Indiana Jones – Real life Hero

For Jessica and I going to the set in the morning, staying through lunch and then spending the afternoon sightseeing or playing at the hotel or my house became fairly routine. But one day our routine was disrupted as they were going to shoot at night. It was exciting to go to the set at night. We felt grown up heading out to “work” when normally we would have been settling in for the evening. When we climbed the dirt paths from to the location there were all of the now familiar crew members with their smoke machines and cameras, cables and clipboards, but the atmosphere seemed much more laid back than during the day. Maybe people were less punchy with the relief from heat that the evening brought. Jessica and I watched as they filmed a slim boy stagger over the rock into Indy’s arms several times before they broke for dinner. The meal was set up in a building close to where we were shooting. Tables lined the center of the cramped room. Lights dangled from cables strewn across beams in the ceiling casting shadows of the peopling queuing for food on the uneven walls making it appear like there was a second more ominous group waiting to dine after us. The smells of friend chicken, baked beans and corn bread made my mouth water as we waited in line. I had a lot of great food on that set, but this was my favorite meal! With plates piled high we exited the building and ate near the iconic stone in the center of the village. Just as we were finishing we heard a rumble of thunder in the distance. Suddenly massive clouds rolled in. I had heard that expression used to describe an upcoming storm, but this is the first time I had really witnessed it. Giant foggy masses visible despite the dark sky slid over the hills beyond the set and tumbled towards us. Suddenly papers and loose objects around the set began to move and make noise in the increasing wind. Almost simultaneously all evidence of twinkling stars disappeared and giant drops began screaming down from the darkened sky. While some raced to cover cameras and equipment, others ran back towards the dining area and huddled in the crowded building to wait out the storm. The pounding rain outside made it necessary to shout for conversations to happen. Although it was cramped and hot, people were laughing and picking at the remnants of dinner. Then, suddenly there was a startling flash and a deafening crack that shook the ground as lighting seemed to strike the hills just beyond us. The lighting silenced everyone for a moment but people quickly began to resume chatting. However, they were quickly silenced again when someone in charge of that kind of thing came in and adamantly told the group that our location was not safe and we all needed to clear the set immediately.

The room rapidly emptied as people scrambled to take care of things they were in charge of. Cables were being wrapped and road cases were being packed and snapped shut. Kate, Jessie and I were not in charge of anything so we started out the door and headed towards the vans. Outside the rain had already soaked the ground and there were standing puddles everywhere. As we started down the hill the muddy paths had become tiny rushing rivers. Kate and Jessica were ahead of me but there were multiple paths down the hill and I knew the way. As I came around a bend the narrow footpath went in between two large boulders. Two cables met at a junction directly between the rocks and water was rushing over the intersection of the two thick cords. I heard a popping and humming noise and realized the water could be electrified and might not be safe to traverse especially in my leather flip flops. I tried to go around the rock to the right, but beyond the boulder was thick brush. Same thing on the other side. I looked at the rocks and weighed my options. Should I risk a nasty shock or try to climb the boulder that was taller than I? Just then I heard the theme music to Indiana Jones – Just kidding, that is what I hear when I remember the story. But, in reality all I heard was someone coming up behind me. I turned. It was Harrison Ford dressed in his full Indiana Jones attire, whip and all. He quickly assessed the situation and came to the same conclusion that I had. “Climb on.” he commanded and hoisted me onto his back. He clambered over the boulder on the left and we rejoined the path on the other side. “Thanks!” I said. I know that twice during the making of the movie Ford complained about an injured back. I hope I was not the cause. He put me down near the vans where a soaked Kate and Jessica were just climbing in. We all bounced down the muddy road and as we headed towards Kandy, Kate pointed out that Harrison Ford, movie action star had been a real life hero.

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Too much lunch.

April 19th, 1983

“Johanna still has three weeks of vacation. She is hobnobbing with the U.S. film director Steven Spielberg (he did Star Wars, E. T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Harrison Ford who starred in these films. We met a little girl at the Suisse Hotel pool who it turns out is the leading lady’s (Kate Capshaw’s) daughter. She’s six – Jessica. Anyway, Johanna is doubling as friend and guide/interpreter for the group. She leaves the house about nine, goes off to spend the morning watching the shoot on location, has lunch and spends the afternoon swimming or shopping with them, and we see her sometime after dinner. I can’t understand why he hasn’t asked her to sign on yet. Anyway, she’s keeping busy.”

-Judy Bloss

This is how my mother described my April school vacation,1983 in a letter home to my Grandfather. I had just turned 11 and found myself hanging out on the set of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Most of the filming was taking place just above the Hantana Tea plantation located across the valley on a hill opposite my house in Kandy. Each day, a van would pick me up and make the drive of about 30 minutes to the film location. My travel companions depended on the shooting schedule for the day. Most of the time Jamie (Kate Capshaw’s friend) would bring Jessica to meet her mother on location and they would pick me up on the way. But, sometimes Kate could arrive later on set and she would make the trip with us. Occasionally we would be joined by Ke Huy-Quan (Now Jonathan Ke Quan) who played Short Round in the movie. He was never without his mother. She did not speak much English and so I think he was looking after her as much as she was looking after him. It is reported that they privately referred to Spielberg and Lucas as Bearded Man 1 and Bearded Man 2. I wouldn’t be surprised, although his English was still a little rough, he was quick at making jokes and frequently made us laugh.

We would travel down the winding road from my house through the heart of Kandy before climbing the hills on the other side. I had grown accustomed to the driving in Sri Lanka. Close calls with bicycles and overcrowded buses no longer registered. But the wide eyes of my fellow passengers were a clue that driving in California was more, shall we say, regulated.  When the driver would make especially adventurous forays, the van inhabitants would take a synchronized breath in as if they could somehow suck in the sides of the van as they sucked in their guts. The closer we got to the film locations, the bumpier the ride became and we bounced off each other like pinballs. Kate Capshaw would cross her arms and hold her chest, “Gotta hold on to the puppies,” she’d say. I didn’t even have kittens at the time, so I could not relate.

Some of the jungle brush surrounding the area had been freshly cut back to allow a primitive road to be built specifically for the film crew. Larger vehicles couldn’t pass beyond a certain point and we would walk up a steep series of dirt paths behind grips, best boys and gaffers carrying equipment that weighed more than we did. Yeah – I just threw those terms in there to make it sound like a film set. I really didn’t know what most of the workers scurrying around me were up to and I certainly didn’t know their titles. It all seemed very complicated. There were camera tracks on the ground, cables everywhere and men walking around with smoke machines. Yet, with all of these unusual things and all of the famous actors, directors, designers and producers, I was the one who seemed to be the curiosity.

At every break in shooting, and there seemed to be a lot of breaks, somebody would sit next to me and ask about my unique situation in Sri Lanka. After inevitably commenting on how hot it was, they would ask about food, culture and customs of the country. Many of the same crew had worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark and so I guess I was somebody new to talk to.

During one such break Jessica and I found a rock on which to eat lunch. Well, Jessica was eating; I was relishing. I had grown accustomed to and quite fond of Sri Lankan cuisine, but I hadn’t had good American fare in quite some time and the food on the set was – ridiculous. Hamburgers, potato salad, corn on the cob, BROWNIES… I climbed up the rock careful not to lose a precious french fry or deviled egg. For fans of the movie, our lunchtime rock can be seen when the boy who escapes the mine comes staggering back to his village and collapses in Indiana’s arms.

srilankasetvillageboy

It was a warm day, but a portion of the rock was in the shade and as we ate and relished our meals respectively, Jessica and I chatted. We were soon joined by Mr. Spielberg who asked if he could share our shady spot. “Another hot one,” he said.  I moved over to make room, almost losing my ear of corn in the process. After some deft maneuvering, it settled back into the middle of my plate.

“Where did you find corn like this?” I asked. “I haven’t seen any since I got here.”

Spielberg explained that none of the food they were serving was from Sri Lanka. They were worried about the health of the cast and crew, and so everything was being flown in from West Germany. I quickly saw a way that the film could save a lot of money and provide the local cooks with work and explained that the food in Sri Lanka was delicious and safe. Surprisingly the assurances of an eleven-year old did not convince him to alter the catering practices of his 28 million dollar enterprise.

“What about the water?” he asked. “You don’t drink the water do you?”

I explained that at home we boiled the water that we drank and that I’d never been sick.

“What about the showers?”

This question confused me. “We just use regular water in the showers,” I said.

“Do you keep your eyes closed?”

Again, a confusing question “I – um – only when I wash out the shampoo.”

“I keep my eyes shut when I shower here. I heard that water that gets in your eyes can find a path to your throat and if you swallow it you can get sick.”

I tried to imagine the internal connection between the eyes and the throat and made a mental note to ask my Mom about what joined the two. He was definitely concerned with cleanliness, especially of the water. Kate later told me that when they had to film the scene in which she falls into a puddle of water that they damned up a small area and filled it with bottled water.

I was about to admit that I brushed my teeth with tap water when an assistant arrived with a wax-paper wrapped sandwich for Spielberg. With all the options flown in from Europe, he had opted for a classic PB&J. The conversation turned then from water purity to crunchy versus creamy. FYI I really like them both – depends on my mood.

Filming was interesting but could be tedious. On this day, they were filming the scene when Indy, Willie and Short Round arrive in the village. (The clip can be seen here) The villagers offer them some food. Mr. Ford had asked me how to say thank you in Sinhala the day before. When we arrived on set he asked me to remind him again, and after going over the schedule for the day with the director, it had slipped his mind again.  “Stuthi,” I said slowly. “Stoooooti.” As we practiced he was constantly being interrupted so finally I wrote it down on a scrap of paper and he kept it in his pocket. I helped him with a few other lines he said in Sinhalese. The speech by the village elder explaining the magic of the stones which Indy translates is all in Sinhalese. When the movie came out I read though every tiny name in the credits searching for mine. I thought, maybe I would be under special thanks. Much to my disappointment, I was not listed. But, I guess they didn’t forget me. When we were planning our wedding, my then fiancé sent letters to Ford and Spielberg who both sent back replies including this personalized best wishes from Ford on our wedding day.

Wedding Wishes

The hut where they were filming the scene was cramped. I first watched the scene from behind the camera where they were shooting. Short Round spontaneously copied one of the gestures that Indy used when describing his plane crash and Spielberg liked that and asked him to mimic him some more. We watched them film the scene multiple times. By then Ford had his Sinhalese line down. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the pronunciation, but it was hot, and for some reason despite all the discussions they were having about angles and light they were not asking the the kid in the the back for her opinion on dialect.  I gave Ford a thumbs up and Jessica and I went to sit outside. There were several director’s chairs just outside of the filming area and we hopped up into two empty ones next to George Lucas. I had often seen him standing with arms folded. To me, he appeared very quiet and serious and even intimidated me a bit. I tried hard not to stare at the white patch in his otherwise very dark beard. For some reason I wondered if it was real. “Action!” was heard once again from within the hut and we could catch the same dialogue we now had memorized. “I can’t eat this….That’s more food than these people eat in a week…I’m not hungry…” Just then Lucas shifted and crossed his legs and the chair he was sitting in made a terrible creaking noise. He cringed and a dozen heads snapped around to find the source of the disturbance, annoyed that the noise might have ruined the take. Lucas pointed toward me and then quickly put his finger to his lips as if to shush me. My eyes widened and my cheeks flushed. He was blaming me. But quickly he laughed – “No, my fault,” he said quietly to the crew as he patted his stomach. “Too much lunch.” Jessica and I giggled about it later. “He pretended he farted!” she laughed. I guess he wasn’t so serious after all.

Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory…and egg salad.

One of the most important things we gain as we grow older is a sense of perspective. I lived in Sri Lanka with my family and did not really appreciate at the time how unique my reality was. I witnessed dozens of women shaving their heads as they were initiated as Buddhist nuns. I watched an artist pour molten brass into intricate molds at his home. I saw wild elephants playing near the sea and giant fruit bats flying at dusk. I enjoyed all of these experiences, but it was not until I looked back at them as an adult that I appreciated how lucky I was to have so many unique natural and cultural adventures. All of the things that transpire in your childhood help shape you and your worldview as an adult, but one of my experiences in Sri Lanka helped me convince my future husband that I was someone he should get to know.

My school was on Spring recess and I had a month of free time. With two energetic kids at home, I am sure Mom was eager to plan some activities that would help us expend energy, and so she got us a pool membership at a local hotel. The Hotel Suisse is one of those old colonial structures that makes one think that at any moment a British solider with a pith helmet is going to walk through the door to join his wife for high tea in the garden.  Built in the early 1800s, over the years the building has been used as a private residence, government building and hotel. But our family was not interested in any of the 90 well-appointed rooms, we just wanted to cool off in the hotel pool.

swiss hotel 2

When we arrived it was late morning, but it was already hot and I jumped right into the water while mom sat poolside with my sister. There were not that many people in the pool, but the deck was hopping with activity; Many of the people looked somehow out of place. Rather than relaxed vacationers, they all scurried by the water’s edge to a small garden area in the corner. I wondered if the folks building the dam were having a conference because these people simply looked busy in what was usually a very laid back resort. One of them carried several folding chairs and set them up in the corner near the lair of the resident peacock who seemed annoyed by the intrusion and haughtily made his way to the other side of the garden. Then, a slender bearded man exited the hotel and looked around. The people with the chairs motioned him over. As he passed by I noticed his baseball cap read E.T. I had seen E.T. in the movie theatre just before we had left to come to Sri Lanka. Then, I had watched it at the home of one of my neighbors in Kandy. This neighbor’s family was from Japan. They had all of the latest electronic gadgets including a LaserDisc player and somehow a copy of the recently released movie. I went back to playing in the pool and met a young blond girl several years younger than I named Jessica. We chatted and raced back and forth showing off some of our pool skills – somersaults, handstands, underwater swimming, and we counted as the other held their breath to see how long we could stay under. When I came up from what I hoped would be a record-breaking time I was startled by a large man standing near the edge of the pool.

thugee

He was most certainly not ready to swim. He was wearing a long heavy maroon tunic. The black turban wrapped around his head easily doubled its size. A striking red streak in his headgear ended just above his right eyebrow which was barely visible and the black scarf continued around his neck. Both eyes were blacked around the edges creating dark voids in his face. I quickly looked away trying not to stare and wondered what country he was visiting from. A woman with a clipboard came up behind him and he followed her towards the man in the E.T. hat taking one long stride for two of hers.

“He is not from around here,” I said to Jessica.

“He could be,” she replied. “He is probably an extra.”

I really did not have any idea what she was talking about, but I asked if she knew the man in the baseball cap who was talking to the scary turbaned man.

Jessica told me that the E.T. capped man was the director of a movie and that her mother was one of the actors. I wasn’t big into Hollywood, but something clicked and I realized that the man in the cap was the director of E.T. who now seemed vaguely familiar to me.

When recounting the story – this is the point where people say, “Oh my God! That was Steven Spielberg! Did you flip out?” No, I did not flip out. I was 11 and the man in the cap was a grown up in the corner of the garden working and annoying the peacock. I went back to playing in the pool with Jessica relieved that the man with the creepy eyes was wearing a costume and not a strange hotel guest.

Jessica was not alone at the pool. With her was a talkative outgoing woman with crazy curly strawberry hair who I immediately adored. Her name was Jamie and she was a friend of Jessica’s mom, Kate. We took a break from swimming and Jamie told us that Jessica was going to be traveling with her mom while they made the movie that was going to be a sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark. She said she had just finished helping with the casting of a movie version of Annie and when her friend needed help with Jessica she agreed to come along. I had many questions about the movie version of Annie – now that is something that does make an 11 year old interested in musical theatre flip out. “It might sound fun,” she said, “but you didn’t have to listen to thousands of girls sing…The sun’ll come out tomorrow…” She mimicked the girls and showed me the hand gestures they were all taught by their moms. “Gag me.” She said pointing to the back of her throat.

Mom came over with my sister and I introduced her to my new friends. My mom had seen the first Indiana Jones movie and knew who Steven Spielberg was, so I guessed that he was pretty famous. Jamie told us all that they would be filming in the area for several weeks and that she and Jessica could really use some company because she didn’t think there would be anything for her them to do in the area.

Kandy article

She asked if maybe I would join them on some of the film shoots so Jessica wouldn’t be so bored. I agreed and also offered to take them around Kandy as I thought there would be a lot of things they would be interested in. We told her about the Kandy Market, the Temple of the Tooth, my school, etc. Jamie seemed very interested in gems and she and my mom began talking about topaz and rubies.

Before we left Jessica wanted to introduce me to her mom who was working upstairs in their room. Mom agreed and we followed them upstairs. There were a few people bustling around the room. Kate Capshaw greeted her daughter with a huge hug and kiss and welcomed us into her room which was the largest hotel room I had seen in Sri Lanka. I commented on the size and she said “You should see the one where they are keeping Mr. and Mrs. Longfellow.” Our puzzled looks were enough for her to tell the other ladies that she would be right back. We followed her downstairs where there were a series of retail shops – gems, Sri Lankan crafts and clothes, etc. One shop was empty and there was a sheet that obscured most of the display window. But peering below, you could see two giant pythons pressed up against the glass in one section. They were impressive snakes. Kate shuddered and turned around. “I have to have a scene with those things,” she said. “I am not looking forward to it.

The next day we met back at this pool. There were no longer costumed cast members bothering the peacock and he was strutting around demanding attention – occasionally he would emit a sound that seemed like the cross between a kazoo and a large cat or shake open his feathers into a colorful fan. Jessica and I had lunch at the poolside bar. A man walked up to us. He seemed to know Jessica. “Man, it is hot,” he said as he sat on the stool next to us. “Not if you swim,” said Jessica. He asked me what was good to eat and I told him that I was partial to their egg salad and crispy French fries, but I warned him as I always did any foreigner that the ketchup wouldn’t taste the same as at home. “Egg salad sounds good. How do you know so much?” he asked. “I live here,” I said. “At the Swiss Hotel?” he inquired. I giggled and explained why we were living in Kandy for the year. Jessica said, “He is in the movie with my mom.” At this point a waiter came over and stood quietly clearly wondering if the man wanted to order something. The big man looked at me and made a face as if to say “How do I do this?” I ordered him an egg salad and Jessica and I chatted with him as he waited. He had a lot of questions about the weather and the country. I explained to him about monsoons and my dad’s studies of Buddhist nuns and my school. When his sandwich arrived he offered me half, but I had already eaten. Plus, I noticed he was a big man and I was sure he could eat the entire thing – which he did in several bites. He signed the check and then shook my hand. “I’m Harrison Ford. It was nice to meet you. Maybe I’ll see you around.”

Not only did he see me around, but he may have saved my life. You’ll need to tune in again if you want to hear that story.