• John Rabe

A birthday surprise for George "Norm" Wendt

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

Imagine being an aspiring actor and inviting your friends and family to see your first movie ... then realizing in the theatre your tiny scene was cut.

It happened to my guest George Wendt - shown here in his Second City days - in "Somewhere in Time." George felt better when he landed the role of Norm on "Cheers."

For George's 72nd birthday - Oct 17 - Call Back Yesterday gives George a most unexpected birthday present.

Here are the photos you'll learn about in the episode, courtesy Bill Shepard. The top photo is a screenshot from the movie; the bottom is a casual taken before filming in the summer of 1979. Note the coat.

Here's a horrible robot transcription of the episode.

Speaker 0 00:00:06 Hi, everybody. Welcome back to call back yesterday, the podcast about somewhere in time, I'm John Raby and I wish that I was on Mackinaw Island this weekend, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of somewhere in time with the hundreds of fans of the movie who have gathered there to celebrate safely to dress up like it's 1912 to enjoy everything about Mackinaw Island and somewhere in time to meet some of the cast and crew to take part in virtual conversations this year, I wish I were with you. I'm just not ready for commercial flight, but I know you're going to have a great time on Mackinaw. There's so many open spaces. I know you can do it safely. So hi to everybody who was there. It was great meeting you last year, and maybe I'll see you next year. And for all of you gathered on Mackinaw Island this weekend and everybody else who wishes they could be there. I've got a great interview for you in this episode of call back yesterday. It's with George. Robert went the third, who, you know, better as norm on cheers. Cut the small talk and give me a beer. Yeah, George got six consecutive nominations for a primetime Emmy award for playing norm on cheers for so many years, but there's something you might not know about him.

Speaker 1 00:01:23 I am the most peripheral character of the entire somewhere in time universe,

Speaker 0 00:01:31 Somewhere in time was one of George's first movies while it was going to be. We're going to tell that story in just a second, but also happy birthday. George went, how appropriate we're playing this episode on this weekend because George was born October 17, 1948. He turned 72 this weekend, and I'm glad to celebrate with a little bit of good news. And that's what you're going to hear in this interview with George George, introduce yourself to the millions of people listening right now to call back yesterday.

Speaker 1 00:02:05 This is George went, uh, actor guy, one of the cast members of, uh, somewhere in time,

Speaker 0 00:02:15 Back to the late 1970s. Whenever it was that you first heard about somewhere in time being cast somewhere in time happening

Speaker 1 00:02:24 Being a Chicago actor at the time, uh, I was, uh, on the main stage at second city. I don't know. I know they were, you know, heavily poaching, uh, Chicago, uh, actors for, um, you know, minor roles that they didn't want to send to a way to Hollywood for. So a second city, uh, Dave hired one, two, three, one, two, three, four, five of us, I believe from my company, which was, um, really a boon, you know, for us, it was, I believe it was, it was indeed my first movie I'd been in, you know, several commercials in Chicago and, uh, of course, second city, but I was green as could possibly be. Uh, the first movie that I was in, that, that I did was, uh, uh, uh, my body guard and, uh, that also employed a bunch of second city people, but somewhere in time was just before that, of course, you know, uh, I had a great time, uh, you know, shooting it and, uh, feeling like, uh, you know, one of the cool kids, uh, there was another fella who I was my roommate now, oddly, we were not put up at the grand hotel.

Speaker 1 00:03:46 Uh, do you recall that what was the joint where they had a stain

Speaker 0 00:03:50 On the side of the former Mackinaw college, which was the former site of the headquarters of moral rearmament and it was this, this giant place called the Inn on Mackinaw.

Speaker 1 00:04:00 Yeah. And you know, it was lovely. Um, you know, uh, it was not the grand hotel, which we all thought we were going to be staying at, but, um, uh, we did fly to a Mackinaw Island, which, um, you know, that was peculiar. I think it was a, uh, a float plane, I believe, not positive. Um, do they have an air strip there?

Speaker 0 00:04:24 Yeah, they have an airstrip there it's, it's, uh, right in the middle of the Island and you probably flew up from Palestine from Chicago, but even before you got to Makena, take us back even further. Did you audition for it?

Speaker 1 00:04:36 I think they just offered it to us because I think, uh, they were, uh, in preproduction in Chicago for awhile and I think they were bored to tears and, um, probably, you know, looking for people to be in there in the show. I remember, uh, William H Macy was my roommate, so to speak. We, we, uh, we had separate bedrooms, uh, in the same suite. It was a, I guess, a two bedroom suite in this Mackinaw in or in on Makena. And so, you know, that was fun. We got to bond a little bit. I mean, I'd seen him, uh, doing Billy, the kid at Saint Nicholas, um, uh, nearby second city and, uh, you know, uh, so Kim Kezer and skin, Audrey Neenan and Larry Colvin and Bruce Jarkko and I all, I believe all got offers, you know, and that's peculiar. I thought, well, this is easy. You just get offered.

Speaker 0 00:05:39 You grew up in Chicago. Had, had you been to Mackinac before?

Speaker 1 00:05:42 Yes, I was born and raised on the South side and, uh, went to Makena and I believe we flew then.

Speaker 0 00:05:51 So you knew about it there, there was this cool place, way up North where they didn't have any cars. Yeah. That's

Speaker 1 00:05:58 It. Taffy and fudge and, uh, no cars and, uh, not much of a beach scene either as I recall. Yeah. It's all rocks and it's freezing cold. Yeah. I'm not beachy either. I don't like the sun and I don't like the sand. Um, so yeah,

Speaker 0 00:06:18 Let's fast forward. You're you're on Mackinaw. You're standing at the end on Makena. Do you remember what your scene was going to be? Do you remember what your lines were going to be?

Speaker 1 00:06:26 I don't remember. Um, what I remember the scene, um, there might've been more, there was probably two or three scenes. I think we were meant to largely improvise. Maybe that's why we got cast because it was a basically opening night of, uh, Chris is a play and it was a big triumph for a student play. Right.

Speaker 0 00:06:52 <inaudible>

Speaker 1 00:06:56 And I think we're just a well-wishers and a, well, in theory, you know, we, we all built a little backstory, uh, probably over the course of a couple hours. Most of my second city friends were in the 1912 part. So they weren't even there when I was there. But the, um, the opening night, the college park was, uh, Larry coven as a critic, William H Macy as a critic, Larry coven being one of my castmates, uh, at second city and bill Macy from down the street and, uh, me as Chris's roommate and best friend. Um, and, uh, it's a role I've come to, uh, you know, appreciate over the decades of my career being the best friend and, uh, fair enough. Um, and I was thrilled to be on board and, uh, you know, we a workshop a little bit in terms of our relationships, and then I believe we just improvised.

Speaker 0 00:07:56 And do you remember how and where you found out that you were, uh, sorry, but not in the picture?

Speaker 1 00:08:02 Yes. Yes. It was very embarrassing. It was a cast and crew screening in Chicago, everyone in my family. Um, I'm, I'm one of seven and I don't know how many else came, you know, extended family. And so my, and my mom and dad and blah-blah-blah, and so, you know, I probably had a contingent of 10 or 12 people and, uh, the movies to everyone's very excited and, uh, including me and the movie starts and I pass the word along. I'm like, Oh, and I passed the word along the line of my family and going, yeah, I think I'm, I'm not in this. And they go, what do you mean? It just started? No, I'm pretty sure I got cut, but it just started. Yeah. The part I did, uh, has already taken place and, um, I guess they picked up somewhere just after, you know, uh, Chris's triumphant opening night. That's pretty brutal. It was, I was just like mortified and, uh, so happy that I did not get cut out of my body guard.

Speaker 0 00:09:17 Well, if you're going to pick being cut from somewhere in time or getting cut from my body guard, I guess I would pick being cut from somewhere in time. Cause my body guard was pretty successful.

Speaker 1 00:09:28 Yeah. You know, uh, I was very impressed with, uh, my bodyguard. I was disappointed, you know, that, uh, somewhere in town, well, a that I wasn't in it, but, uh, B that, um, nobody really seemed to like it at the time. And I know it's, it's grown as a color. I know enormously, but, um, my bodyguard was a cute little movie. It really was,

Speaker 0 00:09:54 Well, you're not alone. Um, I don't know if you've heard, ever about the story of, uh, Alex North, the composer who wrote a whole score for Kubrick's 2001 day doors and he didn't find out that it wasn't used in the picture until he went to the premiere.

Speaker 1 00:10:12 Yeah. Well, you know, it's a, it's a steep learning curve in, uh, movies and, um, you know, show business in general. But, uh, you nobody cares about you. You're like the last thing on everyone's mind,

Speaker 0 00:10:32 It's always seemed weird to me the way Hollywood does this, you don't get a call. You don't get an email. Generally. You just kind of find out through the grapevine that you've been cut from the picture. Did you bring your whole family to the premiere of my bodyguard?

Speaker 1 00:10:45 No, I did not.

Speaker 0 00:10:48 Sorry. You were cut from the picture, but, but tell me about the experience of filming on Makena Island. How long were you there?

Speaker 1 00:10:54 Oh, no. Yeah, it was probably about a week. I, you know, it's a very vague memory at this point. There's another shocker is, uh, the process was like, are you fucking kidding me? Like how, you know, like really, and that, and you know, that's lunch and we're just rehearsing and w we haven't shot up frame of anything and, you know, that's, and now it's second meal and they're turning the cameras around and what it was, you know, the process was so painstaking tedious to me, you know, who's basically just been improvising, like marks. I didn't know, you know, it's like I wouldn't hit my Mark. And, uh, it was never seemed that important. Um, to me on stage in an improv review eventually, you know, like, uh, one of the grips tossed to sent a sandbag down, uh, as my Mark and I thought, Oh, awesome. This is now I'll remember. And I didn't know that that's what they do for the absolute doofus who can't hit their fricking Mark.

Speaker 0 00:12:01 Oh, that's nice. The S the sandbag X kind of like, as a, as the warning track for outfielders in baseball before you hit the wall, uh, do you remember if, uh, <inaudible> the director actually directed you?

Speaker 1 00:12:14 Yeah. You know, uh, yeah. It's not, yes, he did. And, uh, I, uh, me no disrespect, but once again, you know, that they've got so much else on their plate and they're looking at it at a shot. Literally the, literally that the last thing they might look at is some big parts performance, less than, I mean, they're looking at background and, and the set and, uh, whether there's a, you know, a microphone, boom shadow or something way, way, way more important than, you know, your little thing. And, you know, like, I'm sure that, like, one of my castmates from second city was probably, yeah. What did you think, do you think I gotta, and he's like going get me out.

Speaker 0 00:13:09 Well, on the other hand, though, he probably would have told you if he had sucked.

Speaker 1 00:13:12 Well, you probably would have mentioned something if I was looking at the camera or, um, or sucking, or, um, you know, it's funny one of our directors at second city, uh, the legendary improv guru, uh, Del close, um, Google, um, it's, it's quite a ride, uh, Dell used to say to start scenes in the middle and, um, sure enough, that's what, uh, you know, his work did by cutting

Speaker 0 00:13:46 And then the audience figures what's going on anyway, but they have to do a little bit of work, so they're more involved and they know what's happening and they pick it up.

Speaker 1 00:13:56 Yeah. I mean, I forget I should have screened it maybe in prepping for this, but it was the first bit like, uh, the Susan French says come back to me or something.

Speaker 0 00:14:05 I haven't screened it in a little bit. I should have watched it and prep for doing this. Where's the fun in that you watched it with your family. Did you ever watch it again?

Speaker 1 00:14:15 Uh, yeah. Yeah. I watched it more for like my friends, Bruce Jocko, Tim Kazurinsky and Audrey Neenan. So back around 1980. Yeah. Yeah, no, but, uh, oddly enough, uh, you know, I wound up, uh, I never worked with Chris, but I got to spend a couple of summers with him. Uh, he, he was, uh, a regular at the Williamstown theater festival, his upcoming wife, uh, Dana Morrissey, Annie, uh, played my daughter in an adaptation of Tom Jones. And, uh, so, you know, I got to hang out with those guys and at Chris's house nearby Christopher Plummer. Now, on the other hand, he had me whacked in a dreamscape. One of his henchmen shot me with a nine millimeter automatic point blank in the chest, in the movie dreamscape. Now I did do another time travel movie, sort of in the middle of cures forever. A young, 1992 time travel. Yeah.

Speaker 0 00:15:22 All right. So you're a veteran of time travel. What do you, what are your thoughts about it?

Speaker 1 00:15:25 Hey, it'd be pretty cool. Uh, I would, uh, I would enjoy it. So where would you go? What would you do? Geez. If I went back, obviously in the past, instead of the future that's I would, that's where I would go. I would probably choose to have like all the, uh, technology that I have now, you know, just to have a, a leg up on whoever, you know, that the poor bastards who did not have,

Speaker 0 00:15:50 Okay, John Raby here in the studio, I'm just going to save you some time here somehow or other. We got off on the topic of teletypes, you know, those machines that used to get people, the news at radio stations. Um, I don't know how that happened exactly, but let's just pick up the conversation and thank you for being a forgiving of this, uh, kind of lame, SEG.

Speaker 1 00:16:18 I worked in the wire room at the Chicago daily news. Speaking of teletypes copy boy, a summer job between high school and college. It was really a cool experience. I basically worked in the city room of the Chicago daily news and have to go into the wire room and pull off the, uh, the tapes off the wire to him. And I run them over to the city desk. It'd be like Richard speck, mortar, murdered 11 nurses, you know, like crazy shit like that. I was a Jack of all trades. My, my, uh, big claim to fame was I, uh, cause I was on at six in the morning. I was 6:00 AM to 2:00 PM. So at six in the morning, I, well first I had to get disgusting breakfast orders for the city desk, uh, and then run over to, um, Billy goats and get them all like cheeseburgers. I'm going at six o'clock in the morning. And then I had to, uh, clean Mike Rico's office, you know, I mean, I clean out the coffee cups and the ashtrays, and then when he strolled in around noon or something, all the copy boys and copied girls scattered in fear,

Speaker 0 00:17:28 George went, this has been a real pleasure. Is there anything else you want to add? Uh, any words for Genos of Ark? Anything?

Speaker 1 00:17:36 I am the most peripheral character of the entire somewhere in time universe. Uh, um, I got nothing, well, may be, but

Speaker 0 00:17:50 One of the most lovely, thank you, George. See you down the road. I hope. And that's my interview with George Wendt and that's where it could have ended. George is a great talker. He went on to have a great career. He still does a lot of fun stuff. He's a very interesting man, a genial interview, and that would have been that, and that would have been fine, except that's not where it ends. The beginning of somewhere in time takes us to the premiere of, of Richard Collier's new play. And we see him shaking hands with everybody accepting congratulations. And we hear a montage of voices <inaudible> I recorded that montage of voices and I sent it to George wind and asked him to listen to it and to see if he could hear himself in the montage.

Speaker 1 00:18:43 Well, uh, thanks to the forensic detective work by John Rabe. Uh, I think I say the word clearly

Speaker 0 00:18:56 <inaudible>,

Speaker 1 00:19:01 Which was, I guess I was gonna make a, a further comment, but a pushy critic. One of my fellow second city classmates interrupted my train of thought.

Speaker 0 00:19:13 Clearly George and his wife, Bernadette are experts in what George sounded like in 1979. So he says that one word for sure clearly, but if you keep listening just a few seconds later, the sound editor seems to have used the whole phrase that George says, which is clearly it's about Vietnam. It's about <inaudible> clearly it's about Vietnam makes at least four words then that George Wendt says in somewhere in time.

Speaker 1 00:19:46 I really think, uh, that, um, in the improvised scene, I was really more interested in getting Chris Reeve away from the fawning theater goers and into the party, giving him the high sign, you know, sort of rolling my eyes and just saying, uh, let's get the fuck outta here and have a drink or fire up a joint or something. They only thing that my wife and I both sort of agree that I say the word clearly. And it also might be me saying, dude, you wasted or something like that as we're, uh, disengaging from the, uh, the theater goers.

Speaker 0 00:20:30 <inaudible>,

Speaker 1 00:20:36 You know, it's funny, uh, thanks to John for, uh, figuring out that I'm in the voice track. I was so shattered at being cut out of the movie. It didn't to me that my voice

Speaker 0 00:20:48 Was underneath the titles. So, uh, cool bye for now, George wrote me an email. This is too funny. You are a very thorough Jen. I always wondered why I was still in the credits and still get residuals, et cetera. Thank God for my unions. So we've established that George Wentz voice is in somewhere in time. He wasn't entirely cut from the movie, but that's not all. I sent the recording to bill shepherd, the founder of insight, the fan group. And he said, Oh yeah, here's a still photo that somebody shot as they were getting ready to film that scene. And you can see George went in it and here's a still from the movie and there's George went, you can identify him by the corduroy coat that he's wearing. George writes, Oh Lord, that sport coat was on the floor backstage at second city. I didn't own one at the time.

Speaker 0 00:21:42 So I grabbed that from a pile backstage. So somewhere in time, fans, George went was not actually cut from the movie, his voice and his image are in the movie and he can now without guilt cash, those residual checks. And of course you can see those photos, courtesy call back yesterday as written recorded and produced by John Raby. That's me with additional sound recording by Ava, the lilac queen Sahelian and her mom must bluff October 5th, 5:14 PM. Our theme music is performed by the Vandyke parks support from Bermudez projects in Los Angeles. Special. Thanks to Chris Greenspon host of SGV weekly and two graphic designer and punk legend. Michael Yulan cut. Who made my logo? Penny, please subscribe. Give me a rating. Tell your friends, put it up on Facebook and then come back for the next episode of call back yesterday. Thanks for listening. <inaudible>.

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