Death in Winnipeg

Crazy Horses of the Apocalypse: Inside the Osmonds

Shooting will be finished soon and all the actors will be going back to their distant homes. Tomorrow is the last and biggest day. The sham Osmonds get to meet the real Osmonds, onstage at Winnipeg's Walker Theatre, in the picture's climactic scene. If I know anything about movies, I know Thomas belongs in this scene, but the director has put the older Donny in instead. To Thomas's credit, he gives not the slightest indication of disappointment, but I know he must be devastated. Ever the pro, Thomas intends to show up tomorrow and watch this final scene anyway.

To cheer him up, I ask Thomas if I may sit with him. As with all young actors, his sensitive instrument must be carefully guarded from clumsy outsiders. As a director always happy to discuss the craft of acting, I can use my profession as a pretext to ride shotgun next to little Thomas without his suspecting I sit there as a concerned friend, as one who would fall on grenades for him. In whatever emotional chaos that transpires, I can offer invaluable comforts to a troubled breast. Tomorrow!

O-Day at the Walker Theatre. I'm not even the director and I'm dizzy with fear. Since late last night, real Osmonds have been flying in from all parts of Utah, one by one: Virl, Merrill, Wayne, Jay, et al.—the first Osmond reunion in 17 years! The Winnipeg that awaits them this morning is locked in a cruel dome of permafrost—40 degrees below, and twice as cold with windchill! We Winnipeggers pride ourselves on moments like this. Compulsively, we muse about the impact our perfrigid town will have on the unsuspecting who visit us. How will the newly arrived celebrities cope with being here? Will they be frightened when their nose hairs are twisted out by the invisible pincers that stab into one's nostrils at temperatures this low? What will Donny make of that first biting mouthful of air outside the airport when the cold rips into his lungs like a swallowed scissor? Will he wonder why his eyelids have frozen shut as he gropes toward his limo? And what will happen to the real parents, George and Olive, now elderly? Will the cold simply kill them? Will they be borne home in coffins, in the chilled cargo hold of the same plane that brought them here as warm and loving parents? Marie, the most reluctant to confirm her appearance in the picture, and her famously deaf missionary brother Tom are the last to touch down on our airport's frost-heaved runway. Will the real Marie regret most of all her decision to come all this way to face the real Donny, with whom she is rumored to be fighting?

Since six this morning, the theater has been packed with hundreds of extras, 15-year-old girls garbed in the frayed flares and ill-fitting miniskirts that were so specifically 1973. All their hair is as straight as Marcia Brady's, or as feral as Chaka Khan's. All their shirts are plaid or denim or both. All corduroys are narrow wale. Eyebrows are plucked and repenciled in thin and arching cursives. The cumulative effect is eerie. It's a velour goldmine! It is 1973!

The seaside sounds that rise from chattering hordes of girls haven't changed since my youth. Suddenly, a redolent simoom of adolescent girl wafts up and over me. I suffer a brief flashback: As a well-groomed and courteous high-schooler I was completely invisible to all these cool prom-night smoochers; now, in a queer form of time travel, I'm reexperiencing this invisibility, but as a very confident adult in a Prada overcoat. This time, I'm just as glad to be a nonentity to these girls, these girls who look just a little bit raunchy with their chubby legs squeezed into rank white pantyhose and Naugahyde hot-pants ready to burst! I'm pleased as a seal to sit out of camera's range with a solicitous eyebrow cocked toward uncynical Thomas.

Now, I hear a rumor: All Osmonds, as resourceful in middle age as they were precocious in youth, have arrived safely at our location. No frostbite, no gangrene. I'm told they're tucked warmly away backstage.

Never have I felt so much excitement on a set in Winnipeg. My head burns, and little crisping shivers run across my clammy skin. We all know this last shot is the money one. The blocking is actually to be very simple: The fake Osmonds will stand six abreast upon the stage, mouthing out "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother." Halfway through the song, the real Osmonds will stride onstage to replace their doppelgängers and finish the number. Three cameras will cover them with every possible lens-length. Then, in a matter of minutes (if they get it in one take), all bona fide Osmonds will be picture-wrapped and freed to bomb outta here, straight back to temperate Utah. The end. I'll take Thomas out for fries and a shake—our own little wrap party—and we'll put our heads together over how we're going to shoot his script.

Now the houselights go down and the first A.D. gets all the cameras rolling. I let Thomas hold my Super-8, tell him to go ahead and squeeze off a few shots.

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