Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Kidnapper, My Love

Remember a centerfold blond beauty of the 50s named Jan Sterling?  Remember her husband, Sam Wanamaker? 

In the late 70s New Orleans’ premier casting director,  Wilma Francis, phoned me and said that Sam Wanamaker wanted to cast me in a James Stacy film entitled “The Dark Side of Love”.    Now deceased, Wilma asked if I and my wife would be available to join Sam and his wife, Jan Sterling, for dinner at the Royal Sonesta Hotel.   Well, of course I said yes and Gloria and I joined them there at the appointed date and time.   I had not auditioned for this film so I had no information about the plot or the character requirements.   Wilma had shown him an audition tape from a previous production I had tried out for.  

A director is only willing to “wine and dine” a prospective cast member if indeed the role is fairly substantial.   Wilma was also present at this dinner meeting.   Sam was extremely gracious, introducing us to his wife, Jan, and taking the time to make Gloria feel comfortable and welcomed.    We had wine and ordered the Royal Sonesta signature cuisine.   

He then began describing the script.   He said that this was a story that James Stacy had for years wanted to bring to the screen.   If you don’t remember James Stacy, he was a young, upcoming heart throb of the 60s.   Then tragically in 1973 his girl friend was killed and he lost his left arm and leg in a motorcycle accident.   Sam Wanamaker,  also an actor, was primarily known for his directing repertoire .... Columbo,  Love Story,  The Defenders,  The Wild, Wild West,  I was a Mail Order Bride, Private Benjamin,  Gunsmoke and many, many others.   Jan Sterling, his wife, was also to appear in this film.   An A-list actress famous for sultry  roles in films such as Johnny Belinda,  Union Station,  The Mating Season,  Pony Express,  etc,  she would be playing my wife in this film.   SAY WHAT!!!    I knew I was younger than she.   I would later discover that I was 11 years younger.   What was this all about?   Anyway Gloria and I continued to enjoy the socializing, though, in my case somewhat uncomfortably.    Why would he want a much younger actor for the role of the husband?   I dared not discuss the age difference for fear that Jan might be insulted or more likely I’d be the one insulted.   Jan couldn’t have been sweeter or more gracious.  At the time she would have been in her mid fifties and looked absolutely stunning.   But still … 11 years age difference?  

When dinner ended, both Sam and Jan said they were looking forward to working with me though I had not yet been formerly offered the role.   I thanked them for a lovely evening.   I thanked Wilma who said she’d let me know when shooting would start and when I’d be getting a script.   

On our drive back home I expressed to Gloria my concern for playing a husband much younger than his wife.   Gloria said “maybe they think you’re closer to her age.”  Thanks a lot, honey.   I preferred to think that Sam would be grooming Jan to be much younger.   After all she was still a beautiful woman.   Of course this was all pure speculation.   I still didn’t have a script, so all of my fretting was for naught.   I would simply have to await a script.   

But no script ever came.  The following day Wilma called and said that Stacy had vetoed Sam’s casting preference.    She said that Stacy had decided to cast “one of his crony friends”.    He had selected Richard Venture over me.   Of course I was disappointed.    I forgot what network the TV film aired on, but when I watched it (it had been renamed “My Kidnapper, My Love”), I quickly realized that Venture, in my opinion,  was more suited for the role.  He was a year older than Jan Sterling and 12 years older than me and delivered a convincing portrayal.   So I doubted that he was merely a “crony” of Stacy.   Didn’t really matter.  He delivered the character and delivered it well.  Venture is still living today (now 89) though not currently active.  His last film was in 2001.   It later occurred to me that Sam himself could have played the husband.   He looked a lot like Venture and was near his age.  Perhaps he had cast himself and perhaps Stacy vetoed that selection.  Who knows?  Pure speculation. 

My late friend, Brooks Read, had a small bit part in this film, playing a homeless vagrant…a strange piece of casting in my opinion, though Brooks did an admirable depiction.    

Who am I to advise the likes of Sam Wanamaker?   Though I truly appreciated his “appreciation” of my talent, in retrospect I probably would have suggested he consider a more likely match for the role.  Though I love stage much more than film (except for the money) nothing can be more stressful or tiring than portraying a character for which you are not suited.    In film I’ve come to accept and expect the stereotypical “jerk” character types I seem to be best suited for.   Though I don’t enjoy portraying “jerks”, the money says “It’s OK.”  And on second thought I probably would NOT have advised Wanamaker to consider a more likely match than me.   After all, as I stated earlier “Who am I to advise the likes of Sam Wanamaker?

1 comment:

  1. A perfect story to illustrate what so much of the business consists of--namely meetings and auditions and the majority of them never materializing into a role. Great evening though and fodder for an interesting story.