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 Scharys office. Id 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 Thaus office to thank him, and said goodbye to everyone I ran into on the
lot whod 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, Im 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 dont know what to say."
"If youre interested in a contract, this is the time, fella,
but Ill tell you right now itll be a straight-term contract or nothing."
"Not even one outside picture a year?"
"Then I have to say no. Ive 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
Dinner with Miriam and Dore Schary
I should have been getting used to strange happenings, but you just
never know where theyre 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. Were at the Sherry-Netherland and well be here for the remainder of
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 Id done on and off
since my teens. I said that someday, Id like to try painting.
Dore said, "Miriam is a painter. One of the reasons were in
New York, other than studio business, is to talk to a gallery that wants to carry her
"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
"I just feel that Ive 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
"None. But, I believe youve discovered by now that were
not Columbia." Wed 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, "Well be in
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 hadnt 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 wasnt under contract, the studio didnt 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
"Whatll we do with this?" Aria asked.
"I guess well answer it," I said.
"All of it?"
By the time we finished, wed 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. Id call Jay in the New
York office. Nothing. Once in a while Id give Harry a ring on the coast. Nothing.
Finally, toward the end of summer Harry called me. "I cant get to base one with
this picture. Everyone thinks youre Mexican."
"I didnt know my accent was that good," I said.
"I saw Lew Schreiber, head of talent at 20th yesterday.
Theres a part in a picture that would be perfect for you. Know what he said?"
"Get out of here, Harry. This studio isnt 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 dont 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 cant get it while youre 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. Wed try it for a month.