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Making The Rounds

October 05, 1986|EVELYN KEYES

You are unable to flip on a TV set any hour of the day or night, anymore, without catching some actor or other sitting there nattering on about himself or herself. The result, of course--and purpose for it--is instant recognition of the chatting actor. Lord. To think how many years it took me to accomplish what one appearance on Johnny or Merv (and now Joan?) can achieve overnight these days. What the studios had to do then was to send us out to be on display in person if we were to become the proverbial household-name-and-face.

Boy. I covered this continent like a car-wash brush covers a Mercedes. Up and down I went, back and forth, crissing and crossing, from Bangor to Key West, from Roanoke to Albuquerque. You name it, I've been there. I'll bet I have more photos of myself getting on-off planes and trains smiling and waving than the Princess of Wales does.

Actually, before I was sent on tour I had been introduced to "America" by way of the national airwaves. Cecil B. DeMille, whose "discovery" I was, introduced me on his famed "Lux Radio Theater," one of (if not the ) most popular shows of its day. The entire nation tuned in on a Monday night to listen to the radio version of the big movie hits, performed on the air by the biggest of stars. I wasn't one of them, though; Mr. DeMille used the time between acts to present me. "Show them, Evelyn," said he to me as we stood facing each other over the microphone, prepared scripts at-the-ready, "how you've worked to lose your Southern accent."

And I (as rehearsed) proceeded to rapidly recite the well-known jingle, "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers . . ." in its entirety.

Of course, if America was doing then what it does now during intermissions--running for a beer or a snack or making a quick trip to the bathroom, my debut into Show Biz would have been missed altogether. At best I would have been a voice only, no one would still have had a clue as to what I might have looked like, hence the reason I had to be sent traipsing all about the hinterlands.

I suppose the old introductory system appears to be a more difficult approach than the way such things get done now, but I'm not 100% sure. For instance, what if you get your shot on, say, "The Tonight Show"--and you make a perfect ass of yourself? You could blow --not launch--your career in the split of a second. At least I was able to make my goofs out there in the boondocks somewhere with a limited audience. I could repeat myself, too. But these days, once you've said something and everyone's heard it, what do you do for an encore? And what's worse, you're so limited in your subject matter. You are your subject. Politicians have the wide range of politics, doctors their medicine; NASA folk have all that Space. But actors, poor things, are stuck with themselves. Their careers, their lives and how they live them, their marriage(s), their children, their divorce(s), their diseases. Actors have to turn themselves into walking, talking Harlequin-type romance novels-in-progress-on-the-tube. Not only that, they have to do it with charm, grace, insight, eruditeness and wit, or their careers will be kaput.

You'd think that would be disheartening for actors who have spent their waking hours perfecting their chosen craft, learning to use voice and body, learning to chain energies to work for them instead of against --all the while memorizing lines for this part and that--and speaking them to other actors who have memorized their lines--all of them deep into the world of make believe, pretending to be somebody they are not--the reason they chose the acting profession in the first place--in order to be able to do just that . Only to find that the role they'll be called upon to play for the most part is . . . themselves. And they'll have to ad-lib it, at that.

To save wear and tear on their psyches and blood pressure, I would suggest that they take up something else. There are so many easier ways of making a mark in the world than the acting profession. Like robbing a bank. Marrying a Rich-and-Famous Person. Becoming a plastic surgeon. Finding a cure for baldness.

But is anybody going to pay the least bit of attention to me? Certainly no actor that I know. They'll all simply learn--have learned--whatever new tricks of their trade that are necessary to go on coping. Aerobics, for instance, that's a good new trick, and a lot of actors with good bodies and like to show them off have latched on to that for their TV appearances. (And, goodness knows, it works. Who among us doesn't enjoy looking at a good body?) And then there are those who've taken up cooking and splash stuff around for us, break eggs and chop, chattering as they do it about inconsequential things.

I expect that's the main trick. To keep the chatter going no matter what. Maybe there's no need to ever actually say anything. Probably no one's listening, because they've heard it all before, anyway. They only want to see if you're holding up, if you're keeping your figure and what you've got on it so they'll know what to go out and buy for themselves on the morrow.

Whatever. Whichever. However. It won't stop actors. They'll find a way, no matter. They'll hang it.

Because . . . they have a dream. . . .

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