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On Broadway and Back in Show Business to Stay

The next morning at work, I told Walter I was going to do a play on Broadway and how much I was being paid, and that I’d work until rehearsals began on December 28th. He said that was okay, and that when the play closed I could have my job back at fifty-five a week. At that moment, I made a solemn vow to myself that I didn’t share with him; I was back in show business — to stay!

December 21st, just after one in the afternoon, Aria called the office. Mr. Snyder at Columbia Pictures corporate offices in New York had telephoned the apartment and wanted to see me. Would I please call him immediately. He answered the phone, introduced himself, and said he’d been called by the Hollywood office. "How soon," he asked, "can you come to see me?"

I rushed home, went through the shower–shave–blue suit routine and got to his office a little before five. It was anything but grand. A small outer office for a secretary, and a slightly larger one for her boss. This, I thought as I looked around, is the New York office of a major Hollywood studio? The secretary had left for the day, so Mr. Snyder escorted me into his baliwick where there were books and scripts in stacks on his desk, and more scattered hither and yon.

"I‘m head of the story department here," he said. "They don’t maintain a talent department in New York, so excuse me if I’m a little out of my element."

I shrugged, "Of course."

"Where are your 8-by-10s?"

"My what?"

"8-by-10s. Glossy photos!"

"I don’t have any."

"You don’t have any?"

"No. And you’re the first person who ever asked me for one. Maybe they use ‘em in Hollywood, but I never heard of a New York actor who had any, unless he modeled."

He thought for a moment. "We’ll have to do something about that."

"Would you mind telling me what this is all about?" I asked him.

"I received a call from Max Arnow —"

"Who’s Max Arnow?"

He looked at me as if my head needed examining. "Max Arnow is head of talent at the studio," he answered. "He called me because he’s read an article in Mike Connolly’s column…"

"Who’s Mike Connolly?"

My head definitely needed examining, but he was patient with me. "Mike – Connolly – is – a – very – influential – columnist – who – writes – for – the – Hollywood – Reporter…A – daily – motion – picture – tradepaper."


"It seems that Hume Cronyn found you in the audience of a theater and cast you in an upcoming play with March and Eldridge. He told Connolly about it and gave him a physical description of you. Mr. Arnow wants to see what you look like, because the studio is about to make a picture called The Brave Bulls. Robert Rossen, the director, insists on using an unknown in the lead. We have to get some photos of you. Am I going too fast?" I shook my head. He picked up the phone and made a quick call. "Grab your coat, we’re going over to the Daily News. I have a friend who’s a press photog there."

After the quick photo session he said, "I’ll have the pictures tomorrow and get them off to the coast. They’ll arrive some time next week,"

"Then what?" I asked.

"If Mr. Arnow is interested, they’ll fly you out to the coast for a screen test."

"That’s going to be a little tricky."

He stopped. "What d’you mean?" he asked.

"Today is the 21st. Sunday is Christmas and we start rehearsals the 28th. If they want to test me, they’ll have to get me back from California by next Wednesday morning." We made arrangements to meet for dinner the next evening.

Aria announced she was going along. I wasn’t feeling too sure of myself and she’d convinced me that she knew the movie business. She had a faculty for discovering the insecure areas in people, and using them. She knew exactly what buttons to push on the young and naive. Both Lindsey and I were completely under her thumb. In return, she offered what we felt was emotional security, but she controlled it. People like that are few and far between, and if you’ve never experienced someone who can manipulate as smoothly and seemingly effortlessly as she could, it’s difficult to explain and even harder to imagine.

At dinner, Mr. Snyder pulled a few 8-by-10s out of a manila envelope. "Max Arnow said to send these out to the coast special delivery air mail. He’ll get them on Saturday. If he likes what he sees, you’ll fly out there on Monday the 26th and test on Tuesday the 27th. You’ll be back here Wednesday morning the 28th, in time for your rehearsals. How does that sound?"

"It sounds all right with me," I said, "but do you think these pictures are going to help?"

"Hell, no, these look like prison mug shots. These photos are going to get lost in the mail. You just be ready to fly to Hollywood on Monday." He pulled out a piece of eight-and-a-half by eleven paper, the top of which bore the Columbia Pictures letterhead.

"I don’t know very much about talent contracts," he said, "I deal only with writers. Actually I don’t do much of that. Mostly read, and send my recommendations to the coast."

"What is the piece of paper for?" Aria asked.

"Since you’re going out there to make a test I have to get your signature on some sort of holding contract before the studio will spend any money, which includes airline fare. My secretary was out today, so I wrote this in long hand. It binds you to the studio for a period of seven years at a starting salary of $175 a week."

"I’m rather interested in how you arrived at that sum," Aria said.

"It’s in the general ballpark when we sign young writers."

"In that case I guess it’s all right. What do you think, Rick?"

It was twenty-five more than I had been insisting on all those years. "Fine," I said, and reached for the paper. Mr. Snyder handed me a pen.

Saturday evening, while we were trimming the tree the phone rang. It was Mr. Snyder. I was to be at the airport for a nine a.m. flight on Monday morning. The tickets would be delivered to me in about an hour, and, "Merry Christmas. I hope things work out." We never met again, but I owe him a debt. If he hadn’t killed those photos I might still be in the hat business.

I thanked him profusely for his help and went back to trimming the tree. I looked at my hands; they weren’t shaking. which was odd, I thought, because my stomach sure was.

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