The next morning at work, I told Walter I was going to do a play on
Broadway and how much I was being paid, and that Id work until rehearsals began on
December 28th. He said that was okay, and that when the play closed I could have my job
back at fifty-five a week. At that moment, I made a solemn vow to myself that I
didnt share with him; I was back in show business to stay!
December 21st, just after one in the afternoon, Aria called the office.
Mr. Snyder at Columbia Pictures corporate offices in New York had telephoned the apartment
and wanted to see me. Would I please call him immediately. He answered the phone,
introduced himself, and said hed been called by the Hollywood office. "How
soon," he asked, "can you come to see me?"
I rushed home, went through the showershaveblue suit
routine and got to his office a little before five. It was anything but grand. A small
outer office for a secretary, and a slightly larger one for her boss. This, I
thought as I looked around, is the New York office of a major Hollywood studio? The
secretary had left for the day, so Mr. Snyder escorted me into his baliwick where there
were books and scripts in stacks on his desk, and more scattered hither and yon.
"Im head of the story department here," he said.
"They dont maintain a talent department in New York, so excuse me if Im a
little out of my element."
I shrugged, "Of course."
"Where are your 8-by-10s?"
"8-by-10s. Glossy photos!"
"I dont have any."
"You dont have any?"
"No. And youre the first person who ever asked me for one.
Maybe they use em in Hollywood, but I never heard of a New York actor who had any,
unless he modeled."
He thought for a moment. "Well have to do something about
"Would you mind telling me what this is all about?" I asked
"I received a call from Max Arnow "
"Whos Max Arnow?"
He looked at me as if my head needed examining. "Max Arnow is head
of talent at the studio," he answered. "He called me because hes read an
article in Mike Connollys column
"Whos Mike Connolly?"
My head definitely needed examining, but he was patient with me.
"Mike Connolly is a very influential
columnist who writes for the Hollywood
A daily motion picture tradepaper."
"It seems that Hume Cronyn found you in the audience of a theater
and cast you in an upcoming play with March and Eldridge. He told Connolly about it and
gave him a physical description of you. Mr. Arnow wants to see what you look like, because
the studio is about to make a picture called The Brave Bulls. Robert Rossen, the
director, insists on using an unknown in the lead. We have to get some photos of you. Am I
going too fast?" I shook my head. He picked up the phone and made a quick call.
"Grab your coat, were going over to the Daily News. I have a friend whos
a press photog there."
After the quick photo session he said, "Ill have the
pictures tomorrow and get them off to the coast. Theyll arrive some time next
"Then what?" I asked.
"If Mr. Arnow is interested, theyll fly you out to the coast
for a screen test."
"Thats going to be a little tricky."
He stopped. "What dyou mean?" he asked.
"Today is the 21st. Sunday is Christmas and we start rehearsals
the 28th. If they want to test me, theyll have to get me back from California by
next Wednesday morning." We made arrangements to meet for dinner the next evening.
Aria announced she was going along. I wasnt feeling too sure of
myself and shed convinced me that she knew the movie business. She had a faculty for
discovering the insecure areas in people, and using them. She knew exactly what buttons to
push on the young and naive. Both Lindsey and I were completely under her thumb. In
return, she offered what we felt was emotional security, but she controlled it. People
like that are few and far between, and if youve never experienced someone who can
manipulate as smoothly and seemingly effortlessly as she could, its difficult to
explain and even harder to imagine.
At dinner, Mr. Snyder pulled a few 8-by-10s out of a manila envelope.
"Max Arnow said to send these out to the coast special delivery air mail. Hell
get them on Saturday. If he likes what he sees, youll fly out there on Monday the
26th and test on Tuesday the 27th. Youll be back here Wednesday morning the 28th, in
time for your rehearsals. How does that sound?"
"It sounds all right with me," I said, "but do you think
these pictures are going to help?"
"Hell, no, these look like prison mug shots. These photos are
going to get lost in the mail. You just be ready to fly to Hollywood on Monday." He
pulled out a piece of eight-and-a-half by eleven paper, the top of which bore the Columbia
"I dont know very much about talent contracts," he
said, "I deal only with writers. Actually I dont do much of that. Mostly read,
and send my recommendations to the coast."
"What is the piece of paper for?" Aria asked.
"Since youre going out there to make a test I have to get
your signature on some sort of holding contract before the studio will spend any money,
which includes airline fare. My secretary was out today, so I wrote this in long hand. It
binds you to the studio for a period of seven years at a starting salary of $175 a
"Im rather interested in how you arrived at that sum,"
"Its in the general ballpark when we sign young
"In that case I guess its all right. What do you think,
It was twenty-five more than I had been insisting on all those years.
"Fine," I said, and reached for the paper. Mr. Snyder handed me a pen.
Saturday evening, while we were trimming the tree the phone rang. It
was Mr. Snyder. I was to be at the airport for a nine a.m. flight on Monday morning. The
tickets would be delivered to me in about an hour, and, "Merry Christmas. I hope
things work out." We never met again, but I owe him a debt. If he hadnt killed
those photos I might still be in the hat business.
I thanked him profusely for his help and went back to trimming the tree. I looked at my
hands; they werent shaking. which was odd, I thought, because my stomach sure was.