HELLO AMERICA!—Like so many others in Hollywood, I decided, when invited to lunch with Michael Plaster, one of our film group members insisted that I have lunch together at the famed Canters restaurant we all love, I jumped at the suggestion. When walking in, it was like old days before the virus. Hollywood clans of actors of all types were scattered at every table. One young actor I knew when seeing me yelled, “Hey, St. John, can’t believe you left your computer to find time to eat!” I responded with, ‘Oh, yeah, guy! I was beginning to feel like I was in jail with no life around.” When hearing this, someone in the room said, “Ya got that right, man” This, of course, caused more laughter.
Plaster knew that I’m a light eater, he had no problem insisting that it was his treat! There were a few guests wearing a mask, but most of the crowd was properly distanced from each other, table-wise. Sitting there eating my tuna sandwich and drinking a very huge Apple juice, I suddenly realized what I had been missing. I became a human camera and slowly moved around the place studying those sitting with friends and, of course, a few were alone, and I was astounded with the expressions on their faces.
It was as if I discovered a new group of people whom I had never really seen before. The smiles were meaningful, the laughter from others was so genuine, so real it made me feel a different type of experience, of joy as well. The waiters, all wearing a mask, were nicer, extremely attentive and made it extremely obvious they were delighted to serve you again. With the beautiful playing at a rather respectable level in the background, it was as though, the place was expecting someone like Humphrey Bogart and Bacall to make a grand entrance.
When leaving, my partner Michal Plaster, quietly smiled and remarked, “You know, Mike, I for the first time realize why you dig this town so much. There is something special about most of the places Hollywood is known for. It is crazy man, but I suddenly felt that everybody in that restaurant seemed to be tied to each other in some way. It was a kind of family feeling, something emotionally special. Kind of religious in a way. It meant a helluva lot to experience something like that, because I never had it. Thanks, man for suggesting having lunch there.”
When Michael dropped me off at my place which is only about 10 minutes away, I had a tremendous urge to listen to my favorite composer, George Gerhwin. That, of course, meant for me was to listen to the music score of “Porgy ‘n’ Bess.” I suddenly had the urge to explode with one of my favorite songs from the Broadway show, ‘I GOT PLENTY OF NOTHIN.’” The special magic of music controlled every part of me and I exploded with dance movements in my living room as if facing a huge audience looking forward to explode with a resounding response of approval.
After quieting down and relaxing in one of my very comfortable living room chairs that another one of my buddies, Chris Robinson of “General Hospital” gifted me a few years ago. Gazing at all the photos I had collected through the years of such people as: Bette Davis, responsible for me being the first person of color to be signed at 20th Century Fox in the Public Relations Department, years later, Andy Williams insisted that I be interviewed as one of the Associate Directors at NBC.
Again the first person of color in that department, I could go on and on as to why I have such a passion in the industry that opened its arms and took a chance on me to discover who I was and what I needed to do in my desire, my passion to open the door to see who and what I was as a kid from Morton, Pennsylvania, 10 miles out of Philly.
When I received my first Hollywood job at CBS located on Sunset Blvd., in the script department in (1952), I was lucky enough to have listed on my script was “Mayor of the Town,” with Lionel Barrymore, Agnus Morehead, Marie Wilson’s “My Friend Irma.” They all suggested that an actor should always prepare for the moment when the casting offices make excuses not to see you and or suddenly can’t get your agent on the phone. A brutal reality, but true.