AN ACTOR'S LIFE FOR ME?
Film debut in Disney’s “Iron
Will” was beginning and end
By Jim Heffernan
might as well get on the “Iron Will” bandwagon. I too was an asterisk (opposite
of star) in the 1993 Disney movie filmed in and around Duluth, recalled here
recently with much fanfare on its 20th anniversary.
all started for me in early childhood when I was taken to another Disney movie,
the animated “Pinocchio,” and heard Jiminy Cricket (I had a special affinity
for Jiminy Cricket because of the similarity of our first names) sing, “Hi
Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor’s Life for Me)”.
did it for me, an actor I would be. But I kept it a secret. None of my friends
wanted to be actors; they wanted to be baseball players. I kept my secret for
more than 50 years, but when Disney and company came to town to film “Iron
Will” I could hide my desire no longer.
was a newspaper columnist then, and pandered in print until the local casting
woman called me an offered me a non-speaking extra role of a “reporter.” That
fit. I had been a reporter in real life; still was some of the time.
humbly accepted her offer and reported for duty on a cold winter morning way
before my usual wake-up time. We were bused to a costume warehouse and
outfitted in 1920s outfits. Mine was a Donegal tweed overcoat and snap-brim
cap. Then they bused us to that day’s film location, Second Street downtown in
front of Historic Old Central High School, which doubled for the Winnipeg City
Hall of the 1920s.
reporters – there were a whole bunch of us, not all of whom were the genuine
article like me – were given 1920s-style notebooks and placed in the bleachers
– a.k.a. reviewing stands – behind what would be the start of the Winnipeg to
St. Paul dogsled race portrayed in the film. Then we were sent across the
street to the Masonic Lodge basement to be fed and primped. A makeup woman
spread Alberto VO hair grease into my thinning hair and combed it into a
pompadour to wear under my snap-brim cap, a hairdo that went against every
ongoing attempt to cover encroaching baldness.
what, I’m in a movie. Hi, diddle-dee-dee.
we were herded to the “set,” facing a usually busy thoroughfare covered that
day with trucked-in snow. Several mushers and their teams were lined up in
front of us as the cameras were set up at various angles to capture the opening
gun of the big race. Dogs barked incessantly. Two horsemen in Royal Canadian
Mounted Police uniforms were posted astride their mounts near the old school.
process seemed to take forever and my feet were getting cold, although that
tweed overcoat stood me in good stead. Finally the dog teams took off for St.
Paul (really, the end of the block at First Avenue East) and we were almost
brief scene involving three or four race officials had to be filmed with the
reviewing stand in the background and a several of us reporters were directed
to stand behind them pretending to take notes. The noted actor Kevin Spacey was
central to this scene. I was with half a dozen reporters grouped around him as
the cameras rolled.
that, Jiminy Cricket. Wait until they see that in Hollywood.
ended the day’s shooting. We turned in our costumes (the snap-brim cap was my
own) and got on with our lives. Then, months later came the premiere, up in
Hermantown at the now defunct Cinema I, II, III, IV, V and so on and so forth.
I couldn’t wait to see myself on the big screen.
yes, I saw myself on the big screen. In the long shot of the race’s start, dog
teams bounding toward the whirring cameras, you can see me in the bleachers if
you are me looking for me. My big scene with Kevin Spacey is in the movie, but
without me. I was standing a foot or two out of the shot.
ended my career in motion pictures. It was memorable, though, as anyone who has
read this can see. I recall it vividly after 20 years.
all the professional actors in the movie, only Spacey achieved notable stardom.
I’m sure he regrets that I didn’t quite make it into the scene with the
reporters. I know I do.
months later, I got a check from Disney, payment for my services. After cashing
it, I saved the stub as proof that I once was in a movie. I’ve still got it
here somewhere, I think.
here’s the bottom line: Hi diddle-de-dum, no actor’s life for this bum.
Read more about the local 20 year Iron Will Reunion in the June 3rd Duluth News Tribune HERE.