Growing up in the farmlands of middle America, I was no stranger to royalty. We have County Fair Queens. Rodeo Queens. Miss Swiss Cheese Days. Little Mr. Firecracker. I was once second runner up in a 4-H pageant, which gave me the honor of greeting cars and pickup trucks as they drove into the ‘Wheat’ and ‘Alfalfa’’ sections of the parking lot at the annual summer 4-H fair. It doesn’t matter where you live. People are fascinated by royalty. To this day many countries around the world still have Kings, Queens, Dukes, and Emperors. America is no exception. It was 1992 when I met my first Hollywood royal, Mr. Joe Pesci.
Joe Pesci was starring in a big studio movie. I was the day player. Being a day player means you have a smaller role that only takes one day to shoot. That was me, Miss One Day Wonder. Being a day player isn’t all that bad. You usually have a few lines, you get your own porta potty sized trailer, a hot meal, and you might get to do a scene opposite one of the Hollywood royals. That was the case for me that day. I was gonna do a scene with Mr Pesci. ‘Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!’ Even the cows back home on the farm knew who Joe Pesci was.
The first time I saw Mr. Pesci was when he was arriving on set. He had a martini in one hand and a cigar in the other. I thought they were props. But, I was wrong. Mr. Pesci had his own personal assistant who would hold his martini and cigar while a scene was being shot and then bring them to Mr. Pesci in between takes. WOW...all that and a double wide. The life of a Hollywood royal ain’t nothing to spit dip at. The last royalty I had worked with was Mr. Socket Wrench, whose 1948 rail-back Chevy had won the vintage car show at the annual Harvest Days Festival. Mr. Pesci had a limo that would drive him from his trailer to the set. I found that odd because his trailer was only about 50 yards away from the set. Maybe great actors need to conserve their energy for their performances. Lord knows Mr. Pesci was one of the finest actors I’d ever seen in the movies. I had just seen ‘My Cousin Vinny’ in the theaters, and I still had goosebumps from the final courtroom scene. Joe Pesci had definitely earned his ranks amongst the Hollywood royals, and I was going to do a scene with him. Holy Macaroni Salad!!!
I am six feet tall in bare feet. As an actress, I am often cast as part of a height-gag opposite an actor shorter than myself. Joe Pesci is about 5’4”. To exaggerate our height difference, wardrobe had put me in 4 inch platform shoes making me exactly one foot taller than Joe.
It was finally time to shoot my big scene opposite one of Hollywood’s most beloved royals. My scene with Mr. Pesci took place at a sorority party on the Harvard campus. A few minutes before we were to begin shooting, the director walked me over to Mr. Pesci for a quick introduction. “Joe, this is Melinda.” Yup, the introduction was that quick. We shook hands and I said, “It is very nice to m-m-meet you, Mr. Pesci.” Joe nodded and replied, “Likewise, kid.” The director immediately told everyone to go to the set and take their places. I was so excited. I looked up and began to walk to the set. BOOM!!! I suddenly felt something hit my bosom. Oh my God, what was that? I looked down at the padded push up bra I was wearing and realized that Joe Pesci had just bounced off of it. Holy chicken manure! I just knocked over Joe Pesci!!! With our one foot height difference and me looking straight ahead, Joe must have been just below my line of vision. I could tell by his face, as he began his descent to the ground, that he was as shocked as I was. Suddenly, everything turned into slow motion. I reached out my arms and caught Joe in mid air. Time froze as I held Joe in my arms. I felt like Fred Astaire holding Ginger Rogers at the end of a big dance number only minus the grace, glamor, and pre arranged choreography. I looked up. Everyone was staring at us with terror in their eyes, while gasping and clutching their hands to their mouths. No one wanted to move. You could hear a pin drop. You would have thought I had just knocked over Prince Charles or Queen Elizabeth. With Joe still in my arms, I looked down and said, “I’m soooo sorry M-m-mr. Pesci.” With the sweetest scent of a cigar I had ever smelled, he said, “It’s ok, kid. Just put me back up.” I put Mr. Pesci back on his feet. He straightened his jacket, gave me a wink, put his cigar back in his mouth, and began to stroll off towards the film set. He was so cute. I gave him a pat on the head. HOLY SHIT!!! What the…?! Did I just…just…just…pat…just pat…Mr. Joe Pesci on the head?! Who the hell does that?! Who the hell pats people on the head?! Apparently I do. I looked down at my hands. I didn’t even recognize them anymore. Whose hands are these? Do they have a mind of their own? Have I no control over my own hands? I froze. I couldn’t move. I slowly looked back up. Joe Pesci was already halfway to the film set with the entire cast and crew following him in what almost appeared to be a straight, single file line. They were following Joe as if he was the Pied Piper, and I was the one little mouse left behind not sure if I was even worthy to follow. Oh God, strike me dead. Pretty please. I just wanna go home and hug a cow.
There were no cows to be hugged that day. God did not strike me dead. Instead a production assistant grabbed me by the arm and dragged me to the set. Why? Because, as they say in show biz, ‘the show must go on’. That’s life. It goes on. The question is, do you want to go on too? That day and everyday since, my answer has been ‘YES’.