Mr. Chatterbox

By staff February 1, 2003

As many of my regular readers probably suspect, being Mr. Chatterbox is just a "day job" for me. I have a whole other career. And, no, it's not delivering the Herald-Tribune from 2 to 6 a.m.; that was a temporary situation and has been over for six months now. I am referring to my position as a film actor of some note. I have even, as they say in the business, "worked with Scorsese." How many times has someone told me that they were watching "Marty's" (as I call him) immortal classic After Hours (1985) when I suddenly appear on the screen, full of lust and looking for sex. People have recounted how they started screaming in horror and disbelief.

My career began back in 1972 with a film called Confusion's Circle in which I played the villain, an evil hippie biker. (Yes, it was rather a stretch.) Confusion's Circle is not just memorable for me, however. The hero, a tough yet sensitive poet who was vying with me for leadership of the gang, was played by the very young Richard Gere. It was his first film role. Richard was very "wet behind the ears" back in those days, so I took him under my wing and taught him the ins and outs of film acting, something he's been eternally grateful for.

But looking back on the arc on my career, it seems I peaked with After Hours. The subsequent films in which I appear do not, I fear, really do me justice. True, I had a delicious little scene in White Palace-just me, James Spader, Kathy "Misery" Bates, and Gina "Showgirls" Gershon. Unfortunately, Mr. Spader, the star of the film, was threatened by me for some unknown reason and kept standing right in front of me, even though the director kept telling him to move. I guess Spader was afraid to work with a real star.

Even more unfortunate, when advanced screenings of the film were shown to selected audiences, people started walking out during my particular scene and the producers felt it prudent to eliminate it entirely, citing economics and the fact that they wanted an audience. Oh, well, I'm no stranger to the "cutting room floor." The same thing happened again on Drive Me Crazy with Melissa Joan Hart-a real shame as I felt my work as the high school prom photographer was among my best ever.

Well, good news. After all this time, I've finally got a part I can sink my teeth into. Yes, I have just finished playing a one-legged pedophile in The Soda Jerk, directed by Zak Davis. Many of you know Zak; he is the baby-faced video clerk who works at Video Renaissance. The reason he looks so young is that he is 21. And this is his fourth film. Kids today!

The Soda Jerk started out as a 28-minute short. But the actors spoke so slowly that Zak tells me it is now a complete feature, 74 minutes in length. It tells the story of a 17-year-old boy named Ricky who is working in a doughnut shop and trying to find himself. It seems everybody is after him (well, two girls and me, anyway) and his parents are "on his case." This is familiar territory, to be sure, but Zak, collaborating with his girlfriend, Regina Golfo- she recently graduated from New College with a degree in Gender Studies-has made it seem fresh and new, at least the scenes I'm in.

The Soda Jerk has quite a cast. The jerk himself is played by Johnny Van Wart, who really is 17. He's the son of Jan Van Wart, who's been working in theater in Sarasota for 20 years or so. Despite his age, Johnny is quite wise in the ways of the world, not to mention the ways of stealing a scene. I must say, it was quite a challenge keeping up with his energy and flair for improvisation. Zak and Regina finally had to bring in a cot, so I could rest between takes.

One of the two girls who are pursuing Johnny is played by Ringling senior Sarah Ehle, who sounds exactly like Georgia Engel (Georgette on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, the woman who marries Ted Baxter). Sarah is cast against type as the sexually rapacious Megan. She says things like "Let's go down to the bay and watch the manatees do it." She also has a scene as a dominatrix. We shot this at Pleasures, the adult bookstore and lingerie-modeling place on the North Trail. The owner agreed to let us shoot there as long as he did not have to close, so during the time we were working, all sorts of men wandered in, including several I recognized from local government meetings and the Mayor's Interfaith Prayer Breakfast.

The other female lead is Debbie Groben, a habitue of Video Renaissance and a woman of considerable style. She wears high-top sneakers, has Joan Crawford eyebrows and is never without at least 50 to 75 bracelets. It's a wonder she can lift her arms. And rounding out the leading roles is the aptly named Frank Strange. Frank is a film-maker himself. He is but 24, yet, like Zak, has quite a resume under his belt. His film Li'l Rascal, about a redneck who prefers to live as an adult baby, wearing diapers and sucking a pacifier, is certainly an eye-opener.

We just finished principal photography on The Soda Jerk, which means I can finally get a haircut and trim my beard. Zak and Regina hope to have it ready for a screening at Burns Court sometime this month; and I'll keep you all appraised of future showings, as it promises to be something that has to be seen to be believed. I can honestly say that not since Scorsese have I worked with a director (or pair of directors) so talented. And as if their film business isn't enough, Zak and Regina also publish a magazine. It's called Muffy and is extremely hip. It's hard to find in Sarasota but Tower Records in New York and California always has copies for sale.

And as for Richard Gere, the strangest thing happened. I was recently cast in Autumn in New York and had a scene with him. He was very surprised to see me after all these years, as he was under the impression that I had left the business and become a ballet dancer. I assured him this was not the case and soon we were acting together again. It was like 30 years just vanished and there we were, a couple of kids making a movie. Unfortunately, he was so rattled by working with his mentor that his performance wasn't up to its usual standard and the whole scene had to be cut. But I still get a credit (36th billing, as the Grubby Little Man) and even more important, residuals.

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