Starrs in our Eyes
By Kris Spackman & Sil Perrone
With a Little Help From My Friends
Sunday, February 19, 1978, was a day of dreams. There was bright sunshine, beautiful blue skies and a euphoric, ecstatic haze around us all brought upon by the state of shock we were finding ourselves extras on the set of the Ringo special. It was one of those days we prayed would never end. We could’ve stayed on forever!
We’d found out in advance that the special was to go into production at NBC in late February. And so, bright and early that fateful Sunday morning, the 4 of us: Pattie, Sil, Leslie, and I went over to NBC to wait for Ringo, and we hoped, George, to drive in for rehearsal. We spoke to the guard at the gate who said he wasn’t sure they’d be in, then sat down in the parking lot to wait. Only minutes later, the guard came out of his little booth, strolled over to us, and casually announced, “I just talked to some of the dancers on the set; they said Ringo’s over at A&M Studios today.” A&M? My first thought was, “Then George can’t possibly be with him.” But, we thought, it’s logical they may be pre-recording the soundtrack? We thanked the guard, hoping he wasn’t just trying to get rid of us, jumped into Sil’s car, and took off. It was a nerve-wracking drive, mixed with choruses of “I don’t believe it!” to “Do you think he’s really there?” But at this point, anything was worth a try!
Well – we owe that guard a big bottle of champagne! The famous A&M Studios are located behind and next to a Safeway Supermarket in Hollywood, with a fence between the two. The fence is covered over with canvas, leaving only little peep-holes at the bottom. Sil pulled to a stop near the fence and Pattie, Leslie, and I tumbled out and raced over, dropping to our knees to peek thru. Silence. Then from Pattie, a chocked “Omigod, it’s him!” There, across the parking lot, was Ringo, standing and talking to a couple of people. He was surrounded by TV equipment and lights and we realized with a jolt that they were going to, or in the process of, filming for the special!
After just looking at him for a few minutes and feeling all those crazy things you feel with it’s been 2 whole years since you last saw one of them, I jumped up and said, “I’m going around and walked by the front gate.”
“I’ll go with you,” Sil said and off we dashed, trying to appear calm, cool, and collected as we approached the gate and peeked in. He was still there, wearing black trousers, a white shirt, and black vest, with a red scarf knotted round his neck, looking as gorgeous and healthy, and as “Ringo” as ever!
“I’m going to go back and get those guys,” Sil said and moments later, we were all peering thru the gate.
As we almost expected, we were immediately approached by a young man wearing an A&M security T-shirt, and we braced ourselves for the inevitable, “Sorry, but you can’t stand here.”
But when it came out as “Would you like to be extras on the Ringo Starr show?” we all just stood there and gaped at him, with our mouths hanging open probably to our knees! None of us could manage a word. We must have just nodded somewhat coherently as he ushered us in, pointed to a doorway and said, “Go on into the soundstage over there; there’s coffee and donuts, and someone will talk to you about signing a release. Don’t wander around and get in anyone’s way and you’ll be fine.”
Zombie-like, we obeyed, and mumbled over and over, “I don’t believe it!” “I’m gonna die!” “This CAN” T be for real” And maintaining so much cool, I’ll never know how we did it! The coffee and donut room was a big barnlike soundstage; other extras were there like ourselves, while technicians ran all over the place. We had our coffee, while a very nice young lady, Shelley, had us sign release forms, and explained they would not be using us for a while, and she wasn’t sure herself, exactly what we’d be doing. She said she was glad we were there because they’d been dying for people the day before, and pulling them in off the street. We assured her we couldn’t be happier than to be there. Then she left us and we wandered back and forth, just watching and still feeling like four volcanoes about to explode!
Also inside the room was a set-up of TV monitors and Sony video machines. People were beginning to gather round them, so we followed and found ourselves watching Ringo and John Ritter in the process of filming a scene from the show, the one in which John reads off all the crazy activities Ringo is scheduled for that day, and it was a real crack up to watch as they did several takes. The errors were even funnier. In one, Ringo knocked the clipboard from Ritter’s hand, one or the other would fluff a line, and they’d break up. But Ringo was very serious about getting things exactly right, and we could tell he was working incredibly hard. As the scene was played back on the monitors, John Ritter came in to watch with us, and accepted our compliments with delightfully shy grins and “thank yous,” hugging Leslie in the process. He was such a dear. We all fell in love! (He is also one hell of a Beatle fan, and was almost as excited to be working with Ringo as we were. He even told us he felt like he was “14 all over again.”) Then, Ringo wandered thru, asking, in passing, how we liked it so far. (Actually, he kinda snuck up on us; we were all so engrossed with the monitors, we didn’t even know he was there until he spoke!)
The next scene they did was when he walked into the studio to play “I’m the Greatest.” That took several takes because he kept blowing “I’m the greatest, and you better believe it, baby!” The music wasn’t coming thru to his liking and they stopped for several adjustments, including putting pillows in the bass drums. While making adjustments to his drums, a muttered “These little fuckers won’t stay down!” broke us all up!
In the meantime, across the soundstage, another “change” was taking place. A young actor by the name of Hank Jones was being made up to look like Ringo. And I mean, it was from scratch on up! We watched in wonder as he acquired, via the wonders of the make-up department, a nose, eyebrows, beard, mustache, and even a head of hair. Pattie and Sil both took pictures as they progressed, and we were all quite amazed at the results! (Remember the “Yellow Sub” dance scene? That was Ringo as Ognir and Ognir (or Hank) as Ringo!) In most of the scenes, Ringo played both parts and dubbed in his voice, but Hank had his bits as well. He was there in parts of the recording studio, and at the concert scene at the end. HE told us he’d been chosen for his build and height more than for any facial resemblance to Ringo. And with the makeup job that was done on him, that was really all that was necessary. Meantime, Pattie coached him on how to walk like Ringo.
The scene was the 2 of them in the studio was also done several times. Ringo blew the word “boulevard” when asking Ognir about his cruising, then kept saying it over and over in a foreign accent as “Voule-vard.” He also had a hard time with the “Nobody’ll know” line and kept saying it as “Nobody’ll care.” But best of all was fluffed, “Just tell ‘em you’re on a break and they’ll leave you alone,” which, after several aborted takes, came out as “Just tell’em you’re on a fuckin’ break!” We nearly died laughing!
From what we’d been told, they’d been filming since 7 in the morning, and they worked straight thru that day until nearly 2 without a break. By 1, we were starving and at Shelley’s reassurance we wouldn’t miss anything, we dashed across the street to the Copper Penny, ate like maniacs, and came back in 30 minutes to find Pioneer chicken dinners being brought in for everyone!
Ringo had passed back and forth thru the soundstage several times between takes and conversations with the crew. There were 2 motor homes being used as his and John Ritter’s dressing rooms and they had lunch, we assumed, inside.
After lunch, the crew began setting up outside in the parking lot/courtyard. We still had no idea what we were going to be doing, and once again asked Shelley if she knew. She finally found out that they weren’t satisfied with a scene done the day before with the fans converging on the limo as Ringo arrives at the studio (The opening scene in the special). The director wanted to re-do it, and we were to be in a gang of fans chasing the car. We found it pretty amusing. Is there anything Ringo hates more than a scene like that? We would never have the nerve to do that in “real life.”
A moment later, Ringo emerged from his trailer, now dressed as Ognir and there was Hank dressed as Ringo. It was getting on in the afternoon and the sunlight was beginning to fade; so, the director was hurrying everyone along. The scene they were doing was the one in which Ognir is struggling to open the newspaper boxes outside A&M and upend them. It was an absolute delight to be able to stand just a few feet away from him and watch him do the take several times. He was just soooo cute! Sil and Pattie managed to take a couple of pictures while Leslie and I just stood by and just beamed. Then they moved around to do the bit where “Ringo” invites Ognir in to see the studio; as Ognir-Ringo asked Ringo-Hank if he was going to do “Yesterday,” Ringo-Hank replied, “That’s not my song,” and Ognir-Ringo added jovially, “And Paul did such a fine job on it!” We loved it!
As they finished the scene, I just couldn’t restrain myself another minute. I went up to Ringo and said, “Oh Ringo, you’re just terrific!” He smiled and put his arm around me: “Thank you, darling.” And I am still around to tell the tale!
After that, he disappeared once more into the trailer for another costume change. It was then that Shelley came up and regretfully told us they wouldn’t have time to re-shoot the scene they wanted us for after all. She apologized for hanging us up all day and we were quick to assure her we wouldn’t have missed it for the world! We were just disappointed we hadn’t got in the scene. The day’s shooting was still not finished. We heard later they worked until nearly 3 in the morning that night! But we were politely told we couldn’t hang around, though they did allow us to wait for him to emerge once more from the trailer. And we left A&M with “Starrs in our eyes.”
But it wasn’t over yet. The rest of the week was spent with us chasing all over L.A. looking for him on location, staking out NBC at 6am every morning because we heard that tickets were to be made available for the concert segment of the show, then at last minute they weren’t. That resulted in our making a million panicked phone calls to everyone we knew with even the slightest connection to the record business of any kind in an attempt to get tickets anyway! It was absolute insanity.
Then it was Tuesday night, February 21, going on 10pm. After a fruitless night of cruising about town. Pattie, Sil, Sue, and I decided we’d take one more ride down the Strip, and head on home. On our way back, Sue and I took a quick look in the parking lot of the restaurant we heard that a certain favorite actor of ours frequents. Over in the corner as we passed by, I thought and said aloud, “I think I saw a green car back there, you guys.” AT this point, we were exhausted and discouraged, and Sil said, “Should we go back?”
Said Pattie, “Yeah, let’s.” And so Sil executed one of her famous U-turns in the middle of Sunset Blvd! WE returned to the restaurant and sure enough, there was Ringo’s car! We were in a state of shock – what a chance in a million! But that wasn’t all: as we sat in an adjacent parking lot waiting for him to emerge, he was proceeded by another curly-haired guy that Sue and I had been dying to see: Paul Michael Glaser! We all went nuts as he turned to get into his car which was brought to the door by one of the valets. I was absolutely delighted, and we were all freaked out: what in the world were the chances of anything like this ever happening? Ringo and “Starsky” in the same place at the same time!
It was at least an hour before Ringo emerged, looking like he was thoroughly enjoying himself. We just sat and watched, not wanting to intrude. He was with Nancy, but they left in separate cars after chatting for a few minutes, and a very lengthy and cozy goodnight kiss!
And then it was 7am Sunday, February 26, and we were gathered outside NBC. Our million phone calls and persistence paid off: 13 of us had tickets to get in to see Ringo do the concert bit that night at 8pm! Yea, we were there at 7 in the morning, because our tickets were yellow, marked “first come, first serve, no guarantee basis” and would admit us after the holders of the “white privileged” tickets got in. It was one wild and crazy day! We picnicked, took our turns casing the place, got caught in a four-hour winter rainstorm, and chased everyone who arrived after us (the first of which didn’t show up until 1pm) to the end of the line.
By 7pm, our collective nerves were worn to a frazzle and we were all almost exhausted. Huddled under blankets and umbrellas, we waited for the doors to be opened. The tickets said the bearer should be there no later than 7:15. At the prescribed time, we and about 100 other people were escorted inside to a large soundstage. Holders of the white tickets were seated on one side and yellow on the other. We were told the rehearsals had gone over time, and it would be a bit before we’d be seated in the room where the stage was. The next half hour or so passed with agonizing slowness. But finally, row by row, the white holders were taken in. We were the first of the yellow bunch, and we were all just deliriously crazy with joy when they finally admitted us. We were seated at an angle to the stage, which was covered by a pyramid-like screen. Across the room, we spotted John Ritter, who spotted us back and raised his clenched hands with a big grin as if he was really delighted, we’d gotten in. The rest of the ticket holders were seated.
Then came the announcement: “And here he is, Ringo Starr!” We held our breath, then let out a cheer as the screen was raised to reveal him seated at the drums on a raised, star-shaped platform. He looked just gorgeous in a red jacket and white shirt, but he seemed pretty nervous. The rest of the audience was the biggest bunch of duds, who just sat there. We couldn’t believe it! Here they were, seeing Ringo in a “concert” for the first time ever since Bangla Desh, and they just sat there! Well, we more than made up for it. He sang “Hard Times” and “Heart on my Sleeve,” while we clapped and bounced along, and gave a rousing cheer at the finish. It was such a tremendous thrill. One of those things you can’t even believe while you’re sitting there experiencing it.
He seemed to loosen up a bit and kept grinning in our direction, seeming to sense how for him we were and how very very much we were enjoying him. Then he said, “Here’s one you haven’t heard in a long time and probably won’t hear again,” and went into “You’re Sixteen.” Zonkers!
The director then talked to him over the loudspeaker, asking him to do it once more. Ringo apologized for the repeat performance, saying that was the way it was on TV. Little did he know we could’ve sat there forever. We reacted to him almost every time he opened his mouth, and pretty soon he was throwing out “Milk bottle” and “brown shoe!” At one point he leaned into the mike and said, looking our way, “that’s not my song.” Pattie, Sil, Leslie, and I just freaked, because that’d been one of the lines he’d been repeating all day at A&M! He had to have remembered us.
He introduced the rest of the bad including Dr. John, Keith Allison, and Vini, who was wearing a red jogging suit and boppin’ around in the background. They began the set again and this time, he messed up a line and dropped a drumstick, which tickled us, then at the finish, the director said they’d need another take because of technical problems.
Ringo sat for a moment then suddenly they broke into “Act Naturally.” I think we gave off a collective gasp of shock, then a collective cheer. Following that, he asked if there were any requests. We sat unable to think of a thing. Then someone called out, “Photograph!” But Keith Allison sang instead.
As they prepared to re-do the original set again, he reminded us to “be surprised” when they introduced him. As the saying goes, “the best is last” and he really was tremendously electrifying. He sang and played beautifully, smiled, and made faces. That was our sweet Ringo up there, and we loved it to death!
At the end, we went up to the stage in spite of the announcement and ushers asking everyone to leave. While he was in the room, we weren’t going anywhere! He walked around the stage for a few minutes, waved and smiled, and bid us goodnight before leaving. For a few brief minutes, Sil managed to slip backstage and reported Nancy was back there (she’d also been in the audience) and gave him a great big kiss!
We went back out into the rainy night feeling so good, so happy, just high with that crazy feeling you get being around them. The whole week had been one we’d never forget, one of the best ever! We’ll always have Starrs in our eyes!