By LOUDIE CLAAR
ANYTHING can be done in Hollywood if a person has initiative. That was my reasoning. You have to make your own opportunities in this lackaday world. Refuse defeat. Carve out your own destiny.
I resolved to write such a clever letter to every casting director in the motion picture industry that he’d have to see me. He’d chuckle, and rub his chin, and say, “Well, any girl that can write as clever a letter as that certainly has something on the ball. Have her come in Monday.” Or roughly that.
Intoxicated by this idea, I sat down and began to compose. “You don’t know me from Adam’s offox,” I began cleverly. And I went on, pouring out gem after gem, and striking just the right tone. My Broadway background sounded pretty irresistible in retrospect, and I finished off modestly with “I am twenty-two and not a hag.”
I have begun to wonder about the latter. (The former I know is a lie: I’m twenty-three. Imagine falsifying it by one year! That’s what Hollywood will do to you.) In New York you get to feeling that you’re rather pretty. This may be because there are an awful lot of Communists around who never comb their hair, so if you come from a good bourgeois background and learned early to brush your teeth, and you know how to fold a hat over your right eye, you can really look slightly terrific. Out here it’s different. Everybody knows that. This is Hol-ly-wood, as C. B. DeMille puts it. Every third drive-in waitress is a cross between Hedy Lamarr and Madeleine Carroll and in just the right places. So you get to spending an awful lot of time looking yourself squarely in the mirror. But still I did think that “hag” would leave me a safe margin, so I left it in.
In double-quick time, I had replies and appointments with everyone I had written. I was touched, naturally. It meant so much more than just the appointments. It meant simply that Aimee, and Father Divine, and Eddie Guest were all right, that if you played the game honestly and imaginatively, you were bound to win, that I wasn’t a maladjusted human being.
In a lather of joy, I approached my first interviewer. I wrung his hand in an intime way and said, mentioning the letter, that I had written him a letter and was simply astounded that he had been so kind as to answer my letter. This was surely as good an opening to compliment me on the letter as he could expect, but he only winced and rubbed his hand a little and told me to sit down. He was the most morose young man I ever hope to see. I thought, a little uncomfortably, that my soufflé wit had probably been wasted on him.
Then he spoke. He said, “We answer all requests for appointments here. That’s our business.” Just at that point, I caught sight of my chef-d’oeuvre on the desk in front of him. “Adam’s off-ox” leaped out at me and looked incredibly silly with that long, sober face above it. Near-by was a pile of neatly sensible letters—“Kindly grant me an appointment at your convenience”—and they, too, had got replies. I wanted to recall all my precious documents. I felt pretty beaten.
“ I guess all the dope’s here,” he continued. “How tall are you?” “Five feet four and one-half inches,” I said. He wrote this down. Then wrote: Eyes — blue; Hair— brown; Ingénue. I started to protest but at that moment he rose and said, “Have you any pictures?” I handed him my eight-by-tens sheepishly, knowing it was pretty silly as they don’t like to look at any professional photographs out here that are under three feet high and two feet wide. He shuffled through them like a pinochle pack and said gloomily, “Come on, I’ll have you meet a couple of the boys.”
Nobody was in the first boy’s office, and the first boy was in the second boy’s adjoining office with the door open. He was talking about his income tax with another couple of the boys. My man went over to the door and said his name grumpily. He paid no attention to him but went on arguing with the other boys. My man spoke again. He still ignored him. I wished I were spending the afternoon in Many’s toy department. Finally my man yelled right out, “Come on, fellow! Get busy and meet some people, will you?” At this the boy rose lazily. “Meet the people,” he began to sing. “Meet — the pee-pul,” and he trucked on into his office and flung himself up onto his desk. For some reason he hadn’t looked at me.
I stood there like the little tin soldier while my man began to quote my background from the letter which he still held in his hand. Suddenly the swine reached out — took it from him and began to examine its pearls himself. Then he calmly put it down, reached into his pocket for a file, and began to clean his fingernails. This actitity had some logic to it because they were dirty. It was obvious now that he was never going to look at me and it seemed sheer folly to go on standing there like a posture chart, stomach sucked in and pelvic arch well under, so I relaxed.
Then my man led me into the adjoining boy’s office and told me to wait for him, he was in the project ion room. I waited two hours. When he came, he was moist, dapper, and scented, and he sat right down and grabbed my letter and read it.
“Standup, please. ” I did so. “How tall are you?”
“Five feet four and one-half inches,” I answered.
“Oh, no,” he said, “you’re five feet six,” and he wrote that down. Then he wrote down: Eyes blue; Hair— brown (I was glad his files would agree with his associate’s at least on these points), and then he said, “Go ahead. Talk. Just say anything. I want to get an idea of your voice. Just talk.”
In that instant I knew how a night-club worker friend of mine used to feel when the evening would get dull and the boss would call him over and tell him to “go out on the floor and say something funny.”Try it sometime. It’s hideous.
J croaked out a few phrases in a voice I’d never heard before and have never been able to produce since, so I don’t know what, he can have written down on the card, unless it was perhaps: “Consult Gayc’s Lion Farm about new phenomenon.” And with that he filed me away.
Nothing daunted, I got out my sexy black dress and femme fatale hat, swept them off, swathed myself in the veil, and went to my next appointment. This interviewer looked Irish and a little more hopeful, so I promptly gave him opportunity to comment on the charm of my note. “My letter,” I began, to the point. He brushed me aside. “Never see ‘em,” he said. “Secretary answers ‘em all.” (Granting everyone an appointment, I may add.)
“Well,” he said, “what are we going to do with you?”
I began a recital of my particulars, but he didn’t let me get far. “You know,” he said, “it’s not acting experience we want. You don’t have to know how to act for pictures. Personality’s the thing. You know? I don’t care how good you can act. They don’t want Helen Hayes out here, you know.”
Now this is something that you just can’t say to showpeople and come out unscathed. “Oh, come now,’ I said, with vitriol, “please don’t try to tell me that. I happen to know of the film offers Helen has refused in the past year.” (Helen will probably be glad to have me go on record here as saying that the closest I’ve ever been to her is still two enchanted balconies away—but we all call her Helen in the theater. And we’d all expect her to understand and approve of it, too. She is one of those seldom people whom you can love unashamedly and no bones about it —and after all, it does make you know her in a way.) Anyway, it had to be said, and said quick, and with sock. And it was wonderful. It worked.
“Oh, well, he said hastily, “not her, perhaps. She’s made such a big name for herself touring and all.”
I met this with a tired smile.
“Well, he concluded, “I’ll keep you in mind. You might be good for those hard, bitchy parts.” It’s a word you get used to hearing applied in Hollywood. Getting used to hearing it applied to yourself is something else again. But e’est la guerre. Anyway, loyalty to Helen at all costs.
To another studio I wore my sweater backwards (because I was tired to death of wearing it frontwards) and this resulted in my being filed away as “good for young mother roles.” Another man told me I would be only good for “those helpless kind of parts” and I finally traced this to the fact that I was wearing new spike heels and wobbled quite a lot.
Then, quite recently, the worst blow of all. A casting director told me that I would never get a job. I was good for that heavy, dramatic stuff but only stars go1 a chance to play those roles, so I would have to get to be a star first. This seemed unanswerable, so I left without answering it.
I have one more appointment — and also a babyblue ribbon which I’d like to wear in my hair. But I’ll probably refrain. I don’t want to be limited to a onerole career—and that Alice-inWonderland.
Now if they’d only all get together and compare notes, they could not help but find that they are overlooking an actress of alarming emotional range. Meanwhile, I’ve exhausted the field, and I’ll have to hack out some new philosophy of attack.
As Bob Hope puts it with a shade of pique, I’ll think of something.