Hurrah! The last of the dirty snow has melted, leaving the front yard littered with leaves of all the trees, as though a whispering ghost tornado had passed through dark nights and days full of shots, boosters and masks.

Now on one late afternoon brightened with daylight saving time’s sweet kiss, I opened the Sony blue light view of the entertainment world and scrolled.

“Oh my god, THAT’S WILLIE,” I shouted at the the big Sony screen.

“Isn’t that Willie Kramer?”

“Tell me that’s not Willie Kramer.”

She looked up from her book and lowered her glasses.

Advertisement

“Isn’t he one of your dead ones?” She whispered.

“Will you stop using that line. That’s Willie, and he’s alive.”

“Well, he doesn’t look well,” She said.

We were looking at a segment of “Grey’s Anatomy” on one of those endless hospital corridor scenes, where the interns were wheeling Willie festooned with wires and bottles and blanketed in a wheelchair, down the green hall.

“Willie’s acting here, he’s working here; look at him, he’s working,” I said.

I scanned the credits at closing, but I knew, unless he had one line, he wouldn’t be credited. Television has a strong caste system.

Advertisement

I got on the laptop and dashed off a letter to Harlan Flagg who, like myself, married a smarter woman who walked us out of the minefields of show business.

Harlan doesn’t answer often, but yesterday he did.

Harlan is the smartest of us, the only one of us who finished college.

Harland, like his father, became a teacher and is now retired.

John McMurray, the youngest of us, went back to his hometown outside of Boston, and joined his brothers in the restaurant and bar business.

Last year I tracked him down, only to find that Johnny had passed to the other side two years ago.

Advertisement

We were gypsies who were scattered across the dramas, the comedies and hundreds of commercials of video world.

(I changed all the names here out of respect for their privacy.)

I can only truly name Jack Reilly of the Bob Newhart show who passed last year. We were best of friends, who worked and competed against each other for two decades.

Jack was for years the voice of Country Crock Margarine.

It’s important here to point out that our small fortunes came not just from movies and sitcoms but from the biggest gold mine in television: commercials.

A Bayer Aspirin spot can put your kids through private school. It’s that crazy.

Advertisement

Eventually, it was only Harlan — now rich and with a lawyer-daughter and six grandchildren — who answers me.

Willie, he said, is indeed alive and in his 80s as we all are, and is still on television working as an extra until he can’t move anymore.

“Extras” are those faces in crowds and at parties, cafes and street scenes, with no lines, who now have been upgraded with more dignified titles like “junior artists,” “atmospheres” and “background talent.” That’s a career trap.

Once casting folks see you as background talent, no one will ever give you a part.

But Willie is 89 years old now and rich.

For now he’s happy just being a “junior artist” or “atmosphere” or just one of the faces in the crowd.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: