Silver screen

Lifelong activist Carol Ruth Silver, AB’60, JD’64, has placed herself at the center of many social-justice causes, from the 1960s Freedom Rides to, more recently, helping Afghanistan set up schools. In San Francisco she served, alongside Harvey Milk, on the Board of Supervisors (1977–89), and when the 2008 movie Milk was being filmed, she found herself even at the center of the production:

DJD_5640bw.jpg"Harvey and I were good buddies. We were elected together to the Board of Supervisors, and he and I were the anchors of the liberal consensus. We wrote things like rent control and condo conversion limitations. And of course our signature legislation was prohibition of discrimination by reason of sexual orientation, which was passed by a strong majority in San Francisco, just because the lesbian, gay, et cetera, community was so strong that there was no politician in San Francisco who could say no to it—and also because it was so right.

"And then along came these people who were making a movie of Harvey Milk's experiences, and I was recruited. I went to the casting event where they were casting my character. In the movie, as it finally was done, there's very little of my character [the person who played me] that actually shows. She got mostly cut out in favor of other things. But there was a sense that this was going to be an important character in the movie. So they had a casting thing where a whole bunch of actresses came and did their stuff in front of the director, Gus Van Sant, and the producer. … So I wandered in and met all these people. And somebody said, "Well, here. Take this number and go stand over there, and we'll take your picture. And maybe you'll get a job as an extra in this film." And I said, "All right. Sounds like fun." So now they had me on record.

"About two weeks later I got a call from somebody saying, “We've cast you as Thelma in the movie.” I said, "Who is Thelma?" And he said, "Thelma is a composite character representing all of the little-old-lady volunteers who used to come to Harvey's camera shop and help him with his political campaign." And so that is who I am in the Milk movie. I have one speaking part. I come on from the left and hand Sean Penn a piece of paper saying, "Harvey, Harvey. You have to look at this." And it's the death-threat letter that is an important item in the film. So that was my big Hollywood experience."

Amy Braverman Puma

Photography by Dan Dry

March 24, 2010