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Columbia Screen Test

Monday morning, Lindsey, who had a car, drove me to the airport. At the prescribed time, I boarded the DC-3. There weren’t too many passengers. While we sat, they left the main hatch open. I was in a seat near the front in a wonderful draft of icy air. We must have sat for at least an hour, and by the time we took off I could feel a head cold developing. I opened the novel The Brave Bulls, which Mr. Snyder had given me at the restaurant, and began to read.

By the time we landed in Los Angles I had finished the book and had a fantastic cold. Thank God I’d brought along some nose drops. I picked up my small suitcase, and was met by a cardboard sign reading "Rick Jason" held by a young man in a dark cap. He took my bag and led me to a car.

I was dropped off at a lovely hotel, the Hollywood Knickerbocker, and went upstairs with the script that had been given to me at the desk (with two test scenes marked). I put drops in my nose every hour or so as I read and studied the script. Whatever happened, I didn’t want to lose my voice the next day or even have it sound different. Next morning I arrived at the studio on Gower Street at 8:45. In no time, Max Arnow appeared at the door to his office and waved me in past his receptionist. He was almost as tall as I, heavier, with a gruff manner and a short, brush mustache.

"Sit down, Rick." I sat.

He was watching me and every move I made. Max saw me observing his walls, got up from behind his desk, and invited me to see some of the photos close up.

"Some of these stars I helped, some were my friends, and some I discovered," he said. He spoke in a booming voice; if you were slightly hard of hearing, you had nothing to worry about. "That’s George Arliss, he was a good friend," he said.

I nodded.

"And over here…" It went on for several minutes while his ego expanded.

He finally looked at his watch, "We’ll have someone here in a few minutes to take you to makeup then wardrobe. Robert Rossen is scouting locations in Mexico, so I’m going to direct the test. I’ll see you on the set."

A talent scout directing a test? I should have been scared to death, but who knew the strange ways of Hollywood?

There was a young lady in bobby sox sitting on the couch in the outer office. I remember the sox because it seemed so out of place for the rest of the surroundings.

"Please come with me, Mr. Jason," she said as she got up. I followed her to the elevator, exited on the ground level, and went across the open lot to a small clapboard building. All the buildings were clapboard except the main executive building I’d just left, which was stucco.

This time I was ready for the beard cover. The makeup man was friendlier. He introduced himself, said he’d be on the set to touch me up and we had a nice conversation.

From there, I was taken to a three-story building with a Wardrobe sign swinging over the entrance. They dressed me in a bullfighter’s outfit, called a suit of lights, which fit like a tight glove. I had just the right skinny build for it. And, I discovered, it wasn’t something you could sit down in.

On the sound stage, I waited in the shadows while the lights were set. They had a stand-in for me to take the heat of the overhead ten Ks and five Ks, the bigger of which was lit by a carbon arc. It gave off ultraviolet rays and if you stood within a few feet of it, you could actually get a suntan.

Max Arnow arrived on the set when we were ready to go. I’d been introduced to a contract player, William Bishop, who I remembered having seen in lead and second supporting roles in some of Columbia’s B–movies. He was extremely nice and asked if this was my first test. I said, "Yes," and he assured me it’d be a piece of cake.

The usual "Quiet!" was ordered by the assistant director and "Roll ‘em." In a few seconds, another man’s voice called, "Speed," and Max said, "Action."

The first scene went well — at least it felt good to me. There was a little conversation behind the camera and Max’s voice said, "Print it." Since the whole thing was being done in what I was told were medium close shots, I began to wonder why they had bothered to squeeze me into those tight pants, long white stockings and semi-ballet slippers.

When I said that I didn’t need a rehearsal for the next one either, we rolled for a take. This scene happened to be longer, about three minutes, and a tremendously emotional one. Bill Bishop was really giving me something to play to with his off-camera reading. He was a much better actor than he was ever allowed to show in any of his films.

I hadn’t used any nose drops in over half an hour and though my head wasn’t feeling jammed up, my voice took on a slight hoarseness on certain words. Then my eyes began to tear. I could feel them just beginning to water and I forced them back. By my final speech, they’d filled my eyes and began rolling down my cheeks. I tried with all my might to pay no attention to them, but the more I tried, the fuller my eyes became. The scene came to an end.

Nobody said anything. Oh, shit, I thought. Then I heard a slight sob off to the side of the camera. Bill Bishop was wiping tears from his eyes. In the glare of the lights I could just make out Max sitting under the camera: he was so choked up he couldn’t talk. Finally he croaked, "Cuuut." Everybody just sat there for a few moments. Only the makeup man had presence of mind to hand me a few Kleenex tissues, and he seemed affected, too. I’d wiped out the entire company.

With a head cold!

I went back to my dressing room, got my makeup off, and climbed back into my street clothes. Aria had said when we got home from the dinner with Mr. Snyder, that she was pretty sure the hand-written contract I’d signed wasn’t legal, that it had to be on a standard Screen Actors Guild form, so not to sign anything else.

I went to Max Arnow’s office to say goodbye and thanks. He asked me to sit down for a few minutes. He appeared rather reflective, as if he didn’t know whether to tell me something or not. I looked at my watch. It was almost five in the afternoon and I had to catch a seven o’clock plane.

Finally he looked at me and said, "I guess you know you did a very good test."

"Thank you," I answered.

"I think you’re going to be a big star. You have a copy of the contract you signed in New York with you?"

"Why, no," I said innocently. "There were no copies. Just that one piece of Columbia letterhead stationery that Mr. Snyder had written the contract on."

Max blanched. "You don’t mean hand written," he demanded. He seldom asked questions, mostly just made rhetorical statements.

"Yes," I answered, "his secretary was off that day."

He got up and left the office. In two minutes he was back and in his seat. "There’ll be a standard contract in here in five minutes," he said. We sat. His very efficient secretary had three copies of a semi-thick contract on his desk in four minutes. He motioned me over, held out a pen and said, "Sign right there."

I looked at the first page. It mentioned a hundred and twenty five dollars a week to start. I put the pen down. "That’s not correct," I said, "Mr. Snyder had put in a hundred-and-seventy-five per week."

Max looked at me. "Okay, okay, we’ll make it a hundred-and seventy-five a week!" He held out the pen.

"Nah," I said, "I’m not going to sign another contract."

"You have to sign it!"


"Because we did a test on you…and, well, we…we can’t shoot a test unless we have a contract first."

"I already signed a contract."

"That contract is no good. It has to be a standard form."

"Well, I’m not going to sign."

"You’ve got to. Please!"


He let out a long breath. "All right, so don’t sign it. But do me a favor. Initial it, will you? Just so I can have something."

I initialed each copy on the signature line, which meant absolutely nothing and both he and I knew it.

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