Friday, June 5, 2015

Which one is me ?

All professions have written Rules of Conduct, ethical standards and certain unwritten Golden Rules.

The world of Thespians is no different and performers also have their strange list of “do’s & don’ts”. 

Maybe they are not adhered to with such fanaticism as the Hippocratic Oath of Harley street doctors but by and large they are observed. Many of my profession’s rules are founded on superstitions like, never whistle in your dressing room and never mention the Thane of Cawdor by the author’s given name of Macbeth.

The unwritten rule of not putting your daughter on the stage has been broken so many times by no other than Sir John Mills and Sir Micheal Redgrave, that the general public must think actors have no time at all for Noel Coward’s twee advice. They must suspect that my fellow knighted Thespians break rules with a regularity similar to the way that general practitioner Dr. Harold Shipman broke his Hippocratic oath during his fifteen-year serial killing spree.

Not so!

The majority of jobbing actors do follow a very strict Code of Conduct and behave in a discreet and respectable manner. It is more often than not that producers, with their uncreative heads wrapped around their balance sheets that bend the rules to suit their pockets.

But more of that another time.

A Never-do rule I personally have adhered to is to stoop below my station and accept work as an extra. No matter how empty my “Toddie” has been, even if I’ve had to resort to filling it with cooking sherry or Chateau cardboard dry red wine, I have never taken work as an extra or a walk-on.

Unfortunately a dear old friend of mine did.

Mr. Leonard Smirkovski, known as Smirnoff to his friends, found himself in the unenviable position of being very low on the readies. For over a six-month period prior to a trip to the United States, he never managed to stretch his social security Giro cheque sufficiently so that he could cover the cost of his addiction. As many quadruple vodka, lime and soda waters as he could drink before he reached the all-fall-down stage.

Lenny Smirkovski was born and bred in the East End of London and had he been born thirty years later he would have been rewarded with a leading role in the English TV soapie Eastenders. He had an impish sense of humour and was a superb con artist. At the tender age of eighteen he convinced the principal of his drama school to loan him two hundred pounds. In the late fifties this was a considerable sum of money and Lenny had carefully planned his ploy. He had lost one of his front teeth in a bar room brawl and wore a National Health plate.

“I need a root canal treatment and a bridge,” he announced to the principal. On bended knees he pleaded his case. No father, a sick mother, a younger brother and sister living in a squalid terraced house in East Ham. Finally the principal and unsuspecting bursar agreed to the loan. At graduation two years later, Mr. Smirkovski was still soaking his plate in a jam jar overnight, his front tooth was still missing and the loan remained unpaid.

By the end of the seventies Leonard was still living in the States. He was working as barman in a low life establishment in down town Chicago when he spotted a short newspaper article related to the filming of Star Wars. Absconding overnight with the bar-takings in his back pocket he boarded a flight to London and twenty four hours later was camped with several hundred hopefuls outside the gates of Pinewood studios.

He stayed with me in my Kings Cross basement flat during his stint as an extra in George Lucas’s epic. He spent five weeks clad in a storm-trooper’s plastic outfit. One evening he returned home in high spirits beaming from ear to ear.

“What’s the joke? I enquired.

“I did a great scene today.” He said, “I stood guard outside Princess Lea’s cell and did this.”

He demonstrated his action. Standing to attention, as a menacing storm-trooper should, he waved his arms up and down. “Were you on your own? Just you outside the cell?” I asked.

“No.” He replied seriously, “There were one hundred of us.”

“Then why the arm waving? I asked. “So when I see the movie I’ll know which one is me.”

Mr. Leonard Smirkovski was a true professional. He stuck to another Golden Rule of coarse acting. Never lose your character’s individuality!

His final role was in the hit English TV series “Silent Witness” which deals with case histories of a pathologist played by Amanda Burton.

He played a corpse.

May he rest in peace.

1 comment:

Maggie Storey said...

Love this chapter.An inside account of the "hard times"