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Hey Mom!!!

I'm in the Movies!!!

By John Milliman

    Well... at least my truck is...

    Or is gonna be. 

    Maybe...

    An e-mail out of the blue launched our movie career, Ole Charley's and mine. It was a few months ago. Seemed simple enough as Jac was just contacting us here at the Stovebolt Page looking for "Picture Cars" -- vintage vehicles for movie, TV and commercial productions. A made-for-TV movie here, TV commercial there. She contacted us on and off and we tried to hook her up with appropriate Stovebolters in the area.

    In July, she sent another of her emails, this time looking for pre-'54 vehicles in the Washington, DC area for a movie shoot.

    Well golly, it just so happened WE (Peggy and I) had a pre-'54 vehicle in the Washington, DC area! Maybe this time we could join in the fun and see what all this movie-makin' glamor was all about. I didn't ask what the movie was. I didn't think it mattered. Just another bit of Hollywood fluff or nonsense and nothing to get too worked up about. Just bring the old truck, hang around, be in a movie. Big deal. So we sent her the pictures, exchanged a few more emails and thought, well, that if they wanted us, they'd let us know.

    She let us know.

    Peggy normally isn't the excitable type, but she forwarded to me (I was at work. Not being a famous movie star -- yet -- I, like so many others, actually have to work for a living at a real J.O.B.) the email. It was to the point:

    "I showed your pictures to the director," Jac said. For a seasoned movie vet, I was surprised to detect some excitement in her voice. "And Clint loves your truck!"

    Woo Hoo!!! Whoever the heck Clint was, he loved my truck!!! I don't mind admitting a certain, um, naiveté regarding Hollywood. It never even dawned on me that she might actually be expecting me to know who she was talking about. Like I know all Hollywood luminaries (and sub-luminaries) by their first names. There's even a lot of the "famous" ones I don't know (More on that later).

    "That's great!" I fired back. "Who's Clint?"

    Even through the email, I could just see her forehead wrinkling up and a puzzled look clouding her face. Oh boy, she must be thinking, I've got a hot one here! Still, I thought it was a legit question to ask. Clint, Clint, Clint.... Somebody from Hollywood named Clint... Nope, still nothing! Maybe if I tried a little harder... CcccccclllllllllllllliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnTTTTT.............................

    "Eastwood, you big dope!" She shot back (She didn't actually say the "you big dope" part, but I could hear it inferred. And she was right. I am a big dope.

    Man! A Clint Eastwood movie! Peggy was beside herself. I have to admit a little building excitement myself, being somewhat of a fan. Okay, a big fan. Wow, my truck in a Clint Eastwood movie...My imagination, as is its custom from time to time, ran amok. And amid all that paparazzi snapping flashes in our faces as Ole Charley pulls up to the red carpet in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood for the big premier of the latest Clint Eastwood movie ...

    That's when it hit me. That's when I thought about what makes a Clint Eastwood movie a Clint Eastwood movie...   I began to worry for my truck... Would he call it a punk and shoot .44 magnum holes in it? Launch it into space??? Run it off a sap-covered bridge in Madison County???? Yikes!

1stLt. John Milliman, USMC stands at the 5th Marines Memorial, located at the flag raising spot atop
Iwo Jima's Mt. Suribachi.
Photo taken March, 1991.
Invasion Beach is below my left elbow.

    "What's the movie about?" I asked warily.

 "It's a movie adaptation of a book called Flags of Our Fathers about the Iwo Jima flag raisers in World War Two," Jac replied.

    My jaw hit the floor! As a Marine and a history student, not only was I somewhat knowledgeable about the battle of Iwo Jima (And having been to Iwo Jima twice during my Marine Corps career, the second time as the Battle Study Leader), but I devoured the book! And here I was being asked to participate (albeit in a small way) in the movie production??? WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    "Inconceivable!" as Vazinni might say.

    You couldn't think it could get any better than that. That's when it got even better. I couldn't help but brag about the whole thing to one of my buddies at work, Maj. "T-Bone" Brooks, himself a Clint Eastwood fan (as are most Marines, I think. All will be after this movie, I bet).

    T-Bone gave me one of those "How could you have lived so long being that dumb" looks.

    "Of course he loves your truck," T-Bone patiently explained. "He's a Stovebolter too! Remember the '60-'66 Chevy he drives in the "Every Which Way But Loose" movies? That's his truck! He loves old pickups." He shook his head and marched off, muttering something about the idiot who let me loose on the Internet. I was still standing there, jaw on the deck, in my usual look that registered somewhere between "Houseplant" and "Vacuous."  Doris, one of our secretaries, wasn't sure whether to water me or just escort me back to my desk.

    Wow, so Clint Eastwood was a Stovebolter on top of being Dirty Harry, the man with no name, one of the Space Cowboys and all the other stuff. And here he was, looking at pictures of my truck and, according to Jac, loving it to the point of wanting it in a movie about the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi! I briefly wondered about getting an agent...

    "Just have your truck at the Iwo Jima Monument and ready to go by 6 am, August 8th," Jac instructed. Okay, so maybe I should get an agent for my truck...

    Just about then, the hard reality of that cruel mistress of accomplishment, Logistics, raised her not-as-beautiful-as-tactics head. Down town Arlington/Roslyn VA at 6 AM on a weekday... meant negotiating the Capitol Beltway with a vehicle that did 48 MPH tops...during morning rush hour ...

    Being in a movie might be fun -- if we survived long enough to get there.   

"Ole Charley" loaded up, chained down and ready to go be a movie star! Who says a stock AD 1-ton can't do 70 MPH??

    Driving the Beltway around DC during rush hour is suicidal enough in a late model vehicle, let along in a speed-limited vintage truck, so we quickly decided trailering the truck was the way to go. The Beltway wouldn't be so bad. But heading in town with a dually and gooseneck flatbed trailer was still a hairy proposition! So we broke out the Mickey Mouse Watch (standard Marine Corps issue) to do the math....If Mickey's little hand is on the "six" and it takes a half hour to park/unload/figure out where we need to be, etc, and we need two hours to get there, plus another hour to account for traffic delays...

    We spit shined Ole Charley Sunday afternoon and loaded the truck on the evening of the 7th, set the alarm for 2:30 AM. To me, it seemed like the alarm went off about 20 minutes later. Peggy hadn't slept a bit. We crawled out to the truck, warmed up the Cummins (It woke up better than we did!) and hit the road right at 3 AM. It felt good to be headed to a Marine Corps-related activity because getting out of the rack at oh-dark-thirty was like PFT day, or going to the range. Only this wasn't PFT day! Oooh RAH!

    And as luck would have it, we hit the Beltway and I-395 like I'd NEVER seen them in the 20 years I've been driving in the DC area -- hardly any traffic!!!   We hit the 110 exit right at the Pentagon and made the turn at the Iwo Jima monument with no traffic.  

    So there we were, at the 6 AM rendezvous point at 4:30 AM. We tried laying the seat back and taking a nap, but it was futile -- the excitement and anticipation over the day ahead was too much for either of us so we gave up and just chit chatted. The ole Marine Corps credo of "Early is good, earlier is better" had kicked in once again. Once a Marine, always a Marine...

    One of my favorite things to do in DC is to take in the monuments at night. For some reason, they seem more powerful to me all lit up in the dark. So, passing a sign that said "Marine Corps Memorial Park Closed Dusk to 6 AM," I walked over to a Park Police cruiser idling nearby to ask the policeman if a Marine could go see his monument in the dark. I gently rapped on the window next to his head, not wanting to startle a man with a gun. I rapped again.

    After the third time, I decided to let sleeping cops lie and I made my way down the short bank to the monument.

    The Iwo Jima statue that took sculptor Felix deWeldon and literally hundreds of artisans eight years to sculpt and erect is awe inspiring even during the day, with the Capital skyline in the background. In the dark, with the flag spotlighted and with the hundreds of thousands of America's heroes resting a few hundred feet away in Arlington National Cemetery, it never ceases to overwhelm me. I had been there and seen, from the Japanese view point, the Hell of steel and bombs those Marines walked into on the black beaches of Iwo. The history and tremendous valor and sacrifice that I will never truly appreciate washed over me in a swell and I drew myself up into my best position of attention, and there in the dark, fixated on those six men and our flag, raised my right hand and snapped the best Marine Corps salute of my life. I held it awhile, as it seemed the least I could do for those who had given so much for me. Marines do not usually salute when in civilian clothes, but it was one of those moments where it was just me, the dark and that bloody big monument. (It was a huge and defining moment and anything less than a huge and imposing monument would be less than adequate). After awhile, I exhaled and dropped the salute.

Hurry up and wait! Peggy and Ole Charley watch the movie folks set up for the shoot. Ole Charley is in the first of five different spots he would be in during the day. The monument and the inflatable rent-a-crowd are at the center of the picture.

    Returning my awareness to my surroundings, I gradually became aware that I was in the middle of a crowd seated there in the dark. They were a pretty quiet bunch and I felt a little sheepish having just strode into their midst for my own private time. I stole a closer glance at the folks seated nearest to me and found out why -- they were inflatable dummies! A fake crowd, seated in front of the Iwo Jima memorial!!! Of course!! Inflatable dummies probably work a lot cheaper than live extras and they don't complain about the heat. What a cool idea! A rent-a-crowd!!!

    As the movie folks were starting to set up the fake crowd and other hardware associated with the shoot, I decided to get back to work myself. With Peggy guiding me, I backed Ole Charley off the trailer. Soon enough, Jac showed up, showed me where to park the Dodgebolt and we were off to the races!

    Not really. More like the Marine Corps pastime of "Hurry up and wait!" while she got all of us picture car folks situated. Indeed, it was fun meeting the other guys and seeing their beautiful vehicles. They were all picture car vets, too.

    Les brought a '52 Buick, Lee came in his '50 Olds and Charlie showed up last with the '50's-era GMC transit bus (it was used in several other shoots including Hairspray).   Having heard the legends of how well movie people eat on set, being armed with an official crew badge and being a good Marine, my new friend Les and I set out to find the caterer truck! On the way, Les regaled me with tales from earlier movie work he'd done with Jac and confirmed my dreams about the caterer. I truly was not disappointed. Far from having a cold MRE flung at me, I was treated to a made-to-order waffle, fresh fruit, oatmeal, yogurt and a danish. Life was good!! I could learn to like the movie biz!

    I even remembered to grab some for Peggy and soon, we were frantically busy standing around and waiting for orders. And waiting... And waiting. Meanwhile, bus load after bus load of Eisenhower-era dressed extras kept arriving and fill in the seats in front of the inflatable people. Boy, did they look great, too. I felt really out of place in my t-shirt and shorts. The sun came up and treated us to a typical mid-summer morning in the Nation's capital -- hot and muggy! We felt bad for the extras -- they were dressed for November weather and '50's fashion meant wool. And they all had over coats!

In position! Charlie's bus and Lee's Olds stand by for cameras rolling. Ole Charley can just be seen by the bus' left turn signal.

..     And that's how it went for the rest of the day. Position the vehicles, hide behind the bus. Cameras stop, move the vehicles, hide behind the bus. Peggy couldn't see around the bus, so she wandered over to a vantage point near the monument but out of camera view and watched Clint do his thing.

    One thing we learned was that Clint runs a low-key set -- no shouting of orders, no "Rolling!" or "Action!" We just had to pay attention and dive for cover when the cameras were rolling. Jac told us to just consider the cameras to be rolling all the time and stay out of view. So it ended up like a cruise-in -- we all broke out our folding chairs, sat next to the bus and swapped lies all day.

    Finally, about 1:30 pm, the word was passed that we were "wrapped." Which was good, because it was starting to rain, too. Nothing like trying to drive an old truck up onto a rain-soaked trailer. Took two tries, but Ole Charley did it and soon we were on our way home.

    What a day! It was fun and very interesting. Understanding the pressures of movie making, we weren’t surprised nor terribly disappointed that Ole Charley didn’t get his picture taken with Mr. Eastwood, though. He looked like a busy man with a lot to do.

    For those who are interested, more info about the movie can be found on the Flags of Our Fathers Web Site. The movie stars Ryan Phillippe (whoever he is) and some other people I wouldn't know if they walked up to me and popped me in the snot locker.

    There's even a local news story video!


v Sept 2005

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