July, 1963 Atlantic Edition Vol. 60, No.2
As we walked in, Raymond Burr was standing at the bar talking to a groups of friends and, seeing us, he waved and indicated a table against the wall.
As he walked across the room I had to admit that, of all the stars I'd interviewed in twenty years of writing, this man was not only the most impressive in appearance, he was downright stunning. He could be my lawyer any day in the week and I was mentally trying to figure out what jam I could get myself into--whom I could murder, so I could retain his services--when he slid in beside me and said: "You look very different without pants on. I don't think I would have known you."
I was about to say "Sir!" or something equally as Victorian and righteous when I realized that the last time we'd seen one another was in Taos, New Mexico, and I'd been attired in my usual tacky T-shirt and blue jeans. I was living there then, and Ray had opened a terrific art gallery the whole town talked about for weeks.
"What will you have to drink?" he asked, looking me straight in the eye, and somehow I felt as if Pepe LeMoko had just asked me to come with him to the Casbah and share a bottle of absinthe. The only other actor I'd every been swayed by was Jackie Cooper, when he was playing Skippy and was six years old, and that brought out the mother instinct in me. This feeling had nothing to do with anything maternal.
"I'll have a dry martini on the rocks with a twist," I mumbled.
"So will I," said the man with the eyes. "What will you have?"
I suddenly realized that the CBS press representative was sitting on my other side. This man who had been so near and dear for a week. Driving me all over Los Angeles; catering to my every whim; filling me in on all the latest information on the people I was to interview; wining and dining me and generally knocking himself out. My buddy, my pal.
I wondered if I could send him out for a newspaper, a pail of beer, or a glove I'd lost on Catalina Island six months ago. How did you ask someone like this to take a walk? He wasn't about to. He ordered scotch!
"You know I'm not crazy about giving interviews," said the man with the eyes. "Some I 've given have been twisted, and some I haven't given at all--yet I've been quoted or misquoted. If you want just a straight interview on what I believe in or think or do, not some hoked-up story, we'll get along beautifully."
At that point I would have been willing to write about nothing more than the way Raymond Burr wrapped his hand around a martini glass. The drinks were very strong. I'd already felt the effect of mine. Then I realized I hadn't as yet taken the first sip. How do you tell a bartender you've just switched from martinis to Burrs?
"You know, Ray, walking across the room you didn't look like an actor. I mean if your face weren't familiar, if it hadn't become so well known because of 'Perry Mason,' you'd look just like any successful business man. You could be a lawyer, or a banker, or a vice-president of U.S. Steel."
"Actors don't look any different from anyone else unless they are playing at being actors even when they aren't on stage," grinned the man with the eyes. "I have a little ego about my cooking, my gardening and my interest and knowledge in art, but about being an actor I have none. An actor should be a lot more than a big blob of ego. He is a human being, so he is a lot of other things. He is changes, he is the whole world, as are all human beings.
"Perhaps I became interested in art because of my acting career. But actors are not allowed bad years as painters are. Both have a great deal in common because both are trying to express inner emotions. I like to think I own one of the finest collections of the Impressionist painter Sicard, but then I realize I don't own the collection--I merely possess it. You never own anything. You merely posses it for only a short time. You cant' own a great performance, even though you give it yourself. It's there, it's fleeting--it's gone."
I was about to point out that so were our drinks when Ray motioned to the waiter and another round appeared.
I looked at Ray more closely. There was no doubt he was a big man, a gigantic man, but you could never in a million years call him a fat man. In appearance he was everything a woman pictured when she dreamed of strength, power, capability and dignity. From time to time, though, there was a look in those eyes that gave you the impression he could be as undignified as all get out--if the right woman were to appear on the scene.
I had seen eyes like that only once before--one night when Liz Taylor waked into El Morocco in New York. Somehow I didn't appreciate them as much on Liz Taylor as I did on Raymond burr, but I can't imagine why.
At the table next to us, a young woman rose and came over hesitatingly to ask for an autograph. Ray smiled up at her and thanked her for asking and she stumbled back to her table. When I looked over at her a few minutes later, she was stirring her coffee with a salad fork and staring off in space.
A gentle lover
Ray's voice brought me back.
"Whether you're an actor or not, you must reflect the world around you if you are to succeed at living. Look at Jack Benny, one of the true greats of show business. Jack stays the same, his jokes remain the same, he is always thirty-nine. His format, his inflections and his every motion are always Benny. But the guests he surrounds himself with reflect the changing world, the momentary taste of the public, the current interests. Benny is wise enough to know how, when and why to choose them."
I made a motion to take off the jacket of my cocktail suit, thanking heaven I'd worn it instead of my old beige cotton, and Ray leaned over to assist me. I'd promised him I'd write the interview down word for word with no imagination on my part, but I hadn't promised I couldn't dream in my own fertile little brain. The assist became a caress and that's my story.
Everything Ray Burr did or said had the aura of a gentle, patient lover. There was something very sensual about the man, and yet he did nothing obvious to give, this impression.
I'd heard he'd once worked as a forest ranger in Oregon. You couldn't tell me he hadn't picked up something from all those wild animals. I told him as much and he threw back his head and howled.
We ordered lovely, thick sirloin steaks, and when I heard a third voice say he'd have the same I realized the CBS man was still with us. Although I'd never asked him, he appeared to be only in his late twenties and I wondered if it wasn't past his bedtime. I would have gladly called him a cab.
"It's always amazed me how you sit down with a writer and they expect you to be immediately humorous or morose or say something earth-shaking on cue," Ray said.
"You're expected to cover half a dozen subjects, be brilliant on all, and give new direction to all those who are lucky enough to come into contact with these pearls of wisdom dropped like precious gems from the lips of an idol.
"I've always considered myself a rather good conversationalist but, when I know everything I say is being jotted down for print, all that comes to mind is 'Mary, Mary, quite contrary' or 'Jack be nimble, Jack be quick.' Ask a direct question instead of feeling me out."
I searched my mind for something that would take a long time to answer. Anything would do just so he ate more slowly and the dinner dragged on to the wee hours. I didn't want to give up the glow--one that was definitely not caused by two martinis.
"What about happiness? Do you believe in it--can you define it?"
I figured that one ought to take at least a good three-quarters of an hour.
Ray looked me straight in the eye with an almost hypnotic stare.
"That's a pretty big order, but perhaps I can make it short."
"Yes, I believe in happiness and no, I can't define it. One thing I am sure of, though: Don't ever bargain for happiness, because in one swift moment a door will close, a train will leave, a boat will sail and a person can die. Take it when it's presented to you and never question it--just thank God it didn't pass you by."
I was wondering just how I could drop the little bomb that I was the first one to believe in grabbing happiness wherever I could find it, if only Mr. Burr would be kind enough to cooperate. But then I thought better of it.
After all, the man had only helped me off with my jacket and not even I could stretch that into unleashed passion.
We shook hands at the door and again I promised not to hoke-up the story. Just a straight interview--the facts.
As CBS drove me back home in his silver T-bird, I thought about titles for the story. "The Love That Raymond Burr Lost," sounded pretty good, but that wouldn't be keeping my promise to him, and, anyway, he never even realized he'd found me.
My buddy interrupted my thoughts to ask if I'd got a good story.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, don't you ever stop talking." I snapped.
"Stop talking!" he said in amazement. "All I've said all night is 'Make mine scotch,' 'I'll have a steak, too,' and 'Check, please.'"
I smiled, patted his hand and ran up the steps to the house as he stared, open-mouthed, after me. It would have been difficult to explain to him. Only another woman would have understood.