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What are the Chances…?

By Lydia Hope Wilen / New York City



This week, the Powerball jackpot was a staggering $2.04 billion. My chance of winning was about 1 in 300 million. It’s more likely I could find a pearl in an oyster or be killed by a vending machine. The ironic thing is that the store where I buy Powerball tickets has vending machines. I’m wondering, did that double my chances of winning or of being killed? Sadly and thankfully, neither happened for me, but there is that one Californian in 300 million who did win the jackpot.

Okay, so the odds of potential Powerball winning or losing can be calculated. What about things that happen in a magnificent and incredible way and all you can say is “What are the chances of that happening?” Definitely beyond coincidence. Too extraordinary to be synchronicity. Can it be the perfect alignment of the planets?

I’ll give you an example of something from my life and see if you can calculate the chances of that happening. My father died suddenly and my mother moved in with my sister Joany and me that day, leaving their Brooklyn apartment.

It took many months of Joany and me going to Brooklyn on weekends to clean out that third-floor walk-up apartment, while my mother settled into her new life in the city and adjusted to being without my father.

Slowly but surely, little by little, we took care of things that needed changing, organizing and setting up. At some point down the rebuilding road, we got around to taking my mother to the neighborhood bank for her to transfer her East New York Savings Bank account in Brooklyn to an Apple Bank on the Upper West Side.

The bank officer greeted us and brought over a couple of chairs so that all three of us could be seated at his desk. After we explained the reason for our visit, he handed our mother a form to fill out. Instead of just listing us as beneficiaries, he suggested that our mother should make it a joint account with both of us. In that way, instead of my mother having to go to the bank for whatever, one of us could save her the trip. My mom agreed and we, too, were handed forms to fill out.

The form asked for our occupation. I was a production secretary and assistant to producer/director Frank Perry on his film, Last Summer. Knowing I wanted to be an actress, Frank was kind enough to give me a small part in the film. How small was the part? In show biz lingo, it’s called an under-five. Yes, less than five lines. In this case, it was four less than five lines. Remembering the famous Konstantin Stanislavski quote that I learned in an acting class, “There are no small parts, only small actors,” I proudly filled in “Actress” in the occupation space.

1969 Poster for the film's original release
1969 Poster for the film's original release

The bank officer reviewed our filled-out forms and looked up when it came to mine. He asked if I was in anything he might have seen. I told him I had a very small part in a film that doesn’t seem to be around anymore.

His eyes lit up when I mentioned the film. He said, "I knew you looked familiar." I told him, "No. I'm sure you don't remember me from the film…not unless I sat next to you and pointed me out.”

He said, "I do remember you. You were a waitress and you asked the kids if they had identification. Then you rolled your eyes. I thought to myself, 'This actress has star quality.'"

He excused himself and left to do banking business for the accounts. The second he walked away, my mother, sister and I were gobsmacked! He actually remembered my performance. I wore heavy makeup to look as though I had a summer suntan and I wore a short curly wig, unlike my long, straight hair. Hmmm. Maybe I do have star quality. I’ve got to call Frank and tell him to find a screenplay with a bigger part for me.

Director Frank Perry with supporting actress, Lydia Wilen, who supported a tray of food as a waitress in "Last Summer"
Director Frank Perry with supporting actress,, Lydia Wilen,, who supported a tray as a waitress in "Last Summer"

While we were saying how unbelievable it was that he remembered my so-called performance, he came back. Holding the new bankbooks in his hand as a waitress would hold a pad to take an order, he said, “You boys got any identification?” And then he rolled his eyes exactly the way I did it after I delivered that exact line.

Bank business was completed and he handed us our new bankbooks. We thanked him and as we were getting ready to leave, he said, "I must tell you the truth. I'm studying to be an opera singer and in order to afford lessons, I have a nighttime job as a projectionist at a Greenwich Village movie theater that brings back films from a couple of years ago. Last Summer is one of those films. The cue for me to change the reel is your line and the roll of your eyes. So every projectionist in the country, wherever the film played or plays, knows you.”

Now that you know this story, what are the chances of me going to that bank, at that time, when that bank officer, a would-be opera singer, moonlighting as a projectionist at a movie theater that brings back past-their-prime films whose reel needs to be changed right after my line and eye roll?

If you can figure that out, then please tell me the chances of the Democrats holding onto the Senate and the House of Representatives. The forecast Red Wave turned into the Red Trickle. Now all eyes are on Georgia's upcoming runoff. Will it be Walker, the Red Dread? Or will it be Warnock, the Blue Whew? And what are the chances?


 

William Holden and Lydia in the TV Control Booth with the cast list glued to their clothes
William Holden and Lydia in the TV control booth with the cast list glued to their clothes

Before I entered into a long, joyful, fun-filled, adventurous and successful collaboration with my sister Joan, I had a career as an assistant to major forces in show business: Howard Gottfried (producer of Network), assistant to Billy Friedkin on preproduction of The Exorcist, assistant and production secretary to Frank Perry, and as assistant to Stanley Kubrick on preproduction of 2001: A Space Odyssey.


My first unpaid writing job was comedy material for Jackie Mason. My first paid writing job was one-liners and questions and answers for daytime game show genius-creator and producer, Bob Stewart.

In case you're wondering about my acting career, in addition to Last Summer, I had an under-five in Paddy Chayefsky's The Hospital and Network, and Frank Perry's Diary of a Mad Housewife. None of which was a career changer or a projectionist's reel changer.–L.W.

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