I had become good friends with George Brand, who had been a sub-agent
at William Morris when I was a client. To start with, we shared a love of
martinis. In the spring of 1952, George was coming to
New York for his first visit and Aria and I offered to show him the town. About a week
before his arrival, Max Arnow telephoned me. He was in New York and wanted to see me.
"I want you back at Columbia [Pictures]," he said. I nodded
with not much enthusiasm.
"Were going to make a big picture. Salome, starring
Rita Hayworth, and I want you to play the lead opposite her. Im in New York to test
some Broadway actors for supporting roles, but I want you to test in Hollywood where we
can have the best of everything. Just keep yourself loose and when the time is right
well fly you out to the coast."
I said "Okay and thanks."
The day George arrived in New York, we arranged to have dinner at a
nice restaurant. He and I were to meet in the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel for cocktails
and Aria would join us later. Just before eight oclock, which had given us about
three hours of martinis, I was paged to the phone. "Youd better get home as
soon as possible," Aria said, "youre flying to Hollywood tonight. Make our
apologies to George."
"Whats going on? Did Max call?"
"Its much too complicated to discuss on the phone. One of
the agents at MCA is telephoning here in half an hour. From the sound of your voice
Ill put a pot of coffee on." I went back to our table in the Oak Room, put some
money down for the drinks and said, "George, well have to put dinner on hold,
looks like Im flying out to the coast tonight."
"Whats going on?" he asked.
"I havent the slightest idea," I said.
Back home, during my second cup of black coffee, Aria recounted what
had occurred. "At five minutes to five, Max called from California. I was to get you
packed and on the American Airlines flight at midnight, seat number 23. You were flying to
the coast to test with Rita Hayworth as her leading man in Salome. Five minutes
after I hung up, Harry Friedman (head of the motion picture department at MCA in
California) called and told me to get you packed. Youre to fly out tonight on
American Airlines midnight flight, seat number 24. Hed arranged a test for a movie
at MGM." I was going to be sitting next to myself!
"I told him about Max Arnows call, and he said to get hold
of you and hed set up a conference call, eight-thirty our time, five-thirty his,
with him in California and you and Jay Cantor (in the New York office) to decide what to
A few minutes later, I was on the phone with Harry and Jay. Harry
wanted to know what I wanted to do. I asked for suggestions. Harry said to "come out
and test at MGM, its a leading role."
"So is Salome," I said. "Tell you what. Ill
pay my own way out, well take a look at both deals and whichever is better, that
studio can reimburse me for the ticket." They both agreed.
I was picked up at the airport in Los Angeles and checked into a motel on the edge of
Beverly Hills where the agency had made a reservation for me. I showered and shaved after
the redeye flight, then was driven to Harrys office at MCA. He rushed out to the
parking lot and said hed give me the scoop on the way to Columbia.