Sunday, March 17, 2013

Nobody Told Me About John Ritter

My family has this strange problem identifying what information I’d find interesting. See, my parents never told me that they were once casual friends with Adrienne Barbeau during that magical time we call “back in the seventies.” The omission might be understandable were I your typical, goldfish-memoried young person with no interest in anything that happened before the immediate present. I, however, was Drew, the kind of kid who decided that his favorite movie was Swamp Thing and who watched reruns of Maude. So you’d think during any of the times I was watching one or the other of these, my mom might have pointed out “Oh, by the way, your father and I kind of knew that lady Swamp Thing is rescuing” or “Oh hey, we were seventies friends with the woman playing Bea Arthur’s sassy divorcee daughter.” Nope. I only found out years later, via the most casual of asides. Some time after that, I’d be walking down the street in Santa Barbara, and I’d hear Adrienne Barbeau’s voice. (She’d played the part of Catwoman in the nineties Batman cartoons, and I watched those enough that her voice had become unmistakable.) But she was on the phone, so I didn’t get a chance to ask her exactly how well she knew my parents and if there was a reason they hadn’t mentioned her. “Did something weird go down in the seventies, Adrienne Barbeau?” I was genuinely curious to know.

Take all that as a preface for my story about John Ritter. I’d told my parents that yes, I do think stuff like this is interesting and yes, I do want you to tell me. In late 2003, John Ritter and Johnny Cash died a day apart, and the next time I came home from college, I visited my grandmother. We talked about Johnny Cash until my grandmother commented, “And John Ritter seemed like a nice man. And good-looking, too.” Something about the way she said it made me think she wasn’t meaning it in the “just watched him on Three’s Company way.” So I asked.

My grandma: “Oh, well he made that movie here.”

So I asked.

Grandma: “The horse movie. They filmed it where we kept our horses. And Buddy Ebsen was in it too. And that one actress who went on to be famous.”

So I asked. My grandmother struggled to recall the name. “Oh, I remember that she couldn’t do the scene correctly, and she got upset and then they had to bring out her mother, who was also so famous.”

I pushed further, but she couldn’t pull out the name. The closest I got was “Oh, she had the… this,” and then my grandmother put her hands over her ears and moved them around in a circular motion. Princess Leia. My eighty-year-old grandmother had just pantomimed a Star Wars character, yet that was not the strangest thing happening. Me: “Carrie Fisher? Carrie Fisher was in the movie they filmed here? And Debbie Reynolds had to come out and yell at Carrie Fisher to make her do her lines correctly.”

Grandma: “That’s them.” She filled in a few more details — my family was on-set, they and other locals sat in the stands for a crowd scene, Debbie Reynolds was also nice and talked to people after she scared her daughter into not tarnishing the family legacy — but soon enough I was headed home, eager to ask my mom why I hadn’t heard about the time she was in a movie.

Me: “Mom, Grandma said that they filmed a movie with John Ritter here, and also Carrie Fisher was in it, and it was before either of them were famous, and Debbie Reynolds had to come yell at Carrie Fisher, and also you were in crowd scenes and also John Ritter seemed nice and good-looking. Is any of that true?”

My mom: “Yes.”

Me: “Why the hell wouldn’t you tell me?”

My mom: “Well, it was just a TV movie.”

And I feel like my mom probably would have been fine leaving it at that, as if this one paltry TV movie paled in comparison to the series of megablockbusters that were filmed in our anonymous little corner of California. But I prodded her to confirm any of the details, and I guess none of it resulted from a bad case of grandma brain. This week, I found that the film is posted on YouTube. It’s called Leave Yesterday Behind, which the most TV movie-seeming name ever, and it looks about exactly like you’d expect a 1978 TV movie about horses would look. If any scene featured people with whom I share DNA, it seems like it would be this one:

But I can’t pick out any of the extras as looking familiar, what with their heavy seventies disguises. In fact, just about any of the women who maybe, possibly could be my mom could just as easily be Adrienne Barbeau. In fact, it probably is Adrienne Barbeau and my mom. They were probably hanging out on set, “because that’s just something we did back in the seventies.”

Allegedly funny stories, previously:

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