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How I turned down an Acting Contract at 20th Century Fox Studios

The next day, Aria and I took a trolley to central Hollywood so I could see Grauman’s Chinese Theater and a few of the other sights. When we got back to Aria’s parents place, the phone was ringing off the hook. "Where the hell have you been?" Irving wanted to know, "Rick has to be at Fox in twenty-five minutes. I’ll be right over to pick you up."

He was at the curb in five minutes and honked the horn. As we walked down the path to his car, he called out, "You got a driver’s license?"

"Yes," I said. "Why?"

"I hate driving," he said as he slid over to the passenger’s seat. Aria got in back.

"We have fifteen minutes to get to Pico and Motor Avenue. Tell you what, we’ll go in the back way, from Santa Monica."

As I drove, Irv held onto the door and anything he could grab with his other hand. Aria hung on for dear life and we made it to the Fox gate in just fifteen minutes.

As Irv and I got out of the car he turned to me and said, "If you ever get the chance to do that again when I’m in the car, DON’T!"

Ben Lyon was all smiles and charm. "Not a bad test," he said, finally addressing me directly. We’d like to put you under contract, how does that sound?"

"Fine," I said.

"We’ll start you at seventy-five dollars a week," he said.

"Seven years?" I asked, "twenty out of twenty-six?"

"Why, yes."

I looked over at Irving who looked back and shrugged helplessly at me.

"What’s going on?" Lyon wanted to know.

"He was offered the same deal last year by Leonard Goldstein," Irv answered.

"Well, there’s quite a difference. This is 20th Century Fox! And that’s only Universal.

"The offer was with no test, by the way," I put in.

"We’ll be gambling a lot of time and money on you. We put a lot of young people under contract. Most of them don’t make it. We’re willing to take a chance on you."

"And you want me to take a gamble, too," I said, very nicely.

Lyon was getting a little annoyed. "What the hell are you going to be gambling on?" he demanded.

"At least six months of my life," I said, still very nicely.

"Did somebody tell you that you had to be an actor?" he wanted to know.

I stood up and reached across the desk for his hand. As I shook it I said, "I want to thank you for your consideration, Mr. Lyon. I grew up watching your pictures. My price to start is $150 on a forty out of fifty-two. I’ll be in town another two days. Please, don’t get up," and I walked toward the door.

His office was the size of a warehouse and we’d been sitting near the center of it. As I got halfway there, he’d swiveled partway around in his chair and called out, "Rick," I turned; Irv was right behind me. "Forget it. Seventy-five is the offer and it stands."

"I understand, sir. I just thought we ought to know what’s on each other’s minds. This is a nice studio. I think I’d like working here. So I’ll be back. But for a lot more than seventy-five or even a hundred-and-fifty per."

When we got outside and in the car Irv said, "There is a huge difference between Fox and Universal, you know. Not only in the quality of pictures they make, but in the way they treat you. I think you’re crazy. Never have I had such a positive reaction from any studio so quickly."

"Irving, I’m sorry if you worked your ass off for nothing. But I just couldn’t accept it."

"Okay, I probably understand. So do me a favor will you?"

"Name it," I said.

"Drive more slowly on the way home."

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