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FEBRUARY 2011

Howdy! Nostradamus, French astrologer (1503-1566), predicted the world would end in 1962. In 1961 I thought he had it about right. With nary a ‘Bon Voyage!’ the brothers Warner cast me adrift on a sea of troubles without a paddle. Sugarfoot was washed up—all summer—upon the shores of Will Rogers State Beach, a sun-tanned girl Friday my only companion. The sands of time wafted by, and the sweet siren and I took autumn leaves, promising to rendezvous come next June.

I called up a long-lost acquaintance, my agent. He’d moved, leaving no forwarding address. Ray Danton once told me when a bloomer salesman gets the door slammed in his face, he doesn’t take it personally—the lady plainly doesn’t want bloomers. But when the casting lady says, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” She doesn’t want you! I couldn’t get arrested. I was turned down more times than a motel bedspread. My pals gave me the lowdown. Time to enlist in the army of the unemployed. I was shocked. Shocked! I whimpered, “But I’m a stah! a stah, I tell you!—Er, just where is this unemployment office you speak of?”

I got in line each week at the appointed hour, two soldiers behind Otto Kruger. The trick was slipping in and out of there fast, lest the avid fans snap your picture. Rumor had it Adolphe Menjou would pull up in his limo, tell his chauffeur to keep the motor running, and go inside to collect his fast fifty—you could strrretch fifty bucks a long way back then, at least as far as the next week. A pound of frying chicken set you back two bits. Four pounds of McIntosh apples cost you more: 39 cents on the barrel head. If you wanted to splurge on three Banquet frozen din dins you had to come up with a dollar.

An unemployed actor (pardon my redundancy) becomes something of a philosopher. I practiced yoga—Spent more time upside down than a bat. I ate brown rice and chewed each bite fifty times—Yummers! I meditated—Think I went into the astral plane a couple of times (business class). Think I discovered the solution to the eternal Zen riddle, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Answer: My career.

Temporarily unemployed, Will mends his own jeans.My buddy Angus invited me to play golf. I told him I had trouble getting the ball through the windmill—hi ho—I dusted off my dad’s old clubs, and away we went to the Griffith Park course three times a week. On the first tee, Angus would take a couple of practice swings, inhale noisily, and, noisier still, proclaim, “Geeze! Whatta beautiful day to be unemployed!” Played Billy Barty once. He beat me. Figured I had more fun than Arnold Palmer. He was always straight down the middle; whereas, I discovered new wonders every time I played. Heavy rough, bushes, trees, streams, deer, snakes, poison oak, quicksand. One fine day I broke 100. Another day I reached the zenith of my sporting life—seventh hole, 167 yard carry to a small plateau green. Took out my trusty mid-iron with the wooden shaft—swoosh! I nailed that sucker—hole-in-one! Yep, my name’s on a wall at the 19th hole. Told my dentist he oughta go out there and getta load of my plaque.

All Hollywood guides want to get into show biz. Take the guy who used to drive the tour bus up Sunset Strip—please! “Ladies and germs,” he’d blare, “To your right is Pupi’s patisserie. Check out Lee Marvin going in, Lucille Ball coming out, and Marcello Mastroianni sipping expresso at the window. On the patio at the big round table sit some of Hollywood’s most famous unemployed actors!”

Hmmm—I regaled my cohorts with tales of my days in the Signal Corps, lazing away afternoons with my chums at sidewalk cafes in Paris, Europe, slurping the au lait or Beaujolais on the Champs Elysses. One balmy day, I glanced over at the gent at the next table. Orson Welles! I handed my pard, Walt, my box camera and told him to snap my photo directly after I stealthily sidled up next to Orson. He did. I was so excited I forgot to wind my camera for the next shot. On the following day I shoved off on a $70 fortnight leave to Denmark. My first photo study was of the Little Mermaid statue at Copenhagen harbor. When I got the roll developed there was the lovely mermaid, Orson Welles and me—all in the same picture! Leave it to Orson.

Madame Pupi rapidly became disenchanted with our expanding coffee klatsch. She expressed her disapproval with subtle hints such as hosing down our convertibles. Jack Nicholson figured this called for counter-measures. With one mighty sweep of his arm, he cleared off our table. Writer Carol Eastman caught his act and much later incorporated that moment of fury into her script of Jack’s flick, “Five Easy Pieces”.

1961 hobbled out. I finally got a job in 1962—for $55 a week (I was movin’ on up). I worked in a play on Melrose Avenue at the 99 seat Horseshoe Theatre. Fitting and proper for a former oater emoter. We ran for six months to dwindling audiences. One night our cast out-numbered the folks out front. The show must go on. One stylishly stout lady laffed at everything I did. I pulled out all stops. They practically had to carry her out—glorious! The show closed, as all shows must, and I moved on to three more plays and lived happily ever after, or until 1970, when I re-upped in the Actor’s Army.

What has all this to do with WESTERN CLIPPINGS? you may well ask. Most of what you’ve just read took place in La La Land, and that’s about as far west as you can get—without treading water.

   —Adios!