Veteran performers talk about playing classic roles in old-time westerns.
“I don’t want to talk about it. ‘Sidekick.’ Thirty years later. It still turns my stomach!”
“Thirty years, wearing that scraggly beard, that moth-eaten wardrobe, and every second word out of my mouth was, “Yer dern tootin’!”
“That was my ‘catch-phrase.’ ‘Yer dern tootin’’ – I couldn’t get away from it! Once, I was perusing the wine list at an upscale restaurant. I say to the waiter, ‘Do you have a vintage Bordeaux’? He says, ‘Yer dern tootin’!’ I could have killed the man. I was there with a date!”
“I’m a New York-trained actor, for heavens sakes! I played the classics – Shakespeare, Shaw, Pirandello – who is hardly in their class, but still. I come out to Hollywood, they say, ‘Can you play a western sidekick?’ I’m an actor; I can play anything. Unfortunately, I played ‘The Sidekick’ so convincingly no one would cast me as anything else. Can you blame them? Who’d make me the ‘Romantic Lead’ after watching me land face-first in a cow pie?”
“How would I define a ‘sidekick’? Strip away every shred of human dignity and what’s left is the sidekick. It’s total humiliation. You burn your britches sitting on a hot stove. You hit your head with a frying pan and walk straight into a wall. You fall asleep in a rocking chair and ‘accidentally’ flip over backwards. I had terrible fights with the producers. I said, ‘You’re taking the low road. The hero’s buffoonish underling can have charming humanity and earthy wisdom. Remember Sancho Panza.’ They said, ‘Who?’
“‘The lowest point of them all?’ Once I’m coming out of a soundstage, costumed as ‘Soapy’ or ‘Succotash’, or some similar nonsense. And wouldn’t you know it? I bump right into Jack Barrymore. And he’s dressed to play Hamlet! I tell you, I have never been so humiliated in my life. The man saw me in The Cherry Orchard on Broadway!”
“Any ‘happier moments?’ A damn few. We were out promoting our latest epic on a cross-country publicity tour once, just me and ‘The Good Guy’ – Tom or Tim, or somebody. Funny thing is, wherever we stopped, the people seemed to gravitate towards me. I got more attention, louder applause, signed more autographs.
Did that upset ‘The Good Guy’?”