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How a grisly murder led to me getting a part as an extra in a scene that was cut (about Jeffskla)

 I shouldn’t have been able to have seen “They All Laughed”, the infamous “lost” film by Peter Bogdanovich, in any theater in early 1984, but I did.As I sat down to write about my brief encounter with one of its co-stars, Blaine Novak, I learned about the history of “They All Laughed” for the first time, some 35 years later, and what I thought was a new art film had actually been an older Hollywood movie out of distribution for about 2 years. From what I can piece together, United Artists Classics re-released it to capitalize on the popularity of “Star 80”, a Bob Fosse film in theaters at that time dramatizing the events leading to the brutal murder of Dorothy Stratten—another co-star of “They All Laughed”. Apparently, her estranged husband/murderer hired a private detective to follow her during the filming of “They All Laughed”, which was solemnly ironic given the film was about a private detective following Dorothy Stratten’s character. The real life version ended in the worst way imaginable. 

But sitting in a teeny-tiny theater of a big LA multiplex in 1984, I was embarrassingly ignorant of all of this. Instead, what stood out to me watching “They All Laughed” was Blaine Novak’s performance. He was hip and funny and a perfect complement to John Ritter’s lovesick slapstick. “They All Laughed” was his debut as a distributor-turned-actor, and I thought he’d become a big star. But aside from that year’s “Up the Creek” (which I showed as an LA projectionist) and “Strangers Kiss”, he appeared in no more films. And he is rarely noted for his “They All Laughed” performance. Perhaps he was eclipsed by the bigger stars and the cursed circumstances surrounding the film. Or perhaps he had a falling out with Bogdanovich which hampered his acting career. Or perhaps he just wanted to direct.

A year later, I interviewed for a part as an extra in a movie called “Good To Go”. Head directors don’t usually interview extras, but this one did. We aspiring extras stood in a very long line where groups of about 10 were taken to talk with the director and some of his crew. When it was my turn to talk, I said a little about myself and added “I loved you in ‘They All Laughed’”. The director was, surprise, Blaine Novak. He said something like “Flattery will get you everywhere” and I was in.

“Good To Go” was a movie about the go-go music and “angel dust” scene in a predominantly black district of Washington, D.C., starring, of all people, Art Garfunkel. It was filmed mostly on location, but some of the concert scenes were done in LA. The last 2 concerts in the film involved exposing go-go music to a more mainstream crowd, and that’s where non-black extras like myself came in—being part of a large, diverse dancing audience. I recall somebody on stage teaching us some go-go unison dance moves, one of which was called the “Inspector Gadget”, where we strutted and wagged a finger in the air. It was actually pretty fun.

At one point, when we were taking a break in the lobby, an assistant director came up to me and said something like “The director would like you to be in a close up scene with the principals. You’re on his good list.” So a bit later there I was, with several other select extras, pretending to dance to go-go music (there was no music played while filming these shots; it was to be added in later) behind Art Garfunkel, Robert DoQui, and Michael White. The scene, if I recall correctly, was intended to wrap everything up towards the end of the movie with the main characters congratulating each other on how everything worked out. I had no idea what the movie was actually about at the time, and was looking forward to seeing it when it was released.

Until recently, I wasn’t sure if “Good To Go” was ever released. It turns out it was released briefly in 1986 before being pulled for poor ticket sales, but I missed it. It was later released on VHS under a different title, “Short Fuse”, but I missed that, too. I have no idea why I waited so long to consult the Internet about this, but I finally did and was happy to find somebody had uploaded the whole film to YouTube in 2014 (it doesn’t appear to be available elsewhere). I watched the whole movie, only to find that my scene didn’t make it in. Instead, the movie’s final scenes appear to have been replaced with a cut to a news reporter quickly summing up the end of the movie! Self-interest aside, I hate when movies do that—it says “Something went wrong, so we took this shortcut instead”. But maybe what went wrong was some long-haired white extra ruined the final scenes with his lame dancing. If so, very sorry, Blaine.