Camp David

CAMP DAVID AUGUST 2006: JOHN CARRADINE

By • Aug 1st, 2006 • Pages: 1 2 3 4

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HAMLET MEETS THE WOLF MAN

John Carradine and David del Valle

By the time John Carradine came into my life he was coming to the end of his own mortal coil. Fortunately John lived to see his considerable talents as an actor appreciated by a new generation of admirers. His sons all became actors with varying degrees of success and John basked in their reflected glories. Today John Carradine has his star on the walk of fame in Hollywood, and a legion of fans thanks to DVD and cable television making his nearly three hundred performances on film available to fully appreciate his versatility.

One of my favorite celebrity haunts in the “good old days” when I was still a working theatrical agent was the now-legendary Cock’n Bull pub at 9170 Sunset Blvd where many agents and their clients would meet for lunch. In the evenings, show-biz types made the pub sparkle with rendezvous aplenty involving starlets as well as just pretty girls anxious to be part of the Hollywood dream.

On one particularly hot afternoon in 1977 I decided to cool off in the air conditioned darkness of the Cock’n Bull’s pub before the evening crowd filled the establishment for dinner. The pub was nearly empty except for a trio of character actors getting rather stiff at the corner of the bar. The trio was instantly recognizable from a lifetime of working in TV and films. First there was Frank Ferguson, a character actor from westerns like JOHNNY GUITAR, yet for me Frank would always be Mr. McDougal who bosses Lou Costello around in A AND C MEET FRANKENSTEIN. Next was the Maytag repairman himself, Jesse White, with the ever present cigar, who starred with Jimmy Stewart in HARVEY. Rounding out the trio was Alvy Moore, a regular on ‘Green Acres.’ I sat opposite these guys and listened to the conversation. It seemed Frank had the nickname of “fartface” and the guys joked about that for a bit until I had had a couple of drinks and felt comfortable enough to join in their fun. I asked Frank about the Frankenstein film. ”Lou played cards all day long.” And what it was like to act on a Joan Crawford set? “Joan terrified everyone but Nick [Ray]”. He was a good sport, as were the others, and just as all this was moving into a late afternoon of gossip and booze, in walks the unmistakable John Carradine.

Mr. Carradine found himself a stool several seats away from us and after ordering his “usual” he acknowledged the presence of his fellow actors by saying to Frank “Greetings fartface”. I was by this time fearless in my confidence to hold my own among these tipsy thespians so I moved over to the stool next to Carradine and asked if I could buy him a drink. John Carradine replied by saying “Young man the seat is not my property, by all means sit, however I like to buy my own libations if you don’t mind.” At this point Jesse White came to my rescue by saying to John ‘You know this kid knows his stuff about our business”. “Indeed, well what do you know of the theater or my work in it?” Here was my opportunity to shine so I mentioned his Shakespeare Company that toured the California coast during the war. Carradine smiled and then reminded me that the tour was kind of a bust. “I could not for the life of me get my troupe out of Los Angeles, so the tour ended right there at Union Station around 1943.” “I always wanted to do Lear but that requires a certain age I was not at the time. Shakespeare also requires the actor to utilize a certain amount of anemometry in reciting the text successfully.”

We talked at length for the rest of that afternoon until nearly midnight. As the pub began to fill up with customers, John was easily recognized. He was by then used to attracting attention and seized the moment to recite from memory The Gettysburg Address, which was so moving the room burst into applause when he finished. One tends to forget what a magnificent talent John could be as he continued to play in mediocre films and television just to keep the wolf from the door.

It seems John came to the Cock’n Bull to meet his son David, who never showed up. There was still a rift among John and his boys regarding their past history, with John absent for much of their upbringing. The pub closed at midnight. The bartender, a real pro, knew Carradine’s habits by heart. For one thing, all evening he drank what looked like large glasses of water, which turned out to be vodka with a little ice. John advised “Never pollute the beverage with tonic or soda; it causes nasty hangovers”

As last call was announced it became clear that John would have to make his own way for what was left of the evening. “There are OTHER establishments. PERHAPS IT IS TIME TO LOCATE ONE?” said the now slightly irate Mr. Carradine. The bartender told me that when this situation presented itself in the past it was best to steer John to the old Hyatt House up the street on Sunset. It seems that the hotel allowed the veteran actor to stay in one of their rooms free of charge as long as he slept on top of the sheets, leaving little for the maids to do after he left. Who says there are no perks for movie stars? I was more than happy to help John to his well-worn Mercedes complete with a few dents from other nights on the town. He bowed in a courtly manner before settling into his car for the short drive to the hotel. His parting words to me were “It is too bad that you are not amenable to finding another establishment that would allow us the more traditional last call, rather than this WITCHING HOUR conclusion to a fine evening!”

Looking back, that was one of my favorite moments in Hollywood, to have spent the entire afternoon and evening with this great man. We had exchanged phone numbers, making sure our paths would defiantly cross again.

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