By the time we closed [the play Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep] in
Boston, my part had been cut down to three scenes. Some of it I could understand, but a
lot of it made me wonder. I had a sneaky feeling that someone thought my performance was
taking a little of the shine away from Mr. [Frederick] March. No doubt about it, mine was
a very flashy role. Id observed Florence Eldridge [Mrs. March] during all this time
and had concluded that she was a cold fish, and something of a snob, whereas March was
warm, outgoing, and had a personality that just made you want to be around him. The sneaky
feeling I had was that Eldridge was protecting her husband by having me lessened in the
In retrospect, I can hardly blame her. But that was then, this is now.
Henry Lasco, with whom I shared a dressing room, was the one who brought the subject up as
we were putting on our makeup one night. Hed done a lot of Broadway theater.
"Ive seen the same thing happen before. Especially when the star feels
threatened. Just roll with it, youre doing okay."
Opening Night Theater Tickets for Herb Klein
I got tickets for Aria and Lindsey for opening night, as well as my
mother and father. And I didnt forget Herb Klein. When I called him from Boston to
invite him, he was overjoyed.
"Listen, pal," I said, "if it hadnt been for you,
I might be breaking rocks in Leavenworth."
Afterward, he came back stage and we fell into each others arms.
"I havent seen you in over five years!" he said. "But I never had any
"Thanks, Herb, I had enough for both of us."
No Featured Billing for Me
As I entered the Broadhurst before performance opening night, I stopped
in the lobby and picked up a copy of the program. Nichols had reneged; my name was not
among the featured players. That, plus what had been done to my part was a real downer.
Id confided only to Henry my arrangement with Nichols. I went
into our dressing room and tossed the open program on the makeup towel spread out in front
of him. He looked at it then up at me. "I didnt want to say anything when you
told me," he said, "but I figured the powers that be werent going to allow
you to get billing. I dont think Nichols had a thing to do with it. Hes not a
producer, just a guy with a lot of money who wants to be in show business. And hes
going to lose a few shirts on this one.
"You think so?" I asked as I started to put on my grease
"Rick, I can smell a winner from the word go. And a loser too. I
knew about this show from day one."
"I dont know. Maybe thirty-five years of smelling the good
ones and bad ones."
"So why did you take the part?"
"Because Im an actor and this is work."
We did our makeup in silence for awhile. "I dont know how
the word got out about my Hollywood contract," I said.
"I didnt say anything. But news like that doesnt stay
hidden too long. Why?"
"I met an awful lot of envy from some of the guys in the cast. It
makes me feel a little shitty," I said.
"That kind will always be envious, kid. Take my advice, enjoy
and fuck em!"
"Im so pissed about this," and I indicated the program,
"Im thinking of handing in my notice tomorrow night," I said.
"Serve em right," Henry agreed. "Sides, I
dont think this show has much more than six weeks in it."
"Id feel sort of lousy about Hume," I said.
"Look here," he turned to me. "If you hadnt been
what he was looking for, you wouldnt have gotten the part. If you feel you owe him
something because he discovered you, think back to the years you took preparing for
this night. There are two scenes of yours that never should have been taken out. It
weakens the play. If he was that all fired in your corner and that objective about this
project, he could have fought a little more. I guarantee you, Eldridge pounded him into
The morning and afternoon reviews didnt mention me, with one
exception. The Journal American reviewer made mention of a new "rising star" and
said it was a shame that "Hollyood has already claimed him."
I thought that was quite nice of him.
I Quit a Broadway Production
The next night, as I walked in the stage door, I handed an envelope to
the stage manager and proceeded to my dressing room and told Henry what Id done. He
chuckled. "Now the shit hits the fan," he said.
Within fifteen minutes, just as I was finishing getting into my
wardrobe, there was a knock at the door. The stage manager said Miss Eldridge wanted to
see me downstairs in her dressing room. Her door was off the latch and when I knocked she
said, "Open it." I stood in the doorway; she didnt invite me in. As she
put on her makeup, without ever turning to me, I got a lecture about loyalty,
professionalism, maturity, leaving a sinking ship, and I cant remember what else. I
leaned against the door jamb as she spoke. There was not only the "school marm"
spewing from her mouth, but a good bit of vitriol mixed in with it. After five minutes or
so I was summarily dismissed. I left without saying a word.
Cronyn didnt speak to me again, for which I can hardly blame him.
Strangely enough, March saw me standing in the wings just before his first entrance that
night and clapped me on the shoulder. I turned around, he winked an okay at me and said,
"Im going to miss you."
I was aghast. "Why, thank you Mr. March," I said, and he held
up both hands as if to stop me, and made his entrance hands in the air. That night was the
best performance hed given. Hed finally gotten a handle on the part. Too bad
he hadnt been that good the night before.
Theater World Award
Before my two weeks were up, I was informed that Id won the
Theater World Award as one of the most promising actors of 194950. It was some
consolation, and came as a big surprise, considering how much smaller my part had become.
I recently glanced at my picture in the Theater World book of that year; just to
remember what I looked like then in makeup and long, stringy hair. As Henry predicted, the
show closed at the end of its sixth week, but by then I was in Hollywood.
End of Part II Go to Part III: