Marv Goldhar did not get into acting until he was well into his mid-thirties, allowing him to view the business he had belatedly entered with a bemused self-awareness.
Once, while standing in his dressing room when he was getting into his makeup, I heard Marv lament,
“Here I am, a thirty-six year old man, and I’m putting brown stuff on my face.”
Another time, I heard actor Marv express with undisguised candor,
“You know what I hate most about acting? Small parts.”
Marv resented the fact that the actors with small parts were required to show up at the same time as the actors with the big parts. And they had to remain in the theater just as late.
This less than unselfish perspective leads directly into the following story:
I am thirteen years old, which at my camp meant I was a “Senior.” (“Juniors” were age 6 to 9; “Intermediates” – 9 to 12; “Seniors” – 13 to 15. Then CIT’s – counselors-in-training – 16; then staff members – 17 and over, and then old.)
Besides other “Senior” perks – you got to stay up later, you were allotted half an hour after the evening activity to walk your girlfriend back to her cabin (at this writing, the privilege remains unused by this writer), and most importantly, you’d be participating in the major camper-involved event at the end of the summer,
“The Senior Show.”
This was a majorly large deal. The younger units didn’t have their own shows. Meaning you waited your entire camping life till you were finally old enough to participate in the “Senior Show.”
My older brother had been in the “Senior Show” and had memorably scored. The show took the form of a song-and-comedy revue, and he had appeared prominently in many of the sketches. One of them, I recall, was what they call a “runner” – a short scene that recurred throughout the production, interspersed between the musical numbers and the sketches.
My brother, looking shady, dressed in dark sunglasses, a pulled-down fedora and a long trenchcoat, and carrying a large suitcase, made his way furtively across the stage, when he was suddenly interdicted by the constabulary. Suspected of smuggling, he was instructed to open the suitcase. Surprisingly, the suitcase was empty.
Later in the show, my brother crosses the stage, and the entire scenario is repeated. He opens the suitcase. Again – empty.
Near the end of the show, the action is repeated a third time – he opens the suitcase – nothing.
The perplexed constable says “We know you’re smuggling something into the country. What is it?” And my brother replies,
It was like that.
When I turned 13, the format for the “Senior Show” was abruptly altered. No more revues. Instead, we would do a “book” show – some cut-down Broadway musical, with a plotted script and specifically written numbers.
In its inaugurating outing, the “Senior Show” production would be Peter Pan.
There were no auditions. The parts would be assigned by the director, the “Senior” Unit Head Steven Lewis, a man who would later become the provincial leader of the Socialist New Democratic Party, and after that, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations. I knew him as the guy who led the camp in a song called, “Tina Singu Lalo Votaya Watcha Watcha Watcha.” Also, while I was serving as a volunteer linesman for a Counselors’ Tennis Tournament, Steve Lewis once hit me in the ear with a reverberating serve.
So he owed me.
It was my fifth year at camp, where I had distinguished myself – by which I mean positively, not “I never caught one ball” – performing on stage. Looking for activities that would enhance my self-confidence – and make me want to come back to camp – the staff put me in pageants, usually hyper-dramatic ones involving The Warsaw Ghetto, where I was required to utter un-childlike multi-syllabics, like “totalitarianism.” (I had to write that one on my arm, so I could remember it. Since I wrote big and my arms back then were short, “totalitarianism” went all the way up one side of my arm and three quarters of the way down the other. “Totalitar…(TURN MY ARM OVER)…ianism.”)
With my acting reputation rock solid, I understandably expected a big part in the “Senior Show.”
The night arrived when we would congregate at the Rec Hall and the casting for Peter Pan would be announced. Here was the climactic moment of the summer, or, if you want to amp up its importance – as I certainly did back then – the end of five years of waiting till I finally got to participate in the “Senior Show.” Befitting the significance of the situation, I did what I generally do at the peak dramatic moments in my life.
I got sick.
As my cabin-mates filed out that evening to find out who of us would be playing what, I remained confined stoically to my bed, the blankets pulled up to my chin, my slim frame and weak voice quivering, the psychosomatic sweat descending Niagara-like down my fevered brow.
It wasn’t just the pressure. My preference was to bypass the announcement, because, as my face is embarrassingly revealing, I did not think I could pull off receiving a big part without looking like I deserved it, I had known it all along, and that the acknowledgment of my unquestionable acting superiority had been only a formality.
Talented actor that I was, I had little aptitude for “humble.” Botching the subterfuge, I feared serious, possibly physical, repercussions.
So I strategically stayed away.
Until I couldn’t.
Rethinking the situation, lying there alone in the cabin, feeling not all that terrible, I found myself unable to pass up my anticipated Moment of Triumph. I dragged myself out of bed, and, pulling a bathrobe over my pajamas, I walked out of the cabin and headed to the Rec Hall. (Remembering people thought I was sick, I moved along heroically haltingly. Even before anybody was looking.)
I could not help myself. I just had to be there when they gave me the big part.
Tomorrow: An unexpected surprise.