BRUSH WITH FAME: Deborah Robinette Parker of Burnet was extra in Robert Redford film

Deborah Parker on Great Waldo Pepper set

Deborah Parker poses in costume in front of the J-1 biplane flown in the movie ‘The Great Waldo Pepper.’ She discovered that the pilot who did the actual flying fought in World War I alongside her grandfather. Courtesy photo

I was in the movie “The Great Waldo Pepper” starring Robert Redford as an extra and walk-on. When I was attending Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) in San Marcos, my friend and I were walking to class when a man came up and asked us, “Do you want to be in a movie?” We said, “Where and what movie?” 

He told us “The Great Waldo Pepper” with Redford was filming in Seguin. 

We said, “You betcha!”

He gave us his card and told us where to go. 

They filmed the movie at a deserted airport. I had to wear a 1920s costume, but because I had a Farrah Fawcett haircut, I had to wear a hat. We saw Robert Redford quite often on the set, but extras were not allowed to approach him. He was always ready to pose for pictures, though. 

Director/Producer George Roy Hill asked if I thought I could act on a walk-on part. 

I said, “Sure!”  

So, in a background shot, I was holding my hat and yelling at people, “He crashed!” 

It was my moment of fame for 10 seconds on the film.

We really enjoyed watching Robert Redford. He was so friendly and cool.

Robert Redford on "The Great Waldo Pepper" set
Extras and walk-ons were not allowed to approach Robert Redford, but he would stop and pose for photos — at a distance. Courtesy photo

Another rewarding experience was playing cards with Scott Newman, Paul Newman’s son. He had a part in the movie, and, sometimes during set breaks, he would play cards with us. He was very shy but very nice.

I had an it’s-a-small-world experience as well. The real pilot of the biplane talked to me and he knew my grandfather. They had been pilots

together in World War I. 

At one point, the director asked me if I would like to come to Hollywood and become an actor. I said, no thank you. I told him I wanted to finish college and become a teacher. (Acting: the road not taken.)

My great reward was that I was paid $100 a day, which paid for two semesters of college. Another perk was going to the movie with my friends, who all yelled “There you are!” when my 10 seconds flashed by. 

The movie screened in 1975. It was a great experience.

Deborah Robinette Parker and her husband, Don, live in Burnet. She was a teacher and coach for 28 years and a country and western singer for 35 years. Even in retirement, she still regularly performs as a guest singer at the Cadillac Dance Hall in Marble Falls with Eddie Shell and The Not Guilties.  

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