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February 21, 2015

Me and Meryl Streep: Particulates of My Acting Career or Could I Have Been a Contender? A Blog in Honor of the Upcoming Academy Awards. Calvin Schwartz February 21, 2015

what i looked like when i crashed that private Prince concert at Club USA

what i looked like when i crashed that private Prince concert at Club USA



When I was young, impressionable and growing tall quickly as if I were a weed growing in soil enriched with radon, I liked going to the movies (25 cents) especially to see John Wayne. We were the same height when I stopped ascension. Wayne’s father was a pharmacist and so was I for a while; enough commonality for me to list him as one of my favorite actors. And I suppose deep inside my subconscious were fantasy elements of becoming an actor so that one day I might walk on a red-carpet with people yelling my name in adulation. Perhaps many of us imagine acting at one point. However, the smell of greasepaint and roar of a crowd was never strong enough to send me down the acting career path but there were brief episodes of tip-toeing which is what this blog is all about. Maybe it means I never had the right stuff and intestinal fortitude to knock on Lee Strasberg’s acting school door.





at a dinner at NY Hilton  with James Earl  Jones & Dr. Ruth who orchestrated pix

at a dinner at NY Hilton with James Earl Jones & Dr. Ruth who orchestrated pix back in the 90’s


me and Dr Ruth at a Rutgers lecture. She's standing up

me and Dr Ruth at a Rutgers lecture a few months ago. She’s standing up



By 1981, I had been a pharmacist for 12 years and grew weary. Looking back on the whole career choice deal, it really was my mother who pushed me into the profession of dispensing medicine because her brother and two nephews were druggists. I was always confused by the word’ druggist’ and chuckle when I realize no one really uses it anymore.  There was always a restlessness in my soul; hard to define, explain or understand. On the morning of February 8th, 1981, I heard a voice that told me to quit Pharmacy and move on. When that voice disappeared, another real voice on an easy listening radio channel I listened to on Sunday mornings told of try-outs being held at the Edison Valley Playhouse for the play ‘Frankenstein’ which had opened and closed in one day on Broadway. This was divine intervention at its most theatrical. Here I am quitting my profession and being apprised at the same moment of an acting gig of playing Frankenstein monster.  I was physically perfect for the part at 6’5” tall.







with Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller. I wished them a Happy Festivus

with Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller. I wished them a Happy Festivus

a group shot at NY Hilton

a group shot at NY Hilton


I drove to the Edison Valley Playhouse and filled out a resume which highlighted my only relevant acting ‘credit’ as pretending I was ‘Frankenstein’ and scaring my young sister Hildy. Then they handed me a script and I went on stage. Having never seen a script before, I even read the material in the parentheses. I never realized the script called for the ‘monster’ to have a huge speaking part as the intent was to discover how the creature felt being put together with other human body parts. As they say, I’m still waiting for a call-back.

Next I got a call from a friend asking if I was still interested in acting. By that time, I drifted into optical sales management. The friend gave me casting information for ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ starring Robert De Niro and told me they are looking for ‘big’ people. I’m tall(big) so I hastily put together, from old family Kodaks, a bit of a portfolio and sent it in to the casting director. Yes, I’m still waiting for a call-back. The film was released in 1984, the same year as George Orwell’s title novel.




with actress Aida Turturro from 'The Soprano's'

with actress Aida Turturro from ‘The Soprano’s’

with Henry Winkler.

with Henry Winkler.


As synchronicity and Kismet would have it with my non-acting career, my Uncle Dave, a successful movie and screenplay writer living in Beverly Hills, who wrote ‘Robin and the Seven Hoods’ for Frank Sinatra, came to visit my parents in New Jersey.  Of course I asked Uncle Dave how to break into acting and told him of my travails and feeble attempts. His heartfelt advice was for me to wait on tables in New York for ten years and enroll in the Lee Strasberg School of Acting and then call him. My reply sounded like Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol’ when I told him that “I am too old to change.” We shook hands, said goodbye and I was never to see him again.

The whole notion of celebrity and Hollywood was never far away from consciousness. One midnight after dinner and drinks with optical industry professionals in New York City, I was strolling down Broadway near Times Square and looked down the cross street at ‘Club USA’ and an extremely long line of people, many dressed for an early Halloween, waiting to get into the club, one of the hottest city night spots. I asked what was going on so late and why the lines? A flamboyant person responded, “Prince is coming at 2 AM to do a private concert but only celebrities are getting in.” I knew what to do. My hotel was near-by. I combed my long hair, put on a black leather coat and shades and went back to Club USA to the police and security check point. (See picture top left) They took one look at me, dispensed with checking the guest list, asked, “How you doing man? Go right in.” It was Howard Stern they supposedly let in not me. I hung-out on the arena-like second floor from which club-goers could gaze down and watch the happenings below. I smiled the whole time, still wearing my shades for protection and absorbed Prince and sociology, exiting via the fire escape after 4 AM.  My hair is much shorter today but longer than some hippies I met during a recent trip to Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco.


with actress Lesley Ann Warren

with actress Lesley Ann Warren


My scene in the movie 'The Soulless'

My scene in the movie ‘The Soulless’ with actor Michael Chartier


In September, 1989, I finished an optical company dinner at Gallagher’s on 52nd Street in New York City. My group congregated on the street which was lined with news vans and limos.  Curiosity propelled me down the street to investigate. It was the opening night for the revival play ‘Orpheus Descending’ starring Vanessa Redgrave at the Neil Simon Theater. I camped out by the stage door for an hour to watch celebrity guests leave then disappear into the city night in their limos.

After eleven I arrived back at my hotel, The Marriot Marquis in Times Square, got into an atrium elevator, pressed the eighth floor for the revolving bar and then looked down to see a ticket on the floor. My hands shook in disbelief. “Admit One Opening Night Cast Party” for ‘Orpheus Descending’ in the Grand Ballroom. I knew what to do. Still dressed in a suit from dinner, I gleefully rode the escalator to the ninth floor standing just behind Christopher Reeve. Before the security check-in, actress Amanda Plummer asked me for a cigarette. I preached; she walked away. My name was not on the guest list but I had a ticket and said to security, “My Uncle Lou Marx, the famous producer sent me the ticket. You do know Lou Marx?” They knew him and sent me inside to the ballroom. There never was a Uncle Lou Marx; an imaginary character.



I'm in the Christmas scene in this movie. a non-credit performance.

I’m in the Christmas scene in this movie. a non-credit performance.


'The Soulless' cast & crew

‘The Soulless’ cast & crew


Deciding not to sit and eat their food, I hung around a small bar refreshing my mineral water. Then John Bedford Lloyd, who played Tom Hanks’ brother in ‘Philadelphia’ called me over to his table, introduced me to his wife Anne Twomey who was in the play and said, “I know you but can’t place you.” We went back and forth. I exhorted, “You don’t know me and never met me. Trust me. That’s the only sure thing you’ll hear tonight.” I congratulated his wife on the play and knew it was time to exit.

In November, 1997 my sister Hildy called to tell me that a major motion picture starring Meryl Streep, Renee Zellweger and William Hurt was being filmed in our old hometown of Maplewood, New Jersey and do I want to watch them film a scene in the town center. Maplewood was right out of a Currier and Ives painting right down to the train station.(also the cover of my 1st novel, ‘Vichy Water’) The film, ‘One True Thing’ is based on Anna Quindlen’s novel and tells the story of Kate Gulden (Meryl Streep) who has cancer and daughter Ellen and husband George must confront their changing lives. Streep was nominated for a Best Actress Award.

When we arrived at 7PM, most of the town business district was barricaded and fake facades covered stores as the town in the movie was upstate New York in the late 80’s. After an hour, the police offered to let citizens go through the barricade onto the set for pizza or groceries at a Kings Market as they would not be shooting for several hours. Hildy and I opted for a slice of pizza.  We masticated a single slice each for two hours setting a time consumption record while watching a snow making machine for the Christmas scene. Suddenly the activity peaked so we walked out, leaving the crust, and stood underneath the art-deco marquis of the Maplewood Theater called Langhorne, the fictional town name.


Finally listed in the credits of a movie

Finally I’m listed in the credits of a movie

At Haight Ashbury. My hair is longer than his.

At Haight Ashbury. My hair is longer than his.


A few minutes passed and I sensed a presence next to me. Meryl Streep was right there followed by Renee Zellweger, William Hurt and Carl Franklin, the director. Slowly I turned and told her how much I admired her work and we had a bit of a conversation. Just then, a production assistant approached and assumed I was part of the entourage and said to me, “We have to place you now.” I gently elbowed my sister in the rib. We followed the assistant as he placed us right in the middle of the set.  He asked, “Do you know everything you have to say and do?” I said, “It’s been a long day. Please go over everything again.” So I was the ‘biggest’ actor in the Christmas tree lighting scene although I never got mentioned on IMDB. But I still have several copies of the movie. Eight months ago, my future daughter-in-law watched ‘One True Thing’ on cable. A few days later, at dinner, she mentioned seeing an actor in the movie that looked just like me.




Destiny's Bridge documentary.

Destiny’s Bridge documentary.

on the  set of another documentary in Philadelphia with Don Ward.

on the set of another documentary in Philadelphia with Don Ward.


With my success in ‘One True Thing,’ several years later, a friend called to tell me about auditions for Steven Spielberg’s ‘War of the Worlds’ which was  largely filmed in Newark, my orginal home town. On a Saturday morning after a deep scale dental cleaning, something came over me. I drove to Newark where the auditions were held. I had an acting resume now and stressed there are not many 6’5” actors around. Weeks later, I got a call from casting. I chickened out not wanting to take off work for eight days but told them if anything else came up to call.  On the following Monday morning, they called again, offering me another extra part. Their persistence went to my head. Now I wanted a guarantee for screen time. Casting laughed, “Even Tom Cruise doesn’t get that.”  I messed up. I could’ve been a contender.

Recently I received a credit acknowledgement for my assistance in Jack Ballo’s powerful riveting documentary, ‘Destiny’s Bridge’ dealing with a tent city of homeless people in Lakewood, New Jersey. As a journalist now, I became very aware and involved in homelessness and hunger in America.

Finally, a few years ago, friend and film maker Chris Eilenstine asked me to write a story on the making of his New Jersey based zombie film, ‘The Soulless,’ a cerebral, surreal and haunting tale of zombies and survival.  He also asked if I liked to be in the movie as well; to be a zombie with four hours of make-up or a reporter playing myself, interviewing a guilty scientist. I’m a reporter in the movie who gets eaten alive by zombies. That didn’t faze me. Now I have real acting credits and a page on IMDB. It took 34 years but who’s rushing. “Hey Uncle Dave look at me now and I never waited on tables.”

Book Trailer:

my novel  cover is the Maplewood train station

my novel cover is the Maplewood train station

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