I’ll never forget what’s his name

We all have our favourite actors, stars who we’ll pay to see in just about anything. For me it’s The Great Escape’s James Garner. You’ll have your own and that’s what they’re there for, to get bums on seats.

Suggesting anyone would watch a film for the extras (or supporting artists) in the background would be ridiculous – wouldn’t it?

I was inspired to think about the subject this week by new book A Quiet Man Miscellany (Atrium) by Des MacHale. It takes a fond look back at the 1952 John Wayne film The Quiet Man, the story of an American (Wayne) who returns to Ireland to reclaim his family’s land.

MacHale has investigated everything related to the film, uncovering a mystery involving an actor not credited in the film’s end credits. You’ll need to read the book to discover whether he finds the answer, but I started wondering about these ignored extras.

Did you know that Bruce Willis, Michael Caine and Matt Damon all started out as extras? Even Fidel Castro appeared in 1946’s Holiday in Mexico before he became slightly better known.

My claim to movie fame came when for two days I “starred” as a doctor in the remake of South Pacific in Australia with Glenn Close. OK, you can’t see me on screen in the final product but I know I’m there, trying hard to look like I belonged in the 1940s.

What about the girl who was the first victim of Jaws? The passengers who fell to their deaths in Titanic or the New Yorkers killed in Cloverfield? Who were the cowboys in all those Westerns whose characters are guilty of no more than getting caught up with a bad crowd, ending up in a bar room brawl or shot by the movie’s hero?

They each turned up on set to give it their all. They told stories to their friends and family about the time Eastwood or McQueen killed them. Weren’t they as much a part of their film’s success as Clint and Steve?

We don’t know their names and we’ll never hear their stories, but without them they would be duller films. So, in the absence of an Oscar category for them, let’s hear it for the faceless men (and women) in the background, each one a star in their own way and each a little part of movie history.

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