Mandelbaum in the Movies

By Jack Goodstein

The news that they were looking for extras for the made-for-television motion picture they were shooting in Kittaning reached Mandelbaum weeks after it reached everyone else in town. Mandelbaum didn’t read the papers. Mandelbaum didn’t communicate much with his neighbors. He would as soon listen to the voice of the devil as WKIT, the voice of Kittaning. Because he had no relatives, he had no relatives to speak with, but if he had had relatives, it is not likely he would have had much to say to them in any case. In fact, even the news that there was a made-for-television motion picture being shot in Kittaning didn’t reach Mandelbaum until weeks after that shooting had begun.

Had his neighbors thought to tell him about it, they would have quickly put the thought out of their minds, since Mandelbaum, they all knew very well, was a private person, a massive hulk of a private person who was prone to meet a friendly greeting with a grunt and a scowl under the best of circumstances. And while the whole town might be agape and agog with movies and movie stars, what would such things be to Mandelbaum? Besides, for all anyone knew, the man might not even own a television set, and if he did, was it at all likely that he would watch such a thing as a made-for-television motion picture? So it was with surprise bordering on shock that the good people of Kittaning arose one morning to find Mandelbaum leading the sun down Main Street, made-for-television motion picture makers beginning their day quite early, to the front of the Super Bee Market where that day’s shooting was to take place.

“Look,” said the early-rising paperboy, pointing.

“I see,” shrugged the driver of the school bus.

Their surprise was even greater when he walked straight up to that eminent man in the baseball cap and jeans, a man of such importance that the fraying of his shirt collar and the scuffing on his shoes went unnoticed, or at least uncommented upon, by all those around him; walked right up to the great man who was clamping his teeth down on a poppy seed bagel shmeared heavily with cream cheese and announced: “I am here.”

“For what?” said the paperboy.

“For what?” said the neighbors to each other.

“For what?” asked the nonplussed minions of the celebrated muncher of bagels.

“I see that,” said the great man, who had not become great a great man by allowing anything as inconsequential as an ignorance of circumstances to prevent him from taking control whatever the situation. “I’ve been waiting.”

He finished chewing his bagel, surveying the bulky body of Mandelbaum as he chewed, waiting perhaps for some clue as to who this man was and what it was that he was here for, or perhaps not caring at all. When no clarification was forthcoming, he simply called to his assistant, pointed to Mandelbaum, and said: “He is here.” This cogent remark he punctuated with another large bite into the bagel, which clearly indicated to the assistant that no further explanation would be forthcoming.

“Follow me, please,” the assistant smiled at Mandelbaum.

And Mandelbaum followed him. Followed him to the assistant’s assistant, to whom the assistant said with all the authority of an aspirant to greatness: “He is here.” And with that he turned and walked away in search of his own poppy seed bagel.

The assistant’s assistant looked Mandelbaum up and down, hoping perhaps for some indication of what was to be done, but with nothing forthcoming in a timely fashion, and loathe to indicate indecisiveness by any failure to act, he said, “Come with me.”

And Mandelbaum was led to a young man with a note pad who took him to a younger man without a note pad who introduced him to an older man with a neatly trimmed beard who brought him to a red-haired woman in a tee shirt that read: “I’m With Stupid,” and showed an arrow pointing to the right. The red-haired woman pointed Mandelbaum to a high stool standing before a mirror, covered him with a sheet-like cloth, and began to cover his face with some sort of greasy substance.

“You here for the heavy?” she asked.

“I’m here,” muttered Mandelbaum.

“I thought they were bringing in a name from the coast,” she opined.

“Mmm,” mumbled Mandelbaum. Polite conversation was an indulgence he rarely allowed himself. Instead he sat quietly as she painted his face, etched a red line of scar on his left cheek, clipped a few hairs from his nostrils, and rose obediently as she pointed him to a pinstriped suit, a black shirt and a bow tie. Mandelbaum looked at the clothes as if he didn’t comprehend what clothes were for.

“They’re waiting,” the redheaded woman said.

Mandelbaum did not move.

“Put it on,” she said, indicating the suit.

Mandelbaum looked for someplace to change.

“Hurry,” she shouted, “they’re waiting.”

Shrugging his shoulders, Mandelbaum dropped his pants and forced his massive frame into the waiting clothes which, although a little tight, managed to withstand the thrust of his efforts.

The redheaded woman, watching the stuffing of the suit with some fear for its seams, but realizing that it was not her place to question the great or even the near-great for that matter, called over to where the camera had been set up: “He’s here.” And she pushed him gently forward.

“Ah, here he is,” said the man with the neatly trimmed beard.

“He’s here,” called the young man without the note pad to the younger man with the note pad, who checked his note pad and, finding nothing, escorted Mandelbaum back to the assistant’s assistant.

“Here,” he said.

The assistant’s assistant looked at Mandelbaum and as if the addition of the scar to the left cheek had awakened some recognition in him, led him proudly off to the assistant, at whom he smiled knowingly.

“Here’s the man.”

The assistant, disoriented for the moment, didn’t recognize Mandelbaum. He had been busily checking so many things. He stared at the scar. He stared at the pinstriped suit. These he remembered, not on the body of Mandelbaum, but these he remembered. And then it came to him: the great man, the poppy seed bagel, the cream cheese. This was the actor that had been entrusted to his care. And looking at him in make up and costume, he had done well.

“We’re here,” he called.

The great man looked at Mandelbaum approvingly. “Well done,” he thought.

“Check his light,” he said.

Two months later, when Mandelbaum left for Hollywood, his neighbors may have been surprised, or maybe they were not. Mandelbaum was a private man. They knew so little of him. Who knew what he had inside.