Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Freddy the Freeloader's Christmas Dinner

The first time I really felt like an ACTOR, was on the set of a TV Christmas special called: Freddy the Freeloader's Christmas Dinner. I played a waiter in a snooty restaurant that gives Freddy the "bum's rush" out the door.

We shot this at the Distillery District, in 1981 before it became the DISTILLERY DISTRICT. A great many films have been shot there, at the abandoned Gooderham's plant, and I've worked on a few, but this was my first.

Cobblestone streets, abandoned buildings were only a part of the scene; the art department had done a terrific job, making all of this look like the Depression era Bowery District of New York: the signage on the buildings, desperate looking men huddled around open fires in oil drums, so that when I first arrived and walked through the gates, it felt as though
I'd stepped through a time portal into old Hollywood, onto the back lot at Paramount.

It was the beginning of Fall, 1981, and the scene was dressed for Christmas and it was pure movie magic. During breaks in the shooting, we sat around the fire and listened in awe to Red Skelton's memories of the real depression. Listening quietly and only occasional chiming in was his friend and co-star, the erudite Vincent Price.

Once Red began telling tales, that was it. The spotlight was his, effortlessly. He was around sixty-eight at the time, and full of energy, but his handler always tried to get him to stop so that he could rest. Even when out shopping at the Eaton Centre he was beset by so many fans and well wishers and he would graciously stop and talk with everyone. Red's assistant had to keep nudging him along or he'd never be able to get anything done.

One of the things he told us around that glorious fall fire was that one of his other famous characters, Klem Kadiddlehopper, was actually a legacy from his father, who'd been a circus clown. Red's dad had died just before Red was born and Klem was his inheritance.

It was a lovely Christmas Dinner.

And in the words the Red used to close every show:

Goodnite and may God Bless.

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