08/29/2012 07:23 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How I Was Almost a Movie Star

Recently, I was sitting on the terrace of our local inn having lunch with some friends, when one of them casually mentioned that he'd seen me in a television film on YouTube. "You mean the video that Norman Sunshine and I did for our book Double Life?" I asked.

"No," he replied, "you were acting -- you killed someone. I didn't see all of it; I couldn't. I had to go to an appointment."

"That's impossible," I said. "I haven't acted on television for years and everything I did was on kinescope. Was it a kinescope?"

"No," he said, "it was a film. And I also saw a scene with your wife."

"I don't think so," I said, "I don't remember anything like that."

"Well just go to YouTube and put in 'Alan Shayne' -- the show was something like Follow That Man."

I couldn't wait to get to my computer and when I clicked on "Follow That Man," which was indeed the name of the television show, on came an episode with a man being killed and then there I was with a knife, stabbing my father. I had seen that the date it was made was 1952 and I felt as if a specter, holding my past in his hands, was reaching out of the grave to me. "Look at yourself," he seemed to say. "This is what you were then."


For a moment I thought, I don't want to see it. I must look awful and the acting may be terrible. Why go into it? But, of course the film was running and I couldn't turn it off. Then, actually, as I watched, I thought I was pretty good. It was early television; the script was banal; Ralph Bellamy was the private eye and I had the lead. Gradually it came back to me that I had done a couple of filmed shows, rare in those early days, and this was one of them. I got more and more engrossed as the half-hour drama unfolded and, although the photography was primitive, I thought I looked okay. But when I saw myself turn away, at one point, the angle did something to my nose on the screen that made me flash back to 1952 and my big moment when I almost became a movie star:

My agent had called me excitedly one morning to say that Mrs. Samuel Goldwyn had seen me in a television film of Hawthorne's The Marble Faun and told her husband that I was going to be a big movie star. He was on his way to New York and wanted to meet me for his new movie Hans Christian Anderson that was to star Danny Kaye. I could barely breathe. He was the most important producer in Hollywood. After I wrote down the time and the name of his hotel, I hung up and started to shake. It was all going to come true -- all my dreams and the hard work. But what if he didn't like me? How would I behave with him? He was so famous. I worried and thought of nothing else until the days had passed and the meeting was finally to take place. Going up in the elevator to Sam Goldwyn's suite was an ordeal. I had shaved and showered and put on my best suit. It was a little heavy for such a warm day and it made me perspire, but I kept trying to remain calm. Mr. Goldwyn answered the door himself and instead of the big, cigar-smoking mogul I had expected, there was a warm, smiling man with startling blue eyes. He couldn't have been more welcoming. He sat me down, talked of how talented he had heard I was and how much his wife had liked me. He described the movie and I relaxed as I felt he was acting as if I already had the role. At one point he mentioned that his wife had said that I wore tights in the television show and thought I must have been a dancer. He went on to say he needed an actor, of course, and was sorry that he couldn't use a dancer.

I went berserk. Suddenly the world I had dreamed of split apart. "I'm not a dancer," I heard myself yelling at him. "I'm not a dancer. I'm an actor. That was the costume they put me into because I was the faun. I mean I was like a faun and they thought a faun should wear tights. I mean not a real faun but a person who everyone thinks is like a faun. I'm not a dancer. I've had some classes and I can move but I'm an actor." All the calm I had practiced went out the window. I couldn't stop babbling until Mr. Goldwyn reached over and patted my hand.

"That's fine," he said. "I've sent for the kinescope and I'm sure you're as good as my wife said you were. Thank you so much for coming to see me."

His eyes were so comforting and friendly but I felt that I'd behaved ridiculously. There was nothing I could say except, "Goodbye."

Several days later the agent called to say Mr. Goldwyn had liked me very much in the television show but I would have to play opposite Danny Kaye in the movie and he had felt that my nose, though a very good one, was as big as Danny's and he couldn't have two big noses in the film. He later used his contract player Farley Granger.

And that's what I saw on You Tube as the character I was playing turned away: a nose that, though straight and perfectly all right, just got too big at certain angles. Of course that was before the days of Streisand. But after all these years, I knew why I hadn't become a movie star.

I watched the end of the program and saw myself lying dead at the foot of the stairs. Well, I thought, if I had gone to Hollywood at that time, I might have been spoiled by success, adulation, sex, drugs and thinking I was better than everyone else. My nose had really been my talisman. It had kept me away from Hollywood until I was mature enough and could cope with it all. My nose helped me become the president of Warner Brothers Television, and more importantly, it kept me in New York until I could meet Norman and begin our Double Life together.