Perception is a Wonderful Thing

My daughter just showed me a very amusing trailer on YouTube. Someone had re-done a trailer for the comedy Mrs Doubtfire. With a little editing magic and by changing the music for the trailer, they had turned a comedy trailer into a trailer for a thriller/horror film. It was very funny and, I thought, quite clever. But it did make me think.

It is all a matter of perception. That they were able to re-cut the original trailer, add a bit of creepy sounding music and change it into a very creepy trailer instead of a comic one is interesting. It made me think of Jimmy Stewart explaining about how important the editing process was. “If the camera shows me looking at something and smiling, then cuts in a picture of a baby, I look like a kindly grandfather figure. Change the cut to a girl in a bikini and I look like a dirty old man.”

Cropped screenshot of James Stewart from the t...
Cropped screenshot of James Stewart from the trailer for the film Rear Window (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But it is not just film that can be changed by a matter of perception, Life doesn’t allow  us to re-edit. It does allow us to see things differently, either by a matter of angle or timing of when we see something. I’ll explain.

When I lived in southern California, I drove through very bad section of town daily on my way to work. One day I saw a small boy being chased by a very large angry man. It struck me as funny and I started laughing. I pulled up to a stop light and while waiting for it to turn green a policeman came up and tapped on my window. I rolled it down, it was up because it was a smog alert day, shut off the engine and started to reach for my drivers license.

The policeman asked if I had just arrived in the area. I said yes and asked why. Ignoring my question, he asked one of his own. Had I seen a young boy being chased by a man along side the road? I said, “Why yes. I just passed them, They were heading in the opposite direction. It was very funny looking.” He then thanked me for the information and turned to leave. I asked what was going on.

He paused for the briefest of moments and then said, “That kid just beat the fuck out of an old lady to steal her handbag. The man chasing him is a shop owner who saw it happen. He tried to stop the kid and he just climbed over the guy. He lost the purse though.” He then turned away and went back to his car.

Suddenly the scene I had witnessed was not so comic. I realised that by just a matter of seconds I had missed the events leading up to the chase. My perception of the scenario was completely wrong. So I learned that perception is a wonderful thing, it can also be wrong.

Starting Out Part One or Babe’s In Hollywood-Land

Years ago when I was a whole world younger and (I thought anyway) a lot smarter about what I was meant to do with my life, my first wife and I moved to Arcadia in southern California. We moved there because I wanted to be a professional actor. The way we chose Arcadia was unique. We got out a map of southern California and closing our eyes we stuck our index fingers on the map.

Hollywood Sign
Hollywood Sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The area midway between where our fingers hit the map was where we were going to live. That turned out to be Arcadia. You might be wondering why we did not just live in Los Angeles. Good question. The reason was simple, we felt the cost of living would be too high for a young couple just starting out.

We flew out to the Los Angeles International Airport via a “champagne” flight. When we landed we then had to figure out how to get to Arcadia. We wound up booking a limo; it was, somewhat amazingly, the cheapest way to get there. That limo ride was our first experience of what living in southern California would be like. The chauffeur was very chatty. He explained that he was self-employed and that this was only one of his three jobs. He was divorced and his ultimate goal was to be an actor.

Everybody, it seemed, in southern California wanted to be in the entertainment business. I mean everybody. Right up to the guy who owned a paint store that I was trying to get a builder’s discount from. When I rang him and asked about the discount, he started chatting while he was working out my discount. He asked if my business was going to grow. I said I didn’t really expect it to get too big as I was only doing it while I was trying to get work as an actor. “Great,” he said, a lot more excited than he had been working out my possible discount. “Have you got a Publicist yet?” I answered that I had not as I hadn’t really gotten any work yet. He thought about it for a second or two and said, “Give me your address. I’ll send you my business card. Keep me in mind when you start working.”

Like I said everybody seemed to want to be part of the Hollywood dream machine.

For a few weeks we stayed in a Dollar Inn. It was the cheapest hotel we could find. I still remember cracking up when the desk clerk informed us that for seventy-five cents extra we could get a key that would unlock the television in the room. I had never heard of locked televisions before and said so. The clerk then solemnly explained that as they were part of a cheap hotel chain, they had trouble with people walking off with the television sets. I think the inference was that because they catered to a “lower class” clientèle everything in the rooms was locked down tight.

While we were there we discovered the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. This was where they filmed part of the Fantasy Island television show. The early Tarzan films were also shot there. In fact it was used a lot for television filming. We also discovered the Santa Anita Race Trackwhere the high rollers of Hollywood came to lose their money.

Screenshot of Walter Matthau from the film Charade

We had a lovely chat with the desk clerk at the Arcadia Holiday Inn. This was conveniently located near the race track. The desk clerk informed us that when racing season hit they were always fully booked. He even showed us the exclusive bungalows behind the hotel where the rich and famous liked to stay “in the season.” We also found out that the hotels favourite customers were the actors Jack Klugman and Walter Matthau,  who were very heavy betters. They both booked bungalows for the entire season.

Unfortunately we soon realised that Arcadia would not be a place where we could live. The rent for this little suburban paradise was way more than we could afford. Of course the other thing we found out was that rental properties were nigh on impossible to find. We finally had to join an agency that would “find” properties for you. We then discovered that southern California actively practised what can only be called reverse ageism. Every place we looked at turned us down.

Finally after a lot of frustration, we had a “heart to heart” with our property agent. “You’re too young,” was the information he imparted. When we started to protest (we were after all twenty and nineteen years old and married for crying out loud), he held his hands up and said there was nothing he could do about that. He did eventually take pity on our situation and told about a property that he had to rent.

So that was how we wound up living in one of the most historical buildings in Pasadena, California and how I almost got killed twice in the same night.

English: Former campus of Ambassador College i...
English: Former campus of Ambassador College in Pasadena, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Name dropping Pt 5 or Van der Valk pt 2

After my huge disappointment at not having  Peter Snow write a part for me in that episode of the New Van der Valk, life went on as normal. I kept doing adverts for the AFN guys and presented (for a very short time) a program called Why and How. But I was no longer having to rely on the chaps at AFN for acting work.

I had done a commercial for Tonka Turbo Tricksters with the production company Fireside Productions. I had gotten that job because the casting folks were the same ones who had hired me for Murder Story. I had been cast as a motorcycle cop even though I had shown up late on the day of the Amsterdam auditions. The train was late, something unheard of in Holland,  which in turn made me late, an unforgivable sin in the entertainment industry. I know, it cost me a job years ago when, despite running at the speed of sound, I was late by two whole seconds for an interview in an office building just off Sunset Blvd. But regardless of that obvious faux pas, I was the fair haired boy and I was given another audition in Rotterdam the next day.

My champion at the casting company was Patricia. Patricia called me to let me know of work on another Van der Valk. I rang and talked to Ian, the chap who I had dealt with on the other audition. The pay wasn’t very good, but I did not have to perform for anyone this time. It involved about a half days work so I said yes.

When I arrived I met the other two chaps I would be working with. The first was Ian Gelder another jobbing actor who I have seen in many other shows. He was friendly and welcoming, not mention good fun to work with. The second was Frank Vincent Ogilvy a Scottish actor working mainly in Holland. We would also be working with Melanie Thaw, the adopted daughter of that great actor John Thaw, and Richard Huw, who was making a name for himself in the UK.Ms Thaw was lovely. A stunning blonde with a willowy figure and full of grace and charm. She came up and introduced herself to the three of us. “Oh, you must be the actors I’ll be working with today. Pleased to meet you, I’m sure we’ll have a good time today.” Frank and I were stunned as she shook our hands and then wandered off to find the director Jim Goddard. The reason we were so surprised by her actions is that in this particular episode we were literally part of the furniture. Ian was a gangster type and we were to be seated with him in a disco. That was it. Now Richard Huw’s attitude towards us was more in character. He ignored us completely. If he did spare us a look, it was one of utter disdain. Not so nice.

It was on this shoot I discovered the joys of continuity. I had been given an option of smoking in this scene. There was already a huge cloud of smoke from the dry ice machine. This was a dance floor in a bar in the 90’s. Smoking socially had not yet been banned. I thought, hello! No waiting for set-ups, filming, or anything else to have a smoke. How wonderful, I thought.

I was wrong.

John Thaw
John Thaw (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Due to the number of re-takes required because young Richard kept fluffing his lines, every time they started filming again, the continuity lady stopped everything. The reason was my cigarette, or rather the length of it. When she checked the monitor, she found that it was at the wrong length. Either too long or too short. This turned out to be real pain, until someone found a pair of scissors so I could cut the cigarettes into varying lengths.

Despite this setback, the day was great fun. The director had a vocabulary that would make a sailor blush and made Melanie fall about laughing every time he gave a “blue” direction. Because the location was in a real bar and it was Franks birthday, we got given real single malt Scotch whiskey in our glasses instead of the usual apple juice. Ian was paranoid in case the director found out. But as far as I know he did not.

By the end of the day, I was barely able to breathe, my back was killing me from the awkward position I had sat in for the scene and I was slightly tipsy. Just as well I had taken the train down. I also had two new contacts and their phone numbers for future work opportunities. Jim Goddard had graciously given me his and I had gotten the assistant directors number as well.


About two-thirty in the morning, after dozing on the couch, I went into the back garden to have a cigarette. Half-asleep, I opened the back door and stepped out, lighting my smoke. I was instantly jolted awake by the sight of snow drifts. I was standing in one that covered my back door step. There was a veritable blizzard outside and it had apparently been going on for some time.

I got so excited about the snow that it took me ages to drop off to sleep when I then went to bed.

Snow has the capacity to both magically transform me into a child again and to excite me beyond reason. No other type of weather has this power over me. In fact, the only thing that even comes close is the power of smell. I know that scientists have said that a scent can trigger the most amazing memories. Amazing enough that you feel as though you have travelled back through time. This “time travel” experience has happened to me a few times. I can count on the fingers of both hands the amount of times it has happened. Snow, however, always instantly affects me.

I remember vividly travelling back from Sacramento, California with my parents at the age of five.

*Coincidentally I also remember, equally as well, travelling out to California, aged four. I played in the foot-well of the passenger seat. With a bed-sheet as my tee-pee, I played Cowboys and Indians as we crossed the desert during the day. I played in the foot-well because of the oppressive heat. My mother who was driving our 58’ Chevy had to endure it.

On this momentous trip, we drove through a blinding snow storm in the mountains near Flagstaff, Arizona. The flying snow was so thick, it froze and then broke our wind-shield wipers and my father had to brush the snow off the wind-shield (while he drove) with his arm.  We finally our-drove the snow and arrived in Alamogordo, New Mexico in the late afternoon. Alamogordo is right at the edge of the White Sands Missile Range. It is in the desert. It has sand, cacti, sagebrush, mesquite and tumble-weeds.

White Sands, New Mexico. A little hard to see if it's snowed or not...
White Sands, New Mexico. A little hard to see if it’s snowed or not…

And on this memorable occasion, it also had snow.

As we all slept in our Rocket Lounge motel room, the snow had caught up with us. When the morning arrived my parents woke me up and told me to open the door and look outside. In the night the snow had transformed the desert into a world of white. Everything was covered in the stuff. Even the tumble-weeds were white. I was ecstatic. It made an everlasting impression on me, that forty-eight years later, is still fresh.

So this morning when I stepped out into the snow in my back garden I was transported. I “time-travelled” back to Alamogordo, New Mexico. I re-lived that excitement of seeing the snow covered desert and the memory was as fresh as the snow covered world outside my window and as crisp as the air surrounding it.

Some memories don't need a time travel machine to re-live them.
Some memories don’t need a time travel machine to re-live them.