HELLO AMERICA!─When struggling for a respected position in the entertainment industry, or any business, one must believe he, or she can make magic happen, or they should stay home, or find another job which might make life worthwhile. Early during my years making a mark for myself in Hollywood I received advice such as this from the likes of Bette Davis, David Wayne and Shirley Booth, who was always flushing out survival pointers when I appeared with her in the Broadway road company of “The Desk Set.”
No matter who I was fortunate to meet or work with in the business, it seemed they were anxious to sit down with me when convenient and give me advice concerning survival in every facet of the business. Hedda Hopper hired me to cover parties or industry film openings when it was necessary. She made it clear that it was important for one to receive the respect from those who represent “power” and position in the business; it was paramount for them to be seen and make sure one makes a proper impression. Hearing that, I made darn sure that the “aggressive” side of my personality was ready for the test.
Most young guys my age, still at a university, were not aggressive enough to make a producer, director, or star even listen long enough after projecting a respectful fanlike smile. That was not me; I was from a humble beginning, a small little village outside of Philadelphia that demanded one to know how to survive and make it stand for something. Whichever Hollywood stars I was fortunate to become rather close to i.e., James Dean, Dan Dailey, Bette Davis, Rock Hudson and Farley Granger to name a few. It seemed to be as a “student” they believed it worthwhile to give as much support and information of survival as possible, especially being one of color during that period in our country. I was extremely grateful because they opened doors for me that I couldn’t have done alone.
Bette Davis explained she NEVER took on a job or role feeling that she was second best to the star on any production. Believing this determines what kind of performance one delivers at the end. “YOU GIVE WHATEVER YOU CAN MUSTER UP DEEP INSIDE OF YOU AND MAKE THAT AUDIENCE BELIEVE EVERY SINGLE MOVE AND WORD YOU DELIVER.” She proved this with her performance in the film “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”
Because of Miss Davis’ advice to me during the early stages of my career as an actor, I dared to utilize it when working with such an iconic, respected star as Ethel Waters. I had met the great lady during my involvement at the Ebony Showcase Theater headed by Nick Stewart who was known as “Lightnin” on the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” TV how. Since most actors of color had worked with each other in one show or the other down through the years, if one of them were starring in a show or heading a project which might open doors for so many others, as always, it was not unusual to see the likes of Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr. and Louise Beavers sitting in the audience viewing one of the plays or musicals.
This is how I was lucky enough to meet some of the most touted stars of color in the film and theater world. Therefore, when Ethel Waters came to see the musical “Finian’s Rainbow” starring her friend David Wayne and and watched me perform, she immediately let me know that she wanted me as her co-star in her award-winning Broadway play, “Member of the Wedding.”
This, of course, was a moment I had dreamed of and I had to really give it all I had because it was known that Miss Waters’ takes no prisoners on stage. I believe I found that out, however, all the tutoring I received from the likes of Bette Davis and so many others, I was able to make a positive mark in the play with Miss Waters, even though there were numerous survival challenges appearing with the great lady. However, in the end, we became life-long friends until her death.
It was important to realize and understand very quickly in order to survive and receive the type of respect of a winner. One must have the determination of a winner, running a race, or being in the ring, even if it is someone as overwhelming as Joe Louis. In other words, do not think of yourself as a second, or one who is incognizant to the whole, because your contribution simply adds to the validity and value of the entire production itself.
During the earlier days of my career, some of those who worked with me in theater, radio, TV, and the news business thought of me as being pushy, determined, and extremely aggressive. Well, the lessons I took from the likes of my former boss Hedda Hopper, friends Agnes Moorehead, Bette Davis and Tony Perkins taught me well concerning survival. I feel to this day that I was one lucky guy to have such people believe in me when I desperately needed it.