Tuesday, January 4, 2011
For a time, the Universal Studios lot was a playground of sorts for me. Paul Stanley was directing episodes of The Road West and I took advantage of his gracious standing invitation to come onto the set whenever he was directing. My first day on the set of that show wasn't on the lot but on location out in the hills north of the 101 and west of Malibu Canyon. I arrived in the early afternoon and found some of the actors sitting around in the shade of the dressing room trailers waiting for their scenes to be shot. Off in the distance, I could see a tribe of Indians making their trek across the countryside for the benefit of the camera and I decided not to join them. "How do you do?" called a voice from behind me. I turned to see the man who addressed me. He was sitting in a "director's" chair dressed in western attire. He rose and extended his hand saying, "My name is Barry Sullivan."
Barry Sullivan was an actor who fit in with the likes of Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan. At that time, I was too young to know who he was but I soon found out that he was one of the series leads that included Glenn Ford, Glenn Corbett, Andrew Prine and Brenda Scott. I was very impressed that he made an effort to welcome an unknown to the set. He showed himself to be a gentleman and, today, I remember him as much for that as for his excellent performance in The Bad and the Beautiful with Kirk Douglas.
There were times when I would pick up the stage phone and call the Universal transportation department and order a limousine. It would arrive at the Road West stage and take me out to the back lot where I would watch Ben Gazzara shooting Run For Your Life. Then I'd have the driver take me to the Laredo set where I would see what was happening there. Life was good.
I came to think of that film studio as a school with each sound stage being a classroom of sorts where you were isolated from the students in the other classrooms. But, just as it happens in any school, when something extraordinary is going on in another classroom, word gets around. One day there was a buzz circulating amongst the grips, carpenters and gaffers--the real tough guys of the movie business--about something going on over on the set of The Virginian. An actor there was impressing the crew--which is really saying something--and word was circulating to the other sound stages. I called my limo--yes, I did--and had the driver take me to where they were shooting. I made it in before the red light came on and watched an older man doing a scene sitting at a campfire. In between takes, I could hear whispers from the crew: "He hits the same beats every time"; "He's amazing!"; "He couldn't blow a line if he tried." The actor had impressed the unimpressable. His name was Lloyd Nolan and I would become a fan of his over the years.
All this was brought to mind when I watched Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters again recently, which featured a fine performance by Lloyd Nolan. As I watched him in the upscale New York setting, all I could think of was that fireside performance at Universal that had crews from other shows abandoning their posts just to catch a glimpse of him. That's an actor.