Story Time: Facts You Probably Don’t Know About Me (Part 3)

Jerry Wyant

Story Time: Facts You Probably Don’t Know About Me (Part 3)

I was filmed in a hit movie with Danny DeVito
I was chased by a bear in the mountains

I like to tell stories about myself. I have a blog. It only makes sense that I would use my blog for these stories. Since I have more stories than I have room for in one blog post, I am going to tell these stories over time and over several posts. This is part three, with two stories. Here are links to parts one and two.

Part 1:

I performed on stage with Bob Hope
I held up a flight leaving La Guardia Airport in New York
I played basketball with Bruce Jenner

See part one.

Part 2:

I huddled with the Kansas City Chiefs throughout one game
I was the star of the Missouri Boys’ State talent show

See part two.

Part 3:
I was filmed in a hit movie with Danny DeVito


When I lived in the Los Angeles suburbs, but worked downtown, it wasn’t unusual to run across on-location filming of movies and television shows. I would often witness filming while traveling through neighborhoods, or near my place of employment. Occasionally, I would run across Hollywood stars going about their everyday lives outside of filming.

In one memorable instance, the filming came to me. The movie was the 1986 box-office hit “Ruthless People”, starring Danny DeVito and Bette Midler. The location was outside the main entrance to the office building I worked in.

Along with the rest of the office workers, I was allowed to walk through the scene, even during actual takes. It was part of the scene to have office workers in the background. They had several paid “extras” dressed up as office workers doing the exact same thing. Those of us who were the “real” office workers simply fit right into the scene. During the course of shooting at this location, I walked through during several different takes. I even took my lunch breaks in the grass nearby, while actors playing SWAT team members hid in the bushes, maybe three feet from where I was sitting. As far as I knew at the time, I might have been on camera while eating my lunch.

At the time, I didn’t know that Bette Midler was even in the film. She wasn’t on location because she wasn’t in any of the scenes being filmed there. Danny DeVito was easily recognizable. He had yet to establish himself as a star in motion pictures, but everybody knew him from his role on the TV show “Taxi”. The first time I walked through the scene and saw what was going on, one of my friends remarked, “Hey, that’s Louie De Palma!”

Filming went on for two weeks, from sunup to sundown every weekday. I had a few occasions during that time to walk past DeVito during breaks in filming, and we always exchanged hellos.

I didn’t know much about the movie while the filming was going on. I knew that the title was “Ruthless People”. I could see for myself that Danny DeVito was in the movie. Even though he hadn’t established himself yet in a starring role during his movie career, he was clearly the star in this one. He even had a director’s chair with his name on it. I was told that the movie was being made by Disney. I learned after the fact that it wasn’t a Disney production, but was being produced by the Disney-owned Touchstone Films.

I didn’t know anything about the plot of the movie. A bank of pay phones had been set up, and Danny DeVito’s role during takes involved using these phones. Over the course of the two weeks of filming, they seemed to be adding more props and more characters, including the SWAT team members in the bushes. I found out later that one of the characters added later on was played by Judge Reinhold. I had seen him in films before, but I didn’t recognize him at the time of filming. He wore a disguise which was part of the story line for the movie. Helen Slater was also in the movie, but not at this location.

When the movie came out in theaters, it was one of the top box-office hits of 1986. I was anxious to see if I made the “final cut”, but I waited until the movie came out on VHS before I actually watched it. I thought the movie was better than what I had been expecting. As for me, and everybody else who “played” office workers going about their business – including the paid extras – it is difficult to identify anybody. If I am in it, I can’t tell. But it is highly unlikely, considering that I would have been there for a small percentage of shots taken from sunup to sundown over two weeks.

I had thought that adding props and characters during the two weeks was part of the process of building up towards one scene. But it turns out that there were actually three different scenes being filmed at that location. Props and actors were added for different scenes. While watching the movie at home one day, I timed these three scenes. The longest one ran for a total of seven minutes. Not very long considering the amount of time spent during the filming of these scenes.

I found this clip. Of all the scenes in the movie, this one probably has the best view of the location I am describing. The scene begins at 1:45 in this clip, and runs for about two minutes. It implies that Bette Midler’s character is in the office building across the street, although her part in the scene did not take place at that location. At about 1:57 there is a wide view of the “extras” walking in through the scene. It’s possible that I am one of them. Possible, but not likely.

Be advised that this clip uses language not found in a Disney movie.

As a side note, several years earlier I almost got a chance to be a paid extra in the classic John Belushi film “Animal House”. A deal had been made to film on location at the University of Missouri in Columbia, where I was a student at the time. They advertised that they were going to hire 1,000 students for a crowd scene, and even announced a date and time to show up for an audition. At the last minute, Mizzou backed out of the deal, claiming that the movie would be bad for the image of the school’s fraternities. The film was made on location at the University of Oregon instead. But I would have shown up for an audition, expecting to be one of the 1,000 extras in the film.


I was chased by a bear in the mountains

I was walking in a wooded area outside our Boy Scout campsite. I don’t remember what I was doing, but I was probably looking for firewood or something. I came across two of my fellow Boy Scouts – I don’t remember their names, but they were older than I was. They were standing perhaps 20 or 25 yards apart and watching a mama bear and a baby bear trying to get food from a piece of trash. When I came upon the scene, I was about halfway between the other two guys. We formed a semi-circle around the bears.

The two older boys started talking back and forth about the bears. They were talking loud enough to hear each other, which was obviously loud enough for the bears to hear. The mama bear, now threatened by the noise, suddenly took off running towards the source of its fright. But it didn’t go after the two guys who caused the problem – it went straight towards me, because I happened to be standing in the middle of the ruckus. I had remained quiet, just as we had been told.

I had no choice but to turn and run in the opposite direction. We had been warned. The warning was articulated very clearly, in a manner that was designed to scare all of us. When you come upon a bear, don’t make any sudden moves and don’t make any sounds. Don’t antagonize a bear into wanting to chase you. Don’t let a bear chase you or you are doomed. But if a bear ever does chase you, your only hope is to run downhill and hope that the bear falls down the hill and rolls. If you have to run uphill, you are doomed. Bears can run a marathon at a rate of 45 miles per hour, and you have no chance.

Well, I wasn’t the one who antagonized the bear, but I was the one who was running for my life. I knew I couldn’t outrun a bear; the warning on that was very clear. But when I turned to run, the only direction I could go was uphill – and I had been told that if you do that you are doomed!

The only thing that I could think about was to try to make it to the campsite before the bear caught up with me. Camp wasn’t very far away. I didn’t know what would happen once I arrived at the campsite with an angry bear on my heels, but I knew what would happen if I didn’t make it to camp.

Well, I did make it to the campsite. I probably wouldn’t be around to tell this story if I hadn’t. When I got there, running as fast as I could with an angry bear behind me, something unexpected happened. The only person in sight was Richard Elliott, one of the adult scout leaders (who also happened to be my uncle, but that is irrelevant to the story). Everybody else was off doing something else. Richard was standing near the center of the campsite, shaving. He looked up, saw the bear chasing me, and ran after the bear, waving his arms and yelling as loudly as he could.

Here was this man, with a bare hairy chest and a face covered in shaving cream, running after a bear in the mountains while waving his arms and yelling! It was actually a very funny thing to see – even though I had survival, not humor, on my mind at the time. The best part of it was that it worked! The bear saw Richard, and took off running in the opposite direction. We never saw that bear again.

This was when I was a Boy Scout and camping at the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico. I had been on numerous types of campouts, but this one can truly be labeled “roughing it”. This was two weeks of camping in the mountains. Each night was at a different campground, and each troop had to follow a map for several miles of mountain hiking each day in order to reach the next campground. Each campground was simply a piece of ground. There were no facilities. There was no food. Once there, you had to use your survival skills just to find a source of water. This was a two-week experience. At the end of one week, we would be at a campground which had a general store – where we could buy more food for the second week. But other than that, we had to take everything with us during our mountain hikes. We had to carry our tents, our bedding, our clothing, our personal items, our food, and our cooking and eating utensils. Our food was dehydrated. When we found water, we could cook our meals. We also had to carry purification pills for the water, and more pills to neutralize the dangerous effects of the purification pills.

As can be expected, we had been required to attend a thorough orientation session at base camp before we embarked on this journey. As much as anything at orientation, the emphasis was on how to deal with bears. We weren’t allowed to possess sweets – that attracts bears more than anything. Every night, before we could put the fire out, we had to put all of our food and eating utensils in a bear bag – meaning that we had to wrap everything up in a blanket and string it between two trees. The bear bag had to be high enough off the ground and far enough from each tree so that it couldn’t be reached by a bear.

Not everybody had followed the rules. The bears had been digging through a piece of trash that clearly was contraband left by a previous group of Boy Scout campers. The two older boys didn’t follow the rules when they chose to stand within earshot of the bears and make loud noises. I plead innocent in all of this. But I was the one who had been chased by an angry mama bear.

Story Time: Facts You Probably Don’t Know About Me (Part 4)

Jerry Wyant