The Ten Commandments


It’s January in Hollywood.   It’s cold and drizzly.   I’m due at Paramount Studios at 5am to start another day on the set of the Golden Calf scene in the Ten Commandments.   It took over 30 days to film this scene.   Don’t be fooled…. we had no complaints.   This was good money for us extras despite the discomforts.

Let me paint a short picture of those discomforts. lol.   I arrive in the cold drizzle at the extra’s gate of Paramount Studios around 4:30 am; my call time is 5 am… but always be early.   I get my voucher and go ahead to the extra’s dressing room.   I have to strip down to my shorts.   Then I stand in a line waiting my turn to let the makeup guys have some fun.   Finally it’s my turn; I’m shivering from the cold, I have to stand in a shower enclosure.   The makeup man has a lawn insect type sprayer; he aims the sprayer head at me and pushes the plunger down; freezing cold light brown spray covers me from head to toe.  Turn around… make sure my back from head to heel is covered with the chocolaty color.    Sure it’s uncomfortable…but this is the reason for our first adjustment to our daily base pay.   A whammy for full body makeup….. Back to the dressing room, put on my loin cloth… then to the hair dresser’s domain.   Yikes, itchy sticky side burns plastered on both sides all the way down to  my chin.   A fall for the back of my hair to add length.  But hold it…. another whammy for beard and hair.    (see my SEG post for explanation of whammy).

Today I’m supposed to work in the mud pits making bricks…. right on… a double whammy for working in mud.   So I’m very happy with the base pay I’ve already been guaranteed.

Since this scene calls for perhaps a couple hundred extras, it takes several hours to get us all camera ready.   The principals’ calls were around 7:30 am.   Meanwhile, we extras are enjoying getting all the latest rumors from the different studios from each other.   Some fabricated, some exaggerated, many founded on half-truths… but we so enjoy discussing the latest scandals of the stars that we have worked with on other sets.   lol.

I had  been studying dancing at Falcon Studios under the GI bill.    In the mud pits, one of my fellow mudpitters is a gay extra.   I told  him about my wish to break into the dancer’s ranks.  He informs me that I will never be selected as a dancer unless I turn gay.    I know he is right.   I’ve already deduced that from the many dance auditions I attended, never to be selected…. the choreographers already know who they are going to pick, the auditions merely a showcase….. (but wait I did work in one dance sequence in a Betty Grable movie that flopped horribly… don’t want to get sidetracked so I will blog it another time).

Cecil B. De Mille, directeur extra-ordinaire, arrives on the set…. and we begin an endless number of rehearsals.   Mr. De Mille is a perfectionist.   If we do one take on one day, it is a small miracle.  Sometimes it takes 3 or 4 days to get one take.   (hurray for the extras, the longer he takes, the longer we will work on this nice paying extravaganza).

One day,  when Moses arrived on the set, he had gotten some kind of award the night before, I can’t recall what it was; at any rate as he climbed the mountain the entire set stopped and gave him a huge hand clapping ovation.   (need I explain I’m talking about Charlton Heston?).

We work until about 8 pm.   Figure it out,  great overtime.   Great time to be an extra.


For several days, I had a special treat.   It was my habit to watch the director and actors interact on almost every movie I worked in.    So I stayed close to the camera when I was not in the scene.  Remember the scene with Debra Paget?   That set was also on the same stage as the Golden Calf… (the entire Golden Calf set was built on two adjoining stages.   Most stages in the big studios are really two stages in one building with a floor to ceiling sliding door between them  that could be opened all the way to make the two stages into a single huge stage.    So a small inset set was built for the Debra Paget scene.   I was in love again.   This vision was as beautiful in real life as she appeared on the screen.    Imagine getting paid to stand there and watch Debra doing her dance (I think it was a dance) in that tent like set.   But not just one dance…over and over for days as this was the De Mille way.
Don’t try to find me in any scene in The Ten Commandments.    I and others of my blue eyed blond haired ilk were admonished to never get closer to the camera than  30 feet away…. there were no blue eyed blond haired Jewish folk in DeMille’s Egypt.  🙂



2 thoughts on “The Ten Commandments

  1. You described “A Day in the Life of a 10Commandments Extra” so vividly! LOL @ your thwarted dancing gig and getting your body makeup applied and the 30-ft “restraining order”! 😀

    A little over a month ago this movie was airing on cable, and although I was able to watch only snatches while having dinner (it was my dad who was heavily into the film, I think), I was still struck by the sheer size, scope and spectacle of this movie. Even the CG effects were still impressive half a century later. From the way you described De Mille (one take or less per day??? yiikes!) it all makes sense how this film achieved the level of greatness that it did. Epic.

    • EG, I seem to have read somewhere that this production took 5 years of shooting alone, not to mention pre/post production.
      Of this 3 years took place in Egypt. Having been so intimate a spectator to De Mille’s directing style, it is no surprise that he took this amount of time in what is probably his most acclaimed life time production. When I say about 30 days that I was on the set of the GC, there would be many more days when I wasn’t for tons of close-ups and effects.

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