Is Hollywood the cruelest city in the world? Well, it can be. New York can be that, too. You can be a Broadway star here one night, and something happens, and out--nobody knows you on the street. They forget you ever lived. It happens in Hollywood, too.
Not long ago a friend asked me what was the greatest pleasure I got from spending my whole life as an actor. There have been so many that I had to think about that for a moment. Then I said, 'Like everyone else, I like to be with a happy crowd'.
I`ve had few dull moments [in my life] and not too many sad and defeated ones. In saying this I am by no means overlooking the rough and rocky years I`ve lived through. But I was not brought up thinking life would be easy. I always expected to work hard for my money and to get nothing I did not earn. And the bad years, it seems to me, were so few that only a dyed-in-the-wool grouch who enjoys feeling sorry for himself would complain.
I gotta do some sad scenes. Why, I never tried to make anybody cry in my life! And I go `round all the time dolled up in kippie clothes-wear everything but a corset...can`t stub my toe in this picture nor anything! Just imagine having to play-act all the time without ever getting hit with anything!
The first thing I did in the studio was to want to tear that camera to pieces. I had to know how that film got into the cutting room, what you did to it in there, how you projected it, how you finally got the picture together, how you made things match. The technical part of pictures is what interested me. Material was the last thing in the world I thought about. You only had to turn me loose on the set and I`d have material in two minutes, because I`d been doing it all my life.
The funny thing about our act is that dad gets the worst of it, although I'm the one who apparently receives the bruises . . . the secret is in landing limp and breaking the fall with a foot or a hand. It's a knack. I started so young that landing right is second nature with me. Several times I'd have been killed if I hadn't been able to land like a cat. Imitators of our act don't last long, because they can't stand the treatment.
Down through the years my face has been called a sour puss, a dead pan, a frozen face, The Great Stone Face, and, believe it or not, "a tragic mask." On the other hand that kindly critic, the late James Agee, described my face as ranking "almost with Lincoln's as an early American archetype, it was haunting, handsome, almost beautiful." I can't imagine what the great rail splitter's reaction would have been to this, though I sure was pleased.