up at 7, the screening was at 8. She said, “You guys are crazy!”, but promised to be there, along with her pal, Dean Remington, also a former extra, who had also recently relocated there. (Each invitation was for one and a guest, so she called Dean to be her guest.) Breathless, we were the last people to board the plane. The door closed right after us. Our luggage didn’t make it.
Susan and Dean picked us up at the airport and we arrived at Universal Studio with little time to spare. The four of us had butterflies as we drove up to the lot, and were automatically waved on passed the first guard house. There were four of us, with only one invitation, which was good for two people. So it wasn’t likely that we were going to be successful. Jim and I had made a pact on the plane. If we got all the way to the door and they turned us down, we would not do any name-dropping, feeling it inappropriate. I had been reading my script on the flight, so in case I’d miss it, I could ask all sorts of questions afterward about editing, etc.
A second guard motioned us to a parking area. So far so good! We walked with baited breath toward a gathering of people. Now it became obvious why there was such a restrictive headcount. There was scaffolding all over. They were building new screening rooms and they weren’t yet finished! We were right behind Susan and Dean. I could begin to recognize faces. Someone was yelling for people to come in and take their seats, and many were going up the makeshift plywood ramp and entering the “magic door”. Maybe our gamble would pay off. We’d come so far already.....But then my heart sank. I spotted the lady with the clipboard. She smiled approvingly at Susan but stepped right in my path, stopping me. She asked my name. I told her, and knew it was all over. She acted out a pretense of checking for my name, saying she didn’t believe it was on her list. I hung my head. Well, we tried. No Jo Addie. I just looked at my shoes. We’d tried everything. The crowd was vanishing inside. She said, “Jack Wilson asked me if he could pass his invitation on to you, and I said no.” Yikes! I had no idea he’d asked specifically using my name--she wasn’t as surprised to see me as I was to actually be there! I didn’t say a word. I believe she was expecting some sort of song-and-dance, but when she didn’t get any, she softened somewhat and sighed, “Well, I don’t think I have any room for you, but you can stay here in case there’s a second showing.” A second showing? What a concept! She walked off, and there we stood, obediently.
Now there were only a few people remaining. One of them was Jane Seymour. She looked my way, and with a smile of recognition, she waved. I was so sure it wasn’t at me, I turned to look behind me. But no one was there. I couldn't believe she’d remember me after all this time. She walked right over and greeted me. She said, “I'm sorry, I know your face but can’t remember your name.” I told her, and after confirming her memory of our day flying, I introduced Jim. She said, “I recall you lived in Chicago right? Did you move out here?” I said, “No, we just got off a plane.” She said, “You flew out from Chicago--just to see the movie tonight?” I said, “Yes, but it doesn’t look like they have any room. We don’t have an invitation.”
And then she took my hand in hers and said determinedly, “YOU'LL see the film tonight. You'll see it WITH ME.” And as we stood there, dumbfounded, she turned and walked right up the ramp and disappeared through the door. I wasn't sure what she meant. It was now 8 o’clock. A few stragglers were still cramming into the doorway. Then I thought I saw a little hand, beckoning over their heads. I peered intently, and Jane jumped up to be seen, waving for us to approach. We ran up the ramp, through the door, where Jane whispered to me, “There are two seats right up in front.” I threw my arms around her, and said, “Jane, I love you!” We took the only two open seats, second row center, right behind Susan and Dean in the front row, the lights went out, and it started.
Again, I was barely in time...and Jane Seymour herself got us in to the screening. I still choke up remembering her incredible thoughtfulness.
How can I describe the awesome feeling of seeing the movie--the culmination of about seven week’s work--far more, including pre- and post-production, with the people who made it? I can’t. It was too wonderful for words. I wept profusely. Right from the beginning. With Elderly Elise’s words, “Come back to me” I was enraptured.
I made mental notes of familiar scenes, now cut and assembled with precision, the captivating story sweeping me along....the music, beautiful, beyond all expectations. I never thought of the lights, the scrims, the equipment, the crew standing near. It was real for me, and it grabbed my heart like no other movie has. There wasn’t a sound in the house until every credit rolled by. After the very last words crawled up the screen, there was an explosion of applause.
During filming in summer of 1979, the release of the film was always talked about as being in the spring of 1980...which would have been a great time for it. Springtime is for lovers, right? The film was finished, we saw it in April, but it didn’t come out to theaters until October 3rd. A rather dismal time of year, and not a particularly good time for any film. Why that was so, I have never received a good, definitive answer, though I’ve asked everyone who was involved.
From the screening in April, there was a long 5-month wait for the World Premiere on September 17-18 on Mackinac Island. Did you think I would miss THIS? You know me by now. We tingled with excitement to see The Movie in the Grand Hotel ‘theatre’. I recall the first moment the Grand appears in the first reel, lit up at night--there was a spontaneous “Oooohhh”, and applause from the entire audience! There were so many locals who had been in various scenes present, and they snickered as they recognized themselves and each other. It’s just too terrible the stars couldn’t be on hand for the festivities. Though they wanted to attend and promote the film to the press, the premiere and release happened to take place during the 5-week Actors’ Strike of that year; it was considered work to promote your film, and so they weren’t allowed to make personal appearances. There would’ve been more publicity, had they been there, which would surely have helped the film. And they couldn’t go on talk shows either, to show clips, which would have created positive buzz about Somewhere in Time...what a tragedy, what a blow to the film, and to all of us who loved it and believed in it.
I saw the film 16 times in the theatre during the short three weeks it ran locally. I know I was one of the fortunate ones to see Somewhere in Time on the big screen, since most fans found it on their TVs. Early on we asked the theatre manager if we could have the lobby cards when the film left, and he promised them to me. I kept bringing friends and relatives to see it, and at one point, the manager started to let us all in for free. Funny, looking back...for many years, Jim and I provided the big screen experience for fans at the annual SIT Weekend at Grand Hotel. We brought the 35mm projection equipment we bought and owned for that once-a-year purpose and a rented screen 450 miles from Chicago, so fans could see the film on a big screen, most for the first time! (Now the hotel has opted to show a projected DVD on their own system.)
The film came and went out of theaters without making a blip on the radar. The critics were cruel, mostly because they wanted to pull Chris off the pedestal they’d created for him-- and justifiably so -- for Superman. Not only was he superb as the man of steel, but he created such a likable Clark Kent. Probably anything he did after Superman was laying him open for their extra scrutiny and scorn--but especially considering it was SIT, something so divergent, so tender and moving. I remember Chris saying that it’s very easy to be an action hero. All you have to do is be strong and good at the physical stuff, but that playing a role of a man in love is very hard. A romantic story is tricky, because if you don’t play it right the audience won’t feel it, but it’s a trap to easily go too far and make it ‘sappy’ and then the audience gets turned off.
In the following years, while going on auditions and working on modeling or acting jobs, I was often asked how I got into the business, and I would say it was because of working on Somewhere in Time, and so many people would say, “Oh I love that movie.” The film got a second chance on the then-new media of cable TV and shortly after, home video, and little by little, people discovered it in the privacy of their own homes.
It’s important to say here that’s why Chris was so grateful for Somewhere in Time’s legacy, and he was aware INSITE played such a huge role in that altering of its reputation. It was not the “pundits” who admired it, but it was the audience who found it and championed it that gave it a ‘new life’. Chris told me himself, and his assistant told me several times after he was paralyzed that he ‘read every issue of INSITE cover to cover.’ When he came to the SIT Weekend in 1994, (seven months before his accident) he gave me a marvelous 17-minute private interview, for the two-hour documentary Jim and I produced of that extraordinary visit, “Christopher Reeve Returns to Mackinac”. It meant a great deal to him to join us and feel the love the fans have for it, and him.
When I found out about INSITE in 1990, and met Bill Shepard, I was totally amazed, and thrilled the movie was being ‘resurrected’. Through his efforts, we have all been able to have such incredible fun at the SIT Weekend events, honoring and celebrating this beautiful film and its message of true love, with the capacity to conquer even the obstacle of time itself. I admire what Bill did to bring the fans and the creators of Somewhere in Time together, through INSITE. I’ve been writing and providing photos since that first year. He’d been hinting around for me to take over INSITE for a few years, and I took on the printing duties and mailings in 1998 to lighten his load. When Bill’s wife suddenly died, he handed me the ‘reins’ at the end of that year, and in 1999, I took on the job of creating the magazine, and have been doing it ever since.
What have I been doing since working on SIT?
Well, I had no idea it would, but Somewhere in Time completely changed my life. There are so many aspects that continue to astound me.
I’ve had the great privilege of being friends with Chris and Jane, and remain in contact with the SIT creative team.
Based on my previous radio announcing and commercial voiceovers, the cast and crew of Somewhere in Time encouraged me to get professional photos, take acting classes and start doing on-camera work. I was a commercial actress in Chicago for 19 years, and also in Milwaukee...my I did a lot of product advertising modeling (playing ‘roles’ in ads such as ‘young mother, career woman and doctor/nurse’, etc.) and my real niche was as on-camera narrator for industrial/training films, plus an occasional commercial. I was an extra on several other projects, notably The Blues Brothers, and Continental Divide. Concentrating on my own ‘career’ as commercial actress I stopped doing ‘extra’ work, but nine years later, when Harrison Ford came to town to do The Fugitive, I signed on, because I’d always liked him. Got to meet and talk with him too.
When you spend 3 weeks on an island without cars, wear vintage clothing 15 hours a day, ride in carriages and wake up to the clip-clop of horses’ hooves each morning, it affects you. I felt like I’d lived for 3 weeks in 1912. I grew up in a modern home, but I found myself wandering into antique stores after the film to find a few “mementos” of my experience. I started several collections, most notably beaded purses, which are still my passion. My fascination for all things old grew, and within two years we bought an old house, built in 1908. We’ve lived here 34 years now, and filled it with antiques. I find the world of decorative objects from the past calming and wonderfully satisfying. I have been an antique dealer now for 28 years. We travel to do antique shows all over the country, Jim and I, and we count it a blessing that we are able to share these ‘adventures’ together.
Jim was downsized out of his last full-time job as Chief Engineer for Chicago’s oldies radio station owned by CBS, 12 years ago, and like many others in middle management, has had to re-invent himself several times, due to the changing times and technologies. From videography, to video surveillance system installations, to designing home theaters, he has always been on the cutting edge of technology. I couldn’t have taken on INSITE without him, because he undauntingly dove into desktop publishing and showed me the ropes of Quark layout/design. After 38 years of marriage, Jim continues to impress me, as he is always living by his motto, ‘How hard can it be?’ --he learns whatever is necessary to accomplish his various challenging objectives, a self-taught genius-type...I tease that he’s my McGyver! Me, I’m a technophobe (runs in my family!) I couldn’t have accomplished anything without his constant support and encouragement.
Looking back, I can attribute that 3-week experience on Somewhere in Time for giving me the opportunities of becoming a commercial actress, a published writer, video editor (Jim and I together created the SIT Event DVD series which chronicles the legacy of SIT), author of the SIT Website, creator/manufacturer of the SIT Collectibles line, (which is my mail order business), fan club president--which turned me into an editor/publisher, in addition to being a traveling purveyor of antiques. Recently I wrote a book, “400 Tips for Antique Dealers.”
But who could have imagined that Somewhere in Time would still be current and a constant in my life -- thirty five years later? Besides creating the INSITE magazine for 15 years, I’ve been helping with 24 annual Somewhere in Time Weekends. I’ve hosted my own all-day affairs to honor the film in Chicago (1997 and 2000) and Los Angeles in 1995 and 2000 (15th and 20th Anniversary Events).
Somewhere in Time led me into many new directions, and gave me several new “careers”. It broadened my personal horizons beyond anything I could have imagined for myself and my life. I’ve lived a far more interesting and challenging life because of it.
I am very motivated, therefore, to give back to the film, everything it gave to me.
I think my greatest accomplishments on behalf of the film, was first, to get Universal to create the Collectors Edition DVD (now Blu-ray) with its array of bonus material. They did all I asked and more, even including an unprecedented segment on our INSITE Fan Society, giving a nod to all that INSITE has accomplished in heralding the film. Bill and I are honored to appear on that segment. Then, they even did the ‘miracle’ of throwing an unprecedented Red Carpet Premiere for the DVD’s release! I assisted Universal to plan that fabulous event; it was the only SIT Event which BOTH Chris and Jane attended. (That marvelous night, is a bonus program on the “Jane Seymour Returns to Mackinac”, the sixth in our SIT Event DVD series). I also got the film restored in the Universal vault, through the creation of an “answer print” (costing them $30,000) and the studio even re-released the 3 new 35mm prints struck from it to 15 art house theaters coast to coast in 2000, another of my pipe-dream requests.
My ‘journey’ with SIT is almost too bizarre to be believed. I was there as eyewitness when it was being created, and I get to sit in the middle of the phenomenon as the film’s legacy continues, acting as ‘ambassador’ for the film to the world, as the movie’s website has a global function, joining fans together.
I can’t say that this journey has been “a dream come true”, because I never could have dreamed this could happen. Realizing that a chance experience lasting three glorious weeks in 1979, would ultimately allow me to develop various skills, that led to rewarding milestones, is very humbling. This journey has been a privilege, especially because my husband has been sharing it with me from the beginning, and our son is sharing it, too.
I hope my story inspires you to look at life’s opportunities with new eyes...
- Originally published in July, 1991 issue of INSITE, now with updated ending.