In the spring of 1990, I got a call from my agents office. A new
series, Over My Dead Body, starring Edward Woodward, was beginning production for
the upcoming fall season. They wanted as many names as they could get to guest star in the
first six segments, to help push the ratings up and get the show recognized. "And
theyd like to meet with me?" I asked.
"They want you to read for them," said the young lady who was
I paused for a few moments in thought. "I believe youre new
at the office," I said.
"Yes, Ive been here only a few weeks."
"Im so sorry we havent had the opportunity to
meet," I said.
"Oh, but I know who you are," she answered.
"Then would you do me a favor?"
"Call them back with this message: I have done about forty stage
productions and have the Theater World Award from Broadway, plus a TV Guide award for a
series called Combat! Ive starred or co-starred in thirty-five features,
starred in two television series and have in the neighborhood of four hundred television
shows under my belt. Combat! is playing on several channels in the Los Angeles
area, and some of my old movies can even be caught on cable. Oh, and English is my first
language. I Dont Read!"
About ten minutes later, the head of the agency called. "Rick,
whats the matter?"
" yat tata yatta ta yat ta ta, "
lets face it, so these young producers are all twelve years old. But Rick, TV is
eighty percent of the business."
"Ronnie, before I knew half as much about acting as I do now, the
biggest directors I ever worked for, among them Orson Welles and Frank Tashlin, as well as
Peter Bogdanovich, never even suggested that I audition. My business is not to make up for
these new ones lack of imagination. My job is to get a different spin on some
material thats a little stale and that theyre positive is new and original.
And I cant do that at a cold reading."
"Ronnie, have we made a lot of money for each other these past
"While we still like each other, send me a release from my
I continued doing voice-over commercials for several years, a lot of
fun, and what I like to think of as legal thievery. Like a race horse put out to pasture,
I missed the smell of a sound stage and the first cup of coffee at seven in the morning
while the make-up man smears his sponge around your face as gently as he can (those people
are the best psychologists in the world).
Several years ago, I had to reactivate my AFTRA card when I was engaged
to shoot some videotaped intros for a couple of marathons of sixteen hours of Combat!
on a satellite channel. They brought a crew to the house and I did the intros, as well as
a series of short reminiscences to be aired between the shows. We shot from about ten in
the morning to three in the afternoon, with a break for lunch, and I didnt find it
at all tiring.
It was fun working in front of a camera again, perhaps because I
realized how easy its become. As with everything, theres a technique to it.
Jackie Cooper told me a long time ago that after forty or so years, he was able to act
standing on one finger with his eyes closed. I finally understood what he meant. Of
course, he started out as a child actor, but after fifty years under my belt, I think I
may have caught up. I can do fifteen takes and still give the sixteenth the energy and
spontaneity it needs. Like an old war horse, I guess if someone offered me work, and the
price was right, Id dust myself off and do it. Actors egos are too big to ever
really retire, and it sure is nice to be wanted.
I dont wonder what it would have been like had I followed my
fathers initial admonition and joined corporate America. I might have made a lot
more money, but I wouldnt have had half the fun. There are advantages to celebrity.
It certainly makes traveling a hell of a lot easier, and going out to eat gets you a
better table. But thats not the sum and substance of it how hollow if
thats all it meant.
I did some things that still entertain and that move those who watch. I
was given that opportunity. I will always believe it was in spite of myself, for which I
am truly grateful. Im married to the most wonderful of all women who has kept me
laughing for more than sixteen years, and more importantly, knows how to handle me.
Aria passed away some years ago, and I was informed by Juttas
eldest son that his mother, too, had died. I havent heard about Shirley in a great
many years, and Pat seems to have faded away somewhere, along with my Costa Rican parrot.
I look forward to the year 2003, when Ill turn eighty. Yui Mei
asks me teasingly sometimes, why I dont act my age.
My invariable answer is, "Dont know how. Ive never
been this age before." I think I look more than fifteen years younger than
seventy-seven, and I guess I move about like ten years younger than that. I have to lose
some weight and get on to those roller blades I bought a while back. Get myself padded up,
bend the knees and lean forward while I learn a new balance, and when I can stand up
straight and just wear the elbow and knee pads (and helmet), go out in the cul-de-sac and
show the kids how its done. That ought to be fun.
Another reason I have to get in shape: we bought a new German Shorthair
Pointer puppy, named Foxy, last year, and I have to be as ready as she will, to go hunting
in this new millenium.
Meantime, I wonder whats going to happen tomorrow . . . .