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September 21, 2009

My Checkered Past

My Checkered Past

by Harley

My first film acting job, in The House on Sorority Row, came by way of a time-honored tradition. Not the casting couch. The cattle call.


In a New York City stockyard—uh, warehouse—700 nubile girls competed for 7 roles. It was a non-union film, paying non-union wages in non-union working conditions. Nobody cared. This was a movie, and seven lucky girls would be paid to get slashed to death. Send me in, coach.

Plus, my congratulatory phone call came as I laced up my black orthopedic shoes for my waitress shift, ending a nearly decade-long career in the food service industry (woo-hoo!)

Following instructions, I took a train from New York City to Pikesville, Maryland. There, I met the sorority: Janis, Jodi, Robin, Kate, Eileen, & Ellen. We were housed in a religious summer camp called Koinonia (a Native American word meaning, we surmised, “mouse droppings.”) It was seedy by day, scary by night. We wouldn’t stay there alone after dark--unlike our film counterparts, who, like serial killer victims everywhere, are always game for a solo moonlight stroll.

Without giving away the intricate and compelling plot, let’s just say it concerned the grisly murders of the girls of Theta Pi. There was an evil housemother involved. I shall say no more. I was the 3rd to die. I was originally slated to die 5th, but when we arrived in Pikesville, my hair was too much like sorority sister Eileen’s (from L.A.), who, for story reasons, had to be Death #6. So as not to confuse viewers, I expired early.

But even in death I stayed in the movie, as a corpse in sorority sister Kate’s hallucination. This was important, because we were paid $50 a day, but only for shooting days.

It was a magical experience, the closest I’d ever get to a sorority. Offscreen, there were sex, drugs, rock & roll, visits from boyfriends, and a trip into town to support a sister with a Medical Issue That We Won’t Talk About.

The only bad moment was the underwater corpse scene. We were to float in a pool (along with the cameraman) at varying depths, wearing cocktail gowns and seaweed, eyes open, looking dead–i.e., no bubbles. Yes, yes, it sounds simple enough. But staying motionless, six feet under in cold dark water turned out to be something I’m surprisingly bad at. Some genius suggested attaching weights to me, to keep me submerged at the proper depth. I’m sorry to report that self-preservation trumped dedication to my craft. I declined.

The film hit the theatres in 1983, by which time 3 of us had graduated to soap operas. I finished work one day on Guiding Light and subwayed uptown to the opening. Maybe in L.A. they had a red carpet and a premier party, but in New York, we cast & crew paid for our tickets and popcorn and listened to a real audience yell “bitch!” in appropriate places, and cheer on the killer.

Over time, the film became a cult classic--and spawned a remake. So last Saturday night, after participating in the Omaha Literary Festival, I treated myself to the 6:45 showing of Sorority Row. There were 14 Omahans in attendance. (There’d been 15, but one guy left.)

It turns out that director Mark Rosman was justified, all those years ago, in rewriting the script around our hair. I spent the first half of this movie trying to tell the brunettes apart and the second half convinced I had swine flu (I didn't; like our Nancy, I succumb easily to hand-held camera-induced nausea.) Carrie Fisher, as the housemother, was delightful. Otherwise, I must admit, it’s not my genre. Early on I was counting characters, keeping track of how many more had to die before we could go home.

Or could it be that one shouldn't mess with Perfection?

In other Episodes from My Checkered Past this week, Guiding Light went dark. After 72 years. And no one’s replacing the lightbulb. Soap lovers everywhere weep.

Happy Monday!



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And yet, for such a low-level movie, you managed to keep your clothes on. That's quite admirable.

Wasn't Eileen Davidson, in that movie? (Somebody call Cinema Dave, stat!) She's managed to make a long soap career for herself. I think she's even married to Vincent Van Patten, who was a major cast character in Rock and Roll High School.

It's sad about Guiding Light. I watched it religiously in my teens. I was surprised to see how many people are still on from that time (30ish years?), even though a lot of them I didn't recognize until they showed a picture of the character in the 80s. But Josh looked exactly the same.

Harley, you made me laugh aloud this morning, and that's a feat at this hour!

What surprises me is that the original HOUSE ON... has not been revived on one of the many and myriad cable/satellite channels.

During your April visit, we talked about ARACHNAPHOBIA being on one of them. Well, here we are in mid-September, and ARACHNAPHOBIA (renamed here as "Harley and the Goddamn Spiders") seems to be on every time I turn on the TV. Encore Action has it, Mystery has it, Encore E & W has it, and I'm sure from some angle Encore Love-stories will run it soon. Starz network runs it almost three times a week, or so it seems.

With the release of the re-make, one would think the original H.O.S.R. would be playing. No such luck. I have vague memories of seeing the original way back when it first came out, but no one seems to be showing it these days. Surprising.

No matter what, it sounds like it was a terrific introduction to guerilla movie-making, and provided that all important First Screen Credit!

Yes, Josh, Eileen Davidson was in it, and she is married to Vince VanPatten, according to iMDB. Had to look that up, though.

It's heartening to know that the orginal cast members of the Sorority movie had some self-preservation instincts, at least in the pool death scenes. I'm not sure the current film's cast has the same will to live, but maybe that's just a wrong impression from the ads.

Thank you, Harley, for acknowledging the syndrome I believe I discovered and you have officially named: HHCiN I think we should share credit on Wikipedia. If I knew how to do that sort of thing, I'd hot-foot it over there today and set up the web page.

Great start to Monday!

More important than her soap career or marriages, Eileen Davidson is famous around here for appearing on an episode of "The Dog Whisperer," which I saw one night in a hotel room. She hasn't aged a bit, by the way.

I have a bit of dirt to share about Eileen--just a tiny clump, really-- but I'll wait until I've had more coffee.

And yes, GL's Josh Lewis hasn't aged a bit either. I have a larger clump of dirt to share about him, but can't do it without asking.

The slasher initiates so many young actors. What a cool rite of passage.

Guiding Light: My beloved Santa Barbara was on at the same time, so I never watched GL. I did watch the final episode last week, however, because it seemed a respectful thing to do. It was a classy ending, I thought, and it was fun to see all the actors who spent some time on SB.

I still keep meaning to rent Arachnophobia. Now I realize I should just look on the local TV listings and DVR it.

Yes, our Harley has quite the checkered past...

Very sad about Guiding Light, although it absolutely stunk the last couple of years. Still, an institution. And Laura, I'm convinced Robert Newman (Josh) has a picture of Dorian Gray in his attic!

Ah, Harley, you do know how to make us keep coming back.

Guess what else is playing on cable? The Favor - another Harley classic with some nice eye candy for everyone.

I think my favorite Harley movie - other than Parenthood, is Necessary Roughness. A great cast and who doesn't love a good college football comedy?

Harley, you can say what my husband says about me, that you have a "varied, but not checkered, past". Checkered implies something else altogether!

Love this story. Your sorority-lite experience sounds similar, in at least one respect, to the dorm happenings on Dirty Dancing.

My brother-in-law was an actor and dancer in New York for 20 years. Even managed to pay the rent doing it. One day we get a call, Sam is in a movie. We go see "Shakedown" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096087/ we cannot find Sam any were. We buy a copy when it comes out on VHS, no Sam. One night we get a chance to see it with him. All of a sudden he shouts "Right There". He is dancing in a club and on screen for 10 seconds. But is was a paying gig.

I attended the premier of "Escape from New York" in 1981. It was filmed in St. Louis to avoid an actors (or somebody) strike. St. Louis stood in for destroyed New York. The theater was filled with the extras from St. Louis so there were frequent shouts of "That's me" during the show.

Yes, I was an extra--twice, actually -- but the experience was too grisly to blog about. Far, far worse than waiting tables in my book.

Harley: I certainly remember "House on Soreity Row". And of course, I remember "Annabelle" from GL. One thing is for sure, you sure know how to use your lungs...for screaming in terror that is!

Okay, as a soap fan I have to ask: You said three of you had graduated to soaps. Besides yourself and Eileen D, who was #3?

So many people remember you from Guiding Light, Harley. I heard Pam Long mention you on a Web radio show last week!

Ooh, Harley. Is it that she is actually a man? That rumor was floating around a few years ago.

If it's juicy, email me.

Pikesville, MD? They sure do film in strange places. And speaking of strange places, what movie were you filming last summer in Texas (just kidding, Texans...no really...)?

Is your Eileen Davidson the same person who came out with a new mystery?

BTW, I get headaches and nausea from hand-held camera filming, PLUS those crazy-angled shots and zooms going in and out too quickly. What's up with that?

(Did anyone see the Poirot movies on PBS this summer, and does anyone else think the filming style was very odd and took away from the storyline?)

Enjoyed this peek in to your HOUSE ON past.

Film extra = standing around waiting. And more waiting. And more waiting. And... Which is why they pay by the day and not hourly. If only!

Harley, did GL contact you about returning for any of the final episodes? I was so happy to see Lisa Brown, even if only for about 30 seconds, tops.

Robert Newman is really a nice person in person. At least in my extremely brief Manhattan sidwalk experience.

I still miss GL the way it used to be, whatever I mean by that. But I kept on watching, with very mixed feelings, right until "The End."

No, Eileen is not a man and yes, I believe she did come out with a mystery, but I haven't read it.

And now that I think of it, there are stories that will always be remade, over and over. Jane Austen being a prime example and yes, Agatha Christie. And Stephen King, for some reason. And "A Christmas Carol." How many versions of that are there? Dozens.

If you suffer from HHCiN don't watch "Hancock." Trust me on this.

And Harley, I'm partial to you in Santa Barbara. Loved that soap.

I think they're making another Christmas Carol movie with Jim Carey. I like the Muppets one the best, personally.

I'd give a lot to know the dirt on Robert Newman. Just saying. :)

I think I have HHCiN - I get queasy when TV shows do that thing where the people are standing talking, and the camera spins around them.

Okay, it's not dirt, just a really remarkable story about Robert Newman (for those who don't know him, he was one of the major heroes of Guiding Light for the past few decades). And he's similarly heroic in real life. I doubt there's any actual dirt on him anywhere, except when he's building homes in post-Katrina New Orleans.

You can find him onstage in a long-running play in NYC, by the way.

I didn't know Robert N was building houses in New Orleans (unlike all the buzz around Brad Pitt doing so). All the more reason Robert's a hero.

Have you had enough coffee that you can share the dirt on Eileen?

Now about that movie in Texas...

Wait, didn't I already blog about that movie in Texas? The one wherein I played an assassin? And got to kill people with a ridiculously large gold gun? While speaking French?

The one where my stunt double was a 21-year old Latino male, 4 inches shorter than I am?

I am late to the party, but I wanted to say how much I loved Guiding Light. I just watched Annabelle and Tony's wedding on YouTube. *sniffle*

Oh my gosh, Harley! I must have missed that one. I can't believe it! How could I not have known about that large gold gun? Yikes!

(*looking back through the archives now, ashamed that I missed what apparently was an another awesome Harley blog*)

Good luck finding it, Becky. Our archives scare me.

Ramona! An unexpected sentimental streak from the woman who shares Blond Bond with me . . .

Thanks Josh for thinking of me!
At least you got the correct answer from the master...or our master...or....I better stop writting and go to bed.

I just saw this piece of trivia about "House on Sorority Row" that I thought I would share with the gang;

"House on Sorority Row" was selected by Quentin Tarantino for the First Quentin Tarantino Film Fest in Austin, Texas, 1996.

You know Quentin, Harley could replace Uma Thurman in "Kill Bill Volume 3."

I'm still waiting for Quentin to contact me about my astonishing performance in THe House on Sorority Row. For 13 years I've been waiting by the phone.

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