BARROW-IN-FURNESS – Former bit part player Max Gash on how he helped make David Lynch’s Eraserhead.
Eraserhead. What the fuck was that about? I mean, I remember going to the first showing of the film which was held somewhere in Culver City. sitting next to David, I could tell he was nervous. I said to him, “How are you feeling David?” He turned back to me and I’ll never forget his words. He said, “Max, I’m fucking nervous.” It wasn’t hard to read between the lines. There is no doubt the screening couldn’t have gone worse. The sound mix didn’t work. And the audience had all bought tickets to see The Spy Who Loved Me. Eraserhead was many things, but a Bond movie is not one of them.
I had worked intermittently on the film. What you have to understand is that David was making that film for four years. At one stage Jack Nance, his many actor, accidentally got a haircut and the production closed down for six months while he grew it back. I already knew David from Philadelphia where we both attended the art school. Everyone already knew David was weird. He used to wear three shirts and two ties at the same time. Once he wore one of those bow ties that when you press a button twirls around. He made short films and I had a role in A Man Being Sick on a Baby. It’s since disappeared but at the time it was a hot controversial piece of work, leading in part to Eraserhead.
“You’re my mascot,” David said when he offered me a major part in the film. “What do you say Max?”
I hadn’t even considered acting but I thought it would turn out fun. Plus David was just one of those people it was great to be around.
David had a way of getting everyone involved in what he was doing. Not only did I act, I drove him around while he delivered newspapers to earn extra money. Then I sold my house to buy film stock. He was so happy. My then pregnant wife, Ilsa, less so. But we were crazy for art and we had a tent. Jack and I would always be the first on set, except for David of course, who was basically living there. We worked for years. Occasionally I went off to make other films, but David was very supportive and ready for me when I came back.
My role was secret and complicated. The costume took five hours to put on and five hours to take off and then we filmed for sixteen hours. This meant that I only ever got halfway through taking the costume off before I had to start putting it back on again.
Of course when I finally saw the film, I couldn’t believe I received no credit. “I don’t want to ruin the mystery,” David said. You see he was getting a lot of praise about how he managed to do the baby that is at the center of the film. And he believed that if everyone knew it was just Max Gash in a suit they would no longer be impressed. Years later, I’d talk to John Hurt and hear that David had tried to pull the same trick with him on The Elephant Man. At a party in 1986 I bumped into Burt Reynolds and he confided in me a similar story about the making of Dune in which he played a giant Sand Worm.
But I can’t be mad at David long. Originally the film was called Flat Fred, but then at the end of the shoot I was taking a photograph and I couldn’t see David’s face because he was looking down. “Raise your head, David,” I shouted. A light went on in his eyes and the rest is history.