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L.A. Affairs: My first movie role, my first movie kiss, and then this happened

Illustration of a man with the shapes of a woman, hearts and flowers swirling around in his head
(Nick Ogonosky / For The Times)

The first scene we shot was the bed scene. No, not that kind of bed scene, although it was a scene, it did take place in bed and it was my first Hollywood screen kiss.

Luckily, I had kissed women before in real life, so I knew how it was done. Although, to be honest, I wasn’t sure if the kiss called for in the script really qualified as an actual kiss. It could have been more of a peck on the lips, I suppose. After all, the characters were supposed to be married.

The movie, “Off the Streets,” was a promotional film for a youth organization about an idealistic young Army vet — my character, Dan — trying to steer wayward and neglected youths toward a sense of community and self-worth. (Don’t bother looking for it in IMDb; you won’t find it, and it was many years ago.) In the first scene we shot, Dan is asleep in bed with his wife when the phone rings. It’s one of the teens who wants to join the youth club Dan is putting together. His brother has been arrested, and needs Dan’s help. The youngster has no one else to call.

I had met the actress playing my wife a week earlier when we got together so the director could stage a “wedding” picture of us. She was very pretty and seemed sweet, and I was immediately taken with her.

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At this point, I had been in Hollywood about a month. I moved out from Lynchburg, Va., to pursue acting. And it seemed things were breaking for me. I had joined a theater group in Glendale, and one of the members hosted a family chicken dinner at her house every Sunday night, which helped take the edge off the homesickness.

Career-wise everybody in the group seemed on his or her way. Our hostess was appearing in a dog food commercial. A couple of others had been picked to appear as contestants on a TV game show, and our most successful member had just come off an outdoor adventure movie for which he had been given an “introducing” credit. I had just landed the lead role in this Screen Actors Guild-sanctioned promotional film.

Matters of the heart, however, hadn’t been going as well for me. My college girlfriend and I, both speech and drama majors, had ended things a year earlier with a breakup scene so intense you would have thought we were auditioning. I’d been wary of relationships ever since.

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Most of my 20s were wasted on rummaging through the miserable wreckage that is the L.A. dating pool. But I thought this guy was different.

But things felt different now. I was starting a new life in a new place with new friends, new opportunities and a whole new outlook. Besides, you can’t be an actor without being a bit of a romantic, can you?

But enough of the flashback. Let us return to the scene.

It opens in the dark with a ringing phone. A light goes on and we see a close-up of the bedside table, Dan’s hand still on the switch of the table lamp. As the hand pulls away, the camera follows, revealing the wedding picture standing in a small frame and then the phone as it’s lifted off its cradle.

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We then cut to a medium shot of me sitting at the edge of the bed, holding the phone to my ear with one hand and rubbing the sleep from my eyes with the other. I drowsily say “Hello” and discover who is on the other end (the actor’s voice to be dubbed in later, of course). I hang up and we cut to a wide shot looking up at the two of us from the bottom of the bed.

WIFE: What was that about?

DAN: One of the boys is in a little trouble. I’m going to see what I can do.

Then I lean over and we kiss. I mean … peck.

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WIFE: Be careful.

DAN gets up to go. She watches him leave.

You’d have to be blind not to see our rapport. Our instant chemistry. And that kiss! What a kiss!

I mean … peck.

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What? We have to do another take? Oh, well, that’s too bad, isn’t it?

The crew finally got the scene and, in the best tradition of on-set romance, I was thinking maybe I’d get a date out of this.

Since this was the actress’ only scene in the film, I realized it was now or never as we wrapped for the day and she prepared to leave. So I walked her to her car — actually, it was more like I was walking in the same direction she was walking, so we walked together. I made small talk, trying to come up with the right way to phrase my invitation to ... what? Dinner? A movie? Anything.

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And that’s when we stopped by a sleek black Mercedes-Benz roadster and she pulled out her keys.

Thinking of the money I still owed on the battered clunker I drove, I was suitably impressed.

“This is yours?” I asked. “Nice!”

“Thanks,” she said with a smile. “My boyfriend gave it to me for my birthday.”

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My mouth hung open but no words were coming out.

And here we will use that handiest of Hollywood conventions as we mercifully and none too slowly ...

FADE TO BLACK

The author does voice-overs, wrote the book “Stop It. You’re Scaring Me,” and makes educational and rehabilitative films for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He is online at vimeo.com/jonathanmumm.

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L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here.


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