The clocktower lady shares memories from filming ‘Back to the Future’

Elsa Raven is on-screen in “Back to the Future” for no more than 60 seconds, and her character doesn”t even have a proper name (she”s credited as “clocktower lady”). But she had an essential role in the film. If she hadn”t handed Marty that flyer, he and Doc would have never known where and when they could get a bolt of lightning to send Marty back to 1985.

Raven, now 85, continues to be amazed by the staying-power that the sci-fi comedy has and by the part she”s continued to have in the “Back to the Future” family, 30 years after the movies release. She has joined the cast at several autograph signings at conventions over the years and has introduced  screenings of the film in Los Angeles.

After filming “Back to the Future,” the character actress appeared in such shows as “Seinfeld,” “3rd Rock from the Sun” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Raven got the chance for a brief reunion with Michael J. Fox when she was in an episode of “Family Ties” later in 1985. She also played Vincent”s mother on late “80s crime drama series “Wiseguy.”

HitFix chatted with Raven about both “Back to the Future” and “Titanic” – another film when she played a brief but memorable role, as Ida Straus, who drowns in her bed with her husband. Read on for what Raven remembered about working on the two beloved films.

Director Robert Zemeckis got an earful at Raven”s “Back to the Future” audition.
“When we went to do the audition, the only space available to us was a room that was just really an excuse to put a TV set for somebody to watch a TV program. It was a small room. Mr. Zemeckis was new to this whole big movie thing. I got the feeling that he was a lovely guy but he was not being given top attention cause this little room is where they had him do his auditions, so I felt a little sorry for him. My character says, ‘Save the clocktower!” and she says it pretty loud “cause she's yelling at the people in the street to get their attention. So when we went into this little room and I started the audition, I was very loud, and Zemeckis reacted, ‘woah!”  I so projected that Zemeckis was stunned by the volume “cause we were in this tiny little room. But I wanted to let him know I could project!”

Raven was impressed with how sweet Michael J. Fox was.
“I worked with Michael J. Fox on a Friday, and we did the scene on the bench. I was able to park my car just the equivalent of a city block away from the set, close to the place we worked at the square in Universal Studios lot. And I was in my car ready to drive off when Michael J. Fox came running up to the car and stuck his head into the car and said, ‘I just wanted to say goodbye and what a pleasure it was to work with you.” And I said, ‘Thank you! You're gonna get that pleasure again cause I have to come back Monday to do reverse shots!” For him to come running to the parking lot to catch me before I drove away – I was so pleased and touched by that.”

James Cameron had to change his directing approach for one of her scenes in “Titanic.”
“It was so disappointing to learn that they were cutting out the scene in which my character refuses to get into the boat. The director was up on a giant crane, trying to direct us by bullhorn. Finally he came down and joined us on the deck of the ship. What we were doing was we were picking up the excitement of everybody yelling. ‘Get into the boats – women and children first!' So [Lew Palter, who played Isidor Straus, and I] were yelling, 'Please, Ida! Get into the boat!' 'No, we've been together for 40 years!' So [Cameron] came down to the deck of the ship and directed us, and he really gave us a few words, reminding us of our background and stuff like that that made the scene absolutely entirely different, more intimate. We became two people just talking to each other.”

She was surprised that fans would pay money for autographs.
“One time, we were in this big gorgeous hotel near the Burbank airport. There were booths and tables set up, and people were paying $20/$25 for autographs for members of the cast! I just thought that was so impressive. And then to be invited several times to other autograph fairs. I never charged, but I had a container [like the donation can her character has in the film] if people wanted to put in money, and I would give that money to Michael's charity.”

Universal Studios provided Raven several copies of the famed “Save the clocktower!” flyer.
“That was so helpful because I found so many people had asked me for a copy of the flyer. So now I have stacks of them. I have a great nephew who just saw the movie for the first time, and I sent his mother a copy of the flyer to give to him.”

For more of HitFix”s coverage commemorating the 30th anniversary of “Back to the Future,” set your time circuits to right on over here.