Last week Melody Rae was invited to take an Amtrak train to Chicago from her backwoods home in Western Washington state to pick up a chunk of marble.
The stone was salvaged from a Union Station staircase that Rae helped transform into one of Chicago’s most enduring movie settings.
Dressed as a poor mother, Rae yelled “My baby!” as the carriage she was pushing began to roll down the marble steps amidst a gun fight in the famous Prohibition-era scene from the film “Untouchables” — starring Sean Connery as a tough Chicago cop and Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness.
Amtrak, which runs the gigantic train station, replaced the worn steps leading to its Great Hall in October, and offered a piece of the old marble to Rae, along with a train ticket to come pick it up.
Rae was 30 and working as a stage actress and waitress in 1986 when she landed the role — which she originally thought would be, at best, a memorable gig as an extra.
She ended up as a star of the scene.
Melody Rae teaches at a school she helped found in Washington state. | Paulina Amador/courtesy of Phoenix Rising School
The momentum such a role would offer the career of a young actress was, unfortunately for Rae, stymied by a writer’s strike that started shortly after the film became a blockbuster hit.
“The strike went on for a long time and took some of the steam out of a role. The momentum kind of faded,” Rae recalled.
The five-day shoot — during which she flailed across the steps so much her fellow actors joked she should be getting stunt pay — became a wonderful memory that still makes her smile.
“It made me believe that anything is possible. It sounds really corny. But I thought I was an extra and it ended up being not just this nice little role, but an iconic part of that film. And even though my life as an actress didn’t flesh out, I have to remember that if that can happen, anything can. So it can kind bolsters me up in kind of dark times.”
Melody Rae (on stairs) had a memorable scene in “The Untouchables,” starring Kevin Costner. | Photo from MovieStillsDB.com/copyright Paramount Pictures
Many of the folks in Yelm, Wash. — population 7,639 — where Rae teaches at an alternative school she helped found, know about the role.
“A couple of people find out and they tell somebody else and they tell somebody else,” said Rae, who summed the up the memory like this: “It’s sort of like the big football game that you did so well in. So it’s kind of nice.”
“No one ever recognizes me or anything like that. These days I hardly recognize me,” she joked.
The marble staircase occasionally flashes into her mind when she opens her mailbox to find a $20 check for residuals from the movie.
“Or sometimes I’ll be channel surfing and, ‘Oh! Look what’s on!” Rae said. “There’s a lot of old friends in there. I’m still pals with one of the gangsters on Facebook.”
The marble steps reopened after a months-long reconstruction project in October, accompanied by a video exhibit explaining their history.
Some of the old marble was saved, and Rae, on a whim, said during an interview with the Sun-Times how nice it would be to have a keepsake chunk for her mantle.
Word was passed along to folks at Amtrak. But they took it a step farther, and offered Rae a free round trip train ticket to come to Chicago, visit the stairs she hadn’t seen in decades and go home with a chunk of the old marble.
In response, Rae, in an email wrote:
Your offer is one of the kindest and most outrageous things to come my way in many a year! I would love to say yes, but I am a teacher, and the only time I would be able to get this kind of time, would be a summer visit.
I am a founding faculty member of a small independent elementary school in rural Washington State. We run on a shoestring so I do not have the luxury of calling in a sub.
I am filled with gratitude and tickled beyond measure. You have certainly made my week….month…year.
If she wants come this summer, the folks at Amtrak say her hunk of marble will be waiting for her.
Amtrak saved Melody Rae a hunk of marble from the very worn marble steps she had helped make famous in a scene from “The Untouchables.” | Sun-Times file photo