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Life in the Background : Survival: A once-homeless screen extra keeps body and soul together by portraying the kind of character he used to be.


"The bum look is the thing that got me going," he said. "But I started to feel more self-respect and more self-esteem. I tried to broaden my look." To that end, he drew on experience from the street.

He often filled long and boring days watching the daytime denizens of Downtown--the lawyers, the bankers--and studied their movements, their tics and their mannerisms, duplicating them in his extra work.

Over time, he saved enough money to move from one shelter to another, finally renting a room at a Sun Valley house for $165 a month. He bought an old car used during filming for $100 and spent years fixing it up.

Now he rents it back to a studio for a daily rate that is higher than the purchase price.

It is not an easy life. Every day, Parks hustles for work, knowing that the supply of extras far exceeds the demand. But there are benefits. He is rarely bored with the job and he has rubbed shoulders with such actors as Roy Scheider and Robert Blake.

Nonetheless, Parks is circumspect. He rarely watches the movies or shows he's worked on, even though he does have a small black-and-white TV. The stars he works with are just people, no different from the down-and-outs who huddle in alleys and beg for food.

"It just doesn't interest me," he said. "The glamour doesn't affect me. You have to look back at where I came from to understand my point of view. We're all human."

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