I met Don in 1969 in an off-off-Broadway theater buried in a supermarket basement on the lower West Side. The proximity of the stage to food made it a magnet to the largest cockroaches East of the Sun and West of 8th avenue. We actors developed the ability to smash the creepy critters mid-soliloquy without breaking our iambic pentameter rhythm or the audience noticing.
To be or not to be,
That is the question.
It was my first acting job. I landed it right after I landed in New York from Milwaukee, Wisconsin where I’d been evading military induction, aka the Draft. I touched down; bought a showbiz paper at the first newsstand I passed and saw this audition notice –
Spear-carriers needed for Macbeth
Like Gene Kelly in an MGM musical, I raced to the theater with luggage in hand. I’d like to say it was a straw suitcase but it was a duffel bag. I’d like to say I auditioned on a large stage facing red velvet seats but it was in a filthy hallway facing cases of Velveeta cheese. I’d like to say I auditioned for David Merrick but it was for Mark Fink. I’d like to say I had his undivided attention but he read his mail. I’d like to say he wasn’t a married queer on the prowl but he was.
Fink leered to me that I had a touch of genius but that we must keep that a secret lest it spread jealousy in the ranks of the spear-carriers. He used the same line on all the spear-carriers. And, you’ll notice it’s the same line used by Professor Pervowitz. But, unlike that creep, Fink never asked me to masturbate at his feet while saying I was his bitch-slut-cunt. Fink just tried to suck my cock. When I resisted, he reverted to that hackneyed homo ploy, “What are you afraid of finding out?”
Hmmnn… maybe there’s a Showbiz Scumbag College where they learn these seduction techniques.
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.
In the 1980s, after a young actress accused her acting teacher of raping her, the dam burst. Former students from as far back as the 1950s reported similar attacks by Professor Pervowitz. He had been an acclaimed teacher and a predatory sadist for decades. He had run weekly ads in The Village Voice. Taught major stars. And, you had to hand it to Pervowitz, he had a psychologically brilliant M.O. He would tell the actor or actress in his sights that they were a genius. But, to prevent jealousy, their “genius” had to remain secret from the other students. Pervowitz was willing to give the budding genius private coaching… ssshhh… to open you up… ssshhh… you are a genius but you are emotionally blocked. I know how to unblock you… ssshhh… now take your clothes off, kneel at my feet and masturbate while repeating – I am your bitch-slut-cunt.”
And, they did it. Many geniuses did it. Male and female did it they – for decades.