Woody Allen and I at Coney Island on a movie set

Woody Allen Revisited
By Robert Leaman Sanders


I met Woody Allen one day a very long time ago on a movie set. I live in Malibu now but at the time I was living in New York City. My agent called and she said: “You’re working on a movie called “Annie Hall”. Here’s the address out in Brooklyn. Write this down. You are going to Coney Island. Also, this afternoon you want to go see Bernie, the hairstylist for this shoot, get your haircut, and be on the set 8 AM sharp tomorrow. Good-bye.”

I did everything correctly.

Turns out I was an extra. I was the guy who would be in the background of the final film who throws softballs at lead filled milk bottles at one of Coney Island’s carnival concessions. So, there I was. I’m in a tee-shirt and jeans with a great haircut to make me look like a typical American young fellow from the nineteen forties era. I have 3 softballs in my arms and I am quite ready to start the throwing once I hear somebody from somewhere shout out the words – “and action!” 7 feet away from me is the one and only Mister Woody Allen standing around holding a clipboard full of papers scratching his chin. Yes. I broke the cardinal rule. I walked right up to Mr. Allen. He started things off and he said: “Hi.” I said: “Would you allow me to introduce myself?” He says: “Yes. I’ll allow you to introduce yourself. Introduce yourself.” I gave him my name, smiled big, and explained that since I respected and loved his directorial talents, so much so, to the point where I could have considered being President of his fan club, that he could depend on me should there be anything more I could do for him as an actor in the movie. Meaning, anything more than simply throwing balls at old fashioned carnival milk bottles. Woody Allen replied: “Oh. Okay fine. I’ll keep that in mind. Right now, however, is a very good time for you to take your position and start throwing the balls.”

I noticed that every single time the Director passed my way, after that impromptu little discussion, Mr. Allen, while walking with his clipboard, unabashedly and with deliberate purpose looked directly at me with the utmost of inquisitive concentration. He was actually knitting his eyebrows. He was looking at me long and hard. In fact, he looked me up and looked me down, from head to toe each and every time he passed by, which was a lot. I thought to myself, either he thinks I am some kind of nut, or, he is really considering upgrading me to a better role. At the end of that long work day in the sun, upon that day’s shoot turning into a wrap, the fact remained that I was merely going to be the guy throwing softballs at milk bottles. No upgrade, no nothing. But, hey, a good time was indeed had by all.

Now, fast forward to 2 years later. The same talent agent, Esther Navarro, calls me up and arranges to have me and a bunch of other actors meet with Woody at a church situated in the heart of Greenwich Village. Mr. Allen was casting for a fresh new project he was starting up and wanted actors to gather at “The Church of Greenwich Village” so he could pick from the group. Odd and different, yes, but that was how this Director wanted to audition actors. No memorizing lines or reading or anything like that. Woody stood at the preacher’s pulpit in the quaint little church that morning with actors all sitting quietly in the pews, and he said; “Good morning, all. Let’s have everyone stay where you are, and one after the other, just stand up, say ‘Good morning’, then sit back down. We’ll begin with the person closest to me.”

Well, the actress in pew #1, sitting at the very end, stands up and she says: “Good morning.” then she sits back down. After a while, when it was my turn to stand up, I was stunned. Woody Allen looked at me and says: “Robert! President of my very own fan club! How are you?!” I went along with the program and I said: “Good morning!” I decided to take a chance and I added: “And remember please, I’ll do a great job for you no matter what the part may call for in this wonderful new project you have here!” The great inimitable Director smiled and with a twinkle in his eyes and he says: “I know you will Robert. Thank you, Robert. Next.” He remembered me! An ultra-busy businessman creative genius such as he is with billions of ideas criss-crossing within his fertile brain remembers me, remembers my name… after two years! And he was nice to me! I sat back down.

No, I did not get a part in that movie. Darn. I thought for sure that this time there would be some sort of interesting career building something there for me. But… nothing. It was, however, once again, all great fun. And it makes for a nice, cute I-remember-when story. But, what can I say? Thank the lord for day jobs?

Roberto Sanders: starofmalibu@aol.com .

City: Cuenca

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