It was October 1990 and my dad was on location in Wilmington, North Carolina, working as a second assistant director on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. My mother, who was hanging out on the set with my dad, had contractions two weeks ahead of schedule. Despite the hurricane watch outside the windows of the hospital, out I came. Born October 12, 1990, I was a Ninja Turtles baby.
Having a dad in “the industry,” as it’s called, added excitement to what was otherwise a pretty normal childhood. My grandpa directed the NBC Nightly News for a short time, and even though he’s in his late 70s, he still writes screenplays. My dad got into the business when he was young. It’s the only thing he’s ever done. He has worked his way up from office PA to producer of one of the most successful shows on television, Grey’s Anatomy.
As laid-back as San Diegans claim to be, the Hollywood stuff is exciting to people. Who doesn’t like hearing the inside scoop on McDreamy’s hair or what really happened when they shot that controversial scene on last week’s episode? Is McSteamy really as hot as he looks on television?
Nothing beats the reaction I get locally when my family comes up in conversation.
“So, Hayley, what do your parents do for a living?”
“My mom is a preschool teacher, and my dad is in the television industry.”
It is not the details of early childhood education that everybody wants to hear about.
“Oh? What does he do?”
“He’s actually working on Grey’s Anatomy right now.”
Then they ask if my dad has worked on other shows they might know.
“He worked on a season of CSI: NY. He also did Fried Green Tomatoes and The Big Lebowski.”
I visited the Lebowski set when I was seven. I remember going to the wardrobe trailer and getting a pair of black ratty sweats and an oversize gray T-shirt. My ten-year-old brother Andrew was getting the same outfit. My dad was on the second unit, already on location at a park in Santa Monica. We spent an afternoon posing for a picture: short kids on the bottom, tall kids at the top. It was much like a class portrait until a PA rolled out a wheelchair and placed it directly to my left. I was down in front. Then an older character actor sat down. Twenty extras joined us. All of a sudden, my dad put bunny ears on the still photographer. I muffled my laughter by biting my lip and bringing my hands up to my stomach. My dad walked up to retrieve us, laughing.
“But, Dad!” I yelled. “They have to retake it. You made me laugh. I probably look so dumb!”
That picture is in The Big Lebowski. And when the camera zooms in close, I look like a little mouse with my arms scrunched up and my face squished.
My brother and I got paid $75 each. We went to Disneyland the next day and spent it all.
In January 2010, my friend Serina and I went to a midnight showing of The Big Lebowski at the Ken Cinema in Kensington.
A guy dressed as Walter — John Goodman’s character — was walking through the crowd, asking people to sign up for the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers mailing list. It’s part of a gag from the movie. As a seven-year-old, I had posed as one of the achievers.
“Good evening, ladies,” said the man in the Walter costume. “Would you like to join the mailing list? We’ll let you know about all the meet-ups and events we do in the area.”
We obliged, and Serina piped up. “You know, Hayley here is an actual Lebowski achiever.”
The guy looked at her. “You mean she’s already signed up?”
“No, no,” Serina said, laughing.
I don’t really like the attention, so I didn’t say anything. But secretly I crave it, so I didn’t stop her.
“She is in the movie. Her dad worked on it, and when they do the shot of the picture, you can see her in the front row.” Serina told this story with great enthusiasm. She was proud to show me off.
“Shut the hell up!”
The Walter look-alike was loving it. He looked at me for confirmation.
“Yep,” I replied, feigning modesty.
He called to his friend. “Jason! Get over here.”
Walter gushed, “Dude, this girl is in the movie! She’s in the picture of the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers. Her dad worked on the movie.”
Jason stared at me. “Dude. You’re a celebrity! Can we honor you?”
“What do you mean?” I was shocked that this was such a huge deal.
“At the next event we have,” Walter said, “if we can’t get Tara Reid [a Lebowski actress] to come out, would you be willing to be our guest of honor?”
Serina and I were having a hard time keeping straight faces.
I smiled and curtsied. “I would be glad to.”
Walter and Jason high-fived, and Walter said, “Or better yet, would you be willing to get in a boxing match with Tara Reid?”
I had a slight panic attack over how hard I was laughing.
“I don’t know about that.”
Walter had no shame. “Come on! She probably won’t even show up.”
He promised he would email me to work out details. I never heard from him.
While we were watching the movie, during the part where the picture comes on and you can see me, Walter stood up and shouted, “Haaayyyyyllllleeeeyyyyy!”
∗ ∗ ∗
Trips to the set to visit Dad were a constant in my childhood. I have cloudy memories of meeting Tracey Ullman on the set of Tracey Takes On…. My dad reminds me of our Christmas in 1993 when he was working on Wyatt Earp starring Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, and Dennis Quaid. The set was in New Mexico, where we went skiing and had the traditional Christmas dinner of KFC.