I’m at home eating Vegemite on toast, wondering how to kick start my film career when the phone rang.
“Hello Noel it’s June, I’ve got job for you, filming in the Blue Mountains, starring William Holden, you know from Hollywood. Can you talk?”
The job was The Earthling and I remember I was very excited to be working on such a high profile film.
“Who am I playing?” I asked my agent.
“There’s no role as such, they need a ‘stand-in’ for William Holden. He’s the lead, playing a character called Patrick Foley, a drifter. You’re exactly the same shirt size and height.”
Boy, I’m the same size as William Holden? William Holden who danced provocatively with Kim Novak in the film Picnic, won an Oscar for Stalag 17…and starred in the Hollywood film classic, Sunset Boulevard…well, fancy that! I continued…
“But, isn’t he like a hundred?” I was after all only in my early twenties.
“Yes, he’s much older than you but you’re the exact same size,” June repeated. “Can you do it? It’s shooting next week.”
“Yes, of course I can do it. Who turns down the chance to work with a true Hollywood legend?”
“Oh I almost forgot about Ricky Schroder,” my agent continued, “You know the kid in The Champ?”
“The film with with Faye Dunaway? Didn’t he win a Golden Globe Award?”
“Yes. Sure did. Anyway, he’s playing the boy,” June barked and hung up the phone.
“Kid I’ll show you a step I learnt in LA, first you gotta set the rhythm” – William Holden in Picnic.
The Earthling was produced in Australia by Samuel Z Arkoff, a Hollywood B movie producer, responsible for some of the best exploitation films around, films like Blackula, The Amityville Horror and The Thing with Two Heads starring another Hollywood Legend, Ray Milland. Samuel Z Arkoff often stated his film formula for success as 1. Action 2. Revolution 3. Killing 4. Oratory (good dialogue) 5. Fornication. This is interesting thinking back, as The Earthling didn’t have anywhere near the five points Samuel Z Arkoff mentioned in interviews.
“You’re half dead. Together that makes one of us” – William Holden as Patrick Foley.
The Earthling told the touching story of an old man returning to the Australian wilderness to die, only to find a young boy, an earthling, wandering lost in the bush after the tragic death of his family. The old fella teaches the boy the art of survival. The film was shot mostly around the Blue Mountains…however, when I arrived for my first day’s work as “stand in” for Mr William Holden, the production was filming in a national park on the out skirts of Sydney. I remember being nervous, and to complicate things my car radiator started to boil over on way to the shoot, which was stressful. I arrived on set flustered, and was quickly ushered in and introduced as Holden’s replacement stand-in to the director Peter Collinson (The Spiral Staircase and The Italian Job starring Michael Cain) and also the great Aussie cinematographer Don McAlpine (My Brilliant Career, Mrs Doubtfire, Wolverine and The Dressmaker). I remember it being cramped for some reason on set, and I recall a nervous energy at the very mention of the name, William Holden. Pleasantries out of the way, I was then shuffled over to the costume truck and given a shirt, a sheep skin jacket and an old fashioned hat to wear. Someone pushed a copy of The Earthling script into my hands, and pointed out the scenes we’d be filming that day. I was then handed a shooting schedule for the week. At this stage there was no sign of Mr Holden (or Ricky Schroder for that matter) but you could feel Holden’s present on set, it was everywhere.
“You wanna know my name? It’s God! G – O – D, GOD!” – Ricky Schroder as Shawn Daley.
The crew stopped and had morning tea while I ran over the scene to be filmed, preparing for my job as William Holden’s Stand-In. In case you don’t know a stand-in runs the lines, stands in for the lead while the crew set lights, camera moves and focus. It’s a strangely lonely-challenging-job that requires you to be patient and alert, something at my young age I found difficult. Still, I managed to fight off my uncontrollable nerves, and I got the job done. Once the blocking was done, we were ready to shoot, it was time to bring in the star, William Holden. The first glimpse of him my brain switched to slow-motion…as this old man of similar build, emerged slowly from his trailer, wearing exactly the same clothes as me, his facial features movie-star-familiar. William Holden tipped his hat in my direction and offered his hand…
“Hi I’m Will Holden, you must be Noel…?” he prompted for my surname.
“Yes…I’m Noel Anderson…?” I said swallowing my name, unsure of who I was.
“Well, Noel…And-err-son welcome to our little movie!” He looked me in the eye,”You know you look about as old as Ricky Schroder, think you can play me? Play Foley?” he chuckled with an American drawl.
“Yes, I think so.” Did he like me? I couldn’t tell.
We shook hands…quickly Mr Holden flipped back his hat, it landed plonk on his head, just like in a Hollywood musical, and he took his place on set. Suddenly there was a lot of fussing about! Wardrobe department started tugging at Mr Holden’s clothing, adjusting this, perfecting that, while the hair and makeup went into a frenzy. Finally, Mr Holden held both hands high in the air, motioning he was ready act, and that he wanted everyone to FUCK OFF!…which of course everyone did, immediately.
Peter Collinson the director asked me to run the moves for Mr Holden so he could get the scene down faster, which I did self-consciously, then I was escorted to the back of the set, behind the crew and William Holden took my place. The legend was up and running. Lights! Camera! Action!
“Nothing belongs here that wasn’t born here” – William Holden as Patrick Foley.
By my third day working on The Earthling I had started to wonder what happened to the stand-in before me? The production was well underway by the time I was brought in. Did he not get along with Mr Holden? Did the other stand-in get sick or something? I never did find out why I was brought in at such late notice…or why I was let go a week or so later.
Memories – The William Holden I remember was a cranky old codger with cracked skin and troubled mind…I thought. Maybe aging, losing his looks in Hollywood damaged his spirit in someway, or maybe it was ‘Lady Demon Drink’ that had soured him. The Earthling was released in 1981 and took a pitiful $72,000 at the Australian box office. The critics weren’t kind to the film but over time it found an appreciative audience on television.
A Little History
In 1966 William Holden killed a man in a driving accident in Italy, he was intoxicated at the time, and in 1981 just two years after we worked together on The Earthling, he died alone in his apartment from a fall, intoxicated.
Ricky Schroder who played the boy in The Earthling struggled as an adult actor and is mainly remembered now for the TV series NYPD Blues. I remember him as just another kid on set, surrounded by minders. I never spoke a lot on set to William Holden, I felt disappointment with himself whenever I looked into those piecing eyes of his, and when I watch Sunset Boulevard on TV or his other film classic Network with Faye Dunaway, I’m proud to have experienced working on The Earthling with him.
“You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big” – William Holden as Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard.
It was an exciting time back then, a time of pride in Aussie cinema, in some way I feel part of the renaissance of Australian films, thanks to the experience of being a stand-in on The Earthling. Thankyou, Mr Holden.
For his contribution to the film industry, William Holden has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 1651 Vine Street.
I Wear The Same Size Shirt As William Holden : The True Story Series.
Checkout other work by Noel Anderson