John Clark Pro Se Blog Actor, Producer & Writer

Category Archives: ACTORS’ & DIRECTORS’ CORNER

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Should Actors Diss or Praise Donald Trump?

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER, COMMENTARY-Passing parade

In a word, neither. I’m tired of reading the endless comments on Trump by entertainers, (mostly, as we notice, negative). It goes on and on. And on. Now here’s an exercise: Think of something positive to say about him, and say it. If you can’t, it’s because your liberal streak won’t let you. Then you may be one of the closed-minded people. That’s why I don’t vote, never have, never will. I am a follower of nobody. That’s what’s interesting and even fun about being an actor; you are forced to get into the skin of your character. Which is what surprises me about the mouthings of Meryl Streep.

An actor should be like the Speaker of the House of Commons (definitely not of the U.S. Congress). No side, no prejudice, no bias. Ready instead to take a leap into the unknown. The difference between good and great and genius.

I am a liScreen Shot 2017-02-18 at 11.22.40 PMfetime member of the New York Players, created by Edwin Booth, (some say as a penance for his brothers dastardly act, remember Lincoln?). My wife was the president for a while, until they offed her, for activism, I guess.

So I was welcomed as a guest at the Garrick Club in London, surrounded by aScreen Shot 2017-02-18 at 11.20.43 PMctors and oil paintings and extraordinary gentlemen (no lady members, sorry,) of the theatre, as well as gentlemen not of the theatre, there to relax in the texture of the place. The conversation mostly stayed clear of the political. Wonderful and intelligent eccentricity abounded, in the faces and in good and useful conversation, which was mostly of the anecdotal kind. Boy, I miss it.

Meryl, beware. Even if you want us to think of you as a sublime actor, we may no longer let you. Your fans will want you to assume a reliably liberal, political, identity. Take a hint from Glenda (Jackson). She got it out of her system, and now she’s back.

And I’m back, to Hollywood.

Just William Society Magazine interview

Posted in A SPACE FOR NOSTALGIA, A SPACE FOR REFLECTION, ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER, Links to Media, My Family and Me

John, I see you were born in London in 1932 and attended Watford Grammar School. Given that you started working for the BBC in 1944 you must have planned to be an actor from a very early age. Was that always your ambition? Did you have early training?

Three nos. I had no plan to be an actor, no ambition, and no training. When I went to Kings Langley’s Rudolph Steiner school (locally known as the “do as you like” school), at the age of ten, I was cast in the annual school play, Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed outdoors in the garden. But that was it, and I hated doing it, it seemed kind of gay; I was not turned on to acting, and had no thoughts along those lines. 

Your first show on BBC radio was The Will Hay Programme in 1944 where you acted as D’Arcy Minor, the swot of St. Michael’s. How did that come about? And was it fun working with Will Hay?

My family lived in Chipperfield, Herts, in those days, and I was coming home on the bus after school one day in August, when a man came up to me who I recognized, for he lived down the road. His name was Alick Hayes, and he asked me if I was a good reader. I told him yes, and he said could I come over later, meet his wife Zillah, have a cup of tea, and read him something out of the Evening Standard, so after supper I did. He tested me for fluency, to see if I could read without stumbling, and he was pleased that I could. He then explained that he was a BBC producer, and was about to start a new BBC radio comedy series, but the young actor he was going to use had just got sick, and he had an emergency, and maybe I could help out.

The show was The Will Hay Programme (The Diary of a Schoolmaster) and the part was that of a very clever young swot who said very long multi-syllabic words instead of shorter ones whenever he answered the schoolmaster’s questions. Mr Hayes wanted me to play it, just the first show, and he said it would save him from having to find another actor quickly from an acting academy. It was going out live in front of an audience from the Paris Cinema, a basement BBC studio off Piccadilly Circus, in just three days’ time.

I raced home, told my parents, said please let me do it, it sounds like fun, and it pays money. So my mother took me up to London next day, and that is where I met Will Hay and the rest of the cast – one schoolmaster and three students, so-called. Smart was the cheeky one (played by the very professional actor Charles Hawtrey), Beckett the dumb one (Billy Nicholls, on his day off from the RAF), and D’Arcy Minor, the studious swot (me). The joke was that I was the only real schoolboy (eleven years old). Will Hay was repeating the same schoolmaster act he had done in several of his films (Good Morning Boys, 1937, etc). It will be remembered that the comedy came out of the fact that he was a hopeless teacher, and the students took over.

That first day I remember well. Continue Reading

33 Years. A Review and a Complaint

Posted in A SPACE FOR REFLECTION, ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER, LYNN REDGRAVE, My Family and Me

June 1st. 2013

I see that my late ex will be having an Off-Broadway theatre named for her at a June 3rd 2013 ceremony in New York. The 45 Bleecker Street Theatre will thereafter be called the Lynn Redgrave Theatre. I am pleased for her. I plan to be there, and to become re-acquainted with my children and old family members and friends.

This has given me occasion to reflect on our life together.

Lynn and I, over the course of a little under 33 years, made a change in the landscape for the life of actors, for the better, I do believe. We never went looking for trouble. It came to us, and instead of burying it, we fought back.

REVIEW

First was a lawsuit against the Gate Theatre in Dublin. We put on a play starring Lynn and Dan O’Herlihy, my first directing job actually. We ran for 3 sold-out weeks (the longest they’d book us), the best box office in their history. Our deal was to split profits, which were excellent. Instead, they took half of our gross receipts. Discovery revealed that the Irish government, the owners, had years before ordered the management to make the theatre available to outside Irish companies for free. We lived locally, hired Irish actors, financed the show, and of course paid all the costs of our production. A 4-wall deal. We lost the case because their manager got me to initial a contract clause over my shoulder while I was directing a scene. The judge held me to it. We left Dublin soon after, leaving an Irish Equity with a smile on its face, for we had broken the Gate’s hold on their previous minimal actor’s salaries. It’s worth mentioning that despite (or because of) using an Irish attorney, brother of a prominent Irish actor, we lost and didn’t get our money back.

Then we headed West, back to my home town of New York, where we were soon greeted with a lawsuit filed against us by U.S. Equity who extorted 5% of my wife’s self-paid salary as dues, from a year’s tour we took across America with our own show, financed by us and directed by me. We had posted Equity bonds at each date, and they refused to return them. Again, we lost. Because of Vanessa’s political views, Lynn was under watch, and the release of her green card was held up. Equity rules defined a green card holder as actually holding it in her hand! The judge said this was a stupid lawsuit, but was forced to rule in their favor.  They returned the bonds less 5%. But, in a form of revenge you might say, we made a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, who summoned the leaders of all of the performing unions, and found that Equity alone had been breaking the law for years, penalizing foreign stage performers for daring to peddle their art in America. They had constructed a punitive discriminatory dues structure, in order to discourage them. This time we won because they won. Now foreign actors are treated equally, and have a smile on their faces too, because it has led to a relatively free exchange of actors between America and England and elsewhere. Certainly audiences have applauded this development. We however, were deprived of financial satisfaction because we were outside the Statute of Limitations (3 year rule.) Yul Brynner received hundreds of thousands of dollars which nearly broke the union, but he was very nice, he invited me to lunch with him at the Bel Air, and gave me a bunch of daffodils for her, by way of his thanks.

Next came our famous lawsuit against Lew Wasserman and MCA/Universal, when Lynn was fired for wishing to breastfeed our daughter Annabel at work. Our thoroughly compromised WMA agent didn’t help, nor did our attorneys, and UTV’s press department went to work. Our suit was quietly dismissed by a corrupted judge headed for retirement. I wrote about it in the “Housecalls, what really happened” topic on the left. Expensive yeah, and actor mothers and fathers were eternally grateful for causing all Film and TV companies to provide facilities for employees who were new mothers and their babies. That was the only positive to come out of that case. In the event, they were ordered to reimburse our attorneys’ fees. They didn’t. They’d faxed notice of a hearing to our locked office while we were performing Love Letters up in San Francisco, and avoided payment due to our non-appearance, thanks to their famed “I always win” attorney Gale Title. No transcript was made of the proceedings, so Lew kept all of our attorney fees, and we never knew how he managed to make that happen.

Next, Lynn and I were asked to lead the Players, Edwin Booth’s 1888 gift to actors on Gramercy Park, by our close friends Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon. I’d been a member for many years. The club was in dire straits. No proper books, so we gave them 20 grand to construct a proper set. Then our tough love for them proved to be too much, and we were summarily ejected. They’re still floundering. I see that steps are being taken by insiders for a clean sweep to improve its chances of survival. For my trouble, I’ve been called John Sleeper Clarke.

This gives me pause. The comparisons are striking! Booths = Redgraves! Consider: Separated by about one hundred years, it produces quite startling results. Junius Brutus cf. Sir Michael = Shakespearean actors, patriarchs and family founders, both. John Wilkes cf. Corin and Vanessa = fiery political trouble-makers, both. Asia cf. Lynn = good writers, recorders of their family stories, both. John Clarke cf. John Clark (me), married to those same sisters. We are the link by our same name. We are both lawyerly, both wicked comedians, both into management, and as Asia wrote to her brother Edwin “He lives a free going bachelor life and does what he likes.”  Sorry, no comment from me there, and he’s dead! Enough already.

COMPLAINT

To bring us up to date, I am here to say that the tradition is still alive, even though Lynn isn’t. I still choose to live dangerously, sui juris, out of some kind of personality defect, contrariness, orneriness, or just some kind of survival instinct from bad ad litem experiences – it’s not for me to say. But today I filed a Complaint with the Los Angeles Better Business Bureau, and the Los Angeles Department of Consumer Affairs against The Breakdown Services, Ltd. This is only a start, but hopefully it will lead to a satisfactory finish. Their stranglehold on the casting process is a scandal. Read it here:

I am a British born professional actor age 80, and have been a union member in England, Canada and America since 1944 (SAG/AFTRA, US Equity, ACTRA, Canadian Equity, British Equity). I am and have been a U.S. citizen since 1965. I do not use a “manager” or an “agent” because of past conflict of interest problems with them, and the experience of a major lawsuit against the William Morris Agency. I get my own acting jobs, but am effectively prevented from doing so.

I need to avail myself of full casting information from the Breakdowns, aka “Breakdown Services” (hereinafter “BS”), which is a monopoly service employed by all big and small movie and TV production and theatre companies. Scripts and story lines are received by BS from these companies, and from them, BS creates a breakdown of story plots and characters. This information is supplied EXCLUSIVELY to agents and/or managers electronically for money and profit, which is their business practice.

Actors, the subject of these notices, are shut out from seeing all, I said all, of them!

The owner/founder of BS, Gary Marsh, told his audience at a seminar he gave the evening of March 20, 2013 at the premises where I live at Oakwood, Barham Blvd. Hollywood, to a group of child actors and their mothers that he has criminal lawsuits pending against actors who have bootlegged his information. I have done this in the past. He told me that I could not buy their services at any price, only managers and agents, and between them they set the rules. I asked him if I could receive this information if I became a manager, and he said I could not qualify because I am an actor, and if I “wear 2 hats”, I would still be denied. There were at least 20 witnesses.

If you think that Mr. Marsh is not serious, look what he did to Mr. Brian Burke. He got himself a judgment of $1.3 million, and put Burke behind bars for 20 days for not obeying his court order! That’s an abuse of power, Mr. Marsh, a terrible abuse of actors who are trying to find available  work which you keep secret except for your paying privileged customers, aka agents and managers. You claim that it is the production companies and casting directors who make your rules. That, Mr. Marsh, is BS! The best of BS!

I believe that all actors are protected from this kind of discriminatory anti-competitive practice by government law, such as The Sherman Act, of July 2, 1890, ch. 647, 26 S 209, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1–7. Permit yourself to read it, Mr. Marsh, assuming you respect the laws of the United States.

Breakdown Services operates and reaches across state lines from coast to coast, and abroad. There is no competitive service anywhere. 

As settlement, I DEMAND

That the Breakdown Services provides this information ONLINE, so that ALL ACTORS across the world have access to it, at NO CHARGE. Any cost or expense should be born by the Breakdown Services, and passed on to the production companies. It is their joint problem. Together, they created it.

This complaint will soon appear online for the inspection and I hope support of actors. No, not their managers, and not their agents, and not the production companies. They’ll hate it. Actors don’t wish to be “protected from themselves” (see Gary Marsh’s Q&A link above) and will care, and, I’m pretty sure, SAG/Aftra and Equity will care too. I hope the brave ones will flock to support the request. This is not to denigrate Breakdown Services, for they do a fine job. We just want them to open up to us, the central sine qua non of their business, and stop insulting our intelligence.

Follow along and let me know you support this complaint, so that regulators are assured that we actors and directors WANT to know what jobs are available, 100% of them, not just for our enablers (managers and agents) to know, if you employ them at all, but ALL of us. Actors have voices off camera too, in our free society. Let them be heard loud and clear.

My Twitter handle is John Clark@johnclarknew. Click on it. I need feedback!

I hope it will not be necessary to file a lawsuit against Breakdown Services, because I don’t like lawyers either. And this would need one. I’m also too old to see it through the byways of the U.S. legal system. Here’s another example of what I’m talking about.

 

Wikipedia

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER, Wikipedia

I’ve been a contributor for many years now. I guess it started when I needed a means to rehabilitate my name and reputation after the onslaught from the court, the press, my wife, my children, my in-laws, and, ok then, if you insist, the nanny. Doing this enabled me to show that I did have a life, and a professional one at that, well before becoming a part of my wife’s life. And access to the site being free, and knowing the laziness of many journalists and other media folk, I felt that they would check me out there, and leave me alone.

Here I should mention that I love the concept, and admire it in action. They have extraordinary software which takes a while to learn, very specific rules, and on the whole there are built-in safeguards to protect against advocacy. Neutral Point of View, one of their 3 core principles. The others are Verifiability, and No Original Research.

This is all to the good, until it comes up short in their big weakness. How to deal with the BLPs. That is the Biographies of Living Persons. As many of my friends in the industry know, reputations have been shattered, as well as undeservedly exalted, by editors, some of whom are what I call fanboys, and others the exact opposite. Combine that thought with the fact that they actively prevent the target subject from having any hand at all in the creation or editing of the page. I fought long and hard to create my page, and finally I think they got fed up with me, and let it stand, so I got away with it. I haven’t touched it again in years, and now others have taken over, treating me better than I would have done for myself, so thank you!  I detect some inaccuracies, but what the heck, they do me no harm! Here, check it out.

Things had been quiet on this front until recently, when a firestorm erupted.

I noticed a featured entry on my old friend, John Le Mesurier, long passed on. The creators of the article linked to many of his co-workers, and it mentioned that he started his radio career with the series Just William in 1946. My name wasn’t mentioned, and I thought, what the heck, I’ll put in my name because I was the first William, he worked with me, was my friend, and link it to the article on me. Well, it was immediately deleted, so I put it back, and this started an edit war, a no-no at Wikipedia. Often article talk pages are more interesting than the articles they discuss. The irony is that when I asked the Just William Society to look into the matter, they found that the biographer of the book which was their source was wrong, he never was in the radio show! And I certainly don’t remember him in the broadcast studio either. So their sourcing policy has serious flaws in it anyway.

What began as a storm in a teacup has blown up to be a big issue at the Wikipedia website, and has even drawn in the founder, Jimmy Wales. As I said, it has to do with the fact that they don’t allow celebrities who have their own entries known as “Biographies of Living Persons” to in any way edit their entries. A “Conflict of Interest” rule. So even if they are misquoted, or sourced to an unreliable mention in a newspaper or book, there’s nothing they can do about it.

Does all this matter? I think it does, because Wikipedia is usually, one might say always, at or near the top of search engines. And because it’s royalty free, the press quotes freely from it all the time. I am campaigning for them to change this rule. “Celebrities” and other sentient groups, should be able to edit too. If Wikipedia claims to be democratic, i.e. for “all the people”, then all the people should be able to edit anything anywhere at any time.  And if they continue to ban celebrities? By way of illustration of possible legal outcomes, I made up the following courtroom scenario, and posted it on Jimbo Wales’s user page:

Celebrity vs. Wikipedia, does 1-30 (The does will cover senior editors, founders and 30 users)

CELEBRITY ATTORNEY: My client has been libeled in the pages of Wikipedia in an article written by users who operate under assumed names.

JUDGE: Libeled? Does your client claim privacy privileges which are quite broad?

CELEBRITY ATTORNEY: No your honor, he knows that he is vulnerable to general criticism and accepts that. He is what they call a Notable, and as such becomes part of a category called “Biographies of Living Persons”, and any content may only be changed at the discretion of other users, but not him. That is the crux of this action. He does not accept statements that hold him up to ridicule, scorn, and contempt.

WP ATTORNEY: My client claims immunity as a public website. It merely passes on what is being said elsewhere. All statements are sourced.

JUDGE: Does Wikipedia discriminate against any users?

WP ATTORNEY: Absolutely not. Almost all of its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the site, as we proclaim publicly.

JUDGE: Can’t the plaintiff remove the offending language then?

CELEBRITY ATTORNEY: No your honor. Under Wikipedia’s restrictive rules, celebrities cannot change anything in articles detailing their lives, beyond possibly a fact here and there. It contravenes what is known as their Conflict of Interest rule, which is a core principle, and which conflicts with their own rules which my friend just stated.

JUDGE: I see. Then can you state your problem with individual users?

CELEBRITY ATTORNEY: They don’t always provide a source for their unpleasant remarks, and many are the celebrities’ fans, and in this case haters. Often-times untrue statements remain unchallenged.

JUDGE: Then I grant permission for you to bring any such users into court, as I rule they are not exempt.

CELEBRITY ATTORNEY: But how do I find them?

JUDGE: That’s your problem. (raises gavel)

WP ATTORNEY: (Quickly) May I confer with my clients?

(After a short interlude.)

WP ATTORNEY: I think we can settle this, your honor. My clients are willing to change the rule. They will henceforth include the celebrity and notable BLPers as regular users. Of course, they will then have to conform to the same rules as everybody else.

JUDGE: Sounds good to me. I will sign an order to that effect. Case dismissed.

************************
We will see what happens next. I think that the high ups, whoever they are, will think about making the change, and I predict that it will happen in the near future. Will WP fall apart? No, it will carry on in a much more acceptable way. I would hope to see the living celebrity actors, the sports heroes, the academics, the scientists, the music makers, the artists, the writers, the health specialists, yes even the politicians contribute to their spaces, and that they will become a lot more readable. There will be original research, indeed there will, but so what? Lies will come tumbling down, and truth will prevail in the long run. Because no one wants to look stupid, and the liars will eventually be caught out. Self-correcting. No longer can they blame their publicist or lawyer or agent or manager or friend for “getting it wrong, not my fault.” They can say what they want, and the burden will shift to others to prove if they are lying or outrageously stretching the truth, and so Wikipedia will become more transparent. I’d give it a new name. I’d call it WikipediaPLUS.
LATER
Oh dear, I’ve been BLOCKED! Not banished, mind you, but blocked from editing. Well, I am still allowed to express myself on my talk page, which I am doing. Here is my talk page. Start at the bottom, if you’re interested. And if you’re a “celebrity” or a “notable person”, you should be.

 

Hollywood News, up-to-the-minute

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER, COMMENTARY-Passing parade, Uncategorized

Nikke Finke has a free site which I rather like, it’s where you go for the latest breaking news on the Hollywood front. It’s called DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD.

Today, she informed her readers that the managers were at it again, pleading their cause before a federal judge, but were thrown out. Here, she can speak for herself:

Personal managers took it on the chin Tuesday in U.S. District Court when Judge Dean Pregerson wouldn’t touch California’s Talent Agencies Act. Instead the judge threw out an outrageously broad lawsuit filed by the National Conference of Personal Managers seeking to overturn the state’s ban on managers “procuring” employment. That provision has effectively allowed clients  to void their management contracts and not pay commissions even if the managers obtained a job for them. (Managers are unlicensed whereas talent agents must be licensed by the state to procure employment.) Pregerson rejected the managers’ claim that California has created “involuntary servitude” for them. “Not being compensated for work performed does not inevitably make that work involuntary servitude,” the judge ruled. “Plaintiff’s members have choices.” He also rejected claims that the Talent Agencies Act violated the Commerce Clause, the Contracts Clause and the First Amendment.

Well, that got my pulse going and my blood-pressure pointing north. A lot of managers made comments outlining ideas for future strategy, and I just HAD to chime in with my voice and MY comment:

John Clark says:

ACTOR HERE! Spoiler alert – rant ahead – listen up.
 We actors are entrepreneurs by instinct and training and dreaming. When we’re not working, we work out, honing our craft, and wait for the phone to ring. And wait and wait and wait. 
So, in frustration, we pick up the phone and call a casting director about a project we heard about, maybe from a writer friend, and a part we think we’re right for. She/he won’t take the call. We call the packager.  Same thing.
 We call Breakdown Services to ask for a reasonably priced subscription to their researched data-base of parts, characters, and jobs available day by day. They won’t sell to us.
 We’re SHUT OUT of OUR industry!


Remove all of us actors? What will be left is NOTHING…NOTHING…NOTHING.


Remove all of these agents and managers, then what’s left? Why, the world of entertainment and fantasy fulfillment for paying audiences happily humming away.


I’m eighty years old. I’ve been a part of our industry since I was a famous child star in England before the end of World War 2, and quite famous since (for all the wrong reasons.) I won’t be around much longer.
 And I say F**K Y*U to agents and managers for preventing me from making direct contact with my goals. [I used the actual words, which Nikke allows and my webmaster doesn’t.]


I pass this advice to the next generation of actors. “Get in touch with your own self, and make sure there are no degrees of separation between you, your soul, your spirit, your sense of creativity, your business sense, and any roadblocks in and to your ability to GET WORK!

”
Thank you judge, thank you SAG/AFTRA/EQUITY, and thank you Government for controlling the agencies by licensing them, and rejecting the “managers” of actors’ lives. If these “personal managers” really want to “represent” their clients, then they should marry them, and go all the way.
 And that is my rant for the day.”

There was an immediate response.

WTF are you talking about? Because CD’s won’t take your calls, Managers shouldn’t be paid for the work they do for you insecure, ranting, miserable actors?

Comment by Huh? — Thursday March 7, 2013 @ 2:22pm PST 

To which I said

If you had half of a brain, you’d have made sure that the client’s checks, contractually, were made payable to you, subtract your commission, and then net it off to the client. But then you’d be a fiduciary, subject to the laws of fraud, and actors are smart enough to see that, and won’t let you do it. Which makes YOU an insecure, ranting miserable ex-hairdresser manager. Boo hoo.

  • Comment by John Clark — Thursday March 7, 2013 @ 5:33pm PST

(Oh Lord, maybe I should not have said that. Now I’ll NEVER get a manager to represent me, nor an agent for that matter! Or maybe even a haircut .)

QUARTET (cont’d)

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER, COMMENTARY-Passing parade, Links to Showbiz sites

Dustin spoke on stage after the screening with many funny anecdotes in the making of QUARTET, especially in his director/actor dealings with Maggie Smith, who has quite a reputation for being “difficult”, as does Dustin. He said they got along “just fine”.

He spoke of the minutiae of the producing/directing process, how he had little to work with in terms of budget, and had to complete it using his own money. He also spoke of his preferred director methods. Hates those who keep precise lists and set ideas of how actors and equipment should move, and likes those who arrive on set with very open minds.

I am second to none in my admiration of Dustin, who is 5 years younger than me, unwillingly became an unknown actor in his early twenties, while I unwillingly became a child star aged eleven. I not only admire his acting, but also his approach to his career, designed by himself. Just as conflict exists in the good story told, it exists in the good life lived. I think we share that approach.

I’ve talked here about the ways the actor can manipulate his senses and emotions, from the inside or outside, in the unending quest for a great performance. And about having no degrees of separation between you and yourself.

Agents and managers are tools. But here’s where that plan falls apart. If you are a star, an icon like Dustin, you can do it. If you are a star like Lynn Redgrave, you can also do it (with my help). If you occupy the lower depths, like me these days, you will become the tool of those same agents and managers. The tail wags the dog.

The almost legendary story of the Agatha production in 1979 is worth telling here, only because he brought it up at great length. As a matter of fact, he chose to bring up Vanessa’s behavior too, recalling her unpopular political dance with PLO honcho Yasser Arafat. He held his nose, as though to say “Vanessa didn’t notice this?” And of course, it didn’t help the marketing of the movie.

Dustin had been invited to join Barbara Streisand, Steve McQueen, Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman who had set up their own producing company First Artists Productions. They felt that they were the most important part of movies because they were the draw, and were seen onscreen (probably true). Besides, they didn’t trust the majors’ accounting practices (definitely true), and wanted to choose their own scripts and have approval of directors, casts, writers, and final edit. They invited Dustin in with his own production company Sweetwall Productions. The second to involve Dustin, this was their 17th, Agatha.

It was beset with problems from the start. Julie Christie bowed out for health reasons. Producer David Puttnam (now a life peer) was upset he had to accommodate Dustin into what he thought was a finished script and also bowed out, (but first vowed never to work with this “difficult” actor again.) Dustin, by then executive producer, had gone over budget, and so the company took his control away. Dustin claimed he wasn’t paid in the agreed way, and insisted on maintaining control all the way up to final cut. Recently hired lawyer Phil Feldman had come in as president and chief executive officer though, changed the conceptual field, and got himself sued by Dustin for 30 million dollars, which was the amount Dustin claimed for his fee, plus what he put into it, plus the amount he claimed the movie would have made if he’d been left alone. Trust lawyers to fix things, right?

Anybody who thinks that major stars are loving warm human beings are just plain wrong. They lord it, often unyieldingly, over their individual turfs.

Anyway, it became clear that the presence of Agatha director Michael Apted approved by Agatha actor/producer Dustin Hoffman, this night was not without purpose. It was a time for digs, and they flew. But Dustin also graciously congratulated Michael for the success of 56 Upthe continuing follow-up of his Up Series examination of cradle-to-grave British lives.

The time came for the Q & A, but there were no microphones available for audience participation, and so an actor in the front row got up and joined them with his actor question. Then I decided it was my turn. I put up my hand, and Michael asked me up on the stage, and so it was that I shook hands with Dustin.

I said that he and I had worked together some 50 years ago, but it was not as actors. It was in the kitchen at Ted Flicker’s The Premise on Bleecker Street, where we made the coffee, served the refreshments and cleaned up afterwards, while his friend Gene Hackman was improvising along with George Segal and Joan Darling up on the platform.

“You”, said I, “went on to become the iconic star that you are, and I went on to become Vanessa Redgrave’s brother-in-law, and then a director. And come to think of it, didn’t Vanessa get into the litigation act too? I have vague memories of that.” He looked a little stunned.

At which point Michael hurriedly asked me to move on with a question, which was “Now that you’ve crossed the aisle into the director’s corner, will it have changed you when you next act in a movie?” To which he replied that he wasn’t sure, but it would certainly make him more sensitive.

[As I left the stage, I couldn’t help but recall an essay I had written for the L.A. Daily journal. In it, I reflected that I’d studied acting technically from the outside (British, Canadian) inside (U.S. the Method, Lee), and then ventured into the theater of the truly absurd, the inside of a courtroom, not pretending real life, but actually doing real life, villains and crooked deus ex machinas and all. I thought I bet Dustin or Pacino or De Niro wouldn’t dare go that far. Maybe I’m ahead of ’em. Yup, foolish, and I’m proud of myself!!!]

And so a great evening came to an end.

Go and see Quartet. I think you’ll like it.

QUARTET

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER

I saw that this film, the first solo movie directing effort of Dustin Hoffman, was to be screened at the DGA’s excellent movie house in Hollywood, and that Dustin would be interviewed by Michael Apted (our last DGA president) for a Q & A after the screening.

If controversy was sought, they couldn’t have found a better place, or subject. Apted had been involved in directing Dustin in the movie Agatha, and as some of us remember, that movie was filled with litigious controversy, and my sister-in-law Vanessa costarred. . . but more about that later. What fun! I knew I had to be there.

I think that the L.A. Times review written with intelligence by the dependable Betsy Sharkey says it best, and I agree with her view, sometime xenophobe that she can be, so link on it here. Incidentally, I enjoyed seeing several of my old British actor friends of long ago working again.

This film is based upon the retired opera performers’ home in Milan, which was built by Verde over a hundred years ago. Casa di Riposo per Musicisti has been displaced to a village near the Thames countryside, and staged at Hedsor House, going now by the name of Beecham House. Most attractive it is, with lush English gardens and busy Victorian interiors.

There’s no such real opera performers’ home in England, sad to say, but we do have a real actors’ home, Denville Hall it’s called, which is where my mother-in-law Rachel Kempson spent some demented time. Here’s a brief documentary video from the priceless Path collection of ancient newsreels. (I’m being sneaky here as you’ll see if you watch it).

Dustin gets to direct with a sure hand, especially in his management of actors and crowds, and I hope he feels encouraged to continue with that occupation. It requires the willingness to learn a new skill-set, but there’s a great satisfaction in it, extending easily from the urge to act.

In the aftermath of the Newtown horrors, we may get to see the ascendancy of films like this; no violence, no guns, little exterior “action”, but much to think about in the recesses of the mind. I do believe that we seniors will be firmly planted in movie theatre seats once again, and face it, we have more time and spending money than the kids. But no way the big 4 (Universal, WB, Paramount, Disney) will favor the trend, and we’ll have to continue to depend upon the likes of Bob Weinstein, Sony, and Fox. Now that Ismael has gone from us, is Merchant Ivory still cooking, I wonder.

 

FLIGHT

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER, COMMENTARY-Passing parade

Saturday, November 3rd. 2012

I don’t bother with moviegoing much any more. My time is taken up with real life things, and I don’t need to escape into worlds of action, horror, fantasy, and in-your-face scatology, and I fear that the same might be said for the general population, as the new economic/political scene gets under way.

However, partly to celebrate my 80th birthday, and partly to see something I could relate to (I have a pilot license and owned 2 planes), and as a SAG member for the past 50 years, I decided to accept Paramount’s invitation for actors to see a special screening of this movie yesterday at the Writers Guild Theater, and interact with the makers at a Q & A afterwards.

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Tooting My Horn as JUST WILLIAM

Posted in A SPACE FOR NOSTALGIA, ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER, COMMENTARY-Passing parade

Hey folks, this is quite exciting! Terry Taylor, the editor of a magazine which is put out twice a year for the Just William Society in the U.K., had been in touch with me a few weeks ago to ask if we could put together the story of my life. Daunting!

Not quite the whole story but a lot of it, starting with my being “discovered” as they used to say, on a bus in Chipperfield, and my beginnings as a child actor in wartime London with comedian Will Hay on BBC radio.

We performed the act for the King, Queen, and Princesses 4 days before the war ended. What followed was my being cast as “Just William”, and the downward spiral of my life as an actor to the present day. That’s 69 years! Here’s what he had to say:

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On Writing

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER, COMMENTARY-Passing parade, Links to legal, self-help sites

Starting each day with an activity that becomes almost ritual seems like a good idea. I guess it’s different for different people, ask Bill Clinton, but for me, after the cup of Chai Latte which I make for myself (the heck with Starbucks), I sit down and try to write something for this blawg.

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Labor Day and Waiting for Lefty

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER

The Group Theater lived in the thirties in New York, during the time of the Great Depression.

From that Stanislavsky based foundation in 1931, has grown most of what we deem today to be good actors, good directors, good writers, good theatre and good film. This book, The Fervent Years, will explain it all.

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Could “Two and a Half Men” Be Better Than Ever With Ashton Kutcher?

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER, COMMENTARY-Passing parade

I just read a review of 2 1/2 Men by a “communications professor” by the name of Robert Thompson.  He admitted that while watching and critiquing the show, he would rather be balancing his checkbook.

The fact is, 2 1/2 Men is the only truly honest depiction of male and female behavior in our current American and possibly worldwide culture. It deals with real-life situations, and the greed, dishonesty and scamming that goes on at all levels of society and industry, producing the norms of life today. Its popularity, continuing with huge audience followers watching reruns, deny the premise put forth by this professor of communications.

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Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters lunch meetings

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER, COMMENTARY-Passing parade

This is a wonderful gathering of old-timers, like myself. If you’ve been in the business for 20 years or more, you qualify to apply for membership. We meet for a hearty lunch about once a month (except for summer) at the Sportsman’s Lodge in the Valley. There is always an honoree, being gently roasted by a panel of fellow workers on the dais.

Lately, the place has been more than usually crowded with participants of the Showbiz. My photographer pal, Dave Keeler, wanders around snapping pictures, and if you’re lucky, he might catch you with some old friends, which he did for me at a recent meeting. (If you click on the picture, it will enlarge it.)

 

 

If you’re interested in joining, this is their website.  Just find somebody who’ll sponsor you.

 

 

 

 

When you’re old enough, friends pop up in the oddest way

Posted in A SPACE FOR NOSTALGIA, ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER

Celebrities are full of stories about their exploits, their famous friends, who they mix with, who they work with.  It’s often to do with the size of their billing, or their latest agent’s gaffes.   Then there are the less famous.  People like me, with stories more down to earth, but, I think, more interesting, unless you’re a fan follower.

This is by way of saying that I went to a play the other evening, at the East-West Theatre downtown, a play called “Wrinkles”.  Couldn’t believe what I saw, for there, playing the lead, was my old fellow worker at, of all places, First National City Bank, Park Avenue, N.Y.  5th floor. The year was 1963, the place the computer room, midnight to 8 am shift, Burroughs check sorting machine.  His name – Sab Shimono.  I remember him as a delicate, shy, self-effacing youngster,  wrestling with the machine just as I was.

I met him after the curtain came down, and we swapped a few stories in the car-park.  He has developed into a splendid actor, and reached an age of maturity reflected in his command of the stage.

I plan to see more of Sab.

 

 

Copy, Credit, Meals

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER, COMMENTARY-Passing parade

This is addressed to my professional actor friends, full members of the Screen Actors Guild, AFTRA, and Equity.

It is to say that I am tired of being invited by student directors to act in their videos, or films, for their benefit and for nothing.  This is a huge step backward to the very beginnings of these esteemed organizations, back to the twenties and thirties.  Student actors, go ahead.  Professional actors, STOP!

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Career Overview

Posted in A SPACE FOR REFLECTION, ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER

When you get to my age, a refresher covering most aspects of an active life in the Showbusiness is always a good idea.  Also, the nature of the current showbiz tends to get away from you.  With that in mind, I noticed a 1 week movie-making course being given just down the road from me, at the premises of Universal Studios (which brought back memories of the House Calls disaster).

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2 1/2 Men

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER

I have to admit that this is the only sitcom that I hurry home to watch. It’s a lesson in comedy writing construction, and one notices that it remains listed at the top of the public’s favorites after 7 years.

A lot of this is due to Chuck Lorre, and readers deserve to be linked to his website, which will provide a lot of "insider" views on showbiz, comedy, and life in general that are really worth reading.

Learning lines

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER

Excellent article in today’s NY Times, about the difficulty of cramming other people’s words into your brain, and making them come out as though you had just thought of them.

Learning lines

I never heard of having a prompter sitting in the first row, and mouthing your lines to you, as apparently Matthew Broderick has availed himself of in the opening performances of Starry Messenger. Or having a tiny speaker in your ear, as apparently Angela Lansbury did during her recent foray into Blithe Spirit.  She says that’s to be expected if you’re 84.  Poor Mr. Matt Mulhern just got himself fired from the Hartford Stage Company for pasting a few errant lines into his hat, and then referring to them out of dire necessity. Then there’s my ex, who has thrown her hands in the air, and just reads the damn thing, in her discourse about her grandmother in Nightingale.

Me, I’ve always had terrible trouble learning lines. I started out as a BBC radio actor, and reading the script became the normal way to do it.  Even now, I scan the page into my head, and still read it. The scanning process takes a while. During my days of weekly rep, I was fast.  Now, a rate of an ASA of about 6, if I’m lucky.

There’s the method approach. First get the character, next the thoughts, the feelings in sync. and the words will undoubtedly come. Maybe.  Maybe not the author’s words, but perhaps something even better(?)

But there will always be blocks, words or phrases that refuse to jump into place.  Then trickery is used, links from pictures, initials, numbers, anything that works.

There are some freaks who are blessed with a magic brain, that remembers and hangs on to everything in a flash, no problem. And that’s just not fair.

 

 

On Standup comedy

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER

Standup is tough. I know, I’ve been doing a few open mikes. My subject is Old Age. You have to make it funny. It’s the only medium I haven’t tried, and it’s very challenging, for it requires writing skills as well as performance with a hand mike, and a good sense of humor.

I see that my ex, Lynn Redgrave, just opened a standup show called Rachel and Juliet at the Folger in Washington DC.  She needs to know that some comedy tricks are considered hack, like falling over. Some fans saw it, and put it on their blog.  Here, read about it..

The Year of Magical Thinking

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER

I’m halfway through the book, and just came upon this thoughtful review by Amanda Fortini which goes to the heart of what I am beginning to think too. I can also picture my ex sister-in-law the way I remember her exactly, from this description of her performance.
What interests me is the way the reviewer shows how much is not revealed by the author Joan Didion to her readers and audience. Her lack of transparency choice does add to the quality of mystery, which she says has a certain snob appeal, and that, of course, has the expected and perhaps studied side effect of causing people to want more.
The following is must reading by their followers.
The Year of Magical Thinking review.

Saw Your Play last night. Notes.

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER, LYNN REDGRAVE

I saw “Nightingale” last night.
I was waiting with Miyuki under a tree for some mutual friends who’d been visiting you, and you walked alone with your dog to your car, looked straight at me, and passed on. Well, I guess that means you don’t want to be friends, and it’s your choice, and it means I have to give you two notes this way.
Oh, you know that I also saw it at the “tryout” last February, and it is certainly much improved, and your acting was excellent, the scenery and your outfit work very well.
NOTES, JUST 2:
You noticed that people did not stand at the end, and I believe you’ve had some walkouts. I don’t think they were bored, but that they weren’t “with you”. And I think that this is because they felt a little bit “alienated” from you and your play’s character. Here’s what I think you can do about it. And remember, I’m fresh eyes for you and your director. Try to incorporate these before you close on Sunday, it might be your last chance.
1. The audience feels a little uncomfortable throughout, because they don’t know who they are supposed to be. I mean, when somebody is talking at you, essentially unasked, it’s a bit off-putting. But they do want to know. Especially if they’re not an English audience who may not need this encouragement.
At the top when you first go into your grandmother’s character, sit upstage in the restaurant, and imagine your close friend is sitting opposite you (in the same eyeline as the audience) while you have tea together. Aim your first lines at her, and when you have established it is her you are talking to, ever so gradually, bit by bit, shift your attention to the audience. In other words, the audience will become that friend, and will then settle back for the rest of the show. Remember, as I’ve always said, the very start of a show is perhaps the most important part, because if you don’t get ’em then, you may not get another chance.
So you see, a small note, but a very important one.
2. My other note is a writing adjustment. I think it is foolish to say that you are making the entire story up, about your grandmother. We don’t really want to hear that, because then we think “well, she existed, didn’t she, you met her when you were a child, can’t you tell us anything that you know is a fact?”
This is a fact-based society today if you’re dealing in facts not fiction. You are detailing a real person whom you knew. There are facts in there, and while it’s true that you are speculating about her marriage and her character, you shouldn’t say you just made it up. You don’t need to say it really happened either. Just don’t refer to it, and the question won’t even get asked. Just launch into your piece, believing every word, and we will too.
Do these things, and I think the audience will stand at the end.
Say hi to your director Joe for me, and can he get me another job on his ABC daytime soap? I really need it this time.
June 1, 2007
I see you have opened at Hartford, Connecticut in an improved version of your play, and I read an interesting review by Frank Rizzo in Variety. Critics should not compromise objectivity about their subject actors as Rizzo has by interviewing you in a cozy pre-production paid chat for the Hartford Courant. They should, by definition, remain alienated from actors if they are to retain any credible integrity, but maybe it paid off for you. Anyway, in the absence of seeing the new version for myself, here’s what I read: Variety review
Seems you have re-written and personalized it more and are still working on it. Meanwhile, what is next? I think you may be circling around waiting to pounce on me for your next play, and you know what? I hope so. I want to find out why you did what you did to me.
Meanwhile, say hello to my old employees, Rui Rita, your lighting person who took over from dear departed Tom Skelton on our SFMF play, and also to Carol (no relation) Clark, our stage manager. And as you should know, I wish only the best for you in your professional career, even though I no longer have a piece of it.
June 10, 2007 The NY Times came out with their NY Times review this morning.

“ACTION!”, GUN OR SWITCH

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER

July 30, 2006
Back to showbiz.
Yesterday I spent a long, dizzying and rewarding day of seminars at the Hollywood branch of the Directors Guild, catching up with other members on the sea-change taking place in the moviemaking business. The transformation of film recording and playing to digital recording and playing from experts in this new field, they sure proved that life has changed for all of us, actors too.
Trying to reinvent myself from theatre industry work in New York to film industry work in Hollywood, I attended the following seminars:
– Digital storyboarding.
– Independent film-making on a micro-budget.
– Choosing a format, HD, DVD, Mini DVD and HDTV.
– Digital editing systems.
– and the “Creative Impact” of working in digital.
This last really got my attention. On the panel was producer/director/actor Tony Bill (whose restaurant in Venice I often visit, and whose career history I envy a lot, especially his pilot license qualifications.)
Academy Award winning co-producer of “The Sting”, and director of his just completed World War I epic “Flyboys”, he knows a great deal and is certainly worth listening to.
He said shooting on digital had changed his way of working with actors, and he no longer feels that slating a take with the call to “Action” was either necessary or desirable. He said that replacing the time-limited reel of film with an almost endless tape meant that multi cameras could shoot continuously, no more “takes”, no more rehearsals, shoot the lot.
He then made the statement that unexposed film in a camera has always been a “gun” aimed at the actor, who has always felt threatened by it, making him feel self-conscious and not able to give his best. Now, he said, you can just shoot it all, editing and deleting as you go, and not even have to wait for dailies.
He then said that acting, throughout history, has gone through the following stages: THEATRE (legit) for thousands of years, then SILENT movies, then SOUND movies, then “METHOD” acting (presumably to achieve enhanced realism), and now ACTUAL REALISM, thanks to the magic of digital.
At the following Q & A, I just had to get up to the microphone. I asked him if, in his opinion, he thought that Humphrey Bogart or Ingrid Bergman, or Bette Davis, or Laurence Olivier would have benefited from the new technology.
He answered yes, that he truly believed they would, but that I was talking about old-fashioned actors, and old-fashioned technique (I hope I’m quoting him accurately).
I said that I viewed acting as a performance art, and that actors, far from feeling threatened by film inside a camera being pointed at them intimidatingly with a call to “action” when it’s rolling, saw it as the curtain going up, that “action!” served as a kind of switch which turns them on.
But I did confess that I was somewhat conflicted in this view, and that my currently favorite television was “Curb Your Enthusiasm” which is shot in exactly the way he describes, and put together sans actors in the producers’ offices.
Thinking more about this later, my conclusion is that with digital, everyone can be an actor, just catch them unawares. But they’re dealing with “behavior”, not “acting”. Which is different. Very different.
And with image cutting and pasting and inserting and switching and enhancing and reversing and morphing and animating and re-manufacturing, we may just not need professional actors/sets/costume/lighting designers any more, just creative computer engineers. It will certainly keep costs down.
I’m sure this debate will continue.
Meanwhile, I, and perhaps you, will continue to watch more of those black and white films from the thirties, forties and fifties.

THEATRE OF THE LAW

Posted in ACTORS' & DIRECTORS' CORNER

MY COUSIN VINNY
Now this film brings it all together, in a way that simplifies a pro se’s life inside, and outside, a courtroom. It should be rented and viewed by all who aspire to appear in such a place as part of a lawsuit, and is the most helpful. It’s a comedy, and the casting and performances are exquisite.
Few might think of a courtroom as a place for comedy, because no question it is a war zone. And what goes on inside is a blood sport, conducted by humorless attorneys and judges under the watchful eye of armed deputies. So it is important to be able to step back and view this environment for what it really is, a dark, sardonic, fictitious theatrical invention.
In this 1992 film, Joe Pesci plays a one time New York actor with a Brooklyn sense of humor who becomes an untried lawyer after having failed the bar exam five times. He has nothing legal going for him but an innate common sense, useful in the application of the common law, and the refreshing qualities of a pro se mind. And the reassuring outcome of victory over his opponents.
He finds himself in Alabama (the site and cause of the famous N.Y. Times Co. vs. Sullivan landmark defamation case), trying to defend family members, 2 boys, in a murder case.
This film will put you right inside a courthouse, highlighting its procedural rules and absurdities, placing those two strutting imposters in a light the pro se can readily recognize.
I’m not sure why, but watching this film, I began to reflect that there are actually two kinds of actors in our profession.
First the guardedly pompous who wallow in it, seeking and finding an identity through titles, awards, and important positions. They tend to not share the irony of the best kind of humor, go around with brown stains on their noses, and require a well stocked support system.
Second the regular guy, who comments wryly on the mores of society, derives almost no pleasure from obeying didactic calls to satisfy someone else’s vision, and wishes to experience the mutability of life, finding a rare pleasure in things outside the profession. This kind of person has a well developed sense of the incongruities present in real existence.
No doubt my ex is in the first group, and I am in the second group. I was her interface with the world. Which, I think, made us a good team, now gone our separate ways thanks to the efforts of Judge Gold and his ex employee James Eliaser, Esq.
Which should never have happened, if for no other reason than that poor old Lynn no longer belongs in that fellowship of truly great actors, and the theatre-loving public is deprived of our good work projects together.
THE VERDICT
This film seems to say a lot about what goes on in courtrooms and cases around the country, and it doesn’t make you feel good at all. But, it’s a story of perseverence, of bias, of corruption, and of lawyer power. Paul Newman seems more of an impassioned pro se than a licensed lawyer. The ending is perfect, he doesn’t win over the system, he can’t prove his case in light of adverse technically correct rulings from the bench, but what he does do is he makes the jury understand that they have a duty to vote with their hearts, and not just on the evidence. Not a good film for the judiciary, nor rich law-firms, but if you have a sense of justice, you should see this.
THE WINSLOW BOY
I have a fondness for this Terrence Rattigan play and movie, because I played the boy in the play in London, and then his older brother in another West End production when I got older. It is actually an early study of Defamation based on a real case from nearly a century ago in England.
A young cadet, still in school, is expelled for stealing a five shilling postal order. The evidence is largely circumstantial, but Power in the shape of the school administration executes its decision, he’s gone, and the kid has no recourse.
But then his father steps in, and in the face of ruinous cost to his family, fights, keeps losing, but just won’t give up. Many say that the issue is paltry and not worth fighting for, but of course this is really a battle over the good name of a family. As Shakespeare said “…he that filches from me my good name….makes me poor indeed.”
The concept of keeping one’s family escutcheon unblemished may seem quaint today. Which is more of a sad commentary on the state of today’s society.
Winslow is getting nowhere, until he engages the interest of a King’s Counsel and member of the House of Lords. Who, at the risk of his own future, and the threat of bringing down the government, wins the point, and the boy, disinterested all along, is reinstated.
But the meaningful lesson for me is stated at the end.
According to the lordly barrister, the issue was not to see justice done, it was to see right done.
“Let Right Be Done”. A phrase that I believe should be enshrined wherever the name of “Justice” is invoked.