A DIALOGUE FOR BRONSON

charles-bronson

 

DIALOGUE FOR BRONSON

 

Recently I watched THE GREAT ESCAPE again and I was knocked over in the scene when Charles Bronson, aka Danny the Tunnel King, cracks and refuses to go back into the tunnel, confessing that he had claustrophobia from his days of working in the mines. I didn’t realize that Charles Bronson as a boy working in the coal mines had claustrophobia after a tunnel collapsed on him. And yet, not only did he face his fears and accept what the script called for, he actually acted as a consultant in building the tunnel.

Shortly after I watched a Twilight Zone that starred Bronson and then a Laramie episode with Bronson playing a ‘half-breed’. I was on a Bronson kick, and while I didn’t have time to watch the movie ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST at the time, I did watch one of my favorite movie scenes, the opening of that picture. Woody Strode! Jack Elam and the fly! The ticketmaster! And the third gunman, Al Mulock, who finished the scene, went back to his hotel and jumped out the window to his death.

The three guns wait and wait and wait for the train. It comes and the man they were paid to kill doesn’t get off – on the platform side; but as the train leaves, the sound of a harmonica is heard. And there on the opposite side of the tracks stands Charles Bronson, Harmonica!

Leone got his wish. He had offered the role of the Man With No Name in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY to Bronson, who turned it down. Bronson, who later Leone called the best actor he had ever worked with, had finally consented to appear in a Leone film.

For someone that Hollywood that never saw fit to nominate him for any of his film work, he certainly has a large body of great films that he did excellent work in. I never met him nor worked with him, as much as I would have like to; but here is a great story that Sandy Nimoy, Leonard’s first wife, told me about Bronson.

Bronson’s wife, actress Jill Ireland, had played Leilia, the only character in the STAR TREK series that Spock ever fell in love with. Over the years Sandy and Jill often met while shopping or doing charity work. Sandy said that Jill Ireland was so warm and likeable in real life, she had been perfectly cast in the role of Leilia. Even the logical Spock would fall in love with her.

The two women always mentioned getting together and having dinner at one or the other’s home. But show business schedules for the most part does not allow for conventional planning.

Finally they decided the heck with it and Jill said dinner would be at the Bronsons on such and such a day. Charles would be starting a new picture soon, and although Leonard was playing Arthur in CAMELOT in an L.A. theater, they would squeeze in a  dinner early enough to give Leonard enough time to get to the theater and prepare for the performance.

Although when both Charles and Leonard were starting out getting small parts on TV and even appeared in the same series at different times, they never met. Sandy told Leonard not to think Bronson was bored or rude at the dinner, if he didn’t add much to the conversation. Jill Ireland said he just doesn’t talk much

And the warning proved true. Along with his wife, he greeted the Nimoys at the door and then went into a shell of silence. Occasionally Sandy or Leonard would address Bronson directly and his wife would automatically answer. It was quite evident that was a very normal thing to do for Jill to do.

When the dinner was over and it was time to go, the Bronsons escorted the Nimoys to the door where Sandy once again mentioned as much as they would like to stay longer, they really had to go so Leonard could get to the theater.

And then, just as he shook Leonard’s hand, Bronson, a strictly film actor, spoke, ‘You, ah, really like all that theater shit?

 

Bronson was one of fifteen children so I imagine his lack of conversational skills came about because growing up he could never get an word in edgewise. But in spite of his reluctance to talk he was fluent in Russian, Lithuanian, and Greek. He never really spoke much English until he went in the Army.

Lest this offends the ‘patriotic’ Speak English or Get the Hell Out of America’ clique, I would like to point out that this son of an immigrant enlisted at the outbreak of America’s entry into WWII. Not satisfied being an Army truck driver, he pushed for more training and would up as a tail gunner on a B29 bomber, a position that had a very short life expectancy; and he earned a chestful of medals including the Purple Heart.

Oh, the answer to the question Charles Bronson asked Leonard Nimoy, another son of immigrants, was, ‘Yeah, Charles, I really like that stage shit.’

KING RICHARD II Plus

 

I had no more than posted my KING RICHARD II than I ran across this story as told by Richard Harris himself. It fit in so well with the incident of mouthy extra who got the sword thrown at him by Harris, that I had to post it, in spite of the fact it quotes from ‘THE SCOTTISH PLAY’.

Richard Harris’s Story

young richard

In an interview on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962), Harris told a story about when he was a young actor playing Seyton in a theatrical production of “Macbeth.” The lead actor was a real jerk to him, making constant demeaning references to Harris’s Irish heritage. On opening night, Harris couldn’t take it anymore. In Act V, Macbeth turns to him and says, “Wherefore was that cry?” Harris was supposed to reply, “The queen, my lord, is dead,” after which Macbeth goes into his famous soliloquy about “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.” However, Harris decided instead to say, “Oh, don’t worry. She’s fine. She’ll be up and about in ten minutes.” He ruined the performance and was promptly fired.

And to think Harris got mad just because an extra was mimicking Harris during a soliloquy.

 

Then in the COMMENTS to KING RICHARD II, I received one from my old friend, Ivar Brogger, who was in the Guthrie acting company back in the day. I just had to add it to this post.

Ivar Brogger’s Story

Actors Richard Harris (L) and Peter O'Toole (who starred in the movie), at a reception at The Washington Hotel in Mayfair, London, prior to the world premiere screening of a newly-restored print of the 1968 film 'The Lion in Winter'.

‘Don – I love that story! Here’s a little one of my own. Peter O’Toole was playing Henry Higgins in PYGMALION on Broadway and I was his understudy and playing a small part in the show. Peter was out a lot so I went in for him a lot. As a result, we kind of got to know each other. Closing day there was a party after the show and Richard Harris was there as Peter’s guest. Peter called me over to meet him. At this point in his life Peter was completely clean and sober. So, after meeting Richard, Harris turned from me, (as we really had nothing to say to each other) and said to O’Toole, “I hear you’re off the spirits”. Peter admitted he was. I remember the look of shock on Harris’s face. He roared incredulously, “COMPLETELY?”

 

During the time I worked Harris, he was COMPLETELY off the booze. He had had a scare a few months before he took over from Burton on the CAMELOT tour. He almost died of alcoholism and was even given the Last Rites. It was a hard fight to overcome booze the because he had grown up in a time and place where drinking was a way of life. He was a charter member of the hard drinking actors society that consisted of the likes of Harris, Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Oliver Reed and others. British Isle post war actors who had a lot in common, namely great talent, great wit, and a great propensity for the sauce, and who excelled on both the stage and in film on two continents.

Like a great many alcoholics, Harris fell off the wagon by thinking a few beers won’t hurt, what the heck it’s only beer. He continued to drink beer for the last 12 years of his life; but with one stipulation, the beer had to be Guinness. Through thick and thin, he was Irish all his life.

And his wit excelled even on his dying day. As he was wheeled on a gurney out of Clarages, the posh London hotel, he quipped to the reporters, ‘It was the food’.    

 

 

 

KING RICHARD II

RichardHarrisCamelot

KING RICHARD II

 

Richard Harris lost his Irish temper and came very close to seeing me lose my French/German temper.

 

Richard Burton had extended his tour of CAMELOT when his health broke down. Rather than cancelling, the promoter sent Burton a get-well card and replaced him. Burton had made the Broadway role of King Arthur his; but Richard Harris starred in the movie, probably because Burton’s drinking was getting out of hand. Harris was the logical choice to succeed Burton on the Camelot tour, especially since Harris was winning the fight to control his drinking problem and taming down his wild life.

This hiring became Harris’s security blanket. He took the show on tour many times. He even bought the touring set and costumes, works of beauty by the great designer, Desmond Healy. If things slowed down for Harris, there was always CAMELOT. Yul Brynner had been doing this for years with his KING AND I, as had Joel Grey with CABARET. Producer, promoter, director, hire the cast and the crew, and rent out the set and costumes. An actor’s dream. The last word on the production and the first count on the profits.

Minneapolis was one of the first stops after Harris replaced Burton. On the Orpheum playbills, it is Burton’s picture, not Harris. Ticket purchasers had a chance to get their money back before the tour hit town, but no one took up the offer.

Over the years, Harris brought the show back several times to the Orpheum, and I was lucky to have worked every one. At no time did Harris ever ‘phone in’ his performance. At every show Harris gave his all.

He was fun to work with. He liked kidding around with the crew. He kept many of the same road crew from tour to tour. He took pride in his working man’s roots.

During this times he was off the booze, something that had caused him trouble in the past. He also managed during this time to keep his famed temper in control. Except for once. And that time he came close to witnessing my temper.

It was during Arthur’s soliloquy to his sword, Excalibur, at the end of Act I, in which he hopes the attraction between his wife and his best friend goes away. Several of us hands were waiting by the fly rail waiting to go on stage and change over for Act II. I was in direct line of the second wing so I could watch Harris perform the soliloquy.

A spear carrier, stage lingo for an extra, a body in the crowd, a voice in the chorus, no lines of his own, no song of his own, entered the wing and went as far on stage as he could without being seen by the audience.

Harris started and then looked to the dark wing. What he usually spoke almost as a prayer, now was spoken with anger. He kept looking into the wing. The extra was actually speaking aloud the words as Harris spoke them. The audience could not hear him, and we standing off stage couldn’t hear him; but Harris could.

As the lights dimmed and the curtain closed, Harris turned, roared, and threw the sword at the actor, who saw it coming and ran out of the wing off the stage. The sword landed a couple of feet from hitting me.

The stage manager, a real pro, stopped Harris before he could get in his dressing room. Regardless of the fact she was talking to the star who was also her employer, she confronted him.

‘A sword, Richard! You threw a sword, Richard! You could have injured someone, Richard!’

‘Damn right,’ Harris argued, ‘I threw the bloody thing and I’m sorry I missed the bloody fool! He was mimicking my speech. I am sorry I couldn’t catch the bloody bastard and shove the bloody sword up his bloody arse.’ He stomped into his dressing room and the stage manager followed him, continuing to bawl him out.

At the Five Minute page, Richard came out of his dressing room and the extra was standing there. The young extra try to offer an apology. He was not only pleading for forgiveness, he was pleading to save his job, his career in theater. At first Harris started to walk away from him, but he looked at the stage manager and stood still and  listened.

He said that he always marveled at the way Harris handled the soliloquy. He got so involved in listening and trying to learn how to act like Richard that he never realized he was actually speaking out loud. He begged forgiveness and promised it would never happen again.

Harris took a deep breath and looked upward. The extra looked at his feet. Finally Harris spoke. ‘Well, boyo,’ he said after taking his dramatic pause, ‘It takes a big man to apologize and admit his mistake. I’ll let it pass – this time. But if you ever…’

And as Richard walked past the fly rail where several of us were standing, he stopped and like a ‘big man’ offered his apology. ‘Gents,’ he said, ‘I am sorry for being so unprofessional and I am just glad none of you got hurt because of me losing my bloody Irish temper.’

We smiled and nodded. And if that sword had hit me, I thought to myself, Harris would have seen my French/German temper.

Luckily, even though a commandment of the stage, Thou shalt not screw around with another’s line, was broken, there was no damage done except to Excaliber. The sword required a gaff tape procedure to see it through the second act. The next morning it was sent up the hill to the Guthrie prop shop where the Guthrie prop artists performed their magic, and even found an acceptable understudy sword – just in case.

Fade Out, Act I

A few months ago, JCALBERTA, in his blog MY FAVORITE WESTERNS, (https://myfavoritewesterns.com/), a great blog filled with interesting facts and some fine art of Western movie posters, had a series of posts on Richard Harris westerns. I told him I worked Richard quite a few times and JC said that while he was a location set painter on UNFORGIVEN, he never got to meet any of the actors. I said I would post a few stories of working with Harris. Here’s the first.

THE DEATH OF CAMELOT

JFK

It’s been 50 years since JFK was assassinated! Doesn’t seem to me that it has been that long ago. I can remember it like it was yesterday.

I had taken the day off from work because I had to bring our baby for his one year checkup. I was on the floor in the den playing with the baby and his older brother. There was a rerun of Father Knows Best on the TV.

They interrupted the program to break the news about the shooting. I was in a state of shock. The two little ones still wanted to play. And then came the news that our President was dead. Playtime was definitely over for the day. I had all I could do to drive the baby to the doctor’s office later that afternoon.

I had never seen Father Knows Best. And, outside of those few minutes it was on before the breaking news, I have never watched any episode. Even today, if I am running through the channels and one pops up, I immediately change the channel.

The following Sunday my wife and I came back from mass, and the baby-sitter was in tears. She kept sobbing about how she was watching TV and she saw the shooting – live. I paid her off and she went out the door still crying. Silly girl, I thought to myself, where have you been for the last few days? She must have been the only person in the country that didn’t know the President was shot the Friday before. And what she was watching was a video, not live.

And then I saw the news on TV. The girl had every right to cry because she had seen a murder live on television. She had seen Ruby shoot Oswald.

Moments I remember and I wish I could forget.

The Old Hand of Oakdale

Published SPPP, Bulletin Board, 11/22/13   (50th Anniversary)

WHAT IF???

President Kennedy had lived to give the speech he prepared that would declare he was pulling us out of Viet Nam. That alone would have changed the world as we know it today.

In the aftermath of the assassination one of the things Americans lost was a faith in their government. A loss of faith that grows deeper each day. The old saying, My Country Right or Wrong, was at first replaced by Never Trust Anyone Over the Age of 40, and today it is I’m Right. Your Wrong. No Compromise!  Indeed we lost our innocence 11/22/1963.

WHAT IF???

Jack Ruby, a two-bit hood, (which in spite of evidence to the contrary, the FBI ruled did not have connections to the mobs), had not been allowed to wander the halls of the Dallas Police Station carte blanche, armed. Had not died of cancer (?) just before he was going to get a retrial. Would we know more about why he killed Lee Harvey Oswald? Would we know more about assassination of JFK?

NO!

In the 4 major U.S. assassinations of the period, JFK, Oswald, RFK, and Martin Luther King, investigations basically stopped once one person was arrested. Anyone who suggests a conspiracy in the deaths of any of the 4, is labeled a conspiracy nut. And yet!!!

James Earl Ray was arrested and convicted. Like Ruby, he died of natural causes (?) just before his second trial. Later, Dexter, a son of MLK, and one who encouraged a retrial for Ray, sued a restaurant owner in Memphis, for being in the conspiracy to kill his father. Dexter won the lawsuit.

The US House Select Committee, at the end of it’s investigation into the assassination, concluded: The committee believes, on the basis of the circumstantial evidence available to it, that there is a likelihood that James Earl Ray assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King as a result of a conspiracy. The End.

Sirhan Sirhan was determined to have acted alone in the killing of Robert Kennedy, and yet there were witnesses that heard guns shots far exceeding the eight that his gun would have contained. Audio analysis show there were at least 13 gunshots, 5 more than Sirhan Sirhan could have fired from his gun, from 2 different locations. And the FBI also discounted eye witness reports of other guns in the room. They had their one man. The End.

To get back to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, The Warren Commission published it’s report as soon as possible, ignoring accuracy in it’s quest for expediency. It’s conclusion was that both Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby acted alone. There was no conspiracy in either case. Later, President Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy, and four members of the Commission had a level of skepticism in the basic findings, as well as countless people all over the world.

The report was full of holes. Some evidence and some eyewitness accounts were never given to the Commission lest it muddied the waters toward the endgame the Commission arrived at. It was, as Mark Lane used for the title of his book, A RUSH TO JUDGMENT.

And yet, people keep using this report as the definitive study of the assassination, in spite of a second report that followed a few years later, again by the US. House Select Committee that ruled:

The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee is unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy.The End!

As far as our government is concerned, we, the people, can’t handle the truth. 

November 22, 1963 – The Day that Camelot died.jfk-funeral-horse_thumb2

 

DARN! DARN! DARN!

[WARNING: The following does not endorse the practice of swearing. It merely suggests that if you do it, do it right!]

The Art of Swearing:

Anyone can swear, but not everyone can do it in a convincible manner. There is an art to swearing.  It takes practice. It also takes a firm voice and positive attitude. And one must also take in the fact that the typical American swear words have a tendency toward hard sounds, a good many T’s and K’s. These sounds should not be slurred over. It is also very unimaginative. Referencing religious figures, hexing, scatology, or a person’s birth and or intellectual ability, and so many, many variations of the act of reproduction. It would be so much better if we swore in a more colorful way like: ‘May a thousand camels walk through your tent’, or the more popular, ‘May the Bird of Paradise fly up your nose’; but we don’t and have to play the cards dealt to us.

 mark twain   It was reported that Mark Twain excelled in the art of swearing, much to the chagrin of his ‘long suffering’ wife. To keep peace with his wife he suggested a special room dedicated for swearing. Whenever he felt the need to swear, he could run to the room and swear ’til heart’s delight. But he reasoned, when one needs to swear, there isn’t time to run into a different room. So he dropped the idea. Again, much to the chagrin of his ‘long suffering’ wife.

The Old Hand:

One of his stories Twain liked to tell while on tour concerned swearing and his wife.

He said he was shaving one morning and, like any husband, had done something to get his wife very angry. She burst into the bathroom and cut loose with words Twain had never heard her use before. “Dear,” he said, “You got all the words down pat, but you should work a little more on your delivery.”

At home my dad rarely swore, and when he did slip up and Mom heard him, she always let him know that there would be no swearing in the house. “Ah,” Dad would argue, “That ain’t swearing. That’s just packinghouse talk.”

A friend, Larry, tells the story of taking his father to get his first hearing aid and stopping off on the way home at the neighborhood bar. Larry knew that the hearing aid was working because his father told him angrily several times that he didn’t have to holler. Larry said his father kept turning his head and looking at a table where several young women were sitting. Finally, his father said, “Well I never, in all my life, heard women use those kind of words before!”

“Dad,” Larry explained, “You just never had a hearing aid before.”

Published, 5/27/11, SPPP, Bulletin Board.

Swearing must have a purpose. It should not be simply an interjection for the lack of nothing to say or a play for time to think out what to say next. Blunt talking Lenny Bruce used it for shock value and to expose the hypocrisy of the times. And he was repeatedly jailed for vulgarity. Philosophic George Carlin used it for emphasis and, as in his famous routine, Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say On TV, to expose the hypocrisy of the times. And he was repeatedly jailed for vulgarity. One has to wonder if the jailings were actually for vulgarity or a circumvention of their right to Free Speech: namely exposing the hypocrisy of the times. 

Today’s comedians, whether stand-up or acting in sitcoms or movies, rely more on vulgarity  than they do in presenting a polished, genuinely funny routine. The shock value is long gone and their routines are too weak to need emphasis, and all that remains is boredom. 

I first noticed this tendency to use ‘dirty words’ to fill out a routine in Eddie Murphy’s live performances. He did a show that lasted a little over an hour. If he would have removed the word concerned with incest, aka the malady of Oedipus, his routine would have lasted  less than a half hour.  When Bill Cosby pointed out that Murphy had too much talent to waste it by the use of constant vulgarity, Murphy couldn’t think of a response, so he  suggested what Cosby should go and do to  himself.       

The art of swearing does not include using swear words simply for fillers or brain burps. 

Growing up, swearing was done in the same secrecy as smoking grape vines behind the barn. Like my using  cigarettes, I  never swore much before I went in the Army. Unlike my quitting cigarettes many years ago, I still swear, much to the chagrin of my ‘long suffering wife’. I, however, have managed to eliminate it in most situations, none of which involve running afoul of a bad driver. 

The Old Hand

My tendency, to honk the horn or give the one finger salute at a driver DWS, (Driving While Stupid,) is pretty much under control; but I admit I need work on my vocabulary. The words that I utter are not the lyrics of the latest Justin Bierber song.

We had to go up to Bemidji so my wife and I went up with our son, Dirk, and his family. I rode shotgun.

The next day another son, Dan, arrived. He was telling Dirk about driving up. He asked Dirk how it was when he drove up. Dirk said it was okay. The weather was good. The kids behaved – fairly well. The traffic wasn’t bad.

‘And’, Dirk said. ‘I didn’t have to swear at even one bad driver. Dad did it for me.”

Published, 5/17/13, SPPP, Bulletin Board

Burton Playbill I heard this story from Eric, Leonard Nimoy’s personal dresser, when we were on tour with Leonard’s one-man play, VINCENT. According to Eric, (which may or may not be true), it occurred when he was Richard Burton’s personal dresser on CAMELOT, (which I know was true).

After a Saturday matinee, he and Burton left the theater by a door which opened into the alley. There was man, holding an almost empty bottle of Thunderbird wine, using the building wall to prop himself up. As they went to walk past him, he hit them up for money. ‘Just a loan. Pay you back tomorrow.’

Seizing the opening, Burton puffed out his chest, pointed his finger at the man, and in his best stage voice said: ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be. For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. – WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE!’

The wino pulled himself as erect as possible. He pointed his finger at Burton and said in a loud voice: ‘Fuck you! – TENNESSEE WILLIAMS!’

Eric said, that while the man had a problem with his elocution, his volume and delivery was every bit as good as Burton’s.

The wino had almost mastered the art of swearing.