Monday, October 04, 2010

Skeleton friends reassembled

Howdy Folks!

                            I think it's perfectly normal to occasionally wonder what happened to friends and enemies of the past. You know, those people that you've somehow lost contact with. As I've been alive for so long now, over the years I have lost contact with many people. Okay, so that's because most of them have died...but there are a few 'lost friends' still around who are nearly as old as I am.
  As much as it baffles me most of the time, there are perks to the modern world; and thanks to the joys of Facebook I now know what has happened to one of my oldest friends, Mr Harold Featherstone.
Harold, as he is today
  Back in the 1960's, Harold and I were actors, dahling. We may not have been the leading men but we had some meaty roles. At least, as meaty a role as any skeleton could really expect. Our friendship had been flourishing until early 1964. What went wrong? Well, it was all rather unfortunate.

      The previous year we'd been involved in the making of our first major feature film, 'Jason and the Argonauts'. We were taught how to fight with swords and shields. It was a painstaking process but all of the skeletons worked really hard, and by the end of filming we were like professional sword fighters. Mind you, it wasn't all work hard - we played hard too. We had such fun, and, not for the first or last time in my life, it was just as well I didn't have a liver or it would have been in a very sorry state indeed. As filming ended Harold and I were still on good terms. His next job was a low budget horror production, and I was preparing to film an episode of 'Z-Cars back in the UK. I'm confident that everything between us would have been fine had 'Jason and the Argonauts' not been an unexpected box office hit.
      As the crowds queued around the block to see the film for the second, third, time, the interest of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was piqued. For some reason they chose to overlook the rest of the film, which left the director, Don (Chaffey), less than pleased; but the academy did acknowledge the skeletons with a nomination in the 'best skeleton crew in a motion picture' category. What should have been a prestigious occasion would turn out to be one of the worst nights of my life.
      Walking up the red carpet, all dressed up in our tuxedos and best dresses, was a surreal experience. The crowds who had gathered were very enthusiastic to catch a glimpse of their screen idols. I didn't know that young girls, and some men, could scream quite that loud. This, combined with the sheer number of flashbulbs going off, made the experience overwhelming. As a consequence to all this stimuli, I was beginning to get flustered. The photographers were shouting, 'Frank...Give us a smile...Frank...Over here Frank!' When flustered I comply, so I walked towards them without hesitation. I smiled a little, posed a bit, and then continued on towards the civic theatre. It was over in a matter of seconds but it was during this moment that Harold first began to think I was getting above my station, that I was somehow going to steal his limelight. The rot of jealousy had set in.
     As the day of the ceremony neared, as a group we had decided that, in the unlikely event that we should win, Harold would collect the award on our behalf. He would also read the speech that he'd lovingly prepared. But, as I nervously flounced about on the red carpet, the seeds of Harold's resentment had been sown. What neither of knew was that, actually, the photographers had been shouting for one of the world's finest film directors, Frank Capra, who had been standing behind me. Unless making an idiot of yourself in public is your thing, there was nothing for Harold to be jealous of.

Our fifteen minutes...

        If that wasn't awkward enough, worse was to come. By the time our category was about to be announced we'd already patiently sat through hours of other awards and acceptance speeches. It's fair to say that by this point we were in a bit of a slumber. But, as everyone politely applauded the nominees as they were announced to the audience, we were suddenly roused into action; phantom pulses were racing, nervous brows were being mopped. As Cary Grant proudly declared, "And the winner is....'The Skeleton Crew for Jason and the Argonauts'". The crowd began to clap enthusiastically; music from the film began to play; and Harold was supposed to be getting to his feet to go and collect the award. I'm not quite sure what happened. I initially thought he'd died of delight. But I believe, just as the announcement was about to be made, he'd leant down to pick up the glass of champagne he'd accidentally knocked over in the excitement. In doing so he somehow got his bony hand wedged between the seats. As the spotlight fell on him it was clear that he wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. In a nervous desire to help I leapt to my feet, grabbed his other hand, and began trying to tug him free. Sidney Poitier, ever the gent, also sprung to his feet and tried to help. One muscly heave from the scrumptious Sidney, and Harold's arm broke free from his body. (Unexpected joint dislocation is a common consequence of having no tendons.) Thankfully, the sound of the orchestra muffled most of Harold's screams. Sidney and I landed on our backsides. Now thinking that this was a farcical set up, the audience roared with laughter.

      To say I was flustered would be to grossly understate. Harold still couldn't get to his feet; the orchestra were now repeating themselves; and nobody had yet collected the award. Then Sidney said to me, "Aren't you going to go and get it then?" As I say, when flustered I comply. So up towards the stage I went. My knees were knocking so badly that I sounded like a herd of horses on cobblestones. Just to make matters worst, and much to my horror, I realised that I still had hold of Harold's arm. But there was no time to dither as on my arrival to the stage I was immediately embraced by Jack Lemmon and Cary Grant; handed our Oscar; and pushed in front of a microphone. In my defence, not only was I was startled but I also had no prepared notes. As a result my acceptance speech was short, but shamefully cringe-worthy. To some of the finest actors and filmmakers in the world, I said, "This one's for my friend, Mr Harold Featherstone. Don't let his extensive horror film experience put you off; he's armless, really." I waved both arm and award in the air in a celebratory fashion, grinned like an idiot, and then promptly left the stage to generous applause. It was awful.

Not one but two

    If I thought that was bad, the worst was yet to come. When I returned to my seat, Harold, now free to leave his seat, was quietly seething. I gave him his arm back and sat down next to him. As the nominees for the 'best actress in a supporting role' award were being introduced, he leaned over and whispered to me, 'You planned that, you bony bastard!' I was shocked for I'd done no such thing. I certainly didn't recall doing so. I'm really not a malicious sort of individual, and, as far as I'm aware, I have no inclination to trap people in theatre furnishings.
     "Are you really that desperate for a role on The Dick Van Dyke show!?" Harold sniped at me. To be honest, I had no desire for a part on the Dick Van Dyke show, but I was now finding Harold's ungracious envy a most unappealing character trait. I was about to suggest that we go and get a drink in the bar, when I suddenly heard Elizabeth Taylor say, "And the award for best actor in a supporting role goes to...Frank Fettle."

   Well that was a surprising turn up for the books as I wasn't even nominated. It was worse than an erroneous episode of Australia's Next Top Model. The audience may have been whooping wildly, but I was still able to hear Harold suffer a severe case of sudden bone collapse - a condition not unusual in skeletons who've just received a major shock to the system.
     I was on my way to the stage to collect an award I didn't deserve at all, and my friend was now just a pile of bones in a tux. As he lay there, staring at the underneath of his theatre seat, his face stuck in the remnants of his spilt champagne, his conviction that I had, somehow, constructed this entire charade didn't once falter. He'd be fine once he'd been reassembled and had two cups of hot sweet tea, but, nonetheless, none of this had been in the script for the evening.
     The final straw came when, during my second acceptance speech of the night, a little voice wafted up from between the seats of rows C and D to fill the auditorium. My heckling friend had soon turned the air a shade of blue with his insults. Thankfully, Rex Harrison was mindful enough to lean over and disconnect Harold's jaw from his skull before he could continue his tirade no longer.
    His words were so vulgar I dare not to repeat them in polite company. It had been quite unnecessary. But, alas, so was my response. The gasps of shock had abated and silence had returned. So as I finished my short speech about how shocked I was, I brought it to a swift conclusion by saying, "Am I now eligible for a guest spot on the Dick Van Dyke Show? What do you say, Dick? Am I?" The crowd roared.

     Had he been in better shape I'm sure Harold would have gladly beaten me over the head with my own femur. I never got the chance to find out. The rest of the crew dragged him out the the bar to be reassembled, and before I knew it I'd been dragged backstage to calm down. My knees were still knocking so Katherine Hepburn brought me a drink and whispered that she'd put a 'little something extra' in there. I can only imagine what that was because soon enough my nerves had ebbed away and I was having a great time. 

    My theory as to how I ended up with an Oscar is this...It is still my belief that Don Chaffey was so determined to win his film an Oscar that, after the crowd warmed to me, he sneaked into the envelope and scribbled my name on the results card. I knew I had a natural flair for sword fighting but I was no Olivier. That was just my theory nobody else believed me. Everyone else was hailing me as a new physical comic genius who had somehow hijacked the Oscar ceremony. It was all a terrible mistake.  People who had never heard of me before this night were telling me how much they loved me; knowledgeable people approached me to tell me how much they loved my work. Amazing, considering I done so little of it. This, was what Harold was jealous of?   The appreciation I received didn't exactly put flesh on my bones, or a beat in my heart.
The following morning my face was on the front cover of all the newspapers. My interloper status had been discovered, and the true winner (Melyvn Douglas) informed. Once I'd been found out, so to speak, I immediately returned the statue of the little gold man.
     In time the furore calmed down but, still believing that I'd made all this happen, Harold refused to speak to me again. Back in 1978 I thought I'd caught a glimpse of him in an episode of Quincy, but I'd lost all contact with him long before. That was until this past weekend, when my good friend, Mr Michael Taylor, visited Lincoln University. It seems that Harold was on duty as part of their open day. I presume that he was in the science department.  Not only am I thrilled to know that's his reassembly was successful, and that he's still 'with us'; but it's good to know that he's still working.  

Right folks; that was a pointless tale from my past...and now the brandy glass needs a refill. 

My regards to you all,

1 comment:

The cat said...

You do make me chuckle Frank!

Post a Comment