Fellow redhead Sheila O'Malley is never better than when she's got her Irish up, as she does over Peter Manso's Brando biography. James Wolcott already covered this one, but it bears another look. Sheila was particularly incensed by Manso's snide referrals to Brando's reliance on taped cue cards, as though the process somehow diminished the performance.
So this one is for the magnificent Sheila, and her superb collection of film books. May her series about them continue forever, or at least down to the very bottom shelf. This anecdote is from Garson Kanin's Hollywood, which is not the most unimpeachable of sources. In this case, however, the Siren catches a whiff of authenticity. See if you agree.
It's 1938, and Kanin is filming The Great Man Votes with John Barrymore, a star whose reliance on lines scrawled on blackboards owed more to a memory dented by years of diligent alcohol abuse than technique. How much Barrymore really needed them is anyone's guess--he could recite Shakespeare by the page even in the very depths of his binges--but insist upon them he always did. On this film Barrymore's "blackboard man" was named Henry, and Kanin came on set one day to find that Henry was about to mix it up big time with the principal gaffer.
The gaffer spoke. "Listen, I've put up with this goddamn pest every day since we started, but enough is enough. He doesn't have to be in here with that goddamn sliver. I need this spot for my key light and I want him the hell out of here."
Henry, a dignified old gentleman, said, "I know my job and I"m going to do it and no one's going to prevent me from doing it. My job."
I was confused. "What job? What do you mean 'sliver'"?
Henry held up a blackboard the size of a child's slate. On it was written the word "Yes."...
I went over to Barrymore...
"We have a little problem," I explained. "You know the scene. We're outside here with the camera. Miss [Katharine] Alexander knocks on the door. You open it. She says, 'Are you Gregory Vance?' You say 'Yes.' She walks in and that's it."
"Fine," said Barrymore. "What seems to be the trouble?"
"Well," I explained, "Henry here sems to feel that he has to be standing here with this little slate that says 'Yes.'"
"Oh by all means!" said Barrymore.
I did not grasp his meaning at once. "You mean it's all right for him not to be here. Is that it?"
"No, no," said Barrymore. "I'd like to have him here. With his slate."
I was losing patience, struggling for control. "But let's be reasonable, Mr. Barrymore. All she asks is, 'Are you Gregory Vance?' And you are, so what else could you possibly say?"
Barrymore thought for a long moment, then looked at me and said, "Well, I could say 'No,' and then where would you be?"
We found a spot for Henry and his slate.
This week marks the start of a long-awaited vacation for la famille Campaspe. We'll be in France for three weeks, hence the banner change. The itinerary is Paris, then Normandy, then Paris again, then back home. I will have Internet access in Paris although Normandy is something of a question mark. In any event I have set up some posts via Blogger's spiffy new advance-post system, as well as my piece for Mike "Goatdog" Phillips's "Movies About Movies" blogathon. I will be checking in when possible but I hope you guys still chat amongst yourselves.