Were I to die and go to heaven and find it populated by actors, I would not be unhappy.
This entry is about the actor and the hillbilly.
Strage as it may seem to you there are still people in this land who are so prejudiced and ignorant they think actors are people who are going straight to hell. I have heard preachers praying against the devil's workshop known as "show business." I remember a group of young theology students going around a college campus and praying for this and that and when they got to the Theatre Department mounted a prayer vigil to protect those students from being tempted any further by the drama devil. I received a post card at work one day from someone who said he was praying for my "immortal soul." He didn't say why, but I could guess.
Why should Theatre, one of the oldest and grandest art forms in the history of humanity, be treated with scorn, intolerance, hatred and fear? Simple minded ignorance is why, and a religious belief based on a bucket of mud.
Every month the actors union, Actors Equity, publishes a news letter, and in it is an obituary column under the title "Final Curtain." The names of the actors who have recently passed on are listed in alphabetical order, the famous next to the unknown.
One of the names posted these days is that of Douglas Campbell who died last October and was on his way to heaven and not the other place. I knew Douglas and I have a story about him that no one else knows.
Douglas was born in Scotland in 1922. He became an actor in England and eventually moved to Canada. He had a long and varied career. In 2001 he came here to Pennsylvania to play a very difficult role in "The Dresser" by Ronald Harwood. Douglas was 83 at the time and had a bad knee. He was unsure about whether he would be able to sustain the run of the show in his condition so the theatre hired me to be his understudy.
He asked me one day if I wanted to play the role. He would have allowed me to go on for a matinee performance now and then. And even though I was ready to go on at a moments notice I said no, that I wanted him to play every performance. They were coming to see Douglas; they shouldn't be disappointed. He did play every one of them.
Because I was his understudy we became buddies. I stuck close, monitoring his health from day to day. After rehearsals and performances we would sit in the King George Bar, where he drank wine while I drank beer and we would talk, tell stories and jokes.
Since he had difficulty walking, the theatre management loaned him a Cadillac to drive back and forth to work. One day he asked me if I would like to drive out to Atlantic City with him. I guessed he was fairly lonely. His wife, also in theatre, was off doing some other show somewhere else. So I agreed.
It was still Winter so there wasn't much beach activity in Atlantic City but we watched the Atlantic Ocean coming in and walked along the boardwalk seeing the sights.
On the way back a strange light appeared on the dashboard of the car and after a while the car started to die. So Douglas pulled over to the side of the highway. The police soon came and called a wrecker truck. When the truck arrived the mechanic saw immediately what the problem was, hoisted the car up on his truck and took us to an auto body shop somewhere in the New Jersey meadows. A belt needed to be replaced. It was quickly done and we were on our way.
But while we were there Douglas asked the mechanic where he came from since he didn't sound like he was from around there. The mechanic told us he was from West Virginia but that he moved to New Jersey to be where his wife came from.
Now, being a character actor, I have always been a student of accents and dialects. My ears were tingling listening to these two men talk to each other: a Canadian actor who grew up in England and a New Jersey mechanic who grew up in Appalachia. It was the same English language but the sounds they made and the words they used were so different. They understood each other just fine. And when the mechanic found out we were actors he was very agreeable. No prayers or prejudice there.
I'll always treasure the day when I got to hear the Englishman and the Hillbilly talk to each other in a New Jersey meadow.
DB - The Vagabond
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