Johnny Kovak joins the Teamsters trade-union in a local chapter in the 1930s and works his way up in the organization. As he climbs higher and higher his methods become more ruthless and ... See full summary »
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Lena is a young art student new to London. Calling it her art project, she obsessively follows and takes pictures of an unwitting Sol. He is a scruffy, charismatic 20 year old, by all ... See full summary »
Johnny Kovak joins the Teamsters trade-union in a local chapter in the 1930s and works his way up in the organization. As he climbs higher and higher his methods become more ruthless and finally senator Madison starts a campaign to find the truth about the alleged connections with the Mob. Written by
At the Wardrobe Department in Dubuque on my first morning as an extra in "F.I.S.T.," I tried on my movie outfit--baggy orange woolen jacket, brown woolen pants, blue-gray cotton shirt, stringy silk tie, dark laborer's shoes, and traditional brownish wool workman's cap. The stuff was vintage all right, probably worn by hosts of actors and extras over the decades, although I got a better sense of how old the shirt was from a label I found sewn in the collar embroidered with the name "Robert Alda," the B-actor of the '40s and '50s whom I remembered to be the father of Alan Alda.
For the next month I spent lots of time pacing around inside an old empty warehouse fitted up with long tables to serve as a green room for the extras and a cafeteria for cast and crew. The caterer did a good job; our daily meal was good, honest Iowa fare--except that Norman Jewison and company never seemed to be without a bottle or two of white wine on their table, a luxury denied the rest of us. Many days, also, we were graced with the company of someone from the supporting cast or of Stallone himself, who would sometimes deign to chat with us between scenes, allowing us to call him "Sly."
Later in the filming, we were stationed outside a brewery on the Mississippi shore and, while we lay strewn on the sandy grass watching the river traffic, telling stories, and playing cards to bide the time, we were treated to several kegs of the cold, foamy beverage produced within. Our morale did not suffer from this, nor did our delusions of grandeur. Besides these fringe benefits, we were paid the princely sum of $35 per twelve-hour shift.
All of these pleasures and glories notwithstanding, after we had spent several days in our increasingly smelly movie clothes (which were never changed or washed, perhaps by design), something of the essence of actual unemployed workingmen began to rub off on us. In my more reflective moods, I couldn't see that we were much different from opportunistic beggars or prisoners, greedily filling up on the caterer's grub and the brewery's beer, then shamelessly elbowing past our chums when the call came to appear on the set.
I was embarrassed by all the brown-nosing done by my scruffy fellow-extras. They gave a lot of attention to anyone in the crew with a little clout and disdained the ones without it ("Aw, he's nothin'!"). I also got disgusted with those who, when there was at last some filming to do in the street, would stealthily edge to the front of the rabble and position themselves heroically before the camera. To my surprise and disappointment, no one seemed to care which homely faces were eternally emblazoned on celluloid next to the great Stallone's, and inevitably these were some of more pathetic specimens among us. All of us shared the same inflated delusion--that in Dubuque, Iowa, among the extras that summer, the next Gable or James Dean would be discovered. Any of us would have sold his grandmother for that.
In any case, mine did not turn out to be one of the more memorable presences in the movie. What's more, in the few scenes where I do appear, one has to look really hard to find me. For instance, my minuscule kisser can be seen way back in the union hall as Stallone ("Johnny Kovac" in the film) pushes in a wheelchair containing a middle-aged man who has been injured on the job. I am also fleetingly visible (I think) in a later union hall scene. But my main claim to celebrity derives from a scene in which Stallone and his pal Abe (David Huffman) are haranguing a sparse group of drivers from the flat-bed of a truck. I can clearly be seen (for about a second) as one of the men standing at their feet. In the same scene, I also appeared in a closer shot (though from the back), but it was lost when the margins of the frame were cropped for video.
This is also true of a later scene in which we drivers wreak revenge for the bust-up of the strike and the death of one of our leaders. What takes place is quite a violent street battle culminating in the pulling down of a large arched sign reading "Consolidated" (for "Consolidated Trucking Company") above the gated entrance to the truck yard. But this is preceded by a line of us egging on the goons by pounding baseball bats against the street. I too had a baseball bat, and I was in that line, a good section of which received a panning close-up of about five seconds. Again, in the theatrical release I was clearly seen for an instant, my stubbled, freckly face occupying most of the Cinemascope screen (think of it!). In the video, however, the panning stops just before it gets to me. Confound the luck!
When the filming was over, I regrew my hair and whiskers, took up where I'd left off, and went back to my several other part-time gigs. In many ways I was richer for the experience of F.I.S.T. It had been the most fun I'd ever had on a summer job, and I was delighted to attend the premier of the movie in Dubuque the following year.
In the end, I find it a little paradoxical that we, who were supposed to have laid aside our masks when the day's filming was done, were so profoundly similar to the indigent hoard we were hired to represent. We may have been only workers in meat plants, on assembly lines, in construction--no more than farmers, clerks, salesmen, students, teachers, freaks, transients, or even actual truckdrivers. But, laboring briefly inside the Dream Factory, we all concocted illusions so believable that they were impossible to take off with our funky clothes.
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