Last week, lamenting about words mis-pronounced on television and radio these days, one of them being "route", I also referenced the television series, "Route 66", as well as mentioning one of its stars, George Maharis. (The voice-over announcer pronounced "Route' correctly, sounding like root). The George Maharis reference reminded me of the years George and I knew each other while "making the rounds" to audition for casting directors in New York City. That was from 1953 through 1957. I was 16 in 1953, George was 25. During that time, as well as before and after, even though some of us were lucky enough to have ongoing television or stage acting parts, many of us "hung out" to get casting messages, to hopefully land more parts, at a place called The Hayes Registry, on West 46th Street. Hayes was basically a message-answering service, but also provided couches, chairs and light refreshments for actors, actresses, singers and dancers to "chill out" while waiting for the messages. Obviously, had cell phones existed in those days, Sonny and Annette Hayes (the owners) would not have had much of a business. The monthly fee for their answering service was affordable. (FYI: I was able to make the rounds more freely in my teenage years because I was going to a school in New York...Lodge Professional Childrens' School...tailored to fit the acting schedules of those of us who were acting at the time, K through 12th grade. Some of my classmates were Sal Mineo, Carol Lynley, Betty Lou Keim, Judson Rees, David Winters, Charlie Brill and others. Carol, David, Judson and Charlie are still alive. I referenced Charlie in an earlier blog, and was glad to see one of the commenters remembered and likes Charlie. Charlie, his wife Mitzi and I, keep in touch enough to not lose track of each other. Last time I was with Carol, she commented, "YOU survived Lodge, too?", then chuckled. David was in "West Side Story", both Broadway and the film, and was responsible for my getting a "running part" as one of Wally Cox's character's (Robinson Peepers) students on the NBC-TV series, "Mister Peepers". "Peepers" also starred, of course, Tony Randall, who was like a mentor and father to me from the "Peepers' days until almost the time of his death, and referenced in this space in an earlier blog. Some people still living, and here in the Twin Cities, are well aware of Tony's wonderful kindnesses to me, witnessed and experienced "first hand" in the early part of this "new" century.)
Aside from Maharis and me, other actors named John Cassavetes, Martin Landau and Peter Breck were among those who also waited patiently with us and others for the messages to arrive. In those days, Peter Breck called himself "Buddy" Breck. Peter later became most well-known portraying Nick Barkley on ABC-TV's "The Big Valley", the major star of which was Barbara Stanwyck. Peter's family was the Breck shampoo/hair products family, and Peter once told us all the girls, aptly known as the Breck girls, who were illustrated on Breck shampoo and other of their hair-product boxes, were all members of the Breck family (sisters, cousins, etc.).
Back to George Maharis, and a then-unknown actor named James Dean. One late afternoon in late summer, 1954, after checking for messages, I wandered into a coffee shop a few doors away from The Hayes Registry. I saw George sitting in a booth across from two other people. He invited me to sit down next to him and have some coffee. George introduced me to them. One was named James Dean. The other name I can't remember. Regardless, after I sat down, George began swearing like a drill sergeant, bad-mouthing acting in general, especially upset because he'd been turned down for a lot of parts, but James, across the table, was leaving for Hollywood the next day because he'd been cast in a new Elia Kazan film entitled "East of Eden". ("Eden" was released in April, 1955) George didn't begrudge the part to Dean, but just felt more discouraged because he opined his own attempts to get parts was hopeless. At that time, he literally hated the business and all the rejection involved. Most actors, actresses, singers and dancers, then and now, could and can, relate to those feelings throughout their careers, or quests for careers.
Dean and I spoke only two or three words to each other in brief lapses of George's tirade. Dean was soft-spoken and seemed almost bashful, deifnitely the antithesis of George's personality in those moments. Dean told George he shouldn't give up acting. George was appreciative, but continued his anger at those who rejected George's auditions. I finished my coffee, wished Dean good luck, said my goodbyes and that was that.
Fast-forward to 1960: I was working at KID-TV in Idaho Falls, Idaho (a CBS-TV affiliate, now called KIDK-TV) as an announcer, director, promotion/sales service manager and weatherman/talk show host, when the new CBS-TV schedule was announced on a series of promotional announcements. One of the new shows was to be "Route 66", starring George Maharis and Martin Milner. Even as writing this, I'm smiling, because I remember the smile that hit my face when seeing George had "made it" and hadn't quit the business. I'm also smiling now because George is still alive. I wonder if those coffee shop moments ever entered his mind since then. If fate allows us to reunite, somehow, some way, before we both leave this life, I'll surely ask him. :)
Thanks for taking the time to read more of my geezer reminiscences. If you feel so inclined, please also watch my SENIOR MOMENT webcasts at www.startribune.com/video for similar remembrances and reflections. Best wishes for a good week.