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While his career screen time may be limited, Florida actor Seth Sklarey made a lasting impression on audiences in Bob Clark’s 1973 horror film Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. His portrayal of lead ghoul Orville manages to evoke both sympathy for the disturbed dead and fear at his resulting revenge. To get to the bottom of what made this creepy corpse shamble in a cult classic, I Talked with a Zombie!
ED Tucker: Let’s turn back the clock to 1973, actually 1972 when Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things was filmed. Were you an actor before this film was made?
Seth Sklarey: No, I wasn’t an actor at that time. I was living in Coconut Grove and I was just kind of hanging out! A girlfriend of mine came up to me on a bicycle and said they were casting for a movie and the type of person they are looking for – you’re it. I went in and they hired me on the spot because I had the look they were looking for.
ET: Did they tell you what kind of part you would be playing?
SS: Vaguely, yes. I interviewed with Bob Clark and we talked about the part.
ET: Was he concerned that you did not have any previous acting experience?
SS: Its funny, what he was concerned about was that I was going to move during the filming. He shot me slightly out of focus in case I moved but I never did. He came to me at the end of the picture and said he was really mad at himself for doing that because I didn’t move through the whole movie. He didn’t know that I had been practicing for ten or fifteen years. I used to play dead all the time as a kid. My parents would come home and I would be lying on the floor with blood all over my face. They just stepped over me and ignored me!
ET: Aside from the years of practice, did you do anything else to help yourself not move? Did you zone out?
SS: I always wanted to be a Yogi and hold my breath for forty minutes. Of course, I could never hold mine for more than a minute so I just practiced not moving and very shallow breathing.
ET: Did you ever fall asleep on the set while they were filming?
SS: Oh yes, a bunch of times. The movie was filmed at the county nursery and the mosquitoes were horrendous. I would go to sleep in the coffin because I could close the lid and shut the mosquitoes out. One time, I went to sleep in the coffin when it was in the grave and these wise asses started to shovel dirt in on top of me. I came flying out of that coffin in full costume and makeup and just scared the hell out of them. They knew I was in there and they knew I was an actor but they didn’t know what to think – they weren’t expecting that!
ET: Did you know when you were cast that you were going to be the lead zombie?
SS: No, it was all in the script but I wasn’t given too much access to the script. [Alan] Ormsby probably made half of it up as he went along too but there was a script. I had no lines so I guess they figured there really wasn’t any reason to give me a script. I never knew what was going on!
ET: You mentioned that Children was filmed at a plant nursery, was it on an island?
SS: No, the island was a different location. It was the Dade County plant nursery. That was where most of it was shot. The house was in Coconut Grove. It was owned by a friend of mine, Tony Gulliver. He was the still photographer on the movie. He had an old house that was typical of the type in Coconut Grove and we filmed all the interiors there.
ET: Is that house still standing?
SS: Yes, the house is still there. Someone bought it and fixed it up but it’s still an old house. We did one shot at the end on an island off the coast of Miami. That was with us [the ghouls] sailing off in the boat. The boat was called The Ram, it was owned by an old friend of mine, Harry Boehme, who is also in the movie. He was one of the ghouls.
ET: How long did it take you to put on the makeup?
SS: It used to take three hours at night to put it on and two hours in the morning to get it off. A guy named Gary and a girl, whose name I don’t remember, maybe Ann Farmer, did my makeup. They put it on but I usually took it off myself once I got home. It was latex pieces that they would put on and then paint over. Then they dried it all with hair dryers. The hair was my own but they put some stuff in it to make it look white.
ET: What was it like working with Bob Clark as a director?
SS: Clark was a real movie buff. He knew movies very well. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of movies, must have seen thousands of them. He was an excellent director. He was patient and he knew what he wanted. This was such a low budget film; I think they only had $25,000, that he had to get everything right on the first take. Every once in a while he could do another take but not often, it was mainly a one shot deal. He had Jack McGowan as the director of photography, who had a very steady hand. Jack McGowan was the kind of guy that if they needed a shot of Elvis riding a motorcycle down a mountain in Viva Las Vegas taken by hanging off the side of a helicopter, they came to him! He also did the underwater shark close-ups in Jaws.
ET: How was Alan Ormsby to work with?
SS: I didn’t think much of him. He’s got talent but the character he portrayed in the movie was pretty much what he was like, obnoxious. Everyone else, I got along with fine.
ET: Do recall how long the filming took?
SS: My guess would be three or four weeks.
ET: When was the first time you saw the finished film?
SS: A few months later, maybe four or six months. They had a screening at a theater in Miami Beach. I liked it. I thought it turned out pretty good.
ET: Did you keep any mementos from Children?
SS: I had the jacket for many years but it has long since disappeared.
ET: Did you have any desire after Children to continue acting?
SS: I wanted to do more films. I tried to put a movie together with Jack McGowan about Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Haitian revolution. We also wanted to do a pirate film starring Richard Boone. He was to play Blackbeard the pirate and he gets killed and reincarnated as a parrot. We would have had Richard Boone’s voice coming out of a parrot. It was tongue and cheek like Pirates of the Caribbean. You could never get Boone to stay sober long enough to do anything and we couldn’t get the money together. We went to St. Augustine one time for that and rounded up the Chamber of Commerce at the Alligator Farm. We had seven good looking girls in low cut dresses. They just ate it up but the movie never happened. A few years later, Bob Clark called and said he was doing Porky’s II and asked if I would like to be in it. I told him I would on the condition that he get me a SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild) card. They had me on the set for like ten days and on the last day they had me do one line. So I got SAG wages for that one day. I got my card but I never did anything after that.
ET: Did you stay in touch with Bob Clark?
SS: Yes, we stayed in touch and talked regularly for about two years while he was trying to get the remake of Children going. He was trying to get financing and he was complaining to me that even Brad Pitt couldn’t get financing at that time. He knew that I had a fan base and was bankable so he was interested in having me involved. We would talk every three or four months and chat about what was going on. I called him on a Friday night and his secretary called me back and said that he had been killed the night before.
ET: Any final memories of Children Shouldn’t Plat with Dead Things?
SS: Well, I was supposed to be paid $700 to do the picture, $350 at the beginning and $350 at the end. I got the $350 at the beginning but that was it. They never paid me the other $350, so I still have that coming!
ET: Thanks so much for your time Seth.
SS: You are very welcome.
"Retrorama" is ©2010 by ED Tucker. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.