Aria had an old friend whod been an agent for many years. Irving
Smith was working for a small agency and she called him. His office was in West Hollywood
near Schwabs drugstore adjoining the Sunset Strip. We took the redline trolley to
see him. He said that we ought to visit the major studios and see what might happen. Irv
had a car, so we headed for Columbia and Paramount, both located in Hollywood. Aria waited
in the car, and we were back from each in about fifteen minutes. They werent
interested. Next stop, 20th Century Fox. I had told Irv about Leonard Goldstein and
Universal so we passed them up.
At Fox, a former silent and early talkies star named Ben Lyon, who was
married to a former silent star named Bebe Daniels, was head of the talent department.
Lyon and Daniels were among the crême de la crême of the film colony and noted
for their lavish dinners and parties. In his office he looked at me, but after the
introductions he talked only to Irv. A silent test (black and white) was arranged. Irv was
delighted. As we left the office, I wanted to know what a "silent test" was.
"A piece of cake," was all I could get from him.
Makeup for the Screen Test
The next morning, he picked me up and we drove to the studio. It was
the first time someone besides me had put my makeup on.
It was quite different. I sat in a barbers chair in front of a
huge lighted mirror while Irv sat at the rear of the room. With a sponge, the makeup man
applied a very light color of grease paint from a wide-mouthed stick tube. Id never
heard of using a sponge before; in theater you dotted from a tube all over your face, then
spread it around with your hands and fingers.
"Whats that for?" I asked.
"Its beard cover," he answered patiently.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because you have a very dark beard," he said.
"But I just shaved, an hour ago."
"They dont like to see beards on screen," he said and
that completed the subject of beard cover. Then he went over the whole face with another
small sponge and a darker grease.
It was true, my beard line had disappeared.
Next, he drew a very fine line at the edge of my eyelids with a pointed
dark grease pencil, remarked that my long black eyelashes didnt require mascara,
then powdered me down and lightly shadowed the skin from below my eyebrows to my upper
eyelid. A little dry rouge brushed lightly on, some very light lip color, and away I went.
Irving escorted me to a sound stage, instructing me how not to stumble
over heavy cables lying all over the place like thick spaghetti. These monsters made TV
cables look like pieces of string. We entered into a small set where men, lights, and a
camera were waiting, like a small island surrounded by a huge sea of quiet darkness. A
nice looking young lady sat on a canvas chair next to the camera (I was to find out they
were called directors chairs and that she was a script supervisor).
Irving faded into the background and a slightly officious man in a
sleeveless sweater motioned for me to join him in the center of the set. Lights went on:
four or five on the floor, two big ones above me on either side, and one gigantic one
above me and slightly off to the side. Later I learned this was called my key light,
and with a little practice and plenty of application, I was able to walk onto any set and
find my key just by the heat it gave off.
I was planted by another man who held a light meter alongside my face
while a short guy walked to my eyes trailing a tape measure from the camera lens. He
walked away as he wound the tape up and called a number to another fellow to the right
side of the camera who set the focus. I was fascinated with the whole procedure and the
smoothness with which these people did their jobs, like bees in a hive.
A guy in a fedora and sport jacket walked up to me and introduced
himself. He was the director. Had I ever done a test before? No? Well, dont worry,
just listen to him and do as he says. I nodded. In ten minutes, everyone was ready.
Id been ready for years.
Somebody shouted, "Quiet! Roll em." Why they yelled,
"Quiet" for a silent test, Ive never been able to figure out.
Then, somebody jumped next to me, held up a big black rectangle
(thats what it looked liked from my side), lifted a black-and-white striped section
of wood from a hinged edge at the top of the rectangle, and snapped it right in my face. I
reflexed a half step back. "Cut! Hey, kid, get back on your mark" (someone had
put a piece of tape on the floor at my toes) "and dont do that again.
Youre stepping out of focus."
"I thought he was going for my nose," I said, for want of
Finally we got rolling, I didnt jump again at the clapper, and
the director said, "Okay, look into the lens. Now look off to the right. Now turn to
your left for a profile. Turn to your right for a profile. Turn around so we can see the
back of your head. Good. Now turn back to me. Good. Cut! Print!"
Suddenly the lights went out and everybody was gone. Irving walked up
to me. "Lets get some lunch," he said.
That was my first visit to a studio commissary. It was a gigantic,
high-ceilinged room cum restaurant, the walls covered by a huge mural of movie
cameras, present and former stars, Darryl Zanuck (head of production at the studio), and a
whole mish-mash that thrilled the hell out of me. We sat in a section with a tablecloth (I
noticed there was a section nearby with bare, plastic-topped tables) and a counter with
seats that were jammed. There must have been five hundred people in that hall. Irv waved
to people he knew and they waved back and we had a nice lunch.