Featured Book Reviewer
- Feb 23, 2013
- East Texas
Exactly twenty-five years ago today when I returned home from my regular job working in the Housewares department at the Dallas Galleria Macy's I found on my answering machine a phone call I had been waiting for and one that would in many ways change my life: "James, how would you like to come to Savannah and teach young blacks how to be Civil War soldiers?" It was from my friend Ray Herbeck, Jr., who I had worked for before and who was to be one of the Associate Producers on a new movie project called Glory. This was the beginning of a three-month Odyssey , Feb. - Apr., 1989, that took me halfway across the continent to many different locations in coastal Georgia where filming took place. This part of my story will be ego-centric, but I thought it would be important to understand how this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came about.
My friend and movie mentor, Ray Herbeck, Jr., on the set of another film, Legacy, filmed at Nauvoo, Ill., for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints .
By 1989 I was a veteran of over a dozen years reenacting,having begun in a local farb Confederate artillery unit, which underwent many changes becoming in turn an authentic Confederate artillery unit; then a Union artillery unit; and finally a Union infantry company! I therefore had experience in both infantry and artillery, and a growing wardrobe of likely "impressions". Our group began to be used as extras in projects like The Blue and the Gray and North and South, Part II, where I first met Ray Herbeck, a California reenactor who was serving as reenactor coordinator. Meanwhile, through all this I continued working at my job for fifteen years as an instructor in the Federal Job Corps program, working mainly with minority youth, ages 16 - 22. In 1986 I lost that long-time job, and was briefly adrift, but as the saying goes, When one door closes, another opens: when the next opportunity for movie work came along the following summer I was imminently available! This was an IMAX production called Alamo - The Price of Freedom filmed on John Wayne's old set for his The Alamo at Brackettville, Texas. Production lasted for a month, and this time I was working directly for Ray, as both Texan and Mexican, infantry and artillery, "commanding" for the first time my own company of "Mexican" infantry as well as scratch-built artillery crews. I also kept records of other reenactors working on the project for pay purposes and was cast in a small one-line part as one of the Alamo defenders.
Above, as "Moses Rose" with actor Steve Sandor as the terminally ill "Jim Bowie" in a scene that was deleted from the finished film; below, leading my company in the assault on the Alamo.
Returned to "normal" life, I looked forward as chairman of my reenactment group to attending the events of the 125th anniversary of the Civil War, and led the Union infantry component of our large organization at events like Corinth and Gettysburg. There I had an amalgamation of Western Federal reenactors from Texas, Arizona, and California, plus a few brand-new Pennsylvania locals, the smallest company in our so-called Third or U.O. Battalion, giving me additional valuable experience as a company commander as seen below.
It was there at Gettysburg that the first scenes were shot for Glory and I inadvertently wound up in one of them! I saw Ray standing amid a group of several others, one of whom turned out to be Glory's director, Ed Zwick, with a large shoulder-mounted Panasonic camera filming from a hilltop. I didn't approach them at the time, but later learned $10,000 had been paid to the Gettysburg organizers, Pat Massengill's Napoleonic Tactics, for rights to film raw footage of the event that was eventually used at the beginning of Glory as a prelude to the Antietam sequence. Only much later after repeated viewings did I finally notice myself among the troops with the Irish Brigade flag of the 28th Mass. marching past:
If you'd like to know more about the 125th Gettysburg, here's a link to a thread about it:
After I digested Ray's fateful call, I returned it and found out shooting would begin the following week a thousand miles away in Savannah, Georgia! The next day I asked at Macy's about taking a leave of absence, but was told "We don't do that", so I went to the store manager who personally assured me that if I quit to do this, when filming was over he'd hire me back. Of course, I'd be starting all over again, but since I had only been there five months so far that was fine with me! So began my brush with glory - I credit the opportunity to my Job Corps experience teaching minority youth ( which I'd been sure to tell Ray about previously ); reenacting experience with Union and Confederate infantry and artillery; and prior work with Ray on other movie and TV projects. In later posts over the next several weeks I'll talk about my impressions of cast and crew and specifics about filming scenes throughout the movie.