Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Star Struck

Actor Ronald Colman, but if you squint it could be Paul French
Last night, as I watched the Screen Actors Guild awards, I scanned the audience, hoping to spy a bona fide leading man...somebody suave and tall with a mustache. Yes, there were some handsome actors in the audience, but I couldn't pick out anybody who resembled the classic male stars of the '40s. I'm star struck, but particular. I've not given up...there's still the Academy Awards!
George Clooney, but if you squint, it could be Paul French

I wrote this story a few years ago about my fascination with a certain Hollywood type.

Paul, Paul, Suave and Tall

By Terri Elders

“The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly.” –Cecil B. DeMille

Today I opened the entertainment section of my Sunday paper and glimpsed a photo of actor George Clooney in an ad for a new movie. I had to catch my breath. With the mustache he’d grown for his role in The Men Who Stare at Goats, he looked drop-dead gorgeous, and…just like Daddy.

Back in 1950 both Daddy and most of Hollywood’s leading men indeed were tall, dark, and handsome, and all sported mustaches. So when Daddy announced one night, over Mama’s pineapple upside-down cake, that he was looking around for a second job, we had definite ideas of what that should be. Living in Los Angeles, the females in our family were hopelessly star struck.

I still remember eying Daddy across the kitchen table. “I think you could get a job as a stand-in for Ronald Colman,” I ventured. Though Colman played a college professor on the radio show, The Halls of Ivy, I had no problem whatsoever picturing my father, a high school grad, stepping into that role. Daddy possessed enough roughhewn elegance to make the character believable.

My big sister sized Daddy up. “No, he’s more like William Powell,” she said. Patti loved the Thin Man movies. She kept well-thumbed copies of Photoplay and Silver Screen on her bedside table. A Jeannie Crain look-alike, she dreamed about breaking into movies herself one day.

Mama spoke up. “Paul’s the spitting image of Clark Gable…no ifs, ands, or buts!” After she’d seen Gable cast as a race car driver in To Please a Lady, Mama had decided she looked quite a bit like Gable’s co-star, Barbara Stanwyck.

Daddy shook his head. “I don’t even know what a stand-in does.” He glanced around at our three faces lit up with excitement. “Don’t they have to leap from trains and halt runaway horses?”

“No. Those are stunt doubles,” Patti explained. “A stand-in just has to have the same skin and hair color and be about the same height and weight as the star. Daddy, with your dark hair and mustache, the studios would be grateful to get you.”

“It’s not hard work,” I jumped in. “I’ve heard that stand-ins just kind of hang around while the crews set up lights and camera. It gives the stars a chance to rest.”

“We’ll see,” Daddy said, “but for now I’m just interested in doubles on this cake.”
Mama picked up her serving spoon, and cast him a sultry Stanwyck smile. “I bet you’d be able to halt runaway horses, Paul,” she said. He laughed.

After dinner Daddy dragged out the Yellow Pages from the phone stand. “I’m going to be calling to make some appointments for interviews,” he told us, “so don’t go tying up the phone line for the next few nights.”

When we tried to draw near to see what phone numbers he was jotting down, he waved us away. “Go do the dishes,” he ordered, in the authoritative tone that always set us scurrying.

“Do you think he’ll really call for an audition with a studio?” I asked Patti, as we finished tidying the kitchen.

She hesitated, and then finally shook her head. “Don’t get your hopes up. Daddy would never settle for being a stand-in. You know he’d want to be the director.”

Patti was right. If Daddy ever did set foot on an actual movie set, it wouldn’t be minutes before he’d be ordering costume changes and adjustments to the lighting. Daddy, the younger brother of three sisters, was used to running the show. Those aunts, plus grandma, were always calling up to ask his advice. Even at home, Mama would have to exercise her womanly wiles to get to choose where to place her own hooked rag rugs.Patti and I exchanged rueful smiles and hung up our dishtowels.

So the two of us idea set aside the notion of Daddy entering show business. Mama, though, didn’t give up so easily. “Paul, have you contacted any of the movie studios yet?” she asked one evening, handing him a dish of his favorite strawberry shortcake.

Daddy frowned. “Studios?”

“Don’t you remember that we all talked about your wanting a second job? And that the girls and I thought you’d be great as a stand-in or double?”

“I thought you were joking,” Daddy said, putting down his fork. “But now that you bring it up, I did find a second job, and I’m starting Friday evening.”

We waited while Daddy passed his plate for a second helping of dessert.

“I’m going to be selling shoes at Sears. The store’s a five minute drive from here, and I’ll be able to get an employee’s discount on the girls’ back-to-school shoes.”

We congratulated Daddy on landing his job, but expressed our sorrow that we wouldn’t be hearing first hand tales about life in Tinsel Town.

“Girls, I’ve never been one to hold with razzle dazzle,” Daddy pointed out. It was true. A diesel mechanic by profession, he appreciated a well-oiled and smooth-running machine. He used to remind us that the best way to get through life was to remember to pick a car for its engine, not for its paint job.

A few weeks later when the family visited Sears to be fitted for new shoes, Daddy pointed out how he’d reorganized the department. Everything seemed more orderly and accessible, with Daddy in charge. And he already led the staff on Saturday sales. Mama joked that rumors had floated around the neighborhood that some movie star now sold shoes at Sears, so ladies were flocking in to try on the latest stilettos and Cuban heels.

So, sadly, Daddy never became a stand-in for Colman, Gable or Powell, though I’m convinced to this day that with his stunning good looks he would have been perfect.
Nonetheless, I’ve heeded his advice about life. Thanks to him, to this day I’ve never picked a car, a job or a mate just for the razzle dazzle.

But star struck still, I admit I admire those actors who can wear a mustache well. So I’ve cut out the photo of Clooney. I plan to mail it to my sister. I’ll enclose a note to ask her if she’s reminded of anyone at all, perhaps someone from our youth who was suave and tall.

Below, L to R: Patti, Luella, Terri and the real Paul French, c. 1940

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this. Selling shoes and being a stand in, not nearly the same excitement unless he sold shoes to those stars.