Rehearsing for a Broadway Play
Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep rehearsed for five weeks at the
Broadhurst Theater. With one exception, a short scene with Fredric March as he collapses
into a seizure, all my scenes were with Florence Eldridge, who played governess to his
children. I opened act two, alone on stage, with a short, funny, silent sketch that
concluded with a scene with the wonderful comedic actor Henry Lasco, who played the
ships chef. It was a scene not in the script, but some business that Hume Cronyn had
come up with and inserted. He was not only a wonderful actor, but a tremendously inventive
I worked very slowly into the part, my voice hardly audible during
rehearsals, and I must say he must have known how I was approaching the performance and
showed me infinite patience. Eldridge, ever the pro, never complained, at least to me.
Columbia Pictures Offers an Acting Contract
Ten days after we started, when I got home from rehearsal there was a
message for me from Max Arnow. He was in New York on other business and wanted to see me.
He said to come up to the Columbia offices the next evening.
The office I walked into was far more than that in which Id met
Mr. Snyder. He started off with, "We want you under contract and I brought some forms
"Max," I began, we were still standing and I hadnt even
taken my coat off, "Im not sure I want to sign with Columbia."
"What dya mean?" It was one of the few questions I was
ever to hear him ask, but he asked it in the same booming voice.
"Just what I said."
"Why? Were a major studio."
"But you make an awful lot of Bpictures." Some truly
rare and wonderful pictures were made by beginning directors on their climb up the ladder,
but they were few and far between. Seldom, no matter how good, did a B actor or actress
ever get out of that category into a leading role into a big-budget feature.
Max started pacing around the table. "Okay, tell me what you
I stood there and said, "Ive been thinking about it."
"I want five-hundred a week."
"All right," he said. Five hundred then was like twenty
"I want a forty out of fifty-two." I guess I could have
insisted on a fifty-two week salary per year, but I wasnt all that smart.
"Only leads with star billing and no secondary parts."
He stopped and looked at me. "Somebody been talking to you?"
"No. Also no Bpictures. Only Abudget films.
"I cant do that," he said.
"Okay, good night," I started to leave.
He held up both hands. "All right," he said, "we can
shake on it." As we shook hands he said warily, "Theres nothing
Two days later the contracts arrived by messenger. They had everything
in them Id asked for. I signed and sent them off to California. It wasnt until
much later that I realized I should have had an agent and a good one. Max was prepared for
me to show up with one and to give me much more than I was asking. Accepting Aria as a
ride back to New York City was a big mistake, and taking her advice about not getting an
agent (and a good one!) was worse; she was only thinking of the ten percent commission
Developing a Character for the Stage
At rehearsals for the play, I knew I finally had the character by the cojones
and toward the end of the fourth week I opened up and let go. I thought, at first,
Eldridge was going to fall off her chair, but she grabbed hold and we were off and
running. Most of the laughs in these scenes were hers. She did takes, set up by my answers
to her questions, like, "In my village we eat sheep. Raw!" And this very proper
English governess painfully turns her head away and daintily puts her handkerchief to her
mouth as if shes going to throw up.
At the end of the fifth week, we took the train to London, Ontario,
Canada for ten days of tryouts. Why there? Because its where Cronyn came from and
where he wanted his first Broadway directorial effort to be seen. I was amazed the morning
after we opened to read the reviews and find my name mentioned prominently there
were twenty-six actors in the cast. Not only prominently, but almost sharing attention
with Fredric March.
March was doing this play as a way to get back in the business.
Hed been falsely branded a communist sympathizer by the McCarthy Committee. Film
work dried up for him, as it did for many in his predicament. He probably grabbed at the
first vehicle that looked good on paper anything to get back to his pre-eminence in
Not only was Marchs part ill-conceived (Ludwig Bemelmens wrote
his books in caricatures that were extremely difficult to translate to live actors) but he
was having a devil of a time trying to get a handle on it. I could see him experimenting
during rehearsals, which continued every day on the road as the play was rewritten, scenes
cut, some added.
Then, Philadelphia and the Forrest Theater for two weeks. On the train,
I was handed a copy of the latest rewrite. Id been dropped from the third act. I
wasnt happy about it, but realized that rewrites were needed and the show was
running too long. We opened to luke-warm reviews in Philadelphia (though I was still
strongly mentioned alongside March and Eldridge.
The next day Max Arnow telephoned me as I was about to leave for the
theater. Robert Rossen was back in town from Mexico, had seen my test, and wanted to shoot
some extensive test scenes with me. I should come right out there.
"I cant leave, Max" I said, "were in Philly.
We open in New York in less than four weeks. Besides, I have to give two weeks notice, and
I cant just walk out on the whole company."
"You dont have a run-of-the-play contract," he said.
"You can leave anytime, and Rossen is really interested."
"Well, Im flattered, but Im also committed."
Featured Billing on Broadway
Next morning during rehearsal, I was lounging in a theater seat waiting
for my first entrance, when George Nichols (who was producing) came down an aisle near me.
I got up, tapped him on the shoulder, and said I wanted to speak to him for a few minutes.
I told him that since the reviews have picked me out as an outstanding
cast member, I thought it might be advantageous for everyone if I got feature billing.
"Its a little late for that here," he answered.
"Oh, I dont mean here. Not even Boston. I mean New
He looked at me a long minute. "That important to you?" he
"Okay. Ill take care of it."
As we progressed through the run at the Forrest, constant rewrites came
through. I watched my part get smaller and smaller. Still, when we opened in Boston, I was
up there in the reviews.
Aria and I Get Married
I was feeling guilty about leaving Aria to fend for herself in New
York. I knew I didnt love her, I just felt indebted. From the time we moved into the
apartment, sex tapered off. But there were other things. She had taken a sort of a
command-of-the-ship attitude and it was now a fait accomplis. Lindsey also fell
under the same spell.
I asked Aria to marry me. A little voice somewhere deep inside said
guilt was not the best reason for marriage, but I wasnt listening.
Aria came up to Boston and we were wed one afternoon in a civil
ceremony. I had gotten a larger room at the hotel for our wedding night, but she curtly
announced that she had to take the train back to New York for an important meeting the
"Whaaat?" I asked.
"For a stock company," she said.
"Are you kidding? Were going to Hollywood. When are you
going to have time to run a stock company in the East when were in California?"
"You dont expect me to give up everything and just become a
housewife, do you?"
"That was sort of my expectation, and youve started writing,
which certainly wont get in the way of any place you live. Weve agreed that
youll keep your maiden name, and I understand about your not wanting to lose your
identity, but ..."
She took the train back to New York. On our wedding day. I was
beginning to rue the marriage already and it wasnt even two hours old.
As I look back, I cant believe it was me who put up with all that
crap; Lindsey and I still talk about it. We both agree it was part of the maturing
process, and obviously were both late bloomers.