Last Word: A Christmas To Remember

Most people are surprised when they learn how close I once came to being a superstar.

Of course, looking at me now, it’s probably easier to imagine that I was on the fast track to do something in relativistic quantum field theory or at the very least, multivariable calculus, but, no. I was headed for the big time.

My brush with fame occurred when I was 11 and appeared in a made-for-TV movie with Joanne Woodward.

Through a series of events too lengthy to explain without turning into that long-winded friend who monopolizes dinner with stories you don’t want to hear but are stuck listening to anyway, my brother and I were invited to be extras in a 1978 film called “A Christmas to Remember.”

With a cast that included Joanne, Jason Robards and Eva Marie Saint, it was a weepy tale about city parents who can no longer support their son during the Great Depression and send him to live with his crotchety grandparents on a farm in the Midwest.

After filming most of the movie in rural Minnesota, our scene was being shot in a Minneapolis alley, with Woodward delivering the bad news to her son that he’s being sent away.

The night before we were due to arrive on set, my mom took my brother and me to a local secondhand store to find clothes suited to our starring turns as Street Kids One and Two, because, as it turns out, they didn’t wear plaid bell bottoms in the 1940s.

And also because there apparently wasn’t enough extra cash in the CBS Movie of the Week budget for additional wardrobe.

I was heady with anticipation. A thespian to the core, I had appeared in several Kennedy Elementary School shows, including a performance as Lead Cowboy in the summer school production of “Jesse James” and jingle bell ringer for “Up on the Rooftop,” during the holiday chorus concert.

But this was going to be my big break; I just knew it.

Soon after we arrived, my brother was assigned the scene-stealing role of Boy-With-Hands-In-Pockets, while I, along with one other extra, was to be a Hopscotch Girl.

Take after take, I threw my stone and hopped perfectly on one foot in hopes of being the best Hopscotch Girl director George Englund had ever seen.

When the cameras weren’t rolling I stood close to Joanne and the other A-listers chatting on set, hoping they’d stop and suddenly realize that standing among them was the next Jodie Foster or Kristy McNichol. I even lounged in Joanne’s director’s chair until a crew member caught me and gave me the boot.

When the long day of filming was over, I went home satisfied. I had done some networking, laid down my finest hopscotch and was sure that once my scene appeared on television, I’d be fending off casting calls.

So convinced of my imminent celebrity status, I bragged about my upcoming feature film debut to just about everyone who’d listen, including all the “friendly” farm kids on my hourlong bus ride to and from school.

Preferring penny loafers to bib overalls and Broadway tunes to chicken feed, it’s fair to say that I wasn’t really their type. Even so, I craved their acceptance and hoped that my meteoric rise to fame would finally earn it.

The movie aired a few days before Christmas. My family gathered around the TV and waited for the big moment when my brother, hands in pockets, would appear and I would shine as Hopscotch Girl.

We watched in stunned humiliation when it became obvious that my brother’s work had ended up on the cutting room floor, and mine, while still in the film, was a fleeting image of a blurred figure lasting less than a nanosecond on the screen. Even worse, Hopscotch Girl II was standing in front of me, blocking my shot.

I waited in dread for the school bus the next morning. As I did the walk of shame down the aisle, the silence was deafening, and no one would push in so that I could sit with them.

After a few minutes of crickets, I heard some kid mutter, “Good job in the movie,” and I knew my career was over.

“A Christmas to Remember” is listed on IMDB. It’s got 97 good ratings and includes a list of the cast. I’m thinking about adding my name and picture.

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