Include Me Out
My Life from Goldwyn to Broadway
By Farley Granger, Robert Calhoun
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2007 Farley Granger and Robert Calhoun
All rights reserved.
It was 1943. America was at war. I was a healthy seventeen-year-old high school student, halfway through my senior year. My future was clear: I would graduate and when I turned eighteen in July, I would join whatever branch of the armed forces most of my buddies were choosing. That's exactly what happened, with one exception: I became a movie star first.
As a clerk in the unemployment office in North Hollywood, my dad was used to seeing actors when they came in every week to collect their checks. There was the occasional grand one like Adolphe Menjou, who arrived in a chauffeured limousine each week to pick up his check, but most of them were just ordinary out-of-work actors waiting for their next paying job to come along. Dad became friendly with an actor who was far from ordinary. It was Harry Langdon, who had been one of the "Big Four," Hollywood's most beloved stars during the silent film era, along with Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin was the only one of the four who survived the transition to talkies. The others had fallen on differing degrees of hard times. Keaton and Lloyd eventually survived more successfully than Mr. Langdon. My dad had great admiration for his new friend, and eventually felt free enough with him to ask his advice about my dream of becoming an actor.
After mulling it over for several weeks, Langdon told Dad about a small showcase theater on Highland Avenue in Hollywood that was run by Mary Stewart, a little-known actress with a lot of money and some talent. There was no permanent company, no set schedule. Each production that Miss Stewart managed to put on consisted of a pickup group of actors, most of them amateurs who would work for nothing in order to get the experience, and the credit, not to mention an opportunity to live the dream of being discovered.
She was currently seeing young actors for The Wookie, an English play about Londoners during the blitz in World War II. At dinner that evening, my dad told us about it, and my mom agreed to take time off from her job at the five-and-ten-cent store to drive me to the theater the next day to find out how to go about trying out for a part.
The next afternoon, Mom got off early and picked me up at school, and off we went. The theater was a nondescript auditorium with folding chairs, much like many of today's Off-Broadway theaters. Lucky for me, they were having an open audition, one to which amateurs, actors who were not yet members of Actors' Equity, were welcomed. The stage manager gave me some pages from different scenes and told me to go study them and come back in an hour. I returned to read for Miss Stewart and the director using a Cockney accent, which had to be awful, because it was something I'd just made up after reading the scenes. I had no frame of reference for the accent other than the few English movies I'd seen. There was a long silence after I finished, and then what sounded like a whispered argument between Miss Stewart and the director. After what seemed like an eternity, Miss Stewart came to the edge of the stage to congratulate me on getting the part. Even though in my naïveté I had felt since childhood that it was my destiny to be an actor one day, I was in a state of shock when it happened.
At our first read-through of The Wookie, I met the rest of the cast, including Percival Vivian, our English director, who was also playing the leading man. We all, with the exception of Miss Stewart and Mr. Vivian, had to double and triple parts. Three of the actors were old-timers who had been extras in the movies for years and regulars in Mary Stewart's productions. There was a young boy who was a brand-new member of Actors' Equity. The last two members of the company, a pretty young redhead named Connie Cornwall and I, had never set foot on a real stage before.
Miss Stewart was grand, but she could not have been nicer to everyone. Percy, the director, often seemed as if he had it in for me. I had no idea why. Since he said he had been in London during the blitz, I hung on his every word as if they were graven in stone.
After three weeks of rehearsing scenes, it was time to add the costumes, lighting, and sound effects. Technical rehearsals were very exciting, with the sounds of bombs going off and sirens and shouting all over the place. I had to run on and off, change coats, and return to the stage as someone else. It was exhilarating. After the final tech rehearsal, Percy called me over and said, "Good show, young man. Be at the dress rehearsal tomorrow a wee bit early, would you?" Before I could reply, he turned and walked off. I was so pleased by his compliment that I didn't ask why. I couldn't wait to comply.
At the call for the dress rehearsal, I was in my costume, waiting outside his dressing room, when he arrived. He said he wanted to show me how to make up. I was very excited to get this chance to learn something professional. He did a full character makeup with heavy lines for age and big dark circles under my eyes. I thought I looked just terrific. He had turned me into a character man! My favorite actors were always people like Frank Morgan and Bert Lahr in The Wizard of Oz, never the young leading men. After thanking him profusely, I ran back to my dressing room so that everyone could admire the new me. No one even looked up.
The dress rehearsal went reasonably well except for a number of explosions in the wrong place, lots of collisions in the wings and backstage as we all tore on and off, and people forgetting their lines and or entrances. I, with my greasepaint, was letter- and traffic-pattern perfect. After we staged the curtain calls, Miss Stuart grabbed me by the hand and marched me back to her dressing room. She closed the door, turned to me, and, with a surprising lack of grandness, said, "Who put all that crap on your face!?" I told her that Percy had taught me how to do my makeup. She shook her head for a minute and started to laugh, "You tell that son of a bitch that if he ever lays another one of his dainty fingers on your face again, I'll cut them all off at the wrist! He just doesn't want anyone to be prettier than he is onstage. Now, go and scrub it all off. Do not wear any makeup tomorrow night. The last thing I want you to do is hide that face."
Backstage the following evening, I thought I saw Percy scowling at me. When I went over to apologize to him for not wearing makeup, he gave me a pat on the back and a tight little smile as he said, "Break a leg, laddie." The house was filled with friends and admirers of Miss Stewart, and of all of us in the cast. What nobody knew was that an up-and-coming young talent agent named Phil Gersh was there with Bob McIntyre, the casting director for Samuel Goldwyn.
Meeting Mr. Goldwyn
My father had already left for work when our phone rang the next morning. It was Phil Gersh. After explaining who he was, he asked me if I could come in and see him as soon as possible about a movie. I thanked him and said of course I could. I was fairly calm about it, because I knew (same old naïveté) that it was fate in action, but my mother was hysterical. She called my father, who had just arrived at work, and insisted that he come home immediately. Somehow he managed to get away from work. After I finished cleaning up and dressed in my best blazer, shirt, and good-luck tie, we headed for Mr. Gersh's office at the Goldstone Agency in Hollywood. My father told me to just keep quiet and listen. He would do all the talking.
Mr. Gersh's secretary buzzed us into his office. He made us comfortable and got right to the point. He told us that he and the casting director for Sam Goldwyn had seen me in The Wookie, and thought I might be right for a part in a new movie that Mr. Goldwyn was producing. Would I be interested in trying out for it? "I sure would!" popped out of my mouth before my father could speak.
Mr. Gersh laughed, and my father said, "We would certainly be interested in talking about it, Mr Gersh." They excused my mother and me, and a short time later came out beaming.
Mr. Gersh said; "Welcome to the fold, Farley. I'm sure we'll be doing great things together." He then apologized for having another appointment and not being able to come with us. He promised that Mr. McIntyre would take good care of us at the studio, and that he would see us again soon.
When we were out of earshot, I turned to my father. "What was he talking about? What studio? Where are we going? What did you talk about in there?"
"I think he's a good man, Sonny, so I signed with him to be our agent." I resented the "our" and not having been a part of the conversation even more than I resented that nickname, something he had known for years, but I was too excited to spoil the event with an argument.
We arrived at the Goldwyn Studio, and my name was at the gate. The guard directed us to the casting office. The studios were disappointingly drab and industrial-looking, mostly two-story gray stucco buildings with signs indicating what was inside. We found the casting office with no problem. There the secretary had me take a seat and politely told my eager stage parents that they would have to wait outside, which secretly delighted me. Bob McIntyre came out and took me into his office. He was a nice-looking older man, dressed like Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
After we sat down, he talked about seeing me in The Wookie the night before and how good he thought I was. When he asked me if I would like to act in a movie, I said, "You bet!"
He smiled and asked me how old I was. When I told him seventeen, he said that the movie was about the life of a boy my age during the last forty-eight hours of peace and the first forty-eight hours of World War II in a Russian village called North Star. He gave me a couple of pages of a script and told me to go into the outer office and read it over. The part I was reading for was Damian. The scene was a very emotional one in which Damian was saying goodbye to the girl he loved because he was going off to fight with the resistance. She understood his decision, but was afraid he would be killed. After about ten minutes, Mr. McIntyre came out and asked if I was ready. I took a breath and nodded. He said we were going to a conference room to meet the three people I was going to read for: Mr. Goldwyn; Lillian Hellman, the writer of the movie; and Lewis Milestone, the director. By the time we got there, I was no longer calm.
We entered a big room with nothing in it other than a long table with a lot of chairs around it. Three people were seated at the far end of the long table. Mr. McIntyre introduced me and quietly left. Mr. Goldwyn was tall, ramrodstraight, and healthy-looking, impeccably dressed in a steel-gray suit. He was bald with black eyebrows and ball-bearing eyes. He stood, nodded, and, in an incongruously thin, high-pitched voice said, "Mr. Granger." Miss Hellman, an ugly little lady wreathed in clouds of cigarette smoke, said nothing. Mr. Milestone, a friendly-looking, stocky middle-aged man, smiled at me and winked. He asked if I had any questions about the scene. I was afraid to ask anything, so I said, "No."
As if on cue, a pretty young girl around my age appeared to read with me. Mr. Milestone introduced us and asked us to begin. We finished and no one said a word except Mr. Milestone, who came over, shook my hand, and thanked me for a job well done.
I went back to Mr. McIntyre's office to find out what to do next, but he was in a meeting. His secretary told me, "Don't call us, we'll call you," and showed me the door. I was thrilled. They said they would call me, which echoed over and over in my head as I ran down the hall and out the door to inform my waiting parents, "They're going to call me!"
More than a month, and a mild case of scarlatina, went by as my discouraged parents began to give up hope. I never doubted that the call would come, and thought the fact that it was taking so long was fate providing me with time to get over my rash. How was I to know that Lillian Hellman had spent that entire month trying to talk Montgomery Clift into leaving a Broadway play for the part of Damian in The North Star? Luckily for me, Monty was very happy on Broadway, and now the movie was ready to go into production. They had to have someone for the part. My call did come.
I was back in the same conference room. The same three people were there along with another man introduced to me as Benno Schneider, an acting teacher from New York. He was the dialogue director for the film. He asked me to sit down with him to read the scene. I pulled out my tattered pages and we began.
Something was wrong — our lines didn't fit together. Miss Hellman jumped up waving her cigarette and yelled, "Stop, stop! That's not the new script, goddammit! Get him the right script and let him go look at it." They did, and told me to come back to Mr. Schneider's office in an hour.
I took it to a nearby drugstore, ordered an ice cream soda, and studied the new script. It was confusing because I had worked so hard on the other lines, and although some lines were the same, many of the others were a little bit different. When I returned, the guard directed me to Mr. Schneider's office. He was waiting for me. Mr. Schneider was a small middle-aged man with a slight European accent. He was courteous and very soft-spoken. He was also patient and kind.
He asked me if I knew anything about the story of The North Star or the character of Damian. I said, "No, nobody told me anything." He filled me in on all of it and asked me just to sit and read the scene with him. The scene was a rewritten version of the one from my first audition, in which I explained to my girl why I had to go and fight with the partisans. After we finished, he said, "Come with me."
We went to Bob McIntyre's office and Mr. Schneider said to him, "This is the boy." Mr. McIntyre replied, "Don't tell me, I'm the one who saw him in that play."
We went back to the conference room and I read the scene again with Mr. Schneider for Mr. Goldwyn, Mr. Milestone, and Miss Hellman. When we finished, Mr. Goldwyn said, "Do a screen test on this boy as soon as possible."
The next day I was walking into a soundstage on the Goldwyn lot when a voice from somewhere yelled out, "Hey, Farley, what the hell are you doing here?" I looked around and spotted Glen Lambert's father up on the seat of a boom microphone. Glen was my best friend and a member of The Daredevils, an adventure club that Glen and I and four of our friends had founded. His father was a sound man in movies. I yelled back, "I'm here to test for a part in the The North Star movie, Mr. Lambert." Just as he burst out with "No shit!," Mr. Milestone walked over to me with a glamorous young woman who was going to do the test with me. Her name was Constance Dowling. She was a contract player at the Goldwyn Studio whose career never took off.
The girl I had read with the first time was sweet and pretty, but she didn't look at me much during the scene, which made it hard for me to feel anything about her. When Connie looked at me and spoke, I felt as if I had known her all my life, and what a difference that made. To read the scene with someone who could act and was able to feel it emotionally helped me to feel it, too. We ended up crying in each other's arms.
This was the first time I was aware of what actors need to do for one another when working together. That, combined with what Mr. Schneider had told me about the story and the boy's life, made it possible for me to imagine that I really was Damian.
Phil Gersh called that same evening. Mr. Goldwyn wanted me for the part in The North Star. Mr. Gersh explained how happy he was to be representing me. Since I would be eighteen before too long, he wondered if I would mind signing the agreement, too. I was giddy with excitement, but managed to sound calm, because I didn't want to say anything stupid. I knew that my destiny had finally arrived and that Mr. Gersh was a part of it. I said I was very happy he would be representing me, and I would be glad to sign the agreement for myself. At this point my father demanded that I hand him the phone while my mother smothered me with a huge hug. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Include Me Out by Farley Granger, Robert Calhoun. Copyright © 2007 Farley Granger and Robert Calhoun. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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