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Hollywood Flashback: August, 1957

Jo "Red" Pearce and Cats

Today is the 84th anniversary of my mother’s birth. Here’s a picture of her along with a couple of cats, taken a little more than a year before I was born. She is 27 years old in this snapshot.

To go with it, here is the text of a letter my dad wrote about the time the picture was taken, a few days before his 29th birthday. I unearthed the letter in one of the last boxes of old family papers. Readers who remember my dad will recognize a familiar voice in the following few paragraphs:

August 28, 1957


A telegraphic rundown of developments on the Holly­wood scene would run something like this:

We had our own family added to seventeen days ago: Sindi, with the connivance of a sleek Siamese tom who lives up Laurel Canyon, presented us with four kittens, pale fawn with gray ears, much neck, coltish legs, and an occasional carmel stripe. The ears were never stubby semi-circles and have grown so fast the kittens looks more like bats. What they’re going to look like when they’re grown Allah alone knows but being Siamese and Manx 75-25 they should be Unusual Cats.

I’m nine-to-fiving at NBC and Jo’s still working at the store in Beverly Hills, but today she picked up what should prove to be an interesting (if unpaid) job as assistant to the stage manager on the Players’ Ring production of “Witness for the Prosecution,” which opens on the tenth of next month. It has a virtually all-English cast and is being directed by actor Paul Stewart. A biased source tells me it is shaping up into a pretty good show. I’ll know a bit more about that when Red gets home from her first rehearsal.

And who can talk theatre withtout bringing up “Blood Wedding?” Tru, Red and I saw a real doozy of a production a few months ago, done in a house that must seat all of fifty and has a stage that’s barely larger than a king-size bed. No curtain. Few lights. Brand new translation. It sounded like an anti-poetic re-write of the script we used up north, with all the really good lines blunted and clouded up. Miraculously, they had a lengthy and quite impressive original guitar score, and the Servant was not only a good actress but had a wonderful aquiline expressive face – perfect for the Bridegroom’s Mother, who was actually played by a lady burgher from 18th century Amsterdam who pureed her lips judiciously at every comma and was more out of place than a boozy laugh at a temperance meeting. An effectively violent Leonardo was played by a guy named James Marton whom you may have seen in an occasional movie of tv bit, but the poor guy was at something of a disadvantage having to play to a bride who, though quite a dish, spoke with a thick Swedish accent and topped him by a number of clear inches. In the big lech scene in the forest she dropped to her knees, threw her arms around his legs and laid her head against his collar bone. Mr.Marton’s fire tended to degenerate into a thwarted twitch now and then quite understandably, and the Moon either measured nine odd more inches around the waist than around his bared chest or couldn’t think of any other way to keep his black tights up.

All in all – a bomb.

Well, after nearly two years, Gerald has finally made his L.A. stage debut. Script in hand, on three and a half hours’ notice, doing the Professor in “All The King’s Men” in UCLA’s cavernous Royce Hall auditorium…under the baleful eye of H.W. Robinson. All thanks to a strep throat or something that knocked out the original Professor after two of the scheduled four performances.

Well, I suppose a stop-gap Professor’s eye view doesn’t give the clearest picture, but I was pretty much disappointed in the production as a whole. There were some damn good actors, make no mistake. Stark’s wife, for example. Adam Stanton, though a little out of control and occasionally resembling the hero of a corn show. The fellow who did Jack Burden was the best of the lot…faithfully mirroring every agonized reappraisal in his haunted eyeballs; trouble was he did most of his agonizing between his cue end the ensuing speech, and even then it was lovely camera stuff that never got beyond the fourth row. Drag? My God. I talked to Horace about it later and he said that nothing he could do could implant his picture of the show in their minds. Apparently they thought that philosophy was dry and heavy so they had to play it dry and heavy, and they steadfastly refused to believe him when he assured them that such-and-­such a line was a laugh line. When a concerted attack is made on comedy and pace the result is likely to justify the idea that philosophy is dry and heavy, and this bunch, or a good portion of them, decided that Mr. Warren didn’t know a goddamn thing about playwriting. Well, it may not be the best play by an American author since 1929, but God knows it’ll play!

And of course they hate Horace with a passion. He not only insisted that he knew what the show was about better than they did, but he made them work their tailbones off and didn’t
pat them on the back and tell them what a swell job they were doing. I never got the whole story, but apparently Horace had quite a run-in with the guy playing Willie, a jerk of negligible talent and brain-power to match who was, just the same, a good type, and who would probably have given an okay performance if he had listened to the Great Brown Dragon.

Which brings me up to speech #42-A, On The State of Acting in the Entertainment Capitol of the World, a lengthy tirade I won’t bore you with. It has two sub-topics: the lost-soul amateurs lousing up most professional theatre in Greater Los Angeles, and The Method as drawn through the Actors’ Studio sieve, simplified, diluted, narcissized (if there is such a word), and thoroughly deprived of discipline and divorced from any over-all concept of the show being produced. It’s anarchy. You get the impression that most of the actors aren’t actors at all but mental patients undergoing drama therapy.

And yet, of course, if they marched all the phonies, the hangers-on, the no-talent bums and all their ilk out at dawn and drowned ‘em, there still wouldn’t be enough jobs to go around the remaining reasonably talented, reasonably sane professionally-minded performers flooding the local market…

Gerry Pearce

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