Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Lionel Stander (center) in "The Big Show-Off"

My father would have been 103 years old today (the simplest date of all: 1/11/11). My latest acquisition of Lionel Stander memorabilia is a publicity still from The Big Show-Off, released in January 1945. I haven't seen it, but per the synopsis it seems to be a typical Republic Pictures "B" movie. Its one claim to fame is that it stars Dale Evans just before she hitched up with Roy Rogers.

I visited my mom and stepfather in Maine two weeks ago. While I was doing my morning stretches, I suddenly noticed a book, which I'm sure had been on the same shelf for 20 years: BUILDING A CHARACTER.

"Huh," I thought. "This might be useful in writing fiction." (I've been working on The Great American Potboiler, in fits and starts, for several years.)

I pulled the book down, and saw that the author was Constantin Stanislavski, inventor of "The Method" espoused by Jacob & Stella Adler, and countless other of Dad's actor friends. I opened it and was surprised to see that it was from the New York Public Library's Bloomingdale Branch, on West 100th St.

Even more surprising, my father's temporary library card was in the pocket, with our old West End Avenue address and phone number--proof that he had indeed moved back in with Mom and me. The book was borrowed Dec 16, 1961, and due on Jan 26, 1962. The overdue fine is 5¢ "per calendar day." That's almost $900 by now, so this is a very valuable book.

I felt a mental connection with Dad when I started reading BUILDING A CHARACTER: this was a book that he went out of his way to read. The Dewey card is stuck between the first two pages of Chapter Four: "Making the Body Expressive." Did Dad get bored and stop there? That chapter is a bit of a slog. But he was such a voracious reader--often a book per day--and Stanislavski's work so important that I'd like to think he read all the way through.

As luck would have it, today I found a bit on YouTube from "The Danny Kaye Radio Show," in which Kaye hilariously explains the Stanislavski Method to my father, who was a regular on the show. What I miss most about Dad is his voice, which is like no other. (I've never heard a credible imitation. When I was little my mother took me to the doctor because my voice was hoarse. Turned out I was trying to speak like Daddy.) So it's wonderful to be able to hear him long after his death--and long before my birth. He gets a few lines to set up the bit, then it's all Danny Kaye. Listen:

1 comment:

Eric Riback said...

There is so much connectivity in the accident of noticing this book on a shelf that it boggles the mind!