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Berger’s Burg: Acting endeavors make for ‘extra’-thin wallets

One day three men were hiking and unexpectedly came upon a large, raging, violent river. They needed to get to the other side, but had no idea how to do so. The first man prayed to God, wishing for strength to cross this river. Poof! God granted the wish and gave him big arms and strong legs; he then was able to swim across the river in two hours, after nearly drowning two times.

Seeing this miracle, the second man prayed to God, wishing for the strength and the tools to cross the river. God granted the wish and gave him a rowboat. He then was able to row across in one hour, after nearly capsizing twice.

The third man had seen how this worked out for the other two, so he also prayed to God to give him the strength, the tools and the intelligence to cross the river. Poof! God turned him into a woman. She looked at the map, walked a short distance upstream and then walked across the bridge. - Anonymous.

A man has got to do what a man has got to do. A woman must do what he can’t.

- Rhoda Hansome

Readers, those two stories have nothing to do with my life as an extra, but I had no choice. Gloria demanded that I print them both now or else I’ll see her in court later. Oh, the trials and tribulations of a married man. Finally, the story at hand.

As you may know, Gloria and I took a three-week vacation to Aruba this summer. While packing to return home, on our final day of vacation, Gloria turned on the TV to see what the weather would be in New York. All of a sudden, she let out a scream. Thinking that she had spied an iguana in the room, I ran to her with a broom at the ready.

She pointed to the screen and there, in full color, was Michael J. Fox, Nathan Lane and me, in a scene from the movie, “Life With Mikey,” which came out in 1993. Ah, yes, I remember it well. In my one, Academy-award scene, I walked majestically across a plaza, nearly bumping into Fox, and continued until I was out of the picture. I was sensational. “How did this situation come about?” you inquire. Let me explain.

In 1993, my sister, Anna, a professional actress, introduced me to the glamorous life of a movie-extra.

“You’ll be in show business, have a good second occupation, and, enjoy it.”

“But I can’t act,” I professed.

“You don’t have to,” she answered. “An extra’s job is to remain in the background during a scene shooting. And, you will be rubbing elbows with famous actors.”

“Perhaps Michelle Pfeiffer?” I asked.

“Perhaps Michelle Pfeiffer one day,” she answered.

I was convinced. Anna then gave me the telephone number of an agent. I telephoned, made an appointment, and dreams of fame and fortune began to dance in my head.

I arrived at the agent’s New York City location and encountered my first obstacle. The office was on the top floor of a six-story building with no elevator. “Oh, well,” I thought, “who said that getting to the top was easy?”

Huffing and puffing, I triumphantly reached my destination.

“Come right in,” said a pretty young receptionist with a British accent, and a smile to melt away all my doubts.

“I want to become an extra,” I suavely said, showing her my best profile. Her eyes widened as she gave me an application to complete.

“Please be seated. Carl will see you shortly,” she said, pointing to a vacant chair. I sat and joined many other waiting people.

“I am a first-timer,” volunteered an elderly gentleman dressed in biker’s leather. The others appeared to be just average folks. I fit right in.

Carl finally beckoned and I walked apprehensively into his office, cluttered with professional photographs adorning every space on his wall. “You must get photos,” he immediately said. “I am sending you to my photographer. It will cost $250 for a series of proofs. I can’t refer you to jobs without a photograph. It is a tool of the trade,” Carl emphasized.

The next day, showered, shaved and spruced up, I visited the photographer to take a series of proofs. “Call Carl in about a week,” he said as he took my $250. The proofs arrived and I ran back to Carl. He studied the pictures, picking out the best one necessary to launch my career.

“I like this one,” Carl said, pointing to one which highlighted my chiseled profile. “That will be an extra $150 for 100 8 l/2 x 10s. Call me in 10 days,” he said, as another $150 left my pocket. Who said that the road to the top would be cheap?” I rationalized.

That big day finally arrived. Carl called and gave me a Manhattan address where they were auditioning extras for an arthritis commercial. “Watch out world, here comes Berger,” I yelled.

Much to my surprise, there were 50 other hopefuls there. The wait was long but I had time to practice my best “pain in the face” expression over and over again.

“OK next,” was called out.

My time had come. I was led into a studio where several people sat behind a desk, discussing the previous audition. I finally was noticed after I flashed my infectious profile.

“Stand there and tell us something about yourself” were my instructions from a cigar-chomping gentleman, as the camera rolled. After a few seconds of my life story, and before I even reached the part about my bar mitzvah, the camera stopped.

“Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” they said in unison, as the next person was called in. Much to my surprise, I wasn’t chosen, even though I felt the part was written for me.

I waited a few weeks before contacting Carl again. He gave me a second chance by sending me, along with several others, to shoot a crowd scene in “Life With Mikey.” No auditions were held and I was hired on the spot. Not to appear too boastful, I must tell you that I was magnificent in the role, even though my scene had to be shot several times because I walked too fast. Once I got my feet wet I expected bigger and better roles from Carl.

A few days later, I called Carl. He told me that acting was not for me and that I should not give up my day job. “But what do I do with my $100 photos?” I asked.

“You can wallpaper your garage with them,” he replied.

Hmphh! He doesn’t know true talent.

Incidentally, can anyone out there use 100 photographs of a columnist with a great profile who once appeared in a real movie?

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, ext. 140.

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