Actors acting like actors


Partner was watching “Stage Door” a while back on TCM. If you haven’t seen it, kick yourself seven or eight times, then run out and see it. Not only does it have a dream cast – Katherine Hepburn, Gail Patrick, Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball – it’s one of those perfect combinations of corny sentiment and real feeling that makes 1930s movies fun, and it’s got some good laughs.



But I had an epiphany while watching it over his shoulder the other night. It was Hepburn’s big “calla lily” scene; I won’t spoil it for you, but she’s supposed to be a Broadway actress, and she’s had a big personal shock in real life, and it makes her stage performance very intense. And I suddenly realized why so many of the best movies, and musicals, and plays are about show business. The performers understand what they’re doing. If you’re an actor, you may have a hard time getting into the mindset of a plumber or a priest or a call-girl, but it’s no trouble at all imagining what it’s like be an actor – you understand all of the motivations, and all of the situations. Start listing all the good shows about show business in your head: “A Chorus Line.” “All That Jazz.” “42nd Street.” “The Band Wagon.” “Gold Diggers of 1933.” “All About Eve.” “Sunset Boulevard.”



Oh, that last one. It’s a hall of reflecting mirrors. You see Gloria Swanson screening footage of her unfinished / unreleased silent movie “Queen Kelly,” which had been directed by . . . Erich von Stroheim, who plays the sepulchral Max. Even Cecil B. DeMille has a cameo! But, for me, the creepiest scene is that of Gloria playing bridge with the group of silent-movie survivors that William Holden calls “The Waxworks”: Buster Keaton, H. B. Warner, and Anna Q. Nilsson. They look like the living dead.



How aware were they of themselves in that scene? How aware were they that they were playing themselves: washed-up, forgotten has-beens?



Oh, they were completely aware.



Too depressing.



Cue the Gold Diggers!




About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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