Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Inhabiting a Role

In between the small roles, background and stand-in work I have done, I was always looking for something else to do when work was slow, so when a friend asked me to cover for her on a gig, I was interested.
"Have you ever been a costumed character?", she asked me.
"Uh, no, I said, what do you mean?"
"Woody Woodpecker", she answered. "You appear at events as Woody Woodpecker."
"In a costume, that looks like him?" I asked. "Oh, yes, it's quite a costume!" she said, "It's fun, you'll have fun." My middle name!

So, a few days later, I went to Universal for orientation, do some paperwork, and pick up the costume. The girl running the program had worked at Disneyland as Snow White, and knew all about working with, and appearing as a costumed character. There all kinds of rules.

Number one. Don't talk! So even though the Woody Woodpecker laugh was one of my main parlor tricks as a child, I couldn't do it. Guess they don't want to be responsible for anything inappropriate someone might say while portraying a character.

Number two. NEVER take the head off when people are around. Don't want to give any little kids nightmares of a decapitated cartoon character.

Number three. Never walk around alone. It is hard to see and move in the costume, so this is a safety issue, also, some people can be mean and hurt the character, so you have protection. There is always someone with you to spot you.

Number four. Do not stay in the costume longer than 20 minutes. You are on and off every 15-20 minutes. Those costumes are very hot, and you can become dehydrated and/or faint.

Suiting up. First there is a foundation garment. This is like a leotard, close fitting to the body, and zips up, but the suit has padding on it, in various places to give the proper cartoon body shape. Then, the costume itself,a full body suit, fitting the contours of the foundation, and with arms and legs, like big fuzzy sleepers. The hands are big, padded gloves, with 4 fingers, so you put the two middle fingers in one glove finger, and then, the big oversized clown-shoe like feet. The head is very big, and quite heavy. You can see through the mouth.

I have to say, walking out into the event, as Woody, it was a pretty wonderful feeling to see all these little children run up to you, with joy and excitement on their cute little faces. "Oh, I know You!" One little girl exclaimed, and gave me a big, heartfelt hug. They all want to talk to you and touch you, and hold your hand. It's a very warm, fuzzy feeling, and not just from the costume.

That feeling dissipated quickly, on another gig, however, when I appeared at an event for the Braille Institute. Hordes of partially sighted and blind children swarmed me, and were poking, hitting, pulling, grabbing, clutching, molesting and assaulting me. I almost fell over. I was a little pissed that the kids were not better supervised, and when I mentioned it to someone in the administration, she said, "Yes, they are very tactile." Tactile! I was mobbed! I felt like I was Mick Jagger, or something.

Another time, at an Earth Day Festival, a young couple came by with a little puppy. I bent down to pet the pup, and he grabbed hold of my big white cartoon hand, and started playing tug of war with it, growling and tugging and shaking his head! He was not letting go! I had to struggle to hold onto, it; I could just see the puppy run off with Woody's hand! In front of all the children! Eeeeeek!

A little boy came up to me at another gig, and started doing a Chris Farley, when he would talk to a celebrity. "Oh, yeah, I know you. I seen you on tv. Remember, remember that time when, when, you were old, and, and you couldn't, you were too old to peck wood", and he started imitating an old Woody, too feeble to peck at a tree. I could barely keep from laughing out loud.

One of my appearances was very special, because I got to meet "my Daddy!". I appeared with Walter Lantz, and had publicity photos taken shaking his hand!

Another time, I was in a parade, and rode sitting on the top of the backseat of a convertible, waving to the crowd. I was hoping there was no lone nut in the crowd who had it out for woodpeckers. (They can be noisy little bastards, ever get woken up by one on a camping trip? If I had a gun, I'd think about it, ok maybe a slingshot!)

Most of the events took place on a weekend, so I would go to Universal on Friday afternoon, to pick up the costume, to appear on a Saturday or Sunday, and then return it on Monday. So, one Friday, I went and got the costume, and put it in the trunk of my car, and went to visit my sister, stay over night, and do the gig on Sunday. I wanted to show my sister the costume, so I said, "I'll go put it on."

I went down the hall, and went out the back door, and put the costume on and walked up to the front door, and rang the bell. My brother-in-law, Tim, opened the door with my 5 year old nephew, Chris, who was just astonished to see Woody.
"Hello, Woody, come in", Tim said. I came in and started doing all kinds of antics, and Chris was just cracking up. I shook hands with everyone, went over to the table and picked up a liter bottle of soda, and pretended to drink it, petted the dog, hugged my sister, played with a few more props, and then signaled that I'd better be on my way, and waved as I walked out the door. I went to the car, took off the costume, and went back in the back door, and walked down the hall into the living room. Chris came running up to me, "Terry!, Terry!, you missed it! Woody Woodpecker was just here!"
"Oh no, really!? I feigned disappointment. "I just missed him? Darn! How nice of him to come visit!"

Flash forward, 11 years later, I was at my sister's house, and she was helping me work on my resume. Among the many jobs listed, was; 'Costumed Character-Made personal appearances as Woody Woodpecker for Universal Studios'. The now 16 year old Chris, picked up the resume and was reading it, and all of a sudden he, says, "HEEEEY!!!" I looked at him, puzzled at first, and said, "What?", and then realized, he just realized, that it was really me, all those years ago. I guess it was kind of like finding out Santa wasn't real. "OH!" I said, and started cracking up. "I wondered how old you had to be before I could tell you!"
He said he always wondered what Woody Woodpecker was doing walking around the neighborhood in Valencia, California!

1 comment:

  1. Oh, what a simply marvelous story! It's just like the Woody Woodpecker is telling us highlights of his own life. The way he always has that touch of cleverness and mischief along with complete abandon, and he isn't afraid to complain either! All those character traits and more make him so interesting to watch. Little did we all know that inside that ornery little pecker was the soul of our red hot blooded, big hearted, creative to a T, blondie, Terry!