Saturday, March 6, 2010

Pierre man has "Dances" experience

Back in 1989 many South Dakotans suddenly found themselves part of a Hollywood movie production that would turn out to be bigger than any of them realized at the time. Jeff Mammenga of Pierre was one and spent four days as an extra in Dances With Wolves.

As "Cargill's Men" stationed at Fort Sedgewick on the Houck Ranch north of Fort Pierre, Mammenga and 10 others marched, drilled and panicked for first-time director Kevin Costner.

Wearing wool uniforms and stiff heavy boots in 95 degree July heat wasn't exactly fun. Mammenga got a little relief from the heat because Costume Designer Elsa Zamparelli liked the way his "ribs glistened in the sun." So he wore no shirt under his uniform jacket.

Other costuming include "chapped" lips created with tree sap and tissue paper and some "Hollywood" dirt sprinkled on the uniforms. Mammenga said the dirt didn't stick, so he and several others just rolled around on the ground to get dirty.

Here is Jeff Mammenga in his calvary soldier uniform and a prop leaf from Dances With Wolves' Civil War scenes.

For the first three days of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. filming Mammenga received $45 in cash each evening. When asked to come back for a fourth day he requested $55 and one of the special embroidered caps the crew was wearing. "I got the $55, but never did see a cap," he laughed.

Ultimately the scene featuring "Cargill's Men" was not included in the theatrical release of the film. "I feel like I contributed to one of Dances' seven Oscars. Unfortunately it was for editing," Mammenga laughed.

Approximately a year later, ABC television ran the film as a mini-series and previously-unreleased scenes were added, including Mammenga's role as a disheartened cavalry soldier. After watching a video clip of himself listening to Captain Cargill tell his men that they were deserting their fort, Mammenga smiled, "There's my 10 seconds of glory."

While on the set Mammenga befriended actor Robert Pastorelli, who played freight wagon driver Timmons in the movie. "He called me young Abe Lincoln because I'm tall and thin," Mammenga remembered. The two had their picture taken together on the set, but Mammenga hadn't seen the picture in six years so he wrote to the actor. "I never expected to hear anything, but one day the phone rang and there was a gravelly voice. He said he couldn't find the picture, but was it okay if he sent a couple others?" About three weeks later two pictures and a personal note from Pastorelli arrived in the mail.

Mammenga wrote about his experiences for the Pierre Capitol Journal newspaper, where he worked at the time. He has also given presentations on the movie to many groups over the years. "What made it interesting was learning all the angles that go into shooting a scene. You learn a lot about the intricacies of filming."

Read more about Dances With Wolves in earlier posts here at Cinema South Dakota.

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