My Car The Movie Star
September 9th, 2009

t’s been said that fame is fleeting, yet whenever I drive down the street all heads turn in my direction. I was beginning to feel pretty full of myself, until the day I realized they’re not looking at me—they’re looking at my car.

One day a stranger flagged me down and asked if my car would like to be in a movie. A Disney movie, costarring Dennis Hopper.

Now it so happens that I have long been a big fan of Mr. Hopper; in fact, a large portion of my life was patterned after his performance as Billy in EASY RIDER. So naturally I jumped at the offer, and was instructed to report to a place in the mountains east of Salt Lake where the film costarring Dennis Hopper was being shot.

I arrived bright and early, hoping to have a word with Dennis Hopper before shooting got underway. Alas, he was nowhere to be seen. In fact, there were no stars to be seen. That’s because I was dealing with the Second Unit, also known as the stunt team. A more wretched hive of scum and villainy can scarcely be imagined.

“Take everything you can get your hands on,” advised Steve Chambers, a Second Unit veteran who had been assigned to drive my car in the scene. Drive it where? I wondered.

“Just down the road a ways,” he answered.

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Steve was already in costume, dressed as a hippie. Meantime, a team was busy “dressing” my beloved 1973 Volkswagen microbus. One was throwing mud on it; another was affixing a Wyoming license plate.

I wasn’t at all pleased with the mud bath, but what really chapped my hide was the Wyoming license plate.

“Are you people crazy?” I asked. “I’ve been to Wyoming, and I can assure you there’s not a single air-cooled VW microbus registered in the entire state. And what’s with the hippie? There are no hippies in Wyoming. The cowboys and oil workers killed ‘em all!”

“Would you please step back, sir?” A deadly serious, officious woman shooed me away. I watched from a distance, horrified, as two grips—or were they best boys?—opened the rear deck lid and installed a gas-powered generator. Presently the deadly serious, officious woman called for action, and when I say “presently” I mean approximately six hours later. See, time moves very slowly on a movie set. It moves so slowly that you have the impression it isn’t moving at all.

Unless you’re a principal player, you’re so far removed from the front lines that it’s hard to know how the war is progressing. All you can see are trailers and porta potties, portable generators, equipment trucks and catering vans. I asked around, and learned that even the folks who work on films haven’t a clue as to how things are going.

“I worked on HOOSIERS,” one of them told me. “I thought it was going to be the biggest turkey of all time.”

HOOSIERS? Holy Cow, that’s one of my all-time favorite films. It also costarred Dennis Hopper. Where, oh where, IS that guy?

Come nightfall I finally got my car back.

“Don’t wash it, don’t touch a thing,” advised the young woman in charge of continuity. “We’ve taken Polaroids. Be back here first thing in the morning.”

First thing in the morning I returned. There was my new friend Steve Chambers, still dressed as a hippie but different somehow. Now he looked like Greg Brady on his way to a costume party.

“They decided the old look was too radical,” Steve explained. “I’ve been Disneyfied. By the way, take everything you can get your hands on.”

I stuffed myself at the buffet table, which was continually being restocked. You may die of boredom on a movie set, but you certainly won’t die of hunger, nor will you ever run short of bottled water. The hours dragged on until finally the sun set and another workday ended, only to be repeated the following day. Same thing, over and over. I came to the conclusion that my car had become a leading player.

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At the conclusion of the third day—or was it the fourth—I noticed a small ding had appeared on the rear hatch door of my beloved Volkswagen. I was furious. I asked Steve what had happened.

“Second Unit, man,” he explained. “These guys crash cars for a living. Did you see THE BLUES BROTHERS? If I were you, I wouldn’t show up tomorrow. Go on strike. And take everything you can get your hands on.”

So I decided to become temperamental, threw a tantrum and stormed off the set. That night I received a call from the talent scout who had recruited me. He apologized for the ding and assured me that Disney would cover all damages, and that from now on my car would be treated differently. However, I MUST return because by now my car had become “established.”

“Take everything you can get your hands on,” he added.

Things were indeed different the next day. I was ushered to the VIP parking lot, where a slot had been reserved for my bus and a guard assigned to keep watch over it. A nice man handed me a check for a thousand dollars and invited me to join him for breakfast at the VIP commissary, where a very pretty young woman smiled at me. I was now attached to the First Unit, and I was loving it!

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Some weeks later I attended the premier of the Disney film in which I assumed my car had played a starring role. MEET THE DEEDLES opened at the Villa Theater, one of the nation’s most magnificent movie houses. Once inside, I was disappointed to find that most of the theater’s 1, 300 seats were vacant. Among those present I recognized faces I had seen on the set—fellow owners of so-called stunt cars. Even though our numbers were few, an aura of excitement hung in the air.

Then the lights went down and the film began. Right away we were into an action sequence in which two stunt men on skateboards are racing down a twisting mountain road at breakneck speed. In the distance we see the rear end of my VW bus, which the skateboarders are fast approaching. I braced myself in anticipation of the part where the skateboarders catch up to my bus and run alongside. Truck shot segues to POV footage shot from inside the bus. Close-up of Steve Chambers at the wheel as he looks out the window and is shocked by what he sees. The camera lingers lovingly upon the interior of my VW bus.

But no! After the first brief glimpse, my bus is never seen again. The skateboarders just continue down the road as if it isn’t there, which in fact it isn’t. It just…disappears!

Somehow I managed to sit through the rest of the movie, hoping against hope that my Volkswagen would reappear. But no, all that followed was a hodgepodge of inane surfer babble, potty jokes, silly sight gags and the lamest performance ever by Dennis Hopper as Frank Slater, disaffected Yellowstone park ranger who trains an army of prairie dogs to chase away tourists so that he can drain Old Faithful dry and create his own geyser.

Needless to say, the film didn’t do well at the box office, and in fact not long after it was released, the once magnificent Villa Theater went belly up and was sold. Today it’s known as Adib’s Oriental Rug Gallery.

 

-Richard Menzies