Everyone knows about the movie A Christmas Story, but not every Clevelander knows that Bob Clark wrote a sequel called My Summer Story, also known as It Runs in the Family. I always joke that I did my career backwards, got into acting and then became a food worker. Normally people do the opposite.
In the spring of 1993, my cousin Diana, in her early twenties, finished her acting degree and told her mom that she was heading downtown to audition for a role in an upcoming movie to be filmed in Cleveland that summer. Her mother suggested that I should come too. I was only seven years old with red hair, blue eyes, white eyebrows, and a charming smile. Diana agreed. My mother, Anna, overheard the news and told Diana that she would drive us. The three of us got in my mom’s 1986 red Honda Civic and headed to 1127 Euclid Avenue.
On the way to the building, I annoyed my cousin with questions. “What questions will they ask? What roles am I up for? Will I get paid?” Diana replied with “They will ask you for your name, age, and location. As far as roles, they have lots that need to be filled.” She didn’t answer the third question, or if she did, I didn’t pay any attention, as I became distracted by birds flying and people walking outside the window.
We pulled up to the brick building on Euclid Avenue. My mother held my hands so I wouldn’t wander off, and we went inside. On the third floor, we entered a room with walls white as eggshells, the chairs black as charcoal. To brighten the room, there were hints of green plants. The waiting room smelled of hairspray and perfume. We went to the front desk and told the secretary that we came to audition for a movie. The lady pointed to a spot in the corner near the entrance. Diana went in by herself; in about thirty minutes, she came back. About an hour later, they called our names. Four people sat at the table, one of them took individual shots of my mom and me with a Polaroid camera. Another person videotaped us. The third person took notes, and the last one asked questions. The person with the camera asked us to stand on the red X on the carpet. The guy asking questions took Polaroid pictures and said, “Please look in the camera and state your names, age, and location. One at a time please.”
I went first. I said, “My name is Andrew Sykaluk, I am seven years old, and we are in a building.” The man said, “What city do you live in?” I answered, “The west side of Cleveland.” The person taking notes took the developed picture and wrote that on the photo. My mother was next. She said to me, “Andrew, plug your ears.” I did what my mother told me. She didn’t want me to know that she wasn’t twenty-five years old. At the end, we were asked to line up and smile at the camera. That’s when my mom and I noticed that the man taking notes separated our pictures from the rest.
We headed to the elevator and my mother said, “I don’t think we’ll get the part, but at least we got experience to audition.” At home, the phone rang, and it was the realtor about a house that my mom put a bid on. She then said to me, “Good thing we didn’t get the part because between moving and doing the movie it would be too much for all of us.” A minute later, the phone rang again. Judging from the conversation, it wasn’t a friend or about our soon-to-be home; the agency called to let my mom and me know that we got the job. My mom was cast as the porch sitter, and I had two roles, a hillbilly and a schoolboy. My mom called her sister to see if Diana got any parts in the movie. Sadly, she didn’t get a role.
During the summer of 1993, a week before shooting the movie, the staff told my mother that before going on set I would need to get a pair of white shoes and make them dirty. We went to Kohl’s and got K-Swiss shoes in size 1½. At home, she took the shoes and lathered them with soil from our garden while laughing that we had to get them dirty.
On the day of shooting, we arrived at the area where the Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica is now. I wore my proud dirty shoes and had on a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and shorts. The area that we were in looked like a desert somewhere in Africa; no stores, just a tent with metal folding chairs and cold wooden folding tables. While waiting I chatted with other kids my age and also other adults. Mostly the adults would say, “You are so cute,” then pinch both of my cheeks.
A white Ford van pulled up to the tent, and a man in a polo shirt with a clipboard stepped out of the van and called out names. I screamed, “MOM!” My mom heard that and came to get me. We then headed to the front of the line and when they called my name, my mother had to go with me because I am a minor. The windows in the van were tinted, the car had that new car smell, and my hands were sweating due to nervousness.
We headed to a parking lot nearby with trailers all around. I had to look the part before heading to the set. In the wardrobe trailer, there were tons of clothes; it looked like a hoarder lived there. I headed to the bathroom, and the lady gave me clothes to try on. The outfit for the hillbilly was a potato sack shirt and dirty-looking jeans. For the schoolboy, they gave me a brown striped shirt and a different pair of jeans.
One day I got to take a picture with Mary Steenburgen and Charles Grodin after the shooting. This movie provided me with an agent, and I got to be in another movie, magazine ads, and commercials. My modeling career ended when the agency went bankrupt. Cleveland gave me the opportunity to try something that I would never have thought of, and I am grateful for it.
Andrew Sykaluk is a graphic designer with a passion to help others. He is currently writing a memoir about his family and his late brother Kenny Sykaluk.
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