A Lesson From VivecaTuesday, October 12, 2010
A Guest Blog by John Lekich
A Lesson From Viveca.
Not long ago, I watched a documentary called Trumbo. It was based on the life of blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who, among many other accomplishments, wrote the original story for Roman Holiday. The documentary consists largely of archival footage and hundreds of letters Trumbo had written over the years. They’re read with great conviction by the likes of Donald Sutherland, Liam Neeson and Michael Douglas. The correspondence during Trumbo’s long, dark years of unemployment brought me to the edge of tears.
It reminded me of the brief correspondence I shared with the late Viveca Lindfors – a veteran actor whose long career encompassed the Hollywood blacklist era of the fifties. I came to recognize her as a woman of extraordinary passion. Brought in from Sweden by Warner Brothers to become the new Garbo, she simply refused to be pigeonholed. Starring opposite such leading men a Ronald Regan and Errol Flynn, she would later work with a list of directors that included Fritz Lang, Robert Altman and Woody Allen. When Alex and I met her, she was working on a low-budget Canadian film. “They’re nice,” she said. “But they’re treating me like an old lady.”
This from a woman whose Actor’s Studio classmates included Paul Newman and Marilyn Monroe. When I asked her why she kept working, she looked at me as if I were too young to understand. “What am I going to do?,” she said, gently. “An actor acts.” We got to talking about Sterling Hayden. A co-star of hers who was deeply affected by his decision to “name names” in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee. She told me she had never read Hayden’s The Wanderer. To my mind, the most heartbreaking biography ever written on the guilt-ridden compromises of a Hollywood life. It was long out-of-print but I became determined to find a copy and send it to her.
A week later, in one of those serendipitous moments, I found a pristine copy in a used bookstore. Later still, I was rewarded with a note in the huge, handwritten letters of someone with failing eyesight. “Thank You!” she wrote. “I thought I knew him but...” There were other letters, always ending with: “Remember, an actor acts...and a writer writes!” I sometimes re-read them, just for the wisdom of that last line. The older I get, the more I appreciate exactly what it means.
Here are three more guest blogs by John Lekich