Thursday, August 20, 2015


Oscar-winning documentary film maker Leo Seltzer, taken at the time when he was making a promotional film with my mother.

I've never had the slightest desire to be an actor, nor did I ever want to be famous. That's probably the biggest thing that set me apart from many of the people I knew in Hollywood. Egotism is rampant in Tinseltown. Everybody has an all-consuming desire to be somebody. Clawing ones way to the often unattainable "top" is a way of life and narcissism reigns supreme.

My goals were neither lofty nor unrealistic. I was a silent observer, retaining the adventures that unfolded around me and filing them away in my memory bank for future use. I knew some famous actors. And I knew even more infamous ones. I was on numerous movie sets, thanks to the influence of people that I knew. I appeared as an extra in a handful of movies (some of them were legitimate) and TV shows. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Malibu Beach, Blue Tide,
.......The Dune Boys of Fire Island.......
Wait a minute - - I'm embarrassing myself.

Long before Hollywood, when I was a reasonably innocent teen, I was in a community theater production of West Side Story. A very minor part. I was one of the Jets. One of the lesser Jets.

When I was a young child in New Jersey (we moved to California when I was five) my mother had a brief brush with acting. She worked for Child and Family Services, which was a psychiatric and counseling bureau that specialized in family therapy. The bureau was well-known and had some very prominent clients. 

Actually, it was bitterly ironic that my Mom worked there, since she endured so many serious personal problems with my father's violence and abuse.

The company was in the process of expanding nation-wide and wanted to make a promotional film to advertise their services. The film would be about a married couple who was on the verge of divorce due to emotional conflicts.

  My mother was asked to be the leading actress in the film. She agreed, even though she had no desire to be in the limelight.  The man who portrayed her husband in the film was a young social worker named Leo Denno. In real life, Leo Denno was the son of Wilfred Denno, who at that time was the warden of Sing Sing Prison in New York.

Note: Wilfred Luis Denno was the warden of Sing Sing from 1950-1967.

The producers initially considered using me as the couple's child in the film, but decided that I was too young. They hired an eight-year-old girl instead. I honestly don't remember my exact age at the time, but I was probably around four - definitely no older.

Me, too young to be an actor.
I missed my big break.....

The director of the film was Leo Seltzer (1910-2007).  Seltzer was a well-known documentary film producer. He had won an Oscar in 1947 for his documentary film First Steps. Later, he served as cinema-biographer for President Kennedy in the White House.

I have vague recollections of Seltzer directing some scenes with my mother. Indoor scenes were shot in a studio, and the outdoor scenes were filmed at Buccleuch Park, in New Brunswick.  Seltzer also took me and my Mom with him when they were recording special sound effects for the film. I remember him showing me some of the interesting ways that the sounds were created. 

My mother Marie

I saw the premiere of the film with my parents at some sort of promotional event, but my recollection is hazy at best. The film was in color.  I remember one particular scene where my mother is in the kitchen, arguing with her husband. It was unnervingly realistic and Mom's acting was convincing. This was undoubtedly because she had so much practice when she and my father argued at home.

This was only a promotional film for Child and Family Services, but I later heard that it was shown in theaters nation-wide. As a young child, the entire filming process had little meaning to me. It was interesting but not particularly significant. I wish I had been older so I could have absorbed more. 

Director Leo Seltzer made over sixty films during a career that spanned fifty years. Being extremely independent, he tended to avoid the trappings and limitations of Hollywood. Seltzer was 97 when he passed away in New York.  I would have liked to talk to him and discuss his recollections of that long-ago film project in New Jersey.

My mother seldom spoke about the film after it was made - at least I can't remember her doing so.  She was always humble and unpretentious, and - like myself - never had any acting aspirations.



  1. Perhaps your mother got the job to figure out her relationship with her father, she wanted to fix it...

    1. I honestly don't know how my Mom got that job but I do know that they strongly advised her to leave my father.

  2. Interesting for your Mom to play that part after so much abuse. I wonder how she felt about it at the time and what did your Father feel when he saw it. Did he even realize the abuse he inflicted on her and you?

    1. I think my father was always in complete denial that he ever did anything wrong. My Mom was fully aware of the absolute irony of the situation but never had the courage to leave. Unfortunately I was so young then that there was a lot I didn't comprehend. The complications of my parent's relationship were beyond me.

  3. However minor, I find this chapter of your life fascinating.
    I don't suppose you've been successful in locating a copy of that film?

    The camera must have loved your mother!

  4. The film must be preserved in an archive somewhere. It would be fascinating to locate a copy of it (maybe someday.....).
    I had never considered this incident to be of any interest until recently. Now I think it was really unique.

    My Mom was beautiful. Photos don't do her justice.

  5. An awful lot of promotional and business films have been lost over the years. My father worked in television production before WWII and film production after the war. I recall him talking about shipping entire warehouses of prints and masters to the landfill when a production house closed it's doors in the 70's.

  6. That's really a shame and a true loss for posterity. I know that Seltzer was a life-long advocate for film preservation, so perhaps there's still some hope.

  7. Very interesting. I hope you're able to locate a copy of that film somewhere. It'd be a real honest-to-goodness treasure for you.

    I never noticed it in some of the other photos you've posted before, but you definitely take after your mom in appearance. (And probably in temperment, too.)

    I know what you're saying about your father living in denial. As an old man, and especially after my mother died, my father had the audacity to say some snide remarks about someone he suspected of being a "wife-beater," as though HE hadn't been one (and worse) for years. I dunno. Maybe by having a revisionist's memory about the facts of his life, aided and abetted by copious amounts of alcohol, my father found some sort of peace.

    1. "A revisionist's memory" is a perfect way to describe it. My father truly thought he never did anything wrong. He either denied that anything happened or he'd blame it on my mom or me. "You MADE me do it", was his demented reasoning.
      I don't know how either of us survived, Susan, but I'm glad we did.

      I was very much like my mother in many ways, including in appearance. I admittedly did inherit a lot of my father's bad traits - but I recognized them and often tried to expunge them.

      I hope some of this makes sense. One of the cats jumped up on my desk and is annoying the hell out of me while I'm writing.

    2. I'm glad we survived, too. My father had a hair-trigger temper, drank too much, made impossible demands of me, and was unreasonable to a fault. Probably a lot like yours. If nothing else, he taught me well what kind of man NOT to marry, and what kind of parent NEVER to be. :)

  8. Excellent and intriguing post, Jon. Perhaps your mother accepted the film role because it would assist in helping others. In every photo you've posted of her, I get an impression of kindness --something one learns to look for in faces.

    1. I suppose it is human nature to idealize people after they're dead, but I'm not exaggerating when I say that my mother was an extraordinary woman. She was indeed kind, extremely honest, and truly brilliant. She was my only light through many dark times.

  9. It's quite fascinating that your mother was in this long forgotten film. Surely you must be able to hunt down an old copy and have it digitized? That would be rather strange for you though seeing your Mum in film after all these years. I will never understand peoples desire to be "famous". Perhaps they confuse famous for wealth? I can't imagine anything worse than having your life picked over by the press and public.

    1. I have a strong feeling that this film still survives....somewhere - - especially since director Seltzer was an advocate of film preservation. Since I am basically a private person, there's no way that I'd ever want to deal with fame.

      Making a fool of myself on a public blog is quite enough.......

  10. I was paid as an extra in a health and fitness video, about 25 years and about 75 pounds ago.

  11. That's an interesting fact.
    Heck, I wouldn't even qualify to go NEAR a health and fitness video.......

  12. Jon,
    You have such a fascinating family history. Always interesting. I always thought I would be a good actor. Not for the fame and fortune, well maybe fortune but just because. Certainly not because of my ego. I think I would make a good character actor. But the closest I came to acting was I used to march behind a guy when I was at ASA Training School who was an extra in "Spartacus". His name ( are you ready?) was JON ALBRECHTE. He had the cutest ass. I was always impressed that he was in a movie. Thanks again for sharing more of your very interesting memories.


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