Oh, the talkies nearly killed us. You kidding? That first time Duff Straply looked in the camera and opened his mouth, and everyone realized that behind that mustache was the voice of an angel? Forget about it. Half of the actors in Grand Galoot Get-Together were out in the streets, right there. Talk about Black Tuesday
Now, Black Tuesday, there was a performer. Certified professional, no muss, no fuss. Tuesday would come on set, say ‘Hi’ to everyone—everyone! Even the kid who mopped up at the end of the day!—and then the overalls were off and he was working. One time I asked him, I said, Tuesday, brother, how you feel about the fact that the same meatball who’s making you sit at the back of the bus is tugging to you down at the Trenches on 52nd? You know what he said to me? I’ll never forget this. Look, Grant, he said, I’m here to work. I ain’t got no time worry about about that meatball. Professional. As. The Dickens. You don’t see that anymore. These days, everyone wants to be a website.
The Trenches used to be the place. Everyone knew you. Oh yeah. I was a god when I’d swing by the Trenches. All these mooks and meatheads trying to play cool, act like they don’t know what kind of movie they’re here to see, and then they catch sight of me, and it’s over. They’re shaking my hand, telling me stories. One of them even introduces me to his wife. His wife! It wasn’t all boys down there, don’t forget. The ladies liked it too, the honest ones anyway. But here’s the problem: I say hi, I shake the hand, I hug the wife, I say so long, and do they leave me alone like a normal person? No, sir. They’re following me, hoping to take me to the can or cuddle real close during the next picture. Made me sick. I don’t got time for your shameful fantasies.
That’s the thing—back then, it was all shame, all sadness. Every five seconds, you’d get some fat mick cop walking in and losing his marbles. Faith and beghorra! And sometimes you’d get your ass beat. Oh, sure! I’m not gonna act like it was all fine and dandy, or that I’m not happier things are how they are today. A copper lays a hand on me today, I make sure he gets severely reprimanded. But there was a beauty to that time too, y’know? None of this teal and magenta, no Miami boat parties. Back then, guys had mustaches, they wore suits, and they acted. Real performances, real characters. It was like Hollywood in a way. In more ways than one!
I remember this one time, I was on set for this movie…I think it was called, What A Happening! And this guy walks up to me, big fellow, gray at the temples. And he asks me in this deep voice, Seems a rather peculiar place for a rendezvous. And I’m thinking, Oh, no, some chump misread the ad, thinks he’s here for a men’s retreat or something. I’m terrified, trying to figure out how I tell Chet, Chet was our director, see, that we had some dumbo on set who was about to get more than he bargained for. But then I noticed the guy stretching, and then he breaks out a bottle of Schlubsky’s Men’s Oil, and I realize he’s playing straight! He’s the straight guy who wanders in, sees the happening, and gets intrigued. That’s how good an actor this guy was. He was named Lance Branding, one of the greats. Dick like a bar stool. You’ve probably never heard of him.
So many of those guys, lost to time. Maybe these days, you can build a legacy in the industry, but then? Nah. People wanted bigger, buffer, meaner, and if you couldn’t handle it or clung to the way you’d learned to do things, they’d toss you out on your keister. I was lucky, I left on my own. I remember it clear as day: I’d just finished up on the set of Giddyup, Butler Jim!, and the director was asking this young kid, a greaser with tattoos, he asked this kid if he’d be interested in doing some “German theater.” And the kid’s face, it was unmoving, like a statue’s, and he said, “I’ll do whatever you want for two hundred bucks.” And I realized there was no hope for a guy like me, with morals, and standards. Either I backed out now or I’d end up dealing with regrets in a few years.
That night, I went in the showers, washed myself out, and the next day I told Chet to spread the word I was done. You know what he said to me? He said, Thank God, Grant. You’re too good for what this business is becoming. I wish you all the best. He was a good guy, Chet. Died in the war, in Normandy. He fell into a ditch full of bayonets. He was reading a Donald Duck comic, didn’t see where he was going. Stupid, but nice guy.
But hey, look, good things come and good things go. If I’d stayed in the industry, I wouldn’t have met your grandmother, and you wouldn’t be here. You gotta count your blessings. Oh, hey, we’re here! All right, sport, let’s set up camp and get out there. These fish aren’t going to catch themselves!