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Friday, September 23, 2011

Natchez Characters - Ritchie Montgomery

I found some clippings of articles I wrote when working for The Natchez Democrat in 1979 and 1980, and thought I'd share one with you.  This one is about my friend Ritchie Montgomery, whose latest acting role was as the bus driver in The Help.  He's come a long way since this article was written, no longer working as an assistant but as a very seasoned actor with 94 movie titles under his belt.

April 6, 1980
By Elodie Pritchartt
Democrat Staff Writer

Wou would ever have believed that when Columbia Pictures came to town to film "Beulah Land," they would bring one of Natchez's own, home-grown locals to work in production?

Ritchie Montgomery is "Beaulah Land's executive production assistant "in charge of everything," who returned to Natchez after one-and-a-half years of living and working in various jobs in Los Angeles.

Montgomery grew up in Fayette, a long way from Los Angeles and Hollywood.  He was always interested in entertainment and he holds a bachelor degree in fine arts from the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.

After leaving school, Ritchie began managing the bar at Hallelujah, Ltd., where he was affectionately known as the "speed-rack kid."

When he finally decided to go to Hollywood, he landed a job with "Freedom Road" as a truck driver and found himself right back in Natchez.

His truck-driving skills, however, left much to be desired, so he tried his hand at production assistant and proved himself worthy of the job.

Production assistant is a very important job, coming fifth in the line of production positions.

"First you've got the director," Montgomery said.  "Next comes the first assistant director, then the second assistant director, the assistant director trainee and then the production assistant."

Montgomery's job consists of making certain that the actors and extras are costumed and on location as well as seeing that extras are paid at the end of a day's filming.

It is his job to be at Columbia wardrobe first thing in the morning.  this often means having the extras dressed and ready to go on location by 6 a.m.

"I'm the first one in and the last one out," Ritchie said.  "I have to stay until the bitter end every day."

Ritchie is supplied with his trusty walkie-talkie, which he keeps fastened to his belt.  Whenever an extra or actor is needed on the set, word is sent to Ritchie over the walkie-talkie and before you know it, here comes the speed-rack kid with a truckload of extras.

Leslie Ann Warren personally requested that Ritchie serve as her personal assistant.

"She called her manaager in Los Angeles and asked him to put me on as her production assistant.  He (the manager) had never heard of me so he called her producer, David Gerber, on the phone.  Nobody knew who I was until finally somebody got Chris Morgan and he got me the job."

Montgomery enjoys his job, but his real interest lies in acting.  He discovered, however, that even with a degree and a Screen Actor's Guild card, it's awfully hard to land an acting job in Hollywood.

"They always tell you, 'Sure, come on out to Hollywood; we'll take care of you and get you a job,' but they never do.  It's tough out there."

After many long, hungry weeks of unemployment, Montgomery finally started working for a moving company in Los Angeles called "Starving Students."

During his off hours, he tried to make his break in acting by doing stand-up comedy routines at the Comedy Store.

The Comedy Store is a club where unknown actors work for free with the hope of being discovered buy one of the talent scouts who frequent the club.  Many famous comedians such as Robin Williams got their start at the Comedy Store.

"We mostly do situation-comedy improvisations.  For example, the audience would name different things that give you the blues and we'd make up a funny blues tune about it."

Montgomery gets to meet a lot of interesting people in his job as production assistant.  While working on a movie in Los Angeles called "Coastliner," he became acquainted with David Jansen and Susan St. James.

"They asked me to have a drink with them one day after filming.  susan St. James was going to meet her boyfriend who just happened to be Stephen Stills.

"Well, naturally, I was all excited about meeting Stephen Stills, so I thought I'd impress everyone and order a round of drinks.   When the waitress came to collect, I realized that I didn't have enough money.  I was really embarrassed and I said, 'Uh, hey everybody, I hate to say this but I'm kind of short.'"

Susan St. James looked at Ritchie, who is all of five feet, six inches tall, and replied, "Oh, Ritchie, everybody knows that!"

The movie company left Natchez Saturday but Montgomery plans to stay behind for awhile and take a vacation.

Then it's back to Hollywood and hunting for another job.

Here is Ollie in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3d.

You know, it's funny looking back on these old stories.  I had just started writing, and didn't have a degree, and I see all kinds of holes in this story that were I to have written it today, I'd have done a better job.  Still, it's kind of fun going back and remembering.

*Photo Caption from Democrat article:  Ritchie Montgomery, center, is comforted by anothe extra during a recent scene in "Beulah Land."  Montgomery was also the executive production assistant for the project. (Democrat photo by Mike Willey)

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