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Part Three: 1949 – 1959, Hollywood Studios
Then a Strange Thing Happened:
Dining with Dore Schary

Nobody had said a word to me about signing a long-term contract since that day in Dore Schary’s office. I’d been given the royal teatment, but with the great style that MGM exhibited, it was all low key. At the finish of the film, I went to Benny Thau’s office to thank him, and said goodbye to everyone I ran into on the lot who’d had anything to do with Sombrero.

Around the middle of October there was a sneak preview of the picture in West Los Angeles. In those days, a sneak preview was a real one. No hype, no pre-advertising. In New York, our phone rang a little after one in the morning, just past ten in the evening in California.

It was Harry. "Rick, I’m at a pay phone in the lobby of the Picwood and there are a whole bunch of bobby-soxers running around the place looking for you. By the way, the studio gave you introductory star billing on the screen."

"Gee, Harry, I don’t know what to say."

"If you’re interested in a contract, this is the time, fella, but I’ll tell you right now it’ll be a straight-term contract or nothing."

"Not even one outside picture a year?"

"That’s right."

"Then I have to say no. I’ve got to have some control over my own life, if only one pic a year." We let it go at that. Harry was a good agent and knew, walking in, just about how far he could stretch on negotiations. Then a strange thing happened.

Dinner with Miriam and Dore Schary

I should have been getting used to strange happenings, but you just never know where they’re going to come from. I was walking across 57th street one afternoon about two weeks after the call from Harry when I saw three people chatting on the sidewalk. I recognized Dore Schary. He saw me at the same time and waved me over. I was introduced to his wife Miriam and John Gunther, the writer. After a few minutes of chit-chat, Schary said to me, "We have to be running along, Rick, but I want you to call me. We’re at the Sherry-Netherland and we’ll be here for the remainder of the week."

That evening Aria and I had dinner with the Scharys. Neither of them talked about the studio, the picture, or contracts. Miriam Schary wanted to know what my interests were. I told her I was interested in sculpting, which I’d done on and off since my teens. I said that someday, I’d like to try painting.

Dore said, "Miriam is a painter. One of the reasons we’re in New York, other than studio business, is to talk to a gallery that wants to carry her work."

"How wonderful," I said. "have you shown before?"

Miriam (she insisted I call her that) and I talked art and painting for the rest of the evening. The Scharys wined and dined us every night. That Saturday they were taking the train and the evening before, Dore asked me to come to the hotel about eleven in the morning and ride down with them.

I sat on the jump seat in the limo so we could face each other. As we pulled away from the hotel he asked, "Have you thought about coming to MGM with us?" He knew just how to phrase a question, making it feel more like family than a business contract.

"I just feel that I’ve got to have some breathing room. If only one outside picture a year. I can still taste my year at Columbia."

"MGM has never made a non-exclusive contract," he said.

"Under what conditions would you break the precedent?" I asked.

"None. But, I believe you’ve discovered by now that we’re not Columbia." We’d reached Penn Station at 32nd street, I got out and we shook hands as they emerged from the car. His last words to me were, "We’ll be in touch."

Also see:
Dore Schary DVDs
Books and plays by Dore Schary

I called Harry in California on Monday and told him what had transpired. He said that was nice but the studio would not budge. I passed. In the spring of 1953, just before my thirtieth birthday the picture was released. Since I hadn’t signed with the studio, my advertised billing was held to featured player in first position, as per the contract; though when we went to see the movie, in the film print I was still up there in star introductory.

Answering Fan Mail from Sombrero

Also, since I wasn’t under contract, the studio didn’t answer any of my fan mail. They forwarded it on to me— in gunny sacks. I came home one evening from rehearsals for a TV show to find three four-foot piles of mail in the living room.

"What’ll we do with this?" Aria asked.

"I guess we’ll answer it," I said.

"All of it?"

"Every letter."

By the time we finished, we’d answered more than six thousand letters. I had five fan clubs all over the world, and a nice young lady named Nancy Strebeck, going to high school in Hollywood, pulled everything together and became president of the club.

But there were no offers for more movies. I’d call Jay in the New York office. Nothing. Once in a while I’d give Harry a ring on the coast. Nothing. Finally, toward the end of summer Harry called me. "I can’t get to base one with this picture. Everyone thinks you’re Mexican."

"I didn’t know my accent was that good," I said.

"I saw Lew Schreiber, head of talent at 20th yesterday. There’s a part in a picture that would be perfect for you. Know what he said?"


"‘Get out of here, Harry. This studio isn’t about to spend a small fortune teaching some Mexican to get rid of his accent.’ So I told him you were a nice Jewish boy from New York. I thought he was going to bar me from the lot! He said ‘don’t bullshit me, I know a Mexican when I hear one’. So, what am I gonna do? I need some other film on you, and I can’t get it while you’re back in New York."

"You want me to come out there?"


It had been a lean year, but we had enough money to take the train out and we could stay with her folks. We’d try it for a month.

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