HELLO AMERICA!—From the very first time meeting one of the first ladies of the motion picture industry, BETTE DAVIS, she immediately took on the responsibility of giving me a graduate course of Hollywood survival. Being a rather tenacious young 18-year-old dreamer of what I might achieve in the business, whenever there was a problem, question or something I needed to know when confronting the likes of a Louis B. Meyer, Jack Warner, Richard Zanuck, I’d be on the phone with Miss Davis!
Having spent my younger years outside of Philadelphia, having that city as a connecting line to some of the most talented, powerful people in the world of show business and even politics, I developed a rather aggressive nature in getting what I wanted when it involved radio, television or even theatre productions. Having the opportunity to be a part of the participating in USO shows following the Second World War was quite a challenge because most of the soldiers were more receptive to the pretty girls more so than some young Negro kid singing “Ol’ Man River.” Many of these guys got up and walked out but, I didn’t allow it to affect what I was expected to do and finished my rendition of the song. In retrospect, I’m glad that I was faced with this kind of reality. When relating this story to my mentor, Miss Davis, she laughed and said, “Darling, at least they didn’t throw tomatoes at ya!”
Then she added that what I experienced was an important level of reality “when dealing with any audience one has to face as an entertainer or actor, you do what you can to make them like or accept you and if you can’t, the hell with it! Then make up your mind, you’ll find a way to make things better the next time. You control the audience; don’t allow them to overwhelm you as a performer. Think of them as a bunch of cabbage heads!”
Before having a meeting with the recognized tyrant of the film industry, Otto Preminger, to try and convince him to sign me for the role of T-Bone for his upcoming film “Carmen Jones,” I was a bit hesitant because the rage at that time were the likes of Harry Belafonte or Brock Peters and a few other rather handsome, very masculine leading man types and I definitely didn’t fall in that category.
Upon hearing this, Miss Davis stood up, pointing her finger at me and yelled: “Listen, darling! Let me tell you something. Jack Warner didn’t really want to sign me at his studio because I didn’t fall in the same category as some of the women already sign there and considered sex symbols. When I got a feeling that I didn’t want to be a part of that contract group of actors because I was an actor. So, I put on a pair of the largest false tits I could find and strolled into Jack’s office and said, ‘How about these, Mr. Warner. Think they’ll sell tickets?! He fell back in his seat and couldn’t stop laughing. From that moment on, he understood I was there to be presented with the kind of stories demanding one who is a legitimate actress, not some pinup queen who might last a picture or two but nothing substantial.”
Of course, hearing this, I confronted Mr. Preminger, eventually got to sign for the role which opened the door to an extraordinary journey in a business which only a few are selected to become a part of i.e., actor, writer, composer and all the rest of it. Miss Davis didn’t hesitate to throw punches when believing it was in your own best interest. One of the last times when calling her for advice, “She stopped me in the middle of my story and said, “Listen, darling, you’re a man aren’t you,” I confirmed that. Then she continued with, “You have balls don’t you?” I definitely confirmed that then she shouted, “THEN USE THEM!” And I have ever since. I miss my teacher and friend!