Living in Chicago frequently presents the opportunity to rub shoulders with the famous. Who in their right mind wouldn't like to be seen hob-knobbing with Studs Terkel or Irv Kupcinet; maybe sharing a latte or a beer? I should be so lucky. Occasionally a real-life Hollywood-type will grace our fine city. He/she will do all the press junkets and blather on about how "Chicago is my favorite city to film in..." (Hmm, last week it was Akron) and "Chicago has always been good to me..." (as most star-struck rubberneckers would be). Then they'll be seen at the Pump room or sweating it up at Excalibur, Kingston Mines or in a VIP section of some beautiful person roosting area.
Or they will hang out with me. See, I've had my fair share of brushes with famous people.
Back in 1996 I worked as an armed security officer for movie sets. Chicago at the time was in the midst of its salad days as one of the places to film a motion picture or television series. Since then, Chicago has become so expensive to film in that most production companies use Vancouver, Toronto or some other metropolitan looking city that isn't locked down by crazy union rules. Its kind of sad when you look at all this town has to offer in terms of ready-made locations.
Some of my assignments were the stuff of legend; guarding a gaffer truck here or a dressing trailer there. It was strictly Barney Fife fare but it was still a gas. Then I got to work on live sets. Real actors would need me to be sure that they to get to and from an area without having to mingle with the unwashed.
My first job was the set of EZ Streets, a critically acclaimed cop thriller starring Ken Olin. It was very uneventful and boring. I never had a chance to meet Mr. Olin personally but I did set out traffic cones for him. The interiors were shot in an old pawnshop on South Ashland and abandoned warehouses on the south side. The location manager must have had a death wish, I surmised. My last recollection of Ken Olin was a long shoot under the L at Paulina and Lincoln. There he was, standing and looking at a script, a lonely figure in the manufactured rain that was pouring down around him. Unfortunately, the series, although loved by critics, tanked and was never seen again.
Fig1. Ken Olin and Debrah Farentino share a tender moment on the set of EZ Streets.
My last assignment was the movie "My Best Friend's Wedding." This was a Julia Roberts vehicle and we had strict orders to not interact with her or "stare" at her. I looked. A lot. During walking scenes and in between takes we would walk along side her, never maintaining eye contact for more than a second lest our graven unclean image leave an indelible print on her retina. Then she would disappear into her trailer. It was magical.
Most of the movie's interior shots were done at the old Donnelly Printing building on Cermak.There was something slightly surreal about the situation, as there was also a methadone clinic across the street. The set designers reconstructed entire rooms that looked so realistic that you forgot you were in an abandoned, gutted building.
One of my favorite parts of the job was the craft services table. Hollywood budgets allow for some of the most lavish spreads of food ever seen. Danishes the size of hubcaps, fruit that looked as if were picked from trees in heaven and -- yes, oh yes -- coffee, the Nectar Of The Gods. During breaks I could go get the biggest, fattest cup of Starbucks coffee ever seen and load up on uber-pastries. After jamming my gullet I�d wash it down and get back to work.
Fig2. Cameron feigns interest in Kevin's story about guarding Ken Olin.
One particular hot Chicago day the production was shooting inside of a Church downtown. After a few takes I took a break and waited behind a nice looking blonde woman at the craft services table. We chatted for a bit, mostly small talk about the weather and the great coffee and then I asked her what her job was on the movie. She laughed and said, "I'm in it!" I asked her who she was and she said "Cameron Diaz". She didn't freak that I didn't know her and even seemed relieved. "Ohhhh!" I said, feigning knowledge of the name. I sincerely didn't know who she was. It wasn't until seeing the movie a few years later that I began the laborious process of kicking myself repeatedly for hours on end. All I remember now retrospect is how decent and down to earth she was.
So Cameron? If you are still out there and remember me I'd love to share another coffee. My wife gave me permission. I even have a note to prove it.