This is the seamy, sordid, demeaning crap they don’t teach in any Temple of the Dramatic Arts. And, actresses have it much harder than actors. There are more of them chasing fewer roles in fewer castable years. The casting-couch offers them a horizontal method of climbing up to stardom. As long ago as the silent film era, the saying among the liver-lipped movie-moguls was: “Don’t cast ’til you see the whites of their thighs.” And, that’s how so many of the ambitious, naïve, venal, vulnerable women who are drawn to show business become damaged goods. Many of them develop a carapace of iron. But, look closely and you can tell from the way they carry themselves and smoke their cigarettes that they are anguished creatures. You see them at movie premiers working as escorts for powerful industry trolls. You see written in the thought bubble above their expensively coiffured heads, “It wasn’t meant to be this way.” Tough broads. Walking wounded.
One of Manhattan’s top socialites says to me as we look over a glittering crowd at a charity gala, “There’s a lot of midnight-money in this room.” The room teems with failed actress/model/beauty queens and their troglodyte husbands – their former tricks. Midnight-money. Great phrase.
Method Acting teachers are seen as gurus and they embrace this mantle: “I am the great Father Figure, Witch-Doctor, Shrink, the Font of All Wisdom, the Repository of All Knowledge, the Giver of Pleasure and Pain.” No surprise their schools become personality cults. No surprise these cults are especially attractive to young women who have little self-esteem and big “Daddy” issues. The Guru demands that the student emotes at all times. The student is not having a successful scene if the student is not having a nervous breakdown – even if the scene is from Mary Poppins. Simply put – “If you ain’t crying, you ain’t acting.”
One Guru held his entire class captive for two days because one student had not prepared a scene. Two days. No food. No phone calls. No talking. Limited toilet breaks. Very limited. Meanwhile, across town, a revered female Guru sent her students out to pick up strangers in bars and have sex with them – in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. And, people fought to get into these classes.
Acting has always attracted the delightful but also the dim, the desperate and the deranged. ‘Twas ever thus. My parents were delightful, stage-struck, Italian kids from Brooklyn when they met in a Manhattan acting school in the 1930s. It was a time when the New York theater was crawling with Russian émigrés all of whom claimed to have been former members of Constantine Stanislavski’s renowned Moscow Art Theater. Stanislavski invented “Method Acting” and every one of the Russo-invaders claimed to have been his mentor – “And, I told Constantine he vas wrong about the emotive mimetic.” Manhattan sheltered more of these borscht bullshitters than the number of baby-boom bullshitters who claim to have seen Jimi at Woodstock.
And, every Boris and Svetlana ran an École de Théâtre in a drafty loft on Delancey Street or a Temple of the Dramatic Arts ensconced in a dank basement on Bleecker. One teacher would dampen the wooden floor of her studio with a garden hose then turn up the heat, thereby creating a steam-room. Her students disrobed and lay down on the floor to do esoteric Siberian breathing exercises. “It is imperative to open and breathe through all the orifices of the body at once.”
Racy stuff for then and total bullshit for always.