Monday, October 26, 2015


Johnny Weismuller, Jr.  & Rick portrayed car thiefs who enjoyed pushing around The Toad

Rick Boom was a 28yr-old resident of Petaluma, CA in the summer of 1972 when he inadvertently became involved in the production of American Graffiti. In the film Rick was paired up with Johnny Weissmuller, Jr. as one of the two car thief/thugs who beat up Toad, and are eventually chased away by Milner. Recently I spoke with Rick about his participation in the film over the course of several phone calls. Before we chatted I thought Rick’s only involvement in the film was acting but as our conversation progressed I discovered that he was also an important member of the production crew as well. What follows is a fascinating conversation with a friendly individual revealing his experience working on the Lucas’ nostalgic classic. 

KIP: How did your involvement in American Graffiti begin?

RICK: I became involved in American Graffiti by accident [laughs]. The local police department was doing security for the movie and I happened to be friends with several of the police officers. At the time, I was working as security at one of the local bars in Petaluma and as I was driving home one night I noticed all these big vans and trucks parked downtown near Mayflower Van and Storage. I later learned that the van and storage building is where the cars and filming equipment were stored. It was also where the cast, crew and car owners ate their meals. I wondered what was going on. I spotted some of the police officers I was friendly with so I got out of my car and we started talking. Then this little hippy looking kid came up from behind me and asked me if I wanted to be in a movie. I said, “Ah, nah, you’re not sucking me in.”

KIP: So you thought he was joking around or bullshitting you? 

RICK: I wasn’t sure.  As it turns out the kid was Jim Bloom the Production Associate for the movie and he wanted to include my white 1960 Chevy, Impala in the film.  I learned later that white is one of the preferred colors because it stands out and they can put any other color against it.

KIP: So you were hired first because your car fit the time period and atmosphere and not because of your acting potential?

RICK: The acting part came up later. Jimmy Bloom was just kind of concerned with the cars. So, that’s when I halfway blew him off. Then once my cop friends told me he was serious, I had to go back and suck up. I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it.’ So, he told me where to be the following night and what we were going to be doing. So naturally, I had to get my car washed the next day and wax it. 

KIP: What basic power features did your Impala have?

RICK: My car had a stock 8 cylinder 283, a Powerglide automatic transmission, chrome rims and mags in the back.

Boom's 1960 Impala cruising the parking lot at Mels Drive-in
KIP: Do you remember how much they paid you to use your car in the film?

RICK: Well, it started out we were getting $20 a night plus meals. At the time I knew one of the other local drivers, Jim Bergstrom who owns the Red '41 Ford Pickup. I got to know the other drivers and actors as the filming progressed. 
KIP: Your white 1960 Impala is visible in several key scenes in American Graffiti. 
RICK: Yes. You can see my car in about three scenes in the movie. One of the scenes is towards the beginning at Mels drive-in where there’s a brief close-up of my Impala cruising through the parking lot. Another scene is when Toad it trying to buy booze in front of Gilardi’s Liquors.  The guy Toad approaches to buy booze is driving my car. 
"Excuse me sir, uh do you know how long you'll be driving Rick Boom's car?

KIP: Any other scenes?
RICK:  You can see my car parked in Jerry’s Cherries. It was the only white ’60 Impala in the used car lot where Curt hooks a cable to the rear axle of the cop car.  Curt is leaning against my car.
KIP: Did you have any other jobs besides driving your Impala?
RICK: Well, Jimmy started paying me $30 a night so I could start directing traffic. He was really busy and running around everywhere.  He couldn’t be in two places at once so he had me telling the drivers when to stop and when to start driving and had me positioning the cars for various scenes. Bloom just said, “This is what we have to do so make it happen, I’m going over here, now you take care of it.”
KIP: Did you guys use radios or walkie-talkies to communicate back and forth?
RICK: No we didn’t have radios, everything was by word of mouth. For example, when we were in San Rafael all the cruising took place on Fourth Street, which is a one-way street. So the cars would cruise down the street and circle back. I would stand on one corner and Jimmy Bloom would stand kitty-corner at the other end of the street. So, one of the drivers would go by and Jimmy would tell him what to tell me and once the driver reached me he’d relay the message and I’d stop the cars or whatever.
Filming in downtown San Rafael, CA
KIP: The task of directing so many cars sounds overwhelming. It was reported that there were about 300 pre-1962 cars used in the film.
RICK: That’s probably true. There were a lot of cars especially on the few nights we were in San Rafael.  However, 300 drivers and their cars didn’t show up for filming every night.   

KIP: I imagine most drivers had jobs and had to be at work in the morning so they couldn’t come out every night and stay until dawn.

RICK:  Yes. It varied from night to night. We weren’t always sure how many cars would show up. It was unpredictable.
"We weren’t always sure how many cars would show up. It was unpredictable."

KIP: What were your impressions of lead cars such as the ’32 yellow coupe?
RICK: That little yellow coupe was a piece of shit! God forgive me, Henry Travers [laughs].

KIP: Tell me about it.
RICK: As with most of the lead cars in the film, they took it slapped paint on it, put chrome on it and it was ready to go. The coupe was made to look good on camera. The camera didn’t know the difference if it was a piece of shit or a functioning car.  One problem I recall is the coil wire around the coil was too short. So every time Paul LeMat would rev it up the sucker it would stop. This happened a couple of nights in a row. It pulled the wire off the terminal with the engine torque. So, we added a piece of wire to it, fused the whole thing together and made it work. But Henry Travers generally took care of most of the problems that the various cars might have had.  I think the taillights used to fall off the ’58 Impala and they’d have to stick those back on every once in awhile. 
KIP: So, as long as the cars moved everything was good.
"Every time Paul LeMat would rev up the engine the sucker would shut off."
RICK: Getting back to the coupe, when they had the drag race scene downtown the yellow coupe and the black Chevy were suppose to hit their mark on Washington Street. Well, each time they filmed the scene the black ’55 Chevy would leave that little coupe in the dust. Well, that wasn’t what was supposed to happen. It was supposed to be a close race. They tried it three times until both drivers, only going about 35mph, were able to hit the intersection at the same time. Later they sped up the film so it looked like they were going much faster. I think the coupe is now in much better shape than it ever was back in 1972.
"Each time they filmed the scene the black ’55 Chevy would leave that little coupe in the dust."
KIP: So tell me about the famous fight scene. How is it that someone goes from directing traffic and driving cars to acting in a major motion picture?
RICK:  I got that part for several reasons: One, because I was there, two, because I was helping so it was like throwing the dog a bone, and three, I fit the build.
KIP: In the film Johnny Weissmuller, Jr looks so serious and angry but your character on the other hand, has a big smile on his face and he’s laughing as he pushes Toad and catches the helpless little guy in his arms. The contrast in demeanor between the two sadistic thugs highlights a personality difference, which heightens the realism and makes the scene more intense. You guys toss him around like a rag doll back and forth between the two of you and then one holds him while the other punches him repeatedly in the stomach.  Milner [Paul LeMat] eventually comes to the rescue.  How long did it take you to film the fight scene with Paul LeMat?
Rick Boom as the car thief/thug appears to enjoy picking on The Toad
RICK: It took two takes to complete the fight scene with Paul LeMat. They didn’t like the first one for whatever reason. The first time I was thrown on the ground, I did this fantastic roll over, flying through the dust and the dirt and tore the hell out of my elbow.   Then they said, ‘Let’s do it again.’ So the second time, the one that made it into the movie, they had a blanket on the ground. If you look closely in the right hand corner you can see the blue edge of a packing blanket. They decided to put that down so I could land on it.
KIP: Who choreographed the fight scene?
RICK:  I think it was Lucas. He kind of gave the perimeters of what he was looking for but I think most of it was between the other two actors, Le Mat and Weissmuller Jr.  By the way, I used to go fishing with Johnny Weissmuller, Jr ‘cause he lived right there in Mill Valley. We used to go Silver Salmon fishing out at Point Reyes and he’d come along with us. But, it’s just like anything else you lose touch after awhile.
Weissmuller, Jr as Badass #1

KIP:  Is he still around?
RICK: I believed he passed away.
KIP: I just looked his name up on Google and it appears Johnny Weissmuller, Jr passed away on July 27, 2006.
RICK: He was a great guy but man; he was hard on the pocket book.
KIP: How so?
RICK: Well, during the night of production he told us about the proper time that they were going to start filming our scene. Well like a dummy, I said you want to go to the corner and get a beer first? He said, yes and so we walked to the bar and went inside. The bartender put two bottles of beers in front of us and when his bottle hit the bar again it was empty. So, I bought two more. Well, about four beers later, we’d run up a tab. I thought, ‘My God this sucker is going to spend all my money and get drunk before we even get this going’ [laughs]. But, he did just fine.
KIP: Where was that scene filmed?
RICK: The fight scene was staged in an area in the alley behind what used to be Berton’s Furniture. Berton's was at the intersection of Washington Street and Petaluma Boulevard North. That was where Curt [Richard Dreyfuss] first spots Susanne Somers in the white T-Bird. There was a Chinese restaurant next door to Berton's. 
KIP: Today I think a Chinese restaurant is now in the location where Berton’s used to be.
RICK: They were always changing businesses.   

KIP: Did you get paid more than $30 for acting in that scene?

RICK: Yea, I got $180, over and above my $30 a night.

~  END PART 1 ~
To learn more about Rick Boom's perspective and involvement in American Graffiti, including a scene that he acted in but was eventually left on the cutting room floor- Continue on to Part 2:

This page is exclusive content. No unauthorized reprinting, republishing or other use without prior authorization or proper referencing. © 2015 by Mark Groesbeck. 

No comments:

Post a Comment