It’s not crazy, just Hollywood
Some days when I visit my mother-in-law in a nursing home, I pick up the book “Hollywood” by Garson Kanin in the library and read a little bit.
I’ve always like old movies and this recollection is full of old movie stories.
I remember seeing Kanin as a kid on the Johnny Carson show.
I never knew what he actually did. He was on the program a lot, and I figured he was just one of those professional “Johnny Guests” where that’s pretty much what his line was.
Sort of like those people in the ‘70s that did so many game shows you knew them for nothing else: Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, Elaine Joyce and Mary Wickes. Oh, and don’t forget Nipsey Russell.
Well as it turns out, Kanin published this book, “Hollywood,” in 1967 after many years of working as an actor, writer, director or producer.
He also wrote the successful Broadway play “Born Yesterday,” and collaborated with Ruth Gordon (his wife) on two screenplays that became hit Tracy / Hepburn vehicles: “Adam’s Rib” and “Pat and Mike.”
According to the Internet Movie Database, Kanin died in 1999.
There are a couple of stories in his book I’ve found interesting: one about actor John Barrymore and another regarding the “team” of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
At one point Kanin directed Barrymore in the film “The Great Man Votes,” and Barrymore always had a guy follow him down to the studio who was his “blackboard” man. Blackboards were the early version of cue cards. Barrymore – who could easily recite just about every famous Shakespeare soliloquy – apparently never went anywhere, performance-wise, without this man.
So one day Barrymore came in after most of principal shooting was done, and they were doing these minor retakes and pick-up shots. All he had to do the entire day was open a door, walk through and say, “Yes.” So he told his blackboard man to write “Yes” on the board and stand behind the camera.
Kanin went over and said, “John, all you have to do is open a door, walk a couple of steps and say, “Yes.”
“My boy,” Barrymore replied. “I’ve always used the boards. Better to be safe than sorry.”
A few weeks later, Kanin and Barrymore were having dinner, with probably a few drinks, and Barrymore went into the complete, famous speech from “Hamlet.” And here was the man who had to have a cue card to say, “Yes.”
Another story I liked was about Edgar Bergen, probably known better these days as Candice Bergen’s dad. And if you don’t know who she is, either you never watched “Murphy Brown” or you’re too young to read this column. Charlie McCarthy was a wooden dummy who wore a monocle and top hat. He was kind of smart-aleck too, hence the comedy in Bergen’s act.
Kanin was on the set one day Bergen was to shoot a scene for “The Goldwyn Follies.” Bergen/McCarthy were extremely popular on radio at the time, and in that medium a typical performance sounded like two people talking.
So when the act began at the MGM studio, the sound man operating the boom mike kept moving it back and forth between Bergen and the dummy. Finally he realized all the sound was coming from Bergen and he was basically wasting his movements. This caused quite a laugh on the set – and the scene, which was to contain no “live” laughter – had to be reshot.
I believe the book is still in print, according to an Internet search. A nice, behind-the-stage look at the old Hollywood. It wasn’t crazy, just Hollywood.
[E-mail Robert Hankins at firstname.lastname@example.org]