Magazine article The New Yorker

Drive-By

Magazine article The New Yorker

Drive-By

Article excerpt

DRIVE-BY

History was in open rebellion in Dumbo the other day. Cars had fins, and men wore boxy suits. Pacing up and down the block was a tall septuagenarian named Lenny Shiller, from Midwood, Brooklyn. He was on the set of Steven Spielberg's new movie, "Bridge of Spies"--about a U.S.-Soviet prisoner swap at the height of the Cold War. "There's a lot of waiting around on movies," he said. "It causes agita." Shiller held a flip phone to his ear and wore grease-stained bluejeans and a tattered hat. "You see this jacket and cap?" he said. "All authentic stuff. I even have a period hearing aid!"

A few weeks earlier, Shiller had received a call: Spielberg needed "period cars," and one vehicle in particular--a six-ton evergreen-colored 1947 International KB-6 soda truck. Shiller, who is an antique-car collector, had it. Stencilled on its front and flanks, in dark green letters, is the name of its original owner, Scholz Bros., a defunct beverage company from College Point, Queens. "They call me the Jay Leno of Brooklyn," Shiller said. (He has sixty-four cars stashed in two garages, one in Gowanus and the other in Park Slope.) He bought the soda truck in 1989, for six hundred and fifty dollars, after hearing that the director Paul Mazursky had requested an old truck for "Enemies: A Love Story." Lining the truck's bed were battered wooden crates and engraved-glass seltzer bottles (mostly empties, but some with period swill). The truck appeared in the Mazursky film, and then in "Malcolm X" and "Pollock." At almost every turn, Shiller was behind the wheel, playing the soda man.

For the past three decades, Shiller has supplied and driven cars for the movies. He worked with Spike Lee ("People always bad-mouth him, but he's a real pro"), Robert Redford ("A gentleman, loves cars"), and Woody Allen ("We went to the same public school. He kept asking me about an old principal of ours named Eudora Fletcher"). In "Bullets Over Broadway," he drove a 1928 Packard--a "drive-by," in Shiller parlance. While filming "Quiz Show" ('49 woody wagon), he had a run-in with some union guys. "On set, a teamster stole my shoes," he said. He taught Chris Penn how to drive stick in "The Funeral" ('37 LaSalle), and he drove Chloe Sevigny around in "The Last Days of Disco" ('75 Checker cab). …

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