I never saw a Marc Lawrence flick I didn’t like. Pulitzer Prize Winner James Agee loved him in that caper classic “The Asphalt Jungle”. Reckon Marc stole it from the other thieves. Shoulda taken home an Oscar.
Circa early ‘60s we A-list unemployed actors whiled away many a sultry afternoon on the Sunset Strip at Madam Pupi’s Batisserie. We drove her nerts. We perfected the art of strrretching an ice tea for hours. One sunny day Marc Lawrence honored our gathering. We asked him about the Black List. Shucks, he was no commie. He went to meetings to meet the chicks.
Once upon a time Marc and I shared a table at an autograph show. Marc was hustling his book LONG TIME NO SEE–CONFESSIONS OF A HOLLYWOOD GANGSTER. I bought a copy. He wrote on the title page: “To Will and Babs— We sat next to each other. Never met when we were at Warners. And discovered Will was and is a pretty nice kid. The old man, Marc Lawrence.” I think that’s what he wrote. His penmanship is not unlike hieroglyphics.
Summer, ‘63—I’m Ensign Pulver to Hugh O’Brian’s Mr. Roberts and Vincent Gardenia’s Captain at the Westbury Music Fair in Lawn-Guy land, about 10 miles from where Babs and I live now. On school matinees we cut down on the cussin’. During thunder and lightning storms we stopped the show. The audience couldn’t hear us, so we passed among them, signing their programs.
I returned there last year with Babs and a packed house to hear David Sedaris read from his works. He’s a wonderful and witty chronicler of the agony and ecstasy of growing up in a dysfunctional family. After his chock full o’ chuckles performance we bought one of his books, BARREL FEVER, and stood patiently in a long line to get his signature. He took his time with all commers, a dish of candy on his table for his customers to dip their mitts in. Our turn. He seemed as interested in what we had to say as we were in what he read on stage. He asked us where we lived and wrote in his book: “To Hutch and Babs. Glen Head’s Fun couple.” His signature is like some modern art—undecipherable.
After Ronald Reagan left Warner Bros. I inherited his stand-in, Chuck Hibbs, nephew of director Jesse Hibbs. I told Chuck his main duty was to keep the toilet seat warm out in the back lot on cold mornings. My mom loved Ronald Reagan the actor. He pronounced his name ‘Ree-gun’ back then. Chuck kindly wheedled an autographed photo from President-to-be Reagan made out to my mom Jane. If you come visit us we’ll show it to you.
Orson Welles said every actor in his heart believes everything bad that’s printed about him. I still cringe when thinking of a letter I got from a kid named Timmy when I was portraying Meshuga-Foot on the telly. Timmy put me down pretty good. He wrote that I was no hero of his. I got beat up too much. He commanded me to fight fiercely when the baddies belted me. He called me the Shirley Temple of cowboys. Of course, I had to reply: “Dear Timmy, I don’t like you writing letters to me. Come to think of it, Timmy, I don’t like you. Love, Sugarfoot.” Heh, heh—reckon that ruffled his rompers.
I’m older now. You know, wiser, gentler, kinder—or not! I answer all my mail, granting autographs and signed photos. My signature is a work-in-progress. My “W” and dotted “i’s” are stolen from Walt Disney. I also draw a logo of a bunny. (Rabbit hutch). I charge a fast sawbuck for a personally inscribed 8x10 glossy. The money goes to the poor—us poor. I used to write, “Happy Days to a Sweet Patootie.” Someone pointed out that “Happy Days” was a TV sit-com, so I bent it a little and came up with “Happy Daze”, which is more like it. Used to end, “Your Pal”, then I heard Jimmy Stewart tell Johnny Carson he considered his fans to be his partners. Now I write, “Your Pard.”
I like signing pics for folks up close and personal so I can relate to them David Sedaris-wise, giving them something spur o’ the moment. Most mail orders get stock messages that fit the pictures. Example: Sugarfoot leaning on a big wagon wheel. “Would somebody please he’p me get this here wagon wheel off’n my great toe?” I’m ominously ridin’ past a gallows with a hangman’s rope: “No noose is good noose.” I always give my hoss Penny credit. Ol’ Sweet Toes is leanin’ against a wall, re-loadin’ his trusty pistola: “Remember the Ammo” or “I’m fast on the draw but slow on the drawl.” A picture of me as Sugarfoot’s nemesis, the dastardly Canary Kid, cigar in hand: “A woman’s only a woman, but a good cigar’s a smoke.” A picture with a pensive mood calls for: “May all the wheels of your shopping cart go in the same direction.” Gun outta holster. I write variations on Monte Hale’s “Shoot Low—They might be crawlin’.” I write, “Shoot low—They may be ridin’ Shetland ponies.” or “Shoot high—They may be wearin’ Adler Elevator Boots.” Astride Penny: “I ride tall in the saddle—blisters.” Gunplay: “Good weather for slappin’ leather.” A close-up: “Will Hutchins—Star of Stagecoach, screendoor and rodeo.” In a frisky mood: “Jes’ give me my hoss, my saddle, my bed roll, the stars above—and $50,000—and I’ll show you one happy cowboy.” With apologies to Roy Rogers: “Happy snails–er, Jails—I mean Trails!” Another: “Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam and a rather large broom.” For pure corn: “The west shall rise again! And so shall the yeast!” Sometimes a simple “Yeeeee Hawwwwwww!” will suffice. On a bad day: “The west is on the Wayne and I don’t give a Hoot if I never have the Hart to Mix it up again.”
Sent that to the late Cherokee Slim Lacey—He wrote back, “Hi Will. Hello the campfire. Let me Steele a moment to Carey a little message to you, Ladd. Don’t just Keel over like you’ve been hit with a Hale of bullets. Get Holt of yourself, man. You haven’t reached the Sunset yet. Chill Will, and Bond with reality. It really Frosts me to hear such nonsense ‘cause one day soon you’ll be Landon a role that’s Taylor made for you. You’re the real McCoy. You’re the Master son. So stand up and Duke it out and Starrett right in the eye. Movie life might not be such a Devine way to go, but it’s Moore than some people have. So be Smiley, don’t be a Crabbe. No one gets off Scott free. Your Gabby pal, Cherokee Slim.”