I left my position in the bookstore for a job in show business. That’s right, I was going to be stage manager at an equity waiver theater. The Big Time, was just a step away.
Actually it was closer than I’ve ever gotten to legendary Old Hollywood. The Back Alley Theatre in The Valley was run by Laura Zucker and Allan Miller. My wife Dawn was the general manager. Zucker and Miller really believed in the transforming power of theater.
The Back Alley was known for its fine production of ARE YOU NOW OR HAVE YOU EVER BEEN? by Eric Bentley, a play about the government’s investigation of alleged communism in Hollywood. It starred some of the finest character actors of the mid-century years. I was the stage manager and sometimes understudy for everybody.
So I was “in charge” of some of the most legendary faces of a generation. I wish I had that time back again. I’d ask so many questions. Not that I didn’t recognize them and know their work. But, for some reason, be it shyness or ‘not wanting to bother them-ness’ I didn’t bug them relate their marvelous histories.
Some of them were:
Lionel Stander – The gravely voiced character actor known for the original A STAR IS BORN. Blacklisted during the Red Scare, he bounced back as the chauffeur Max in the TV series HART TO HART. Stander had the distinction of playing himself in ARE YOU NOW OR HAVE YOU EVER BEEN, repeating a transcription of his own heroic testimony before HUAC.
Thalmus Rasulala – Thalmus will always hold a place in my heart for playing the vampire hunter in the soul cinema classic BLACULA. With a voice like God, he’s also remembered for his regular role in WHAT’S HAPPENING? He played Paul Robeson in ARE YOU NOW, and brought a gravitas to the role that no one but Robeson himself could have evoked. Died far, far too young.
John Anderson – With a face like the plains of Kansas and a reedy voice like you’d imagine Abraham Lincoln having, John had over 240 film and television credits, from the lost airline pilot in THE TWILIGHTS ZONE’s “Odyssey of Flight 33” to the suspicious used car salesman in PSYCHO.
Byron Morrow – With his steely looks, bushy eyebrows and white hair, he was the Judge on dozens of PERRY MASONs and other TV shows. If there was general or politician in movies or television program in the 50s or 60s, chances are it was Byron.
Michael Cavanaugh – The man with the devilish grin and quizzical eyebrows, Michael was Clint Eastwood’s nemesis in THE ENFORCER and THE GAUNTLET. With a career spanning THE ROCKFORD FILES to 24, Michael is still going strong. He played any government inquisitor with scalpel-like precision.
Martin E. Brooks – Dr. Rudy Wells in THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and THE BIONIC WOMAN. His avuncular bedside manner taught a generation that we HAD the technology and we COULD make Steve Austin stronger than before!
I was supposed to be in charge of these people but, of course, they were the ones in control. There was never a boring moment!