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An Actor's Life:
Learning to Love Rejection

In 1947, my daily rounds in New York consisted of the following: I’d pick up a copy of Leo Schull’s weekly Casting Sheet from the Times Square newsstand and start the trek from agent’s office to agent’s office, and producer to producer. There was always a receptionist with a vocabulary limited from, "no," to "nothing today," to "who ever told all you people we were casting?"

After six months of this, I began to realize that the world wasn’t breathlessly waiting for me to make my grand entrance. I began to doubt that I had made the right decision, and when you begin doubting yourself in this business, you might as well consider the game over. The whole trick of staying with it is this: You Have To Be in Love with Rejection.

But, where else did I have to go? Just the idea of not being in show business drove me on.

Most of the information in Leo Schull’s publication was based on unreliable tips, but it was the only wheel in town. Occasionally he came up with the right stuff and then I’d see all the familiar faces at the cattle calls.

There was a cafeteria on 6th Avenue in midtown, where actors would gather, especially in the winter, about four in the afternoon for a nickel cup of coffee. We’d sit at a couple of big round tables for an hour, talking about nothing in particular, but all of it having to do with theater or television. I remember one day in late winter going into the cafeteria, my hands half frozen, getting a cup of coffee and taking a seat at one of the tables. A red-headed actor brooded over his cup, shaking his head at the stupidity of it all. Finally he raised his chin and declared, "If I ever get a job, I’m going to get out of this fuckin’ business!" He hasn’t done too badly in the ensuing years and he’s one hell of an actor. His name is Jack Warden.

There’s a Walgreens drugstore on the corner of 43rd and Broadway where struggling actors hung out. There was a giant of a man who hung out there, with a build like a weightlifter, but taller and more lithe. This poor bastard didn’t even have a coat in mid winter. We’d see him standing outside the drugstore in just a t-shirt and pants, slapping his arms around his body to keep warm, while the breath from his mouth and nostrils steamed out into the cold air. He had about as weird a face as we’d ever seen. Flattened nose, like a prize fighter, the highest most prominent cheekbones ever. In short, it was a face that was on the verge of being grotesque, but it had a power in it that none of us realized at the time. We’d wonder why he was even trying, and figured with a face like that he’d never get a job. Boy, were we wrong!

When A Streetcar Named Desire finally went on the road touring the country, our t-shirted weightlifter/boxer got the part that Marlon Brando had originated on Broadway. That road company got his career into gear. He not only made it big in movies, but in 1991 his career kicked back in gear and, in his seventies, Jack Palance picked up an Oscar for best supporting actor in City Slickers. He deserved every ounce of it.

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