Friday, January 4, 2013

Making It BIG In The Movies by Richard Kiel

Richard Kiel. Making it BIG In The Movies. London: Reynolds & Hearn Ltd., 2002.

The 7’2” tall author worked selling cemetery plots. Selling from a memorized sales script essentially was an early acting job. His size led to jobs as a nightclub bouncer which led to an offer, in 1960, of $100 a day to be in a TV pilot where actors should fight him. He impressed some NBC executives who asked Kiel to join the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). The SAG executives advised him that the law allowed him to work 30 days or less in a union job without joining the guild. Yet Kiel thought not joining would hurt his chances in getting an agent so he paid the $300 dues.

Kiel did not recognize Paulette Goddard on the set and stated to her that he did ot believe it was really her. He rehearsed his stunts with other stuntmen on the weekend. He and cast member Alan Nixon created so much laughter when they were filming that they lost their daylight and had to continue fighting the following day. One of the stuntmen was hospitalized after being bitten by a leopard. The pilot, “The Phantom”, was turned down for becoming a series.

Kiel worked with Broderick Crawford on the TV show “Highway Patrol.” Sadly, Crawford’s drinking hurt his acting. Kiel remember those days of literally being a starving actor who sometimes couldn’t afford to buy food for a couple of days.

Kiel had trouble getting an agent Only one, Herman Zimmerman, seemed somewhat interested. Zimmerman asked him to return in six months, which was his way of seeing who was serious. After a few months, Kiel returned to Zimmerman told him he had a SAG card and three jobs he had gotten on his own. Zimmerman was impressed. With a handshake, Zimmerman became Kiel’s agent.

Kiel got a job as a prop man, where his size was a benefit. Yet he was asked to give up acting on the side, so he quit the then higher paid prop work.

Kiel got an acting job requiring wearing a full body rubber suit in the movie “The Phantom Planet”, which took just seven days to film.

Kiel met with Arch Hall to discuss a role. He both rented a room in a building Arch Hall owned and won a role in Hall’s movie Eegah”.

Kiel found the “Eegah” production disorganized. Short end film stock was bought instead of longer playing Eastman Kodak film, requiring more frequent stops to reload cameras. The sound production had problems that required re-dubbing two weeks of filming. Some of the film was gold and the coors required much color correction. “Eeagh” was released as a double feature with “The Choppers” starring Arch Hall’s son Arch Hall, Jr.

Kiel ad libbed some scenes in “Eegah”, such as running into a women’s room and scaring women, bumping into a glass window chasing after a mannequin, and grabbing a roast in a country club. Kiel went on a four state publicity tour that was low budget with dinner at McDonald’s.

Kiel was advised to claim he could ride a horse even though he had only once been on a horse. In most scenes, an actor is seen getting on and off a horse. When he learned he was expected to engage in more extensive horseback riding, he practiced the weekend before.

Kiel worked on several TV shows and movies, including five episodes of “Lassie”.

Kiel went to a voice coach to improve his speaking voice. He learned foreign dialects that helped him obtain movie roles.

Kiel found director Otto Preminger often angrily yelled commands and ever physically pushed someone. Preminger caed people “idiots”, something Kiel never heard another director say.

Director Robert Aldrich used multiple cameras for the same shot in case something went wrong with a camera, hoping another camera got the shot.

Kiel once got $5,000 for one day’s work. Yet that day began at 2 am while filming form 6 am until midnight.

Kiel asked director Arthur Hiller what makes a good director, as Kiel enjoyed working with Hiller. Hiller replied “if you have a good script and a good cast, the rest is pretty easy.”

Kiel had the role of Jaws in the James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me”. He played the role so well that he was asked back for another James Bond film, “Moonraker”. Kiel notes that Roger Moore’s ad libs often made it into the films. Numerous film and TV roles followed.

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