"Where are the real stars? Today it`s four-barreled carburetor and that`s it."
"Bogart's a helluva nice guy until around 11:30 every night. After that he thinks he's Bogart."
............David Chasen - Founder of Chasen's Restaurant, Circa 1950's.
"Who was your favorite?" I asked.
Julie smiled, and said, "Oh, I couldn't choose any particular one. And there were so many stars in Hollywood those days. When I was at MGM the studio's motto was that 'There are more stars at MGM, than in all the heavens.' A publicist's concoction, to be sure. But when you were walking around the lot seeing them all, it didn't seem like such an exaggeration."
She leaned forward, voice becoming conspiratorial. "I wouldn't want to diminish the talents or screen presence of the new generation," she said, "But stars were... well... actually Stars, in those days. There's really no comparison."
Warming to the topic, she said, "I like to count Shirley (MacLaine) among my friends - we met at MGM... she was doing a romantic comedy, I was doing a Western... and I remember this delicious story she liked to tell.
"You might not know this, but Shirley was an unofficial member of Frank's (Sinatra) Rat Pack. A lot of actresses like to claim membership these days. But there were really only a few - 'Broads,' as Frank might say - who were welcome members of the Pack.
"Lauren Bacall was the Rat Pack's 'Den Mother,' because the original chief rat packer was her husband, Bogie. (Humphrey Bogart)." Julie gave a little musical laugh. "And there was Judy Garland, of course. If for no other reason than she was Judy Garland.
"And, of course, there was Shirley. You can't imagine... She's lovely now, of course. Beautiful, talented, and oh, so sweet. But when she was young.... Well, she had this quality - she could stop a man's heart with a look. Or stir the mothering urge in a woman."
Chris laughed. "She stopped my teenage heart a helluva lot," he said. "She has this... quality... on the screen."
"Star quality," Julie agreed. "Which brings me back to my story - or, Shirley's story, really. She and some of the other rat packers were having lunch at the MGM commissary one day.
"Frank was there, of course...And Dean (Martin) and Sammy (Davis Jr.) and Peter (Lawford), naturally. She didn't mention Joey (Bishop), so I suppose he wasn't in attendance.
"Well Shirley said Frank was at his best. Cracking jokes, trading jibes with the others. She said he was so full of life that day, his eyes so blue they would break your heart. And you could see right then why so many people - especially women - adored him.
"But, then Frank spotted someone coming into the commissary and suddenly fell silent. Shirley and all the other looked, and in came Clark Gable!
She said he looked so handsome... so... so... Clark Gable that she had to catch her breath. He walked right by their table, turned slightly and flashed them that glorious Gable smile in greeting. And then he vanished among the tables.
"And Shirley said she heard Frank murmur in absolute awe: 'Now, there goes a Real Star!"
Julie chuckled that musical chuckle she had. And she repeated, "'There goes a Real Star....' "And from the mouth of one of the greatest."
And I think of it often when I hear people call this actor, or that actress, a Superstar. We seem to confer that status on anyone who is the latest box office and scandal sheet darling. In many cases, the person's sole talent is the ability to avoid falling over cables while posing before a Blue Screen. Not just a Star - but a By God Superstar. One word! Not two.
The Age Of Aquarius has instead become the Age Of Empty Superlatives.
So, what's a Real Star? I guess it's like the guy said about art - "I know it when I see it." (Or was he speaking about porn?) Here's a page from my own scrapbook of Star memories:
When I was about twenty or so, I took care of Jack Kelly's house (the other Maverick) for a few months while he and his soon-to-be-ex-wife Donna, went through the throes of divorce (Donna Kelly's stage name was May Wynn. A former Copa Girl, Donna was also known for her small part as the only woman in the Caine Mutiny and as the (not-so) former girlfriend of Mafioso Boss Jack Entratter, who ran the Sands, in Las Vegas. (Entratter reportedly put a "hit" order out on Jack when he and Donna eloped. They fled to Hong Kong, where they cooled their heels while doing an awful movie - the aptly named "Hong Kong Affair.")
The Kellys had three poodles - a standard, Misty, a medium sized one, Sammy, and a tiny one, Mitzy that suffered epileptic fits, poor thing. One of my jobs was to exercise them a couple of times a day, being extra careful with Mitzy.
The Kelly's lived on Sunset Boulevard in a stretch where a lot of stars had homes - Jayne Mansfield's house was two doors up. Beyond her was Jim Backus. And next door to Mr. Magoo was none other than Walter Matthau.
PAUSE SCENE FOR QUICK ASIDE
I used to have friends over and we'd sit in the windowed breakfast nook that looked out on Sunset Boulevard, drinking frozen daiquiris and playing cards. When the Star Tour buses went by, pausing to show off the home of TV star Jack Kelly, we'd wave at the tourists and give them a thrill! ("Oh, look, Myrtle, that must be Jack Kelly and his chums!")
Mr. Matthau had dog-walking chores of his own and we'd pass each other now and again, strolling along the back gate of UCLA. (Sometimes you'd see Elvis Presley out on the field playing touch football with his entourage.) Anyway, Matthau would pass by, nod in greeting and say, "Hello, young fella," and continue on,
Years later Chris and I landed a Story Editor gig at MGM. (See The Movie Rock Mogul) One day we were standing in line at the commissary, (the very same one in the Gable story) waiting to be seated, when in walked Walter Matthau.
He hesitated, looked out across the room, spotted the people he was meeting, and started toward them. But, then he noticed me. Paused for a minute. Frowned that patented Matthau-Beagle frown.
Then his eyes lit up and he said, "You're the kid with the poodles, right?"
I was so star struck all I could stammer was "Yessir, Mr. Matthau," and he gave me a smile and continued on - with that long, loping Matthau stride.
Damn. Now there was a Real Star.
But, that's not all, folks.
A few years drifted by. A young actress friend (Laurie Prange) landed the ingénue part in Sean O'Casey's Juno And The Paycock, starring none other than the original Odd-Couple - Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon.
It was at the LA Music Center downtown and our friend left four tickets at the box office for me and Chris, his true love, Karen, and my wife, Kathryn. During intermission, Laurie came to escort us backstage to meet Matthau and Lemon. (I hadn't told Laurie that Matthau and I had sort of met before.)
She led us to the dressing room, and the two of them were in there, door open, joking with each other and passing a bottle of Scotch back and forth. Half in and half out of costume, makeup smeared. Talking to beat the band to keep revved up.
Laurie introduced us and right away Matthau recognized me, poked Lemon, and said, "Hey, Jack, it's the Poodles Kid."
Then he explained how we used to walk our dogs together on Sunset, making it sound way more than it was, but making me feel like a king.
Then he said, "You doing okay, Kid?"
I said I was a writer now and he said "Good for you," and that was that. We tactfully withdrew, then went back out to enjoy the remainder of the play.
To echo Sinatra once more, "There goes a Real Star."
NEXT: HOW MANY HOLLYWOOD AGENTS DOES IT TAKE TO SCREW A CLIENT
Orbit Books in the U.K. has gathered up all eight novels in the Sten Series and is publishing them as three omnibus editions. The First - BATTLECRY - features the first three books in the series: Sten #1; Sten #2 -The Wolf Worlds; and Sten #3, The Court Of A Thousand Suns. It is available now. (Click this link to buy it.) The Kindle Edition OF BATTLECRY, includes all three books but is only available in the U.K. and territories. (Click this link to buy it.) Coming in November: JUGGERNAUT, which features the next three books: Sten #4, Fleet Of The Damned; Sten #5, Revenge Of The Damned; and Sten #6, The Return Of the Emperor. In the following months Orbit (A division of Little Brown) will publish DEATH MATCH, which will feature Sten #7, Vortex, and Sten #8, End Of Empire. Those will be issued as Kindle editions as well. Stay tuned for details.
THE COMPLETE MISADVENTURES: IT'S A BOOK!