Randy Walker had the best summer job a 16-year old boy could hope for. Back in the summer of 1984, MGM was filming the hockey movie Youngblood in his hometown of Toronto. Walker went with some of his friends to the audition because they wanted the free ice time, but he may have skated off with the best part – as one of the hockey doubles for the film’s star, Rob Lowe.
Remember that scene when Dean Youngblood scores a sweet wraparound goal and then gets clocked by Racki during the Mustangs’ tryout? Or when Youngblood gets crushed into the boards by teammate Derek Sutton during practice? Or when Youngblood streaks down the ice and flips a backhander over the outstretched leg of the Thunder Bay Bombers goalie? That was all Walker. Obviously, we see shots of Rob Lowe’s face – usually from the chest up – in those scenes. Walker was one of the people who made the hockey action believable.
But as a double, Walker had other, less glamorous tasks that you did not see. Many times, a double must stay in place – sometimes even lying under a championship figure skater — while the crew sets up the lights and cameras and frame the shot. Then the real actors step in when the filming starts.
Today, Walker is a police dispatcher and 911 operator in Spotswood, New Jersey. He is a scout for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL and for the Amarillo Bulls of the NAHL, and was a youth hockey coach for 16 years. Working on the set of Youngblood may have been his summer job from over 30 years ago, yet Walker remembers it like it was yesterday. He spoke with me recently so we could geek out over his memories of working on the greatest hockey movie from the 1980s.
Sal Barry: You were pretty young when you worked on Youngblood. How did you get the job?
Randy Walker: I was 16 and played on a really good midget hockey team called the Toronto Red Wings. We won the championship. And there was a Junior B team called the Henry Carr Crusaders. They were also champions in their league. I don’t know how, but the movie found this guy named Charles Rosart.
SB: You mean “Masher?”
RW: Yeah, we called him Masher. I don’t know how they found Masher, but he called our coach and Henry Carr’s coach and got all our numbers. He called us and told us to go to the Lakeshore Arena because they were shooting some movie. Nobody in their right mind would ever believe anything Masher said, but the thing that got us to go to the rink was that we were going to play shinny with guys on the [OHL] Toronto Marlies, like Peter Zezel and Steve Thomas. We looked up to those guys. We were midget players, and those guys were in major junior.
So, it was June, school’s out, and we were going to get on the ice and play shinny with the Marlies. We thought this was going to be for a hockey instructional video. Masher told us it was for a movie, and we thought he was full of crap. When we got there, the buzz started going around that it was a Hollywood movie.
Before we got on or off the ice, you would look at this camera and say your name, address and phone number so they could get in contact with you in case they wanted you to be one of the hockey players. But I just went to play hockey for two hours. I went back for three or four days.
At the end of the week, they offered me a job to be one of the hockey players. They sat me down, asked if I had a summer job, and if one of my parents was here. I told them that I took the bus, so they gave me a contract to take home for my parents to sign.
My mom came with me the next day. Peter Markle and the assistant director said they wanted me to be one of Rob Lowe’s doubles. They asked if I knew who he was, and I said no.
SB: Why did Lowe need two doubles – you and Scott MacPherson?
RW: I think Scotty MacPherson was told a few days before they were going to hire him as Rob’s double, because he was a pretty slick skater. But somebody thought I looked like Lowe. So, they decided to have two of us as Lowe’s doubles. I knew Scotty. We were teammates on summer selects teams. All of the hockey players who were there, we all kind of knew each other. Except for the Marlies guys, who we got a kick out of skating with, obviously.
SB: You didn’t know who Rob Lowe was. Did you know about any of the other actors in the film?
RW: My friends and I didn’t know. To us, it was all about the hockey players. Our parents knew of Ed Lauter from The Longest Yard. He was a phenomenal man. He was so good to us kids. He would spend time with us. We’d go to his trailer and have a beer with him, even though we were 16. He was such a great guy with storytelling.
You know, tea with Ms. McGill? Fionnula Flanagan. I was in the makeup trailer with her, and I had no idea who she was, but my parents told me that she was on Bonanza. Then I see stuff with her, and I’m like, wow, that’s Ms. McGill. She’s like a real actress.
Patrick Swayze was a good guy. He was older than everybody, but he hung out and laughed and would eat lunch with people. I remember the day I met him at the lunch table. His first scene was the hospital scene, lying in bed. We already shot a bunch of hockey scenes, then he came to the set. Stuff was all over the place, it was all mixed up. I didn’t know how movies worked. It was weird to us that things weren’t shot in sequence.
SB: What were some of the tricks that they did to make you look more like Rob Lowe?
RW: I was a little bit darker-skinned that Rob. I have olive skin and tan easily, and it was summer, so they wanted me to stay out of the sun. They’d put a little bit of makeup on me. And I have black hair, and Lowe has brown, so I had to get my hair dyed so my hair that came out of the helmet was the same color as his.
They taped our shin pads the same way, and our skates. And they would take Polaroids of us at the beginning of the day, and at the end of the day. And the next day when you came in, the wardrobe and makeup people would have to match it.
And you remember that Youngblood had a cut over his eye. We also had to go in the makeup trailer and get a scar put over our eye every day. The cut had to look fresh, or partially healed, or whatever, depending on which scene they were shooting.
SB: What were some of the scenes that you were involved in?
RW: In the practice scenes, when the Mustangs are getting bag skated and Coach Chadwick (Lauter) is yelling at them. They show Rob Lowe from the chest up when they’re crawling on the ice; you see his face, but when they cut away from his face, that’s me.
Then Chadwick dumps in the puck and Sutton and Youngblood go after it. Donnie Biggs, who was Swayze’s double, had a deal with Peter Markle that he was really going to hit me. But I didn’t know. I went in to get that puck. I was supposed to go in and turn my back on him, and he was going to angle me off. But like, two feet before the boards, he like hit me for real, and I wasn’t ready. So, it looked authentic. Markle was like “Aww, that’s awesome!” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s not awesome. I just got hit.” That was legit.
When Youngblood goes into a corner, and Racki hits him, I’m getting hit. When Youngblood is in front of the net and Racki punches him, I fall down and Rob Lowe gets up.
I’m even in the penalty shot sequence at the end. I start out, when they show the skates, then Scotty MacPherson does the circle around the puck and kicks it. Then I’m starting to skate, then it shows Scotty from the side. Then I make a move, put the puck in the net, then Rob Lowe goes behind the net and throws his hands up.
SB: There’s a lot of down time when shooting movies. What did you do to pass the time?
RW: The hockey players would just hang out in the dressing room until they needed us for something. We were on the set for 12 hours. If we were standing up, physically doing stuff for two hours, it was a big day. You would really just sit around all the time. And Lowe would hang out a little bit, but not with me, because I was 16. He was hanging around with Peter Zezel and George Finn. I was hanging around my teammates.
If they were setting up a shot on one end of the rink, we got to play a little shinny on the other end sometimes. But when they were shooting a scene, they wanted quiet. We spent a lot of time in the locker room, just hanging around. And when they called you, you did your scene.
SB: What was it like working with 20-year NHL veteran Eric Nesterenko?
RW: First off, Eric Nesterenko is an unbelievable man. And I probably didn’t know until the end of July – we started filming in June – that he was an ex-NHL player. I thought he was an actor. I thought he was just a guy, right? I’d go home and tell my parents what we did each day, and my father asks if I talked with Eric Nesterenko. And I’m like, “You mean the dad?” And my dad tells me that Nesterenko played in the NHL for 20 years. The next day, I was in Nesterenko’s trailer and talked with him about old time hockey.
SB: And then you got to fight with him later.
RW: Yes. In that scene, where Blaine is teaching Dean how to fight, that’s me wrestling with Nesterenko. I duck my head so you can’t see my face. I was going full-out, as a 16-year old hockey player. I was trying to wrestle this bear of a man. And he stood there as if I was not even pushing against him. He was a massive man. They’re like, “All right, wrestle around like you’re fighting, you’re pissed off at your dad.” I was trying to move him back, and he just put his arms out and held me like I was a stuffed animal. And when they show my skates, I’m ankle-bending. That’s real. I was full-on trying to move him, and I couldn’t move him.
SB: How about the big fight at the end between Youngblood and Racki?
RW: We did that at the end of summer. I vividly remember the stick-swinging fight. It was really weird. The hockey guys – like the junior players – went to Peter Markle and said that would never happen; you just don’t joust with sticks like that. The guys were like, it’s cheesy, it’s not going to work. But Markle said it was needed for whatever reason.
We were getting down to the end of summer, and we could hear the filmmakers being really concerned about the budget. George Finn was a tough guy in the OHL for the Windsor Spitfires. He spent time with the stunt coordinator, Bobby Hannah, to make the hockey fights real. We went upstairs at Ted Reeves Arena – me, George and the Bobby– and went through the punch sequence. I threw a punch and hit George for real. You’re supposed to be far enough away that you can extend your hand and not hit somebody. But I was too close to him. I really hit him in the face, and I thought he was going to kill me. But I was a 16-year old kid, and George had taken punches before. So, it was kind of like just giving a guy a cup of coffee to wake him up a little bit. I was glad that he didn’t kill me.
Then we went downstairs and did the sequence. Rob Lowe was in his running shoes, and I was in skates. We did the fight sequence and they hated it. Bobby Hannah and Peter Markle hated it. It just wasn’t good, so they wanted to do it all again. One of the producers came along and had just a drag-out argument with Markle, that they were going to go over the time limit. If you worked over eight hours, you got a different rate of pay, and if you worked over 12 hours, you got another rate of pay. I just remember them yelling at each other that if we changed the fight sequence, it was going to cost them over that certain rate.
And Markle was like “I don’t care, we’re changing it!” It was a big deal. But I wasn’t involved in that scene any more. Rob, George, Bobby and a stunt guy went upstairs and fixed the sequence, and came back and did it on the ice.
SB: I understand that instead of a traditional lunch break, the hockey players would have a pickup game.
RW: There was always food around. You could eat at any time. But we’d play shinny when the crew would stop for lunch break, because we didn’t have to be quiet for the sound people.
SB: You had midget players, junior players – some who went on to the NHL – and an ex-NHLer in Nesterenko. Those games must have been pretty intense.
RW: Yeah, it was awesome. You were out there with those guys, and they were who you wanted to be. You could just marvel at their skill. Nesterenko still had good hands and he was such a big body. You could never get the puck off of him. We’d throw our sticks in the middle and divvy up teams. Or sometimes, it would be the older guys against the younger guys. It was exercise for the guys, and you’d get a sweat on after sitting around all day. For us, there wasn’t a lot to do day to day. So, the best part of the day was playing shinny.
SB: Cinematographer Mark Irwin told me that during one of the first skate sessions, Peter Markle came out on the ice and fell down, pretending that he could not ice skate. Do you remember that?
RW: Markle pretended that he couldn’t skate that day, and did a duck walk on the ice, where you drag your skates. The public skating scene, where Youngblood pretends he can’t skate and falls down – that’s where it came from. That was Peter putting himself in there. But he could skate. He’d put on his gear and play shinny with us. (Note: Markle is a former minor pro hockey player who played for the U.S. National Team.) One of the Marlies who played a Thunder Bay Bomber, Vito Cramarossa, used to imitate Peter doing the duck walk. We’d go, “Oh, that Vito! What an actor!” We used to tease him that he was trying to get extra screen time. (Note: it may have worked. In addition to being one of the Bombers, Cramarossa got a nice close-up as the Marlies’ goalie in the Mustangs-Marlies playoff game.)
SB: You also worked on the public skating scene in Youngblood?
RW: I’ll tell you a story. Cynthia Gibb had a double, a champion Canadian figure skater named Lynn Nightingale. So, when we did the public skating scene, I had to go through what Rob was going to do: come in, clutch the boards, pretend I couldn’t skate, then fall down. So just think of this: they’re setting up the cameras and lighting, I’m a 16-year old male, and I have this woman sitting on me while I’m lying on the ice. And I’m like, this is not normal. It was pretty funny.
Later, when Dean skates around the corner — and the skate guard hits the table and goes into the cake — that’s me. If you freeze it, you’ll wonder how they got away with it. But again, you’re not looking for that when you are in the theater.
SB: Peter Zezel [Mustang’s player Rossini] was about to embark on a long NHL career. What was he like during the making of Youngblood?
RW: Peter Zezel was a great guy to us young kids. There were dozens of times that I had to take public transit. I’d take the bus to Jeff Palmateer’s house – he’s the guy who took his teeth out and put them in the glass, and is the brother of former Leafs’ goalie Mike Palmateer. So, I’d take the bus to Jeff’s, and Zez would pick us both up and drive us to the rink. He was like a god, because he had just signed with the Flyers, and his signing bonus was enough money to buy a Ford Escort. Like, Paul Cavallini was going to his first NHL camp that September, and Steve Thomas was going to the Maple Leafs’ camp as an undrafted free agent. But Zez was the star of the group. He was the scorer on the Marlies, he was going to the Flyers’ camp as a draft pick, and he had a Ford Escort, so he was like the king to us.
SB: That was nice of him.
RW: Listen, he was a really great guy. He could hang with Rob Lowe and go to the Bruce Springsteen concert when all the older guys went one night. And then he would hang and talk hockey with us 16-year-olds. He was just an awesome, awesome guy.
SB: When did your job on Youngblood end?
RW: I did some off-ice stuff when school started, after Labor Day. The car scenes, when he goes over that bridge. We went over that bridge like 100 times. I’d stand in while they were setting up the lighting for the scene where he feeds the chickens, and hitting the heavy bag. I missed the first week of school to do some of that stuff, then my mom wouldn’t let me miss a second week.
SB: Do people say anything to you when they see Youngblood?
RW: Every once in a while, it will be on the MSG Network here, or local channel 11. Youngblood comes on like three times a year, and people get in touch, or parents of kids that I coach know that I’m in it and ask me about it. It’s faded as the years go on. It’s been 32 years [since the film came out in 1986], and I still have awesome memories of my summer job from 1984. It’s just wild how it still lives on in hockey. Youngblood was our generation’s Slap Shot, right? It’s a cult movie to hockey players. Kind of like how The Mighty Ducks was to my kids.
SB: Dude, this has been a great conversation.
RW: Thanks for letting me ramble on. I can talk about this stuff all night. It was such a good memory for me. ■
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.