Local man recalls his part in 'Platoon'
Local man recalls his part in 'Platoon'
By BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star
Monday, Jan 29, 2007 - 09:41:26 am CST
Twenty years ago, Corkey Ford took his mother to see a movie.
It was a good movie, an Oscar-winning movie. Mom rather enjoyed it until, well..... maybe Corkey should tell it.
?She screamed and passed out. We had to carry her out of the theater.? Tough to blame Mom. She had just seen her son tied dead to a tree.
Corkey is 47 now. Raised in Lincoln. A grad of Lincoln High. He had a knack for football, the high jump and imitating singer James Brown.
But who he really wanted to be was Sidney Poitier.
That was one of those dreams that needed chasing and so it wasn?t long before he was touring the country with The Young Americans theatric group.
He soon found California and roles in a PBS series, a smiling Pepsi commercial and a horrid ?Alligator? movie that somehow now is a cult classic. There was also a trip to the M*A*S*H unit.
Corkey recalls receiving about $1,000 a word for his work in the second-to-last episode of M*A*S*H. Shame he only got to say two words. Best ?Thanks Doc? you ever heard.
?But I did get to shake Alan Alda?s hand and have him tell me he was glad to work with me, and how it?d be a real joy to work with me again soon. That was almost worth more than the money.?
And all that was pretty good, but not great. Great was being told to catch a flight to the Philippines for a movie Oliver Stone was directing.
Stone had a part for him in ?Platoon,? a film showing the brutal realities of soldier life in Vietnam.
The movie?s cast was largely unknown at the time, though many of the names would ascend to supernova status.
Charlie Sheen. Willem Dafoe. Forest Whitaker. Tom Berenger. Johnny Depp. Corkey Ford is sandwiched between them all in the credits.
After the plane touched down in the Philippines, Corkey was driven for three hours across the countryside.
?We just kept getting deeper and deeper into the jungle.?
The car?s destination turned out to be the movie set from hell ? walking zombies everywhere.
Corkey didn?t even recognize Whitaker when he stood right before him. Sheen?s eyes were swollen from the heat and humidity.
?And no one ever called us by our real names,? Corkey says. ?That was one of the rules.?
So Corkey became Manny Washington.
His first assignment as Manny Washington? To dig himself a hole to sleep in.
Stone treated everyone like soldiers. They?d hike through the jungle, trying to grab various markers before they were allowed to find their way back to base camp. Often they?d get lost and run out of food.
The original script seemed kind to Manny. He was the one with the lines that pulled guys together when things were in shambles. Stone sometimes described Corkey as ?the backbone? of the group.
The problem is no one likes a four-hour movie. The script ran too long. Scissors were needed.
Corkey left the movie premier seeing red. Manny didn?t say one word.
?Manny got cut up, literally and on the cutting room floor,? Corkey says now with a laugh.
Stone ran to Corkey after the movie had finished. ?I know, I know,? he told him. ?But they were after me to cut it. Your lines were the last ones I cut.?
The director would make it up to Corkey three years later, casting him as Marvin the nurse in ?Born on the Fourth of July.?
Marvin actually got to speak.
Playing a Vietnam soldier about to lose a limb, Tom Cruise yells at Corkey: ?I want my leg!?
Corkey fires back: ?Why? You can?t feel it no how!?
Stone still occasionally e-mails.
With no dialogue in ?Platoon,? Corkey?s character is remembered almost entirely for his death.
?Oliver tied me to a tree and didn?t tell anyone where I was,? Corkey says. ?The only direction he told the rest of the cast is, ?He?s out there somewhere. Find him. You?ll know when you get there.? Then he just let the cameras roll.?
Actor Keith David was the first to spot Corkey dead. He puked.
What followed were probably the most memorable and gut-wrenching scenes in the movie, including Berenger holding a gun to a Vietnamese girl?s head.
?It?s a hell of an image: holding a little girl and pointing a .45 at her head,? Berenger recently told Premiere Magazine. ?Oh God, it?s just, I mean... it was hard.?
Says Corkey: ?I remember sitting in a bar with Tom (Berenger) and he looked at me and said, ?We are really doing something significant here.??
The film took the 1986 Oscar for best picture. When it came out, lines stretched out of theaters. Plenty of those waiting were Vietnam veterans.
To this day, Corkey has never met a veteran angered by the film. He thinks the reason is because ?we didn?t Hollywood it up.? Most vets saw someone they knew from the war up on that screen.
Unfortunately for Corkey, acting roles seemed to dry up for black actors in the early 90s.
When his mom died in 1993, he moved back to Lincoln to raise his daughter. Heaven help her, 23-year-old Shaena wants to be an actor like Dad.
He now works in the Haymarket, producing and directing commercials, docudramas, political ads, even a couple of films.
You can?t always believe the movies. Corkey still lives.
?Have I left the industry? No. Do I plan on moving back to California? No. If something comes calling, Oliver knows how to find me.?
Reach Brian Christopherson at 473-7438 or email@example.com.