The Liberal Ladies of the Low Country (LLLC) stepped back in time recently as extras in “The Glorias: A Life on the Road,” a film about feminist icon Gloria Steinem.
The group had been approached in January, the result of a chance meeting on a flight from Savannah, where the film is being shot.
A local woman was seated next to a woman who was working on the film. Conversation came around to a need for extras, and the local suggested the Liberal Ladies group.
Members were invited to submit selfies of themselves in 1977 attire. After acceptance, they waited.
The casting call came at 3:33 a.m. Feb. 13 – just 24 hours before the shoot. More than 30 members of the club carpooled to Savannah to reenact the first Women’s National Convention, a federally funded four-day conference held in Houston in 1977.
They brought their best 1977 outfits with two or three options, many from thrift stores. Some donned “Women on the Move” T-shirts when their outfits were rejected.
Hair and makeup followed – light makeup, no nail polish. There were lots of pearls and Afros – some wigs, some not – some vintage jewelry.
Next came banners, delegate ribbons, various buttons with slogans like “ERA Now” and yellow scarves to wear or wave.
Award-winning director Julie Taymor assembled the group and described the back story, her vision and the acting specifics. She said many of the issues in 1977, like reproductive rights, harassment and sexual orientation, were the same issues women face today.
She also said the movie proceeds would be donated to women’s causes.
The Liberal Ladies and paid extras represented a diverse group of women with multiple perspectives. Some portrayed protestors, scowling at ERA supporters and carrying anti-abortion signs. All cheered with enthusiasm when cued.
Women in shorts and T-shirts ran down the aisle, the leader carrying a torch, the last one carrying the American flag.
One woman introduced a resolution about lesbian rights.
Two LLLC members, Jeri Greenfield and Donna Morris, were selected to sit onstage. Men with press badges and outdated cameras snapped photos.
Scenes were shot at different angles again and again, sizzling lights overhead.
As the night wore on, the cheering continued, roar after roar, but as soon as the director said “Cut,” the boisterous cheering came to a sudden halt, and everyone plopped down on hard folding chairs.
Bette Midler, barely recognizable in a dowdy brown suit and hat, appeared amid loud cheers of appreciation. She played Congresswoman Bella Abzug and talked just as fast. She also shuffled about in slippers behind the podium.
Take after take followed, the same scenes shot over and over. Makeup artists dusted shiny noses and foreheads.
About 200 extras were moved about to look like 2,000 delegates (movie magic), first on the right side, then from back to front.
Dinner followed around 9 p.m., the crew eating at separate tables and from separate menus. Extras were invited to eat with the cast, but Midler was a no show.
Later, Oscar winner Julianne Moore appeared to applause, unmistakably the Gloria Steinem character. She wore signature aviator glasses, turtleneck, hip-hugger jeans and chunky belt, her long hair honey-streaked.
The night wore on. The eight hours LLLC members expected dragged into midnight, then 1 a.m., then 2.
Midler’s last scene was finally a take, and she left; Moore followed soon after. Everyone applauded the stars as they left – and also the shoot nearing an end.
More takes, more movement of the crowd, more cheering, signs and flags waving, posters hoisted. Finally, the director called it a wrap. It was 3:25 a.m.
The Women’s National Convention was “the most important event that nobody knows about,” Steinem said. Delegates proposed and voted on 26 resolutions meant to improve the lives of women, but it did not change the world as hoped, and the states failed to ratify the ERA.
Weary club members drove back to reality in Bluffton and on Hilton Head, and will have to wait until the end of the year to see themselves on the big screen.
Shannon Sypult of Hilton Head Island is a member of the Liberal Ladies of the Lowcountry.