John Clark Pro Se Blog Actor, Producer & Writer

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THE ROYAL FAMILY

Posted in My Celebrity anecdotes

May 4, 1944
For me, I started my acting career backwards. Famous to begin with far too early, so you might say, as a performer, downhill ever since.
This event for me was not likely to be surpassed for the rest of my life.
It was the Royal Command Performance late on the night of May 4, 1945. I was twelve years old. Working with headmaster Will Hay as one of his pupils in his famous classroom sketch as the headline act at the Victoria Palace since mid 1944, during the time of the V1 and then the V2 enemy missiles, we’d been closed a few weeks, but then were asked to perform for the Royal Life Guards at their barracks. We would have to relearn our lines, a task that I dreaded, and there was a rumor that the Royal Family might be attending. There were rumors all around that the war in Europe was about to end, and if that happened on that night, obviously the performance would be cancelled. Unfortunately, I cannot verify the facts because the scrapbook which my mother kept for me has gone, gone with so much of my stuff after my eviction. But memory will serve here I hope.
On the bill that night would be the cream of the British music hall of the day, and would include Tommy Trinder, Arthur Askey, Stainless Stephen, Max Miller, Old Mother Riley, Tommy Handley, Flanagan and Allan and a lot more.
8 o’clock in the evening arrived, and no sign. Were we to begin for the military audience, or would we all wait? It was decided that we should wait and hope, and then, at shortly before midnight, they arrived. All of them. King George, and his Queen Elizabeth, and the daughters.
Everyone was in the mood for a good laugh, the excitement of impending victory was foremost, and the show went off without any hitches. I even remembered all my lines, which for my part of a young schoolboy swot who only spoke multi-syllabic words, and hadn’t spoken any for at least 5 months, was for me a miracle.
After the show, we were all to be herded into the main hall to meet the Royal Family, and I did something I have been ashamed of ever since.
My mother, my dear old mother, epitome of a stage mother, out for my interests and forever sticking close, had watched the show and eagerly awaited the reception. I told her she would not be allowed into it, and would have to sit outside in the corridor. It seemed a reasonable thing to do, I just didn’t want her embarrassing me in front of the king and queen. So outside she sat, and saw nothing of what she would have given her eye teeth to see.
At the reception, first lined up after the generals and other military and political notables, none of whom I remember, were, in order, Princess Margaret, then all of 13 years old, and then her sister Elizabeth, then 18, and both wearing what were known as their “utility dresses”, meaning special clothes made in the very simplest and plainest of ways to help win the war. Then came the Queen mother Queen Mary, then Queen Elizabeth, then King George VI.
Soon after, when the lineup dispersed, I found myself, as the only youngster in the throng, brought before the King and Queen to chat with them. And I remember Queen Elizabeth asking me how it was that I could possibly remember all those words which were surely totally incomprehensible to me. I admitted to her that I did have great trouble with the lines, and no, I didn’t know all of what they meant. And so I shyly dealt with the conversation, and noticed that the king did not seem to have a stammer at all.
And then it was home in the car, and me telling my mother what she’d missed and how sorry I was she’d missed it.
And a mere 4 days later, victory came, in Europe anyway.

Bea Arthur

Posted in My Celebrity anecdotes

April 1, 1961
I know that Bea, being a nice person, will forgive me for this, she probably never knew.
It began in the year 1959. I had recently arrived in New York from Toronto, and insisted on renting an apartment right in the middle of the theater district, on 47th Street at the edge of Eighth Avenue, which meant right on the edge of Hell’s Kitchen. Before renting, I asked the lady sitting outside on a garbage can in a scruffy old raincoat, the superintendent of the building, whether this was a safe place to live. She answered that I could judge for myself, her son had been murdered down the road just a short time before. She shrugged and I laughed, thinking this was just New York humor, and put down my deposit. It was later that I found out that her son Robert had been the victim in the Umbrella and Cape Man murders. That became a famous case, happening as it did right after the close of “West Side Story”, and so similar in its mood.
Above me lived Jon Voight, a very aspiring actor, we’d go racing off together to make the rounds, and I got a job downtown on Bleeker Street at “The Premise”, working in the kitchen alongside Dustin Hoffman.
More than a year went by, and because New York was where we wanted to be, I went back to Toronto to sell our little house which we’d rented out just in case, and on returning found my wife acting in a very peculiar way. She was playing endless Frank Sinatra records, singing to them, and crying a lot. She explained to me through her tears that she was having an affair with an actor then appearing in “The Tenth Man”, almost across the street, whose name was Gene Saks. He was married to Bea Arthur, who knew nothing about it, and while I was in Toronto, there was a huge blizzard which prevented his coming in across the bridge from New Jersey to spend the night with her.
My then wife was six years older than me. She was always a bit of a mystery, as older wives tend to be, and I probably should never have married her, but . . . whatever.
Was my wife telling me the truth? And was she sorry? Did she regret this? Would she change? The answer was a no, she simply did not love me any more. Not believing a word of this, I vowed to go and see the play, what kind of a man was this, who could woo her away from me, Superman?
The next day being a Saturday, I went to watch the matinee from high up in the Gods, armed with a pair of binoculars. I studied his face, his body, very carefully. He was a runt! It couldn’t be!
After the play was over, I went round to the stage door, I had to meet the man, but hadn’t the slightest idea what to say. I talked my way past the stage-door keeper, and went up a couple of flights to his dressing room, and knocked. He came to the door, face covered in cold cream; I said I needed to speak to him urgently, about Kay Hawtrey, my wife. He told me to wait outside, where I stood for what seemed like an eternity before he came out.
Now the theatre was completely empty, and he told me to follow him. He steered me past the dressing rooms, down 2 flights of stairs, past the stage door, on into the wings, and on to the stage, which was now lit only by a work light. He positioned himself dead center, placed me to his left, and only then did he speak, and ask me very politely what it was I wished to say.
I told him that I knew he had been on the road with my wife in a play by Robertson Davis, Love and Libel, and that my wife had fallen in love with him, and was this true? He said be assured, young fellow, that we may have kissed a little, but there was nothing to it. He suggested that she might want to see a psychoanalyst.
And so I returned home, happily believing what I wanted to believe, and told my wife what had transpired, and that I did not believe a word of what she had told me. She was aghast. I noted the date, April 1.
The marriage, having lasted a barren seven years, did last a little while longer, and on our very last night together, a night of true tenderness and farewell on my part, little Jonathan got to be conceived.
And that, my friends, is a true actor story.

Jessie Matthews

Posted in My Celebrity anecdotes

1962
Jonathan was born, another saga of a story, but we decided to give it another go for his sake.
Still trying to get somewhere, and taking classes in just about everything, especially singing, I would go to Diane Courtney’s little studio up on Eighth Avenue and 55th Street, second floor walkup.
This particular session, Diane said to me that an odd-sounding lady was coming to audition for her in an hour, with her manager who said she claimed to have been very famous in England many years before, and had I heard of her because she hadn’t, her name was Jessie Matthews. Of course I said she was very well known on the other side of the Atlantic, but I wanted to know more. Apparently she’d been living in Australia with a husband who’d abused her, and destroyed all of her professional history. She left him, and now wanted to get back again, and she needed to know if she still had what it takes. But of course, the audition would be private.
So I plotted to pretend to forget my briefcase and come back to collect it, and maybe, just maybe, I could get to stay and watch. Well, about an hour later I did just that. I knocked quietly, put my head round the door, excused myself, got my music, and as I headed out, glanced at her, and nearly fell over. “My God”, I blurted out, “Are you Jessie Matthews, I mean THE Jessie Matthews?” Tears came into her eyes as she smiled, and said, so sweetly, “You remember me then?” “Of course”, I said, although I had never actually seen her in action and did not recognize her, far before my time. But I knew she was a legend.
She then begged me to stay and watch and give my opinion. And she sang and sang, and then did some kicks, arm around Diane who had been a singer during the heyday of the big bands, and apologized that the kicks were not quite as high as in the old days.
Then her manager said he hoped to get her on to the Jack Paar show, and start her out on a new career in America.
Which was where I suggested that here was not maybe where she should consider making her comeback. Knowing how beloved she had been in England, I carefully suggested that she might consider making her comeback there, where I was certain she would be hugely welcomed.
So she did just that, and I heard that Olivier put on a special welcoming show to present her from the stage of the National.
She then went into a favorite radio series called “Mrs. Dale’s Diary”, where she stayed and worked for the rest of her life.
I’d like to think I had a hand in her decision.

Jack Dempsey

Posted in My Celebrity anecdotes

1963
I’m cheating here, because I never met the man, known as The Manassa Mauler. But his wife, there was a tale.
About 1963, I was one of a group of actors working for a Martin Snyder who operated a very successful theater travel group out of New York. He would put together large numbers of mostly retired couples, fly them in from places such as Chicago and St. Louis, and see to their every need while they were in to see Broadway shows. Or, that is to say, we, his small gathering of usually out-of-work actors, would take care of them, meeting them at the airport, getting to them their theater tickets, escorting them to their hotels, and often hosting parties. It was a fun job, it paid quite well, and we got to see a few shows for free.
One of my compatriots was Roy Scheider, and actually he and his wife were kind enough to often take care of our baby Jonathan.
Anyway, the time came when Martin directed me to the Manhattan Hotel on Eighth at 45th., to walk up and down in the lobby to take care of his clients if and when necessary. I got to passing the time talking to a little lady with a strong European accent, who ran her jewelry business from behind her counter. If business was slow, we would chat. Then one day she wasn’t there, so the next morning I asked if everything was all right, and she said she was really tired, because she had been up most of the night dancing at the White House, and had only just arrived back in New York.
How on earth did that come about I wondered, and it was then she told me that it was because she was recently married to a man who was supposed to be quite famous, although she had never heard of him. I asked who that was, and she told me it was a man called Jack Dempsey. And the story of their meeting was quite extraordinary.
She had operated her little jewelry stand for several years in that same lobby, when she became uncomfortable at the sight of a large man who would sit across the floor, and stare at her, day after day. She pretended not to notice, until one day he came up to her and said that his cufflink was broken, and could she repair it. He then said please come and have a cup of coffee with me. At first she refused, but he persisted, and when the link was repaired, she consented to go for a quick coffee. When he mentioned his name, she said she’d never heard of him. And it was only a few days later that he came up and asked if she’d marry him, and she said only on condition that she could keep her business going. He agreed, and so he ran his steakhouse around the corner on Broadway, and she ran her little jewelry store in the hotel lobby. And they remained together until his death twenty years later.

John Dexter

Posted in My Celebrity anecdotes

1964
John Dexter, the late director associated with Britain’s National Theatre, became a friend of ours when Lynn and I first married. He had directed her in Black Comedy on Broadway, and later in the first of the only two movies he directed, The Virgin Soldiers. He was also known to be a somewhat sadistic fun-loving homosexual.
I never did bring up with him my memory of the most ghastly series of auditions that any actor could be expected to put up with.
I had just, with great difficulty, learned the part of Berowne for a production of Love’s Labor’s Lost which I and a couple of other Equity actors had performed at Emory University in Atlanta 3 times to beef up a student production, and then returned to New York. Berowne’s long speech to his friends on his philosophy towards women I vowed would be retained in my brain forever, for the sole purpose of auditioning with it.
And it came to pass that auditions were being held for a Broadway production of “The Royal Hunt of the Sun”.
I signed up, and boldly went forth on to the stage, to be greeted by Dexter’s voice in the darkness “So what are you going to thrill us with?”
I answered “Berowne’s speech from Love’s Labor’s Lost, Mr. Dexter.” And so I did it. There was a long pause, and then the voice came back “Not bad, but you must watch your punctuation. Next.”
But I got a call-back, and found myself again in the same position. He said “What are you going to thrill us with today, young man?’ I said “The Berowne speech from “Love’s Labor’s Lost, Mr. Dexter.” And so I did it once again.
This time, he came back with “Better, but you really have to watch your breathing. Next”.
I thought that was it, but to my astonishment I got a call-back again. This time at the ANTA Theatre (now the Virginia), where the play was to be presented, and rehearsals were to start any day. Seems they were still looking for actors, and hope sprang within me.
On stage again “So what are you going to thrill us with THIS time?”, greeted me, and again I said “Berowne’s speech. . .” and I think I heard a groan.
But I doggedly held my ground and went ahead, and got interrupted halfway through with “That’s enough” echoed by the stage manager. I got off stage where my friend John Vernon, also from Canada, later to make his name as the Mayor of San Francisco in the Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” film, was waiting for his turn. He had asked me to warn him what to expect, and I just had time to tell him that he would be asked to thrill Mr. Dexter. And then I hung around in a nearby coffee shop to swap notes. But unlike me, he was smart.
Apparently, John got on stage, was asked the same question, said “I thought I’d show you this.” and then went down to the footlights, and started to unzip his pants. How far he got I don’t know, (well I do, actually) but the next day he got the call that he was cast in the production.
[Footnote. I see dear John died on February 1, 2005, complications from heart surgery, in L.A. My age exactly. May he R.I.P.]

Ray Milland

Posted in My Celebrity anecdotes

1965
Living with Kay and the baby in a tiny walkup on Second Avenue (rent $33.35 month!) was just not working out, and so I had rented a better, and separate, apartment for them in fashionable East 66th Street (rent $56 a month!).
The monthly bills were high, though, and so a night job was necessary if I was to keep my days free.
I found a job as a proofreader at Cahill Gordon Reindel & Ohl, a large law firm downtown on Pine Street. 5pm until 8a.m. most nights, and at weekends, if you really needed the money – and I did with a 2 year old baby to support and 2 apartment rents to pay – it was 30 hours non-stop. The pay was $1.50 an hour, and they called you a “boy”.
My plan to keep my days free had worked out. Late in the year, I got a job in a tiny part in “Hostile Witness” as a policeman.
This particular morning, I had just got off work from my night job, and had dashed over to the Cunard pier to see a girl I knew leaving for England on The Queen Elizabeth. A few sips of champagne, and just in time for a ten o’clock rehearsal call on stage at the Music Box.
Mr. Milland was practicing his long speech over and over from the witness box at the Old Bailey. It was my duty and role to stand behind him motionless throughout. He was interminable.
Suddenly, I passed out, fell in a heap from behind and pushed him over, almost into the orchestra pit. I came to, with the stage manager bent over me slapping me in the face, and the star at one side suggesting I should be fired on the spot. Thank goodness that the stage manager was a kindly person, who knew a bit about my life-style at that time, and told the star that it was a matter simply of the fact that I’d had no sleep.
And so I got to stay, got to know Ray quite well, heard his lines for him, and listened to his lengthy stories of how he got his name, having been born on mill land somewhere in Wales.

Vivien Leigh

Posted in My Celebrity anecdotes

July 6, 1967
Lynn and I were married on April 2, 1967. The ceremony was conducted in Sidney Lumet’s living room on New York’s Lexington Avenue, up in the 90’s somewhere, and photographed for Life Magazine by Michael Crawford who was into photography in those days.
Back to London to live in Lynn’s newly bought and empty cottage, and I was told that Viven Leigh, a close Redgrave family friend, lay dying, and that we should visit her on her deathbed.
I stood there, camera in my pocket, for I was then a professional photographer as well as an actor, and was doing work for TV Guide in England as a stringer.
I put my hand on the bulky Nikon in my pocket, and then took it away. I knew then, in my new position as Lynn’s husband, I would often find myself in incredible and intimate and very private situations with the famous.
I knew then too, that I would never again take pictures professionally. Not, that is, if I wanted my marriage to last. And that’s what happened ever after, or I should say didn’t happen.
She died the next day.

Dan O’Herlihy 1919-2005

Posted in My Celebrity anecdotes

February 17, 2005
I want to note the passing of Dan today, because he touched my life in two ways.
I cast him along with my wife Lynn Redgrave in my first producing/directing job. That was in 1973, at Hilton Edwards and Micheál MacLiammóir’s famed Gate Theatre, Dublin, for just the 3 weeks they allowed me, in a new play dealing with Dublin and Hollywood, “A Better Place” by Robert Hogan, and we sold out every performance. [I financed the show, and The Gate kept half of the proceeds, rather than half of the profits, so we lost money, which led me to my first lawsuit.]
Then, Dan’s son-in-law, a pilot with Delta, helped me fly my plane cross-country from Teterborough to Santa Monica, helped my son in his flying career with the same company, and also found our new home in Topanga Canyon (yes, he had a real estate license too.)
I remember Dan fondly, a nice man, and I send sympathies to Elsie, his wife.