"COOL HAND LOU"
In the Trenches from Broadway to Hollywood
by Lou Antonio
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In memory time it was not so long ago that I began reconnecting with images past of people, situations, lessons learned, lessons discarded. Many actors do the same thing in front of paying people. Over the years my audience for this book has been my computer. Now it’s you. So thank you and please, turn off your cell phones and unwrap your candy.
From bull sessions with show folk came the challenges of, “You oughta’ write that down.“ Writing? After six decades of being surrounded by crew members and actors, I am definitely down with the creative quiet of solitude. It’s goofy, lonely and I love it. In these pages you will meet some of those brave souls who face the realities of making a living through make-believe. Also, I don’t know, maybe this is also a kind of a warning to the unwary innocents, and a reminder of caution to the “old pros.”
At twenty-one I was an Oklahoma innocent in New York City trying to adjust and deal with an unfamiliar cacophony of honking, shouting, customs (people eating in the street standing up), folks walking at half-sprint. Some of the natives spoke in unknown tongues, ”Gimme a cu a kawpee ‘n napple pie.” I wrote down equally unknown words In Lee Strasberg’s private acting classes; “private moment,” “substitutions,” “what if.”
Terms later defined as I watched and worked with the likes of Ruth Gordon, Colleen Dewhurst, Zero Mostel, Franco Zeffirelli, Julie Harris Josh Logan, Susan Strasberg. Scribble scribble.
In all those years of theatre, television and film my creative restlessness sometimes smashed into that wall of “creative differences.” And you know how those usually turn out. The actor disappears.
The beginner, the craftsman, the great, all face the frustration and hurt of failure and rejection. Talent can be like Cyrano’s nose, unique and ridiculed But abandon those fields of battle? Cyrano intones beneath his white plume, “No. I fight on, I fight on…” Like love, even when it goes sour, was sweet once.
As the tomorrows became decades. the times were changing, as were the arts. In 1982 my brother Jim was a guest artist at the University of Oklahoma and played the lead in the drama school’s production of Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life. He was good, the pacing was slow and the critics unkind. The director, professor Charles Suggs, dissected the reaction, “it’s because of television. Everything is faster on television. Well, Saroyan isn’t television!” Were the arts evolving, or simply changing? Thespis had his way with us. The Group Theatre. The Method. Kazan, Brando, Steiger, The Living Theatre, Clift, Newman, Kim Stanley, Maureen Stapleton, Geraldine Page. The Actors Studio one-upped the Tea Cup style of the British. Then the tea sippers caught on. Pinter, Wesker, Osborne were tumbling out original and emotion-filled plays that looked back In anger and spawned Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave,
the Royal Court ,Tom Courtney, Peter O’Toole, Julie Christie. The stiff-upper-lip was dumped into a bucket of the Kitchen Sink. I was fortunate to have touched and been touched by the best of these changes and changers, and scorched a bit by their opponents.
Winning is prizing the joy, turmoil and beauty of the art in you. I teach acting at the Actors Studio in Los Angeles and I used to insinuate accusingly to the group, “Have you acted today?” Now I’m stricter. “Act today.” The best, from athletes to artists, work out every day.
What makes holding on to my bucking bronco of a career worth the hard landings? The perplexity of the performing arts, those goonies with the courage to come out of the gate not knowing if their ass is going to hit the dirt or not. Memory keeps the past present. I’ll be in my kitchen simmering a sauce, a splice of time pops into me; it’s quiet, cameras are rolling, I’m standing three feet from a pure moment of a George C. Scott or Elizabeth Taylor, any formidable talent. I shudder in wonder, in thanks, and respect. With all the disappointments and betrayals, “Print it!” or a curtain call can make a tough day smile. And if the days have darkened, well, tomorrow is another day. So, Annie, sing to us about tomorrow…