Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My Roy Scheider Moment Of Zen

“We're gonna need a bigger boat.” Yeah.

With yesterday's passing of the actor Roy Scheider at the age of 75, I'm reminded of many of his classic celluloid moments. I first saw him in“The French Connection” as Gene Hackman's (“Popeye Doyle”) partner Buddy Russo. Scheider's craggy, east-coaster face was a constant companion of my days as a kid piled in the way-back of Daddy's big Briarwood station wagon as my family watched scads of movies at the local Whitestone and Sunrise Drive-Ins.

I saw him in “The Seven-Ups” on a double bill with “Enter The Dragon” in early '74, and freaked on the chase that peeled through my old Harlem neighborhood and ended on the Taconic Parkway with the car “he” was driving “Mansfield-ing” an eighteen-wheeler. Whoooooo-weeee!

Of course, there was his work in “Jaws” as Chief Brody, and yes...the “WTF?” line “You're gonna need a bigger boat” was indeed a Scheiderian ad-lib according to director Steven Spielberg. His cold-blooded turn in “Marathon Man” as Dustin Hoffman's CIA operative brother de-glamorized “spook” work while giving it a certain patina of rough, workaday cool.

It was his portrayal of the mercurial, hard-to-love/easy-to-adore Bob Fosse in 1979's “All That Jazz” that revealed a lot of his rarely-used-since-movie-stardom, Broadway-level chops. His shadings as “Joe Gideon” (Fosse's alter-ego) was a revelation to those who saw Scheider as an action-movie/thriller star. Vain, sensitive, evil and angelic-all balled up in one testosterone-fueled, dance-belted mess of a man. He was wonderful.

But my moment of Roy Scheider Zen occurred in 1995 in Hollywood. I was on the Universal Studios lot taking a meeting and eventually killing some time (trying to pop-start a studio golf cart) when me and my co-horts found ourselves outside Sound Stage 27 I believe it was, where they were shooting the NBC TV show “SeaQuest DSV” which starred Scheider.

Several cast members were evidently on a break outside the studio between scenes, tossing a football around. Roy Scheider was among them. Someone tossed the ball over Roy's reach and it bounded goofily near my feet.

I picked it up and looked at Brody/Russo/Fosse/Scheider and threw it back to him as best I could—which was a sad, wobbly wounded duck of a near-spiral.

Just ugly.

He caught it near his knees before it would have plopped weakly to the ground, and he clearly saw my look of utter embarrassment at the “toss”. I could catch and run with a football with anybody—but my spirals were just awful things.

Scheider cocked his head at me as if to say “C'mon”, and fired the ball back to me on a rope. A perfect, tight Staubach-like spiral. He was giving me a chance to make a better throw to atone for my previous abortion of a toss. So I stepped back, bounced on the balls of my feet, stepped into the throw and released straight over the shoulder and followed through smartly.

“Vwip!” A not-perfect , but pretty decent little spiral that sailed in at his left shoulder. He even “sold” the throw to his castmates with a little “Oomph!” sound and a shrug and move back on his heels for effect.

He simply said, “Yeah!”, and nodded at me and turned to throw more arcing beauties to his co-stars.

A lifetime of great performances and...a simple moment of face-saving do-over granted to a shmoe he didn't know from Adam.

Thanks for it all, Roy. As I nod and simply say “Yeah.”

And below is that amazing chase from Scheider's 73 hit, “The Seven-Ups”—the second-best car chase in movie history, behind McQueen's wild San Fran tear-assing in 1968's Bullitt and just in front of Hackman's NY street lunacy of “The French Connection”.

One word...Duck!