I don’t mind admitting that in my gray fedora, I look like Harrison Ford. My wife and my friends are too shy to point this out to me, but give me a square jaw, hair on the top of my head, and a look in the eye like I know what I’m doing, and I could be his double. Yes, I know I look exactly like a middle-class, middle-aged, middle-American dad wrestling candy out of the hands of his sons (ages 5 and 7) at the supermarket checkout counter. But look closer. Don’t you see a kind of Indiana Jones charisma? An air of sexy danger?A psychiatrist might say that I am suffering from a common mental delusion, and that if you scratch beneath the surface of any typical harried father you will find a glamorous alter ego trying to claw its way out.
I don’t deny that this syndrome is a problem for many men. My own father was a victim of it. I remember the day, sometime during the 1960s, that he surprised us all by coming home from work sporting what he called his “Rex Harrison hat.” I realized with a twinge of boyish embarrassment that my dad actually thought he looked like the distinguished bachelor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. Now, my dad was a handsome man. But I knew Rex Harrison. I had seen Rex Harrison on TV. Dad was no Rex Harrison.
Fortunately for me, my resemblance to Harrison Ford is a matter of simple fact. Therefore, it seemed only natural that when the opportunity arose last year to be an extra in Ford’s movie The Fugitive, which filmed here in Chicago, I would seize it.
On the set, I quickly discovered that in the movie world, the status of extras is roughly equivalent to the status of chairs at a church pancake breakfast—necessary, but ranked far below actual people. My scene, I play a guy sitting next to another guy among 200 or so spectators in the courtroom where Dr. Richard Kimble is being tried for the murder of his wife, brought out my most profoundly chair-like qualities. My nuanced performance adds a note of stunning invisibility that is rare in film history.
But that’s not really the point. The point is that for a whole day, I worked with Harrison Ford. Like me, Harrison Ford sat. Like me, he had lunch in the cafeteria. Like me, he made wisecracks to break the tedium between takes. Together he and I listened to the state’s case against Dr. Richard Kimble. We registered shock, fear, anger, sorrow. We smiled understandingly as an actor flubbed his lines. We looked up in concern when a technician slipped while adjusting a light.
After 12 hours or so of work, I called home to let my wife know that the director planned to film past midnight.
“Past midnight?” In the background I recognized the telltale sounds of barely controlled sibling mayhem.
“I’m sorry, honey, but we’re talking Hollywood blockbuster here.”
“OK. But you owe me.” She said this playfully, yet with a hint of menace.
As I walked back to the set, I tried to imagine how Harrison Ford would react to the script direction “playfully, yet with a hint of menace.” He’d give a sly half-smile followed by a mock-fearful grimace, then move on confidently.
When we get The Fugitive on video, I’ll hit the pause button when we reach the courtroom scene.
“See, boys, there I am. Next to the fat guy in the tenth row.”
“The fat guy near the door, Dad?”
“No, the other fat guy, the one behind the woman in the blue dress next to the man with the plaid sport coat. See, that’s me! That’s your dad in the same movie as Indiana Jones!”
Then, to avoid the twinge of boyish embarrassment, I’ll cock my fedora over my eyes and hit the rewind button for one more glimpse of cinematic glory.