Published in the March 21 – April 3, 2018 issue of Gilroy Life

Mark Fenichel in the background during the filming of “The Way We Were,” at Union College in New York in 1973.

The year was 1973. I was a college junior studying theater along with radio, TV and film at the State University in Albany, New York. My roommate had a girlfriend who was a local fashion model and actress. She came in one day and told us that she just got a new job working as an extra in a professional motion picture being filmed down the road at Union College in Schenectady. The movie was called “The Way We Were.” She said they needed guys as extras and since I was already into theater and film I would be the perfect candidate to get hired. Without hesitation I got up early the very next day and drove about 30 miles to the film location.

There were many people lined up to be extras. However, she brought me right to the head casting director and with her charm they hired me on the spot. The first day was chaos, my hair was very long and they said the scene was a prom in the 1930s and the first thing I would need to do was go to make-up to have my shoulder length hair cut off. I got lots of attention as long locks of hair were falling to the ground. They asked me to wear my wire rim glasses, fitted me into a tux and sent me off to the old gymnasium where they were shooting prom scenes.

As luck would have it my skin coloring and height was similar to one of the principal actors so they used me as his “stand-in.” It was James Woods. I was able to get close to the main actors Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford and director Sidney Pollack was calling me by my first name. The songwriter Marvin Hamlisch was on the set too, and I got to meet him as well.. It was a long day with lots of waiting. But it was so exciting I couldn’t wait to go back.

On the next day they finished the prom scenes and had me set up to shoot some outdoor scenes. Another visit to wardrobe and one of the wardrobe assistants gave me a suit to wear. It was a day of standing around, watching, and hanging out. I so remember how the day was bright and sunny and the temperature was quite cold, typical of upstate New York in the early part of the year. Having a suit jacket to wear was certainly a relief even though the chilled air blew right through the weave of the woolen threads. Early that afternoon as they were setting up my next scene I got into a light conversation with one of the camera crewmen. He was telling me that often the suits they use in these period films were used in other movies by famous actors. He pulled open the jacket and turned the pocket inside out and there was a label sewn in and clear as that day written on the label “April 1935 W.C. Fields.” He smiled at me and said, “See, I wasn’t kidding.” At the end of the day I went to return the suit and some of my clothes were missing. One of the workers in that department said just wear it home and bring it back the next day. Turns out I could not go back the next day due to my class schedule and it was their final day of filming, so I ended up with the suit. I kept it for many years in the back of the closet and when my ex and I separated, I took my possessions and moved out.

A few years later I was cleaning out my storage shed and found a bag full of suits that I wasn’t going to wear any longer, so I donated all 13 of them to the local Goodwill. A few weeks later I began looking for that special suit and it dawned on me that I accidentally donated it with all the others. What a heartbreaker. I visited the Goodwill store and saw a couple of my donated suits but that one suit was nowhere to be found. I gave up, it was gone. Someone must have bought it off the Goodwill rack. Lucky for them! That was about 10 years ago. For the past decade, I had thoughts of finding it one day and even dreamed about it a few times, but it was gone.

Then, just recently I got a text from my ex-wife.  “We’ve been cleaning out our garage and came across the stained glass hanging lamp that was in the kitchen and an old suit. I think you said it was something W.C. Fields wore. Do you want them, or should I donate them?”

I am so happy to have it back along with the awesome memories from 45 years ago and being on the set of “The Way We Were.”

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On another note, looking back to my early days in radio and TV there was a guy I knew but have not seen in a long time. The Poppy Jasper International Film Festival will be bringing him to town. It’s musician, producer, Grammy winner (“Chicago”), Oscar nominee (“Dreamgirls”) and Gilroy native Randy Spendlove. Join him as he kicks off the four-day celebration of the magic of music and movies.  Visit pjiff.org for all the details.

Got a music tip? Email harmonicaman1@yahoo.com.