Actress, dancer, author and so much more. Ruth Leon Weiman has led such an interesting life and we are proud to share two excerpts from her book In With A Crash And Out With A Roar: A Memoir. Ruth knew that this first excerpt might be controversial considering what we all have read and learned about Woody Allen, but the memoir is her experiences with the people she has worked with during her years in film. The lesson here -we rarely see the whole person. We only see who is in front of us at that moment.
I was asked to do extra work in three Woody Allen films: “Zelig,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” and “Casino.” Mr. Allen is the most interesting director whom I have had the privilege to be in contact with. He leaves nothing to assistant directors—his is the first and last word. I’m sure this observation comes as no surprise to anyone. Even when it comes to dress, no matter if you are a principal or an extra, Woody decides how each one of us should look.
I was to be the mother of a graduate in a graduation scene in “Zelig,” on the campus of the City College of New York. I had to go to New York to the wardrobe department to be outfitted appropriately. The dress they picked was fine, but the two wardrobe ladies found a pretty green straw hat, which they liked on me. It was a little snug, and considering how long I’d have to wear it, I thought I’d better tell them. Having put me together—finally—they really wanted to leave it alone, so one of the women said to me, “Well, we LOVE you in that hat, but if our love doesn’t mean anything to you…” (I got the message.) “Oh, all right,” I said, “Give me the hat, I’ll wear it!”
Fast forward to the day of the “Zelig” shoot. Woody changed his mind and wanted me to be a faculty member at the graduation. Wardrobe found me a black gown, mortar board, a pince nez, and a beautiful red (my hair color) braid to put at the back of my hair. The gown went over the aforementioned dress, and since it was now 100 degrees of heat outside where we were filming, I was a little warm.
We were placed outside, standing in a group, Woody in front of me holding a diploma in one hand and holding Mia Farrow with the other hand. Mia looked like she was in outer space.
He turned around and said to us, “I am so warm, is anyone else warm?” He was so friendly, it was really charming. I volunteered, “Only those of us wearing thermal underwear.” Because extras always have to be prepared for all kinds of weather, that was kind of an “in” joke, and everyone around me laughed. Not Woody. He looked at me, concerned, as though I was weird. Of course, Mia was still in out-er space.
He then said to me, indicating his diploma, “You know, this isn’t real.” I privately thought “Now that is really weird!” Where did he think I thought I was? I answered, “You know, Mr. Allen, at this moment, I don’t think you really need that diploma.” He insisted, “Still, I wish it were.” Later, I realized he was only sharing with me how he felt about the missed diploma in his life, and was not making reference to my understanding of where I was.
This scene was actually a re-shoot of one he had already done. When my sons went to see the movie, they said that scene had been cut. After all that! That man does not care how he spends his money. There was one film that he re-shot altogether—the whole thing! But his product is so superb, he makes it back anyway.
CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS
We were told to meet at a particular street in Manhattan at 6:30 AM to be taken by bus to a golf club on Long Island for the shoot. I got up at 4 AM (so did my dear cousin, Miriam, where I had spent the night) to be sure to get there on time.
Breakfast was brought to us, by a production assistant, from Mc Donald’s—an Egg McMuffin with sausage and cheese on it. I thought it might kill me, so I started to refuse it and then remembered the SAG union rule that we wouldn’t be fed again for 6 hours, and changed my mind. It was delicious! And it didn’t bother me at all! One never knows.
I had been asked to bring a colorful dress to wear to a banquet. I was seated at a table, next to Claire Bloom and Martin Landau. However, the dress I brought was a little too colorful, so wardrobe found a nice brown dress for me, with a matching satin belt. It fit nicely.
We actually sat around all morning, and then it was time for lunch, so I had to give them the dress back—you can’t eat in their clothes. We were bused again to a beautiful country club and treated to a catered lunch. Everything was amazing, and there were so many desserts, I am afraid I overdid it. Apple pie and ice cream, incredibly good! When we got back, I put their dress back on, but couldn’t close the belt. The ladies asked me, “What did you eat for lunch?”
“Well,” they said, “what are we going to do? She has to have the matching belt!” They finally got an idea and asked me if it would be all right if they stapled the belt on to me.
“Let’s do it!” I said.
So we started the scene at 6:30 PM. Imagine—we waited all that time to start work. Twelve hours after we arrived. In the middle of some dialogue involving Martin Landau, Woody walked over to him and whispered something into his ear. His style is not to change or give instruction to someone aloud…it’s just between him and the actor.
We finished at about 11:30 PM, and it was time for me to give them the dress back and get down to the bus waiting to take us back to Manhattan. Only the ladies couldn’t get the right grip to un-staple my belt. Finally I said, “Look, I’ll buy the dress, and my husband will get it off at home…the bus is going to leave without me.” They said, “We can’t sell it to you this early in the film, we might still need it.” So I got an idea and told them I would lie down on the floor and the pie and ice cream would fall backwards and leave them room to get their grip on the belt better. It worked! Not to worry. No other director spends that kind of money on food. I can see why.
By the time this film was shot, Mr. Allen had married Soon Yi and she had accompanied him to the set, which was in a casino in Atlantic City, and I was playing at a Blackjack table. I kept one eye on the cards and one on the famous couple. Woody gave Soon Yi a camera and encouraged her to take pictures somewhere else. He need to pay attention to what we were doing. He treated her nicely and they seemed like a happy couple. Except for watching them, it was an uneventful day.
“Three Men and a Baby” and Ruth
While my part in the above film was minimal, the film itself was quite interesting.
Tom Selleck, Ted Danson, and Steve Guttenberg starred in the film.
Tom Selleck was hear-stoppingly handsome. He literally took my breath away.
Story: A baby fathered by Ted Danson with a girlfriend was left on the doorstep of the above three for them to raise. Just that one sentence by itself makes me laugh. In one scene, Tom is walking on the street, and a girl with red hair (me) is walking in front of him. I had to travel to New York just to do that. It took all day. That’s the business!
In one scene, Tom is riding in a taxi holding the baby on his lap, a baby who was six months old. They had to use twins since children can’t work too long. While he was waiting for the director to yell “Action!” Tom was having a wonderful time playing with the baby. I loved seeing that. He is an exceptionally good-humored, kind fellow.
In another scene, we worked at night, really late, across the street from the Metropolitan Opera House. The plot: a cab was supposed to drive up, one of the three guys was supposed to slap his hand on the front of the cab to signal the driver that he wanted to get in, and then do that. Simple, right? Well, not if you are filming just as the opera is discharging the audience and people are desperate for a taxi.
Every time Steve Guttenberg hit the cab and then tried to enter, an old lady managed to get in first. She had to be pulled out and have explained to her why this wasn’t an available cab. I mean, it sure looked like one. Another hold-up was that a few others and I were supposed to watch this and react to Steve Guttenberg, but a man, who was just a bystander, stood his ground and refused to step away to let us start filming. Most people are more cooperative. Not this guy. He said that he paid taxes to New York and he had a right to stand wherever he wanted. This is the second time I have seen this happen, and the crew is very careful not to get physical, and simply try to get rid of the “taxpayer” as soon as possible. Somehow, we worked around him and managed to finish the scene. All of this kept us until midnight, until we were able to sign out and go home.
But first we had to find a bus down a dark street where we were to turn in our vouchers for payment. Well, there were other actors on the street when I found my way down to the bus, but when I left, there was no one. Except for the guy who owned the footsteps I suddenly heard behind me. My heart literally stopped, and finally I turned around to see who it was. I spotted a tall fellow whom I didn’t recognize as being in the film. He saw the look of fright on my face and knew immediately what I must be thinking.
“I worked in the film,” he said, nicely, “and I’ll find a taxi for you. You can look too, but whichever of us finds one first, it will go to you.”
I have a lot of reasons for remembering that film, but this is the best one, by far.