Monday, May 4, 2020

Interview: Arthur Rosenberg (Ren's uncle in "Footloose")

In Footloose (1984), Arthur Rosenberg played Wes Warnicker, uncle to Kevin Bacon’s character Ren McCormack.

Arthur’s behind-the-scenes recollections of the experience:

What were you doing professionally prior to Footloose?

I was a professional actor having worked in the theatre for many years before coming to LA in 1976. My career was going well, I was working regularly. I had recently been featured in Cutter’s Way, which won several awards. Life was good.

Arthur in Tahiti

How did you get the role?

The usual way. My agent submitted me and I auditioned for Herbert Ross, the director.

Any funny anecdotes about your Footloose experience?

Very many, probably too many to mention. Maybe not funny, but I didn’t know it was a musical. I am sure other people knew, but it wasn’t like when we did a scene the director would say “You look out the window and we’ll bring the soundtrack up and you then lip sync.” We were just shooting a movie. Imagine my surprise when we attended the screening for cast and crew—the theatre went dark and the screen lights up and there is that glorious music. I turned to my wife and said “I’m in a musical! I didn’t know that.” I was completely bowled over by the score and those songs. I guess I was the last to know.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Elizabeth Gorcey were the two youngsters on the set. I called them the midgees because they were always flying around with all that energy of young girls. I went to the mall, ZCMI in Provo, and had two caps embroidered for them saying “midgee.” Elizabeth was related, forget how…maybe granddaughter?…to Leo Gorcey from the old “Dead End Kids” I used to watch in my youth.

The late Chris Penn created a stir when he got a coal barbecue grill, because he had a craving, and set it up inside his motel room. Almost got booted out.

Tim Scott and Doug Dirksen (two of my fellow actors) and I were trying desperately to find something to do. As Utah was a dry state and our meals were usually supplied by the set, we were at a loss [as to how] to spend our per diem. There was a Ms. Pac-Man machine at the motel and we would spend hours a day having contests, each of us with rolls of quarters. When Kevin Bacon had some free time he joined us. I am sure the route man who managed those machines never made so much money before or after.

Is there one story about your Footloose time you tell more than any other?

One day when I was off schedule and the cast/crew were on location near the hotel, out of sheer boredom I went to the location to sit around and watch. I heard the caterer, from the truck, complaining that one of his kitchen staff didn’t show up and he was shorthanded. I went to the truck and offered my services as a catering assistant. The boss didn’t know I was an actor, nor did the others working on the truck. I told him I had experience and so he said “You do salads…I need coleslaw for 40, sliced tomatoes, etc.” 

So I spent the morning doing the tasks and when lunchtime came around, the cast and crew got on the line to get their meal. I hid in the truck. Apparently director Herb Ross and a cast member told the caterer “That was the best coleslaw I ever had. What is your recipe?” The caterer called me out of the truck saying “The new guy made it.” I had a lot of explaining to do. Laughs all around. At the end of the cleanup, the caterer handed me $40 and I told him I couldn’t take it [because] I was being paid to act (and a bit more than $40/day), but he insisted so I gave $10 each to the others on the truck.

While working on it, did it seem like just another script to you, or did it feel like something special?

The script was interesting and well written, I thought, and would have stood on its own without music. I was more excited to be working with Herbert Ross than just about anything. 

What do you remember about your impression of Kevin Bacon?

Nice from day one. Not pretentious, not unapproachable. Just a regular guy. And he behaved perfectly on the set and off.

Chris Penn?  

I think a good word is eccentric. 

Lori Singer?  

A sweetheart.

John Lithgow?  

I was aware of his work and knew of his father Arthur because I was in regional and rep theatre before coming to LA. Many folks in the circuit worked with Arthur at McCarter theatre and others. John liked to play his guitar in downtimes and as I recall sing children’s songs.

Dianne Wiest?

I didn’t get to spend too much time with her, but I tremendously respected her work and her as a person.

Sarah Jessica Parker?  

Sweet girl with a sweet smile and loved to giggle.

Did you attend the premiere, and if so, what was that like?  

As I recall, it was at the old Bistro Garden on Canon Drive in Beverly Hills. It was packed and I was actually in awe of the musicians there: Kenny Loggins, Deniece Williams, don’t remember if Bonnie Tyler was there.

How often were you recognized on the street? Any funny stories about that?  

More often recognized for TV shows like Beverly Hills 90210 or Lou Grant or movies like Being There or Coming Home.

Do you remember what you earned for the movie, and do you still earn residuals?  

No idea what I got paid but got $200 just last week, I think, for some cable or video sale.

What are you doing these days?  

I am a rabbi and the Leonard Nimoy Palliative Care Chaplain for the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Woodland Hills, CA.

Arthur with his wife Catherine

Any interest in acting again?  

After a 40+ year career, not so much.

Where do you live? 

Tarzana, CA.

If you have children, how many and ages?  

Forty-year-old son, 11-year-old grandson.

If they have seen you in Footloose, what do they think about it?  

My son was always proud of my work.

Have you ever participated in a Footloose-related event (reunion, convention, documentary, etc.)? If not, would you be open to meeting fans and signing autographs?  

In 2002, I attended the Paramount Studios release of the DVDs for Footloose, Grease, Flashdance, Saturday Night Fever. Great party. I have done autograph signing for LeapCon (Quantum Leap).

When was the last time you saw a member of the cast, and was it on purpose or by chance?  

In 2002 at the aforementioned Paramount party.

When was the last time you watched Footloose? How did you think it held up?  

I don’t watch my old movies so it has to have been a long, long time. I am told it holds up better than the remakes or the Broadway version.

Do you have any mementos from the experience such as set photos, a script, or anything from the set?  

An unnatural attraction to Ms. Pac-Man.

Have you been interviewed before about this specifically?  

Nope. Other films but not this one.

What did you think when you first heard from me?  

Thank God someone still has good taste.

How do you look back on your Footloose experience?   

It was a good job with excellent working conditions which turned out to be much larger than I imagined it would be. I loved being there, working with a lovely cast and crew and fabulous director. 

If the experience changed your life in any way, how?  

Nope. Just a sense of pride to have participated in such a loved film.

Anything you’d like to add?  

No, but thank you for asking.

1 comment:

Jason said...

One of my favorite movies, in part because it was filmed not far from where I live, so it's like a time capsule for me (the landscape has changed a tremendous amount). Thanks so much for this interview!