The story of D.B. Cooper has always fascinated me and Saturday’s Detroit Free Press, had the best recap yet of the crazy story of a guy wearing a jacket and skinny tie who parachuted out the back of a 737 with a quarter-million stolen dollars strapped to himself and was never seen again. Maybe he’s dead. Maybe he’s living in luxury in Bora Bora. Maybe he’s keeping house in a cleaned-up shipping container in Tacoma.
But where the story really hits home for me is the fact that I once auditioned for a part in the movie recounting the caper–“The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper.” It was quicker than a boy’s first nookie.
I was living in Tucson, Arizona at the time as a graduate student and reporter at the local ABC affiliate, KGUN. They make a lot of movies and TV shows in Tucson because it’s a beautiful place surrounded by mountains and cactus and the Old Tucson old west town and soundstage was just a short drive through Gates Pass, across the Tucson Mountains. Everything was shot there from John Wayne films to Little House on the Prairie episodes.
Word got around the newsroom they were auditioning for two “on the scene news reporters” with one line apiece to appear in the movie. Now I’m no actor and because I can’t remember lines I had to change my undergrad major from Speech and Theater to Radio/TV.
So what the hell. A female colleague and I decided to go for it and we showed up at the Tucson Holiday Inn, with about 300 other people to audition for various bit parts.
Such things bring out all sorts of characters.
Among the impossibly good looking Hollywood wannabees and freaky neverwillbees, a handsome dude with blonde hair, perfectly coiffed hair and a full set of teeth walks up to me, smiles, and says, “Ed! Remember me?” I hadn’t the foggiest notion who this guy was. My blank look gave it away, so he bailed me out.
“Ha! I knew you wouldn’t recognize me. I look a lot different from the last time we met. I’m Ron White, the mule skinner. You don’t make shit skinning mules, so I get a good haircut, some nice clothes and pop in my teeth to audition,” he explained while laughing his mule skinning butt off.
Indeed, I had shot a profile of him, which included one of the most regrettable standups I had ever done…on a mule. Hey..it was early in my career. Mistakes were made! Here it is…seen for the first time publicly since 1979.
After getting over that shock a big bald guy walked up to us while we were waiting and boomed, “know who I am?” Um. No. “You will when you hear this!” he boomed even louder. “Hubba Bubba Bubble Gum. Big Bubbles. No Troubles!!!” Ah. So THAT was the guy. We acted duly impressed enough so he gave us a satisfied look then moved on to the next unsuspecting clump of hopeful souls awaiting their turn to be rejected.
Finally, after a couple of hours, we were ushered into a tiny motel room where the assistant to the assistant to the associate-assistant apologized the casting director was late because “he’s been auditioning nudes all day and he’s very tired.”
After resting his eyes from epidermal overdose I was finally granted an audience with an older guy with over-tanned reptilian skin, bad perm in his thinning grey hair, gold chains and open shirt sprouting a field of scraggly grey chest hair.
“Who’re you gonna be?” he yawned .
“Uh, Ron Gardner, reporter,” I stammered.
“OK…Give him to me,” he yawned again.
“OK! Here we go,” I stammer again as I hold a pen as a lame substitute for a microphone and say my line: “I’m Ron Gardner on the scene. Where D.B. Cooper is, no one yet knows. Will the mystery be solved?”
“Thanks,” he yawned one more time, and that was it. So much for my Hollywood career.
My female colleague got one step further. He snapped a Polaroid of her before she was dismissed.
We must have made quite an impression though, or the casting director was duly traumatized by our anemic performances. Both roles were cut from the movie…maybe that’s why the movie tanked..and D.B. Cooper was never found.