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The Walk-On

Ernesto Uribe

October 13, 2012

I was posted as Student Affairs Officer in Bogotá, Colombia when I was unexpectedly given a walk-on acting role in a feature motion picture that was being filmed by an American company in Colombia. The Proud and Damned was written, produced and directed by Frede Grofe Jr., son of renowned Frede Grofe, composer of the Grand Canyon Suite.

The year was 1969, I was the lowest ranking officer in the American Embassy, working in cultural and educational affairs. One day Ferde called on my boss to advise him that he would be filming in the remote village of Villa de Leyva in the Boyaca Mountains and would appreciate any facilitative assistance the embassy might offer. My boss picked me, as he thought that I could keep Grofe and company out of trouble with the local town officials, the local police/military and the community in general.

I helped Ferde get settled in a small inn that his company took over, helped in scouting for filming locations, and was always available for translation assistance but he rarely needed help since his wife was Colombian and was always at his side. I did assist with the rental of a dozen horses plus grooms who were from the local Colombian Army Cavalry detachment that would remain on location for the duration of the filming.

Ferde was always extremely kind and invited me to take all my meals at his table with the actors. He also offered me a free bunk with Andre Marquis, one of the principal actors who plays the military dictator in the movie. I was also invited to visit all the sets to watch any filming in process. I got to meet and have many a meal and drinks with Chuck Connors, Cesar Romero, Jose Greco, Peter Ford, son of Glenn Ford, and the whole cast and film crew.

I was watching the filming of one of the first scenes with Chuck Connors where he was supposed to get into a fight with one of the soldiers…and all the “soldados” were short Andean men no taller than five and a half feet. Chuck said that no way was he going to be filmed fighting these “little guys” and told Grofe that he wouldn’t do it.  Grofe said that these local fellows were all that were available… Chuck pointed to where I was standing, watching the filming and said ” how about that big guy over there?”  Ferde told him that I was with the American Embassy and not an actor. So Connors approached me and asked if I would be willing to play the part… I said I would give it a try.

It all happened so unexpectedly that I had no time to think about what I was getting myself into. It was only when I realized that I was going to do something I had never even dreamed of doing in front of floodlights and rolling cameras that I began to worry. It was then that I mumbled a little prayer to myself to please not let me choke and hopefully pull off this acting bit in good form.

A part was written for me into the script on the spot, an officer’s uniform was found, and I would be in the movie in five or six scenes. The fight scene with Connors was the first and it went great. While filming the action Chuck accidentally cut my lower lip with his fist when he grabbed me by the flimsy uniform lapels that tore loose… the blood you see in that scene is real.

Chuck was embarrassed and most apologetic when he saw blood dripping from my lip because it was not supposed to have happened. I told him it was probably my fault because I was not a stunt person and for him to not worry and forget about it.

So that was how I became part of the cast in The Proud and Damned and spent a lot of time in Villa de Leyva. Chuck and I became good friends and I became the provider of the Cutty Sark whiskey from the commissary and he shared the goodies from his survival box of smoked oysters, cheese, fancy cookies and crackers, jerky, etc. We had many a conversation in the evenings in the patio of that little hotel with nothing better to do.

The permanent payoff for me while filming this movie was establishing contact with Alvaro Ruiz (el hombre feliz).and Fernando Pacheco, the two most popular Colombian TV and film personalities at the time, as well as with other Colombian actors. We all became and remained good friends after the filming of The Proud and Damned. I was invited to their private parties, the TV studios were always open to me, and I was inducted into the unofficial and very informal “Colombian actor’s guild.” These guys also started coming and bringing influential friends to cultural functions and art openings at the Bogotá Bi-National Center gallery and bringing their TV crews to record our events to use on their shows… it was good all around.

My being a member of the “Colombian actor’s guild” got me a gig in The Adventurers a movie that featured Candice Bergen and Ernest Borgnine. Here again I landed a speaking part in the role of an army officer (typecast?) in one scene. Ernest Borgnine and I were in the same scene so we met in the makeup tent before going on location… it was a night scene and they were burning a whole hacienda in the background. I was warned by the movie director that the background fire would only hold long enough to get two or three good takes. My line was: “They’re all dead, Colonel Gutierrez.” and I got it on the first take.

This time, as a “Colombian” actor with a speaking part, I was given a nice private room in the best hotel in Manizales, also a pass to the actor’s dining facilities at the hotel and on location, and a car and driver while I was there during filming.

Although The Adventurers was a major, multinational, big budget motion picture, for me the filming of The Proud & Damned was a great learning experience and a lot more fun…

Brief as my non-illustrious “movie career” was, it was of enormous value to my other career as the full-time cultural and academic coordinator for the US Embassy. The contacts I made with Colombian actors and TV soap-opera stars helped me draw important personalities to cultural events supported by the United States at the Bogotá Bi-national Center where a few months later I became its director. The Centro Colombo-Americano de Bogotá was a place where leaders and persons in all walks of life found a window to our country.

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