I suppose it's pretty apparent to anyone who goes to the movies much that through a career of sixty-odd pictures I have played one character -- Bing Crosby. The background changed some, but not very much. The songs were other songs and the people I worked with generally were different people, but I played the same fellow. Really, there seemed to be no great reason to do otherwise.
But when Bill Perlberg and George Seaton came to me with the "Country Girl" proposal, I knew the old routine wasn't going to do. Frank Elgin, my part, was a wholly different guy, and I must say I had some serious qualms about my ability to play the role accurately. It was surely something that I had never tried to do before. In fact, I told Seaton two or three times I didn't think I could cut it. I even suggested on several occasions some fellows I thought would be infintely better choices, but George was firm. I think really he just wanted to see if I had guts enough to try. He told me if I carried it off I'd have done something of which I could really be proud.
First off, I asked George to write me a biography of Frank Elgin. I wanted him to start right back at the cradle, to tell me about his parents, his boyhood, his friends and companions, where he went to school and how he got into show business -- everything that ever happened to Frank Elgin before we pick him up in the play. George provided me with quite a dossier on this boy, and I read it over very carefully, and I read the play over several times -- Odets' play -- and slowly, but very clearly, a definite personality began to emerge. As a matter of fact, I got real brave and even questioned some of the motivations in the piece. Incredibly, I was right in one or two instances, and I was instrumental in some re-tailoring of the character.
Well, now that we had Elgin card-indexed, analyzed and blueprinted, the rehearsals began -- first, just George and I alone, and then with Grace Kelly and Bill Holden, and I want to tell you these rehearsals were pretty thorough. Two weeks of them, ten hours a day, and George drilling me like a top-kick. I must confess there were times when I got a little impatient.
There were times when it seemed to me that he was picking lint, but I stayed in there and did like a good boy. I had rehearsed for pictures before -- you know, "Who takes the harmony on the second chorus?" or "Let's all make together on the 'eight bars lively and off." But never no two weeks on dialogue, characterization, reactions and bits of business -- where and how to spot a look, a nuance or an expression that would tie the whole thing together.
Holden was a great help to me, you can be sure. This boy knows his business. He's been over the jumps and through the field. And Grace worked so hard sometimes that she made me feel I was doggin' it. But Seaton was the fellow who pulled the strings, and if the thing comes off, you've got to give him the kudos.
Many nights I went home convinced that what I was doing was a great big nothing, but luckily there is never any dearth of enthusiasm around the studio when a picture is being made. People in the front office kept telling me from time to time how much they liked of what they had seen in the daily rushes. They seemed sincere, and in any case, I was committed, so we plugged along. Curiously enough, it was over almost before I realized it -- maybe this was because of the preparation we had gone into, and because I was tremendously interested in what I was doing.
LONG TIME NO SEE
Well, the picture has been cut and edited and scored and it's been shown around in several places, but I haven't seen it yet. Honestly, I'm afraid to. I don't want to see it in a cold projection room with a couple of fellows -- I want to wait until I can catch it in front of a live audience, and until I can sense what their reaction is as the picture unfolds. Maybe I won't be good in the picture -- maybe I shouldn't have taken the part, but I know that Grace Kelly and Bill Holden are good, because I worked with them day after day and they moved me on many occasions.
Maybe the critics will blast me, but I won't be annoyed -- I've been impaled before. Of course, if the picture is a success and everybody likes it, then it's a beautiful parlay.