Friday, May 20, 2022. Cloudy and rainy yesterday with temps in the mid-60s and heading back to the mid-70s today. The city is busy.
There’s No Business Like Show Business. Only In New York. Wednesday night I had dinner at Sette Mezzo with Philip Carlson who is an old friend. We met in the late 1960s when we were both pursuing an acting career and were cast in the same off-Off Broadway production in a church in Brooklyn Heights.
We both also lived in Manhattan and I gave him a ride home one night, and ever since we’ve been talking off-and-on for the last six decades, and never run out of conversation. Ours is the old fashioned non-tech kind where we have conversations rather than web-postings of emails.
Sette Mezzo was packed more than usual, inside and out. Half the room’s tables were set with flowers. A party. I soon learned it was someone’s birthday, scheduled for 7:30. Martin Scorsese and daughter Francesca were hosting a birthday dinner for his wife Helen.
I learned this as I was sitting down at my table with Philip and he informed me that he had a history with the famous film director. These were his words about it …
Philip: “I have a history with Martin Scorsese. A small one. I was in his first movie which was also his graduate thesis for the Tisch School of Arts in 1967, originally called “I Call First” later changed to “Who’s That Knocking At My Door?” His cinematographer was a pal who worked the lunch shift at Toots Shor’s, and was working his way through college. Some of the other actors were friends from my acting class. We were kids making a movie. One of us was Martin Scorsese who was making his first film for the bigtime.
I had a ball being directed by him. There was something special about him on his set. I had never been on a movie set at that point; most of us hadn’t. But we all felt there was something special about this one. We weren’t sure it was the director. Could have been.
We shot my scene in Copake, New York on the side of a mountain outside town. Scorsese would have us improvise the scene, then lock it, then shoot it. He would not-quite shout “Action!” and off we’d go. His energy was always confined but it permeated the whole set. That was what was special.
I always wondered if I ever ran into Martin Scorsese before I died if I would have the courage to go up to him and tell him how much I admired him and treasured the memory of being on his set. I decided I would not go for it on this particular evening at Sette Mezzo. For one thing, I used to be a waiter (back when Martin Scorsese was making student movies) and I always wanted to protect my celebrities, not talk to them myself. Perhaps I have taken that sensibility into my other endeavors.
Our conversation continued about Philip’s filming that day. He never saw Scorsese again after that day although he’d followed his career/his films closely, and always greatly admired his work. As the years passed and Philip eventually left his career as an actor for a career as an agent. He’d often imagined that if he ever did see Scorsese again, he would tell him that he was in that first film.
After we’d finished our dinner, I suggested to Phil that he go over to Scorsese’s table and introduce himself and tell him about that “first time” for both of them. Philip was hesitant, being a person who does not like to interrupt someone else’s dinner, especially this party for his wife.
However, as we were about to leave the restaurant I told Oriente, the maître d’ about Philip’s early experience. Oriente immediately suggested that Phil tell him.
“Com’on,” Oriente said as he put his arm around Philip’s shoulder, “I’ll introduce you; he’s a very nice man” he said referring to the director, and he marched Phil up to Scorsese’s table.
“Mr. Scorsese, this customer was in your first movie.”
And Scorsese shifts his gaze to me. There is a way in which I have found that people of great accomplishment look at people who are new to them — with an eagerness to discover how this new person will be relevant to their lives. Scorsese looked at me like that.
“Mr. Scorsese,” I said, “I always promised myself that if I ever met you as a grown up I would introduce myself and tell you how much I admired you. I was in your first film, ‘Who’s That Knocking At My Door?” I was The Boy From Copake.
And everyone at the host’s table had an audible response. “The Boy from Copake?” “No, really?” “Marty’s first movie!” “Oh, wow.”
“Remember the Boy from Copake?” Well, of course they didn’t remember my performance but they remembered the character and they remembered their friend’s first movie and I was a part of that.
“Do you still say ‘ACTION!’ as if you were about to burst?” I asked him.
“I do,” he said. “Do you remember going up the side of that mountain?” he asked as if to prove he was the real Martin Scorsese.
“And do you remember,” I asked, “that old guy at the inn who told you, ‘The name of this town is C-O-P-A-K-E and it’s the greatest little town in the world,’ and you got some B-roll and asked him to say it again for the camera?”
“Yes, I do,” said Martin Scorsese. And maybe he did.
I don’t know what I said in lieu of good-bye. I was so impressed by the moment. Probably something sappy like, ‘Thanks for the movies.’”