Death in Winnipeg

Crazy Horses of the Apocalypse: Inside the Osmonds

I've never been struck so suddenly by an actor's appearance before. I can't help noticing the baby cloudlets that hang illumined in his eyes. His facial tint is ivory white against the ebon darkness of his clustering locks. He is a masterpiece from nature's own hand. Not yet 13 years old! His name is Thomas Dekker. What parts he could play for me! (And I don't even know what he looks like without his wig!)

At lunchtime I can feel my cold coming on for sure and, not wanting to infect Mother, I stay at the location and show Thomas my camera—just the Super-8—and assure him I use real 35mm ones for my official movies. Thomas is from L.A. and ripe and ready for a career. His credits include leads in Village of the Damned and Star Trek: Generations, series regular on Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and the voice of Feivel in An American Tail III and IV. Thomas is very clever, too. By the end of lunch he's pitched an intriguing script idea to me—the story of an underground therapist who cures an elderly man of his decaying memory by transplanting into his head the fresh brains of kidnapped children.

Over the next few days, I'm happy to fall into the pleasing monotony of the set, to bask in the mild soft tungsten glow while Thomas works himself hard. "One Bad Apple." "Goin' Home." This little would-be Donny and the other mock Osmonds must mime out at least 18 songs in the picture, a fact which keeps workday O-pee-chee sweet in spite of the very long hours.

I've made it about halfway through the shoot and I keep forgetting to use my Super-8. Oh well. Today Thomas must practice his choreography for "Yo-Yo," his favorite Osmond song. "Yo-Yo" is pop music perfected, with a lyric that gathers up the threads of many human destinies in the warp of a single idea. When Thomas sings it, the words actually seem to rise from his mouth and burst like bubbles.

There are so many great people working on this movie! I get a chance to speak with Veronica Cartwright, who plays Olive Osmond, mother of the famous brood. Veronica was also going on 13 when she was acting in The Birds. She says Hitchcock even brought a cake on set the day of her birthday. I also chat up Bruce McGill, the man playing clan patriarch George Osmond. Fresh from his stints in The Insider and Bagger Vance, McGill agrees with me that Thomas has a great future. The Osmond Story is very melodramatic. I like it when George Osmond, the father of some seven superstars, makes his son Merrill (Ryan Kirkpatrick) relinquish his theme color (purple) to Donny. Merrill is stuck with wearing black for the rest of his career.

Few people today realize how carefully the Osmonds dressed. Not only did Pa George assign each a distinct color—red, blue, yellow, green—but to each son also prescribed a unique talismanic belt buckle. Jimmy kept his pants up with a brass monkey; Wayne used a little steel airplane; Alan, an eagle. As Donny, Thomas gets to wear a special heart-shaped buckle—strange coincidence, since I too wear one of these. In fact, he wears the same metal valentine I got on a belt from Mother many birthdays ago! No matter where we first meet, Thomas and I start each morning by aiming our teeny "hearts" at each other—a private ritual that gladdens the hour of ungodly call-times.

Never have I been on such a happy set as this. I haven't heard a single complaint from cast or crew in the two weeks I've been here. This afternoon, during "Sweet and Innocent," the camera tracks between the legs of all the brothers, through a color-coded corridor of human thighs, until it halts in razor-sharp focus upon the craziest little horse of them all—purple Donny, who kicks up his heels and sends many a loose sequin through the rent air! At home in the wee a.m. I fracture Mother's fragile drowse with a sneezing fit brought on by inhaled sequins. Even my insomnias are dazzling these days!

A peculiar revelation today. The part of Donny is played by not one but two actors; not just Thomas, who plays Donny up to the time of "Puppy Love," but also by a perfectly nice boy named Patrick Levis, who plays Donny from age 14 on.

Thomas seems not the least bothered by this switcheroo. I guess he's known about the other Donny all along. Still, I keep an eye on him to make sure he's alright, to spot upon his good-natured face the first indication of this secret injury to his spirit. At lunch my vigilance pays off. One minute Thomas and I are happily double-dipping figs in our hummus, the next he suddenly excuses himself to pretend he's fetching his Discman from his trailer. Dissembled in that winning smile he has parlayed into so many roles, Thomas dons a huge parka and plunges into the brutal night winds. Greatly concerned for my charge, I dash out after the boy, catch him in midstride, and, with both our coiffures flapping, I demand that he confess his grief at having his part cut in two. But, strangely, at this moment grief comes to me instead. Tightly wound up with overprotectiveness, I'm surprised to find tears springing to my eyes—tears that roll down my cheeks in the raging wind as I hug Thomas consolingly. Wigward the saltwater falls, down into the blast-beruffled plume.

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