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Opening Night on Broadway

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. I’d 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 show.

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. He’d done a lot of Broadway theater. "I’ve seen the same thing happen before. Especially when the star feels threatened. Just roll with it, you’re 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 didn’t forget Herb Klein. When I called him from Boston to invite him, he was overjoyed.

"Listen, pal," I said, "if it hadn’t been for you, I might be breaking rocks in Leavenworth."

Afterward, he came back stage and we fell into each other’s arms. "I haven’t seen you in over five years!" he said. "But I never had any doubts."

"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.

I’d 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 didn’t want to say anything when you told me," he said, "but I figured the powers that be weren’t going to allow you to get billing. I don’t think Nichols had a thing to do with it. He’s not a producer, just a guy with a lot of money who wants to be in show business. And he’s going to lose a few shirts on this one.

"You think so?" I asked as I started to put on my grease paint.

"Rick, I can smell a winner from the word go. And a loser too. I knew about this show from day one."


"I don’t know. Maybe thirty-five years of smelling the good ones and bad ones."

"So why did you take the part?"

"Because I’m an actor and this is work."

We did our makeup in silence for awhile. "I don’t know how the word got out about my Hollywood contract," I said.

"I didn’t say anything. But news like that doesn’t 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 yourself … and fuck ‘em!"

"I’m so pissed about this," and I indicated the program, "I’m thinking of handing in my notice tomorrow night," I said.

"Serve ‘em right," Henry agreed. "Sides, I don’t think this show has much more than six weeks in it."

"I’d feel sort of lousy about Hume," I said.

"Look here," he turned to me. "If you hadn’t been what he was looking for, you wouldn’t 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 ground."

The morning and afternoon reviews didn’t 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 I’d 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 didn’t 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 can’t 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 didn’t 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, "I’m 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 he’d given. He’d finally gotten a handle on the part. Too bad he hadn’t been that good the night before.

Theater World Award

Before my two weeks were up, I was informed that I’d won the Theater World Award as one of the most promising actors of 1949–50. 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: Hollywood Studios

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