New York Daily News

March 24, 2002

Movie Extra Became a Heroine

WDalyhichever actors win Academy Awards tonight, none will be remotely as worthy of adulation as a young woman who appeared for a few seconds as an extra in the 1977 movie "Saturday Night Fever."

She is seen in the background from behind. Only those who knew her would recognize Moira Smith as one of the three kids who play handball against a graffitied brick wall while the character played by John Travolta borrows a car from a crony.

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She was just 13, a quarter-century from saving hundreds of lives at the World Trade Center and showing actual, real-life courage of the kind movies try to portray. She was 11 years from becoming a police officer, 21 years from marrying fellow cop Jim Smith, 22 years from having a little girl of her own.

She was still Moira Reddy, or as she would say, "Reddy for anything." She was in the eighth grade and wore the blue uniform of the Our Lady of Angels school, a pair of milky white Irish legs showing between skirt and knee socks.

In her movie moment, Moira raises her right hand and tucks her hair behind her ear, but she never turns her head. You get not a glimpse of the face that would later seem the visage of valor itself in the photograph of her assisting a bleeding man from the Trade Center. She had then headed right back in to help more people.

The movie footage does show the face of the other neighborhood girl who was invited to be an extra that day. She is the one seen leaning against the graffitied wall on 74th St. in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. She is Moira's best friend, Kathleen Jacobs, then Kathleen Conaghan.

He Signed

Kathleen remembers that Travolta gave them autographs, which they afterward handed to a crowd of girls who were outside chanting, "We love John! We love John!"

"We were like, 'You're more in love with him than we are,'" Jacobs would recall.

Other scenes in "Saturday Night Fever" involved a disaffected priest and matters that the local clergy deemed offensive. The parishioners were told not to see the movie when it was released.

"Meanwhile, we're in it," Jacobs later said.

Of course, the girls headed straight for the Alpine Theater on Fifth Ave. The movie began with a shot of Manhattan, and the camera pulled back so as to show the twin towers in their full glory.

Then, maybe halfway into the film, the girls saw themselves on the big screen. They roared laughing and neither left smitten with an ambition to be a movie star.

Moira had long since declared that she was going to become a police officer. She would spend hours playing cop with and Jacobs and another friend, Kathy Simon, then Kathy Galloghly. They would hide in bushes and under cars on make-believe stakeouts.

"When most teenage girls were putting on makeup and going on dates, we three were putting on camouflage outfits," Jacobs said in her eulogy for Moira.

Moira did indeed become a real-life police officer in 1988. She was the first cop at the scene of a subway derailment at Union Square in the summer of 1991 and she was credited with saving several lives.

In July of 1999, Moira's daughter, Patricia, was born. Kathleen Jacobs suggested that the time for such heroics was over.

"She just looked at me and said, 'Kath, there were people yelling, "Please don't let me die!" What would you do?'" Jacobs would recall.

Eulogized

At Moira's wake, the scene from "Saturday Night Fever" was shown on a large-screen television, spliced in with home video. Her memorial service was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Valentine's Day, her 39th birthday and the 10th anniversary of her first date with Jim Smith. He gave a eulogy, as did Kathleen Jacobs and Kathy Simon.

Before dawn on Wednesday, a flashlight beam fell on the dented badge that had been Moira's childhood dream come true. Her mortal remains were carried from the site by other officers who had become what they always wanted to be.

Yesterday morning, a formation of 30 police motorcycles escorted the hearse through the chilled brightness to Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Queens Village. A long line of cops raised a white-gloved salute and the bagpipes played "Amazing Grace." Her flag-draped coffin was carried inside as a single wisp of cloud scudded overhead.

Jim Smith entered holding 2-year-old Patricia. Jacobs had arrived with her own children in a white passenger van flying two small American flags.

The coffin was covered with a white shroud bearing a cross. The Catholic Church might sometimes be so petty as to outlaw a disco movie. It might also sometimes be so blind as to cover up scandal at the expense of children. But it can still call a woman such as Moira Smith one of its own, and in her example the true church prevails.

In a brief second eulogy, Jim told the mourners that the challenge Moira leaves behind for us all is to live as she did, to dedicate ourselves to helping others, with that same courage and conviction.

"And always having a smile," Jim said.

Jim held Patricia's left hand as they followed the coffin back into the brittle sunshine. The girl then raised her right hand to her brow.

More than one person was reminded of John Kennedy Jr. outside a church in Washington after his mother bent over and whispered that he could salute farewell to Daddy.

Outside this church in Queens, Patricia Smith was prompted only by her own spirit, a spirit as bright as her mother's. No movie image will ever match that of this perfect little girl saluting the mom who shows all of us the how to be in realest life.