Well good day there. I'm, oh, let's call me "Sir Edwin". You don't know me but I'm an acquaintance of Skiver. The poor lad was originally booked to do the summary of this week's episode of something called "Next Action Star" on one of those vulgar American networks that are run by the kind of philistines who don't know their Ibsen from their Austen, but he couldn't do it, bless him! He took one look at the show and threw up his hands. "I can't summarize that piece of crap!" he told me when he telephoned. (He's always been one to overuse the vulgar vernacular, I'm afraid). "Nothing happened! It was the worst hour of TV since Bush's last State of the Union address" (Another thing you may have noticed about young Skiver is that he does tend to overdo the political metaphors. He's constantly offending the Conservatives in our little circle). He went on to implore me to do the summary for him. "Maybe you - being an actor and all - can do something with this terrible piece of trash. I certainly can't find anything to say about this bunch of nonentities!"
"Glad to, my boy!" I boomed. "I have a little time on my hands since the closure of my one man show at the Brighton Pavillion, and I'm more than willing to lend my expertise to reviewing a show on my chosen craft. Tell me, what does it pay?"
"That's all still to be settled," said Skiver. Apparently, from the quaver in his voice as he said this, he was a little upset at having to give up his fee to your humble correspondent.
"I'll send you a tape of the show," he continued. "Can you have the summary done in a couple of days?"
"Well, I don't know," I objected. "I may have trodden the boards for this many a year, but I haven't done this kind of thing before."
"I'm sure you'll do fine," said Skiver. "Or at least better than my six-year-old nephew, who's my other option." He hung up.
The next day, on rising and perambulating through my lobby to my little breakfast room where I expected the maid had laid out brunch, I found a little brown package in my mailbox. Intrigued, I unwrapped it and found it contained a tape! Of course! This was the episode of the American television show Skiver had asked me to review. Remembering that I’d had to fire the maid - funds being a little short, you see - I made myself a pot of tea and popped the cassette into the video player. After a short delay, my telly screen was suddenly filled with flames and explosions, and a deep American voice was yelling at me. Moving as quickly as if the machine actually had caught fire, I turned it off. My head was a little on the tender side that morning. We actors live life, as Hemmingway said “all the way up”, and in my book that means drinking a lot of port wine of an evening.
Anyway, after turning down the volume on the telly and steadying myself with a deep draught of tea, I ventured to restart the video player.
The screen was filled with explosions and two young people leaping threateningly around. I had not the faintest idea what they were supposed to represent. Martial ballet? What will they think of next? Then the deep American voice proclaimed: “Previously on Next Action Star...”
Ah, yes, this must be a review of the proceedings that occurred previously on this show. Oh my Lord! There is a naked man being shown climbing into a bed! And there’s a woman in the bed! What kind of shows are these Americans showing each other! Is this one of those ‘porn’ movies I’ve heard so much about? Now, I know that occasionally the vision of the author and the essential truth of a piece will be served with nothing other than the unadorned human form. I myself went unclothed in a Bennet adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s “Sons and Lovers” at the Birmingham Playhouse - to great acclaim from the ladies, I might add. But I had been given to believe that this was an unscripted show. Do they also have cameras in the bathrooms?
Luckily, Skiver had sent a transcript of the show, so I was able to get over my shock and find out what the loud American announcer was saying, which was: "Jared was caught in a compromising position." He would be the pale, naked man climbing into bed (admittedly the television company had blurred the man’s backside) that they’d just showed.
Then we see an unshaven oaf named Sean, who apparently is to tell us more detail on the incident. He says, to camera, "Jared was naked, and Melisande was there..." Melisande must be the name of the long-haired creature that was already in the bed.
Now a talking-head identified as Jared himself speaks! He says: "Honestly, I am attracted to Melisande..." Well I should hope so, young man! Climbing into the beds of those one is not attracted to is at best bad form, and at worst somewhat desperate.
The deep-voiced American announcer speaks (actually he sounds more hoarse perhaps he needs a throat lozenge? I always find those work marvelously, if I have an upcoming performance and I’ve been a little too liberal with the port in the afternoon). He says: "And hopefully, Jared's girlfriend wasn't watching."
This Jared has a girlfriend elsewhere? Is this a second Richard Burton? I, of course, knew old Dicky Burton intimately, and although he was a simply brilliant actor, he wasn’t quite the sharpest spear in the armory, if you get my drift. Most of us - what you might call distinguished actors - never marry. Theatre is too demanding a mistress, and there are - or were - always young actresses wishing to impress one - but poor Dicky married the same woman twice, which I think says it all. Perhaps this Jared is also as dumb as Dicky Burton.
In fact, he seems to be of this persuasion himself, because he then says: "I am an a$$(beep)". I wonder what vulgarity was beeped? A man calling himself an a$$ is quite vulgar enough, in my view.
There are then shots from last weeks show in which it appears that four of the eight remaining contestants are very much at risk of being 'eliminated' whatever that means. They look suitably chastened, and I note that the four includes Jared, who it seems can’t be told that any performance he gives is less than wonderful - again much like Dicky Burton, who would be so drunk on set that he addressed his lines to the hatstand, yet he would refuse to do retakes. We see Jared telling his three threatened colleagues that their performance was ‘real’ and it was ‘there’. I suppose that is American for ‘good’, but of course one can never be sure of such things.
The announcer says: "This could be their final curtain call. Fourteen made it to Hollywood.” (he then runs through a number of strange and mis-spelt names, each with a shot of a youngster looking peeved. He ends with someone named “Will Become" who we don’t see a picture of. Still, Will is a good, solid, Anglo-Saxon name. Any name that belongs to the second-in-line to the throne of England is all right by me. The announcer goes on to explain that in this episode, there will be a ‘screen test’ with the working title of “Last Kiss”. He says, in a most sorrowfully clichéd description: “A car hangs over a cliff two hundred feet above the ground. Two people in love teeter on the brink of life and death."
We see a quick shot of a young man and woman performing facial expressions and yelling. Was that meant to be acting, I ask myself wonderingly? However, before I can resolve the matter, the announcer says: "One wrong move, and they'll both fall!"
They’re going to drop these annoying young people off a bridge? Perhaps this show will be worth watching after all.
There are more shots of young Americans making an absolute hash of my art before I hear the last from the announcer who needs a lozenge. He says: "One must make the ultimate sacrifice to save the other." Ah, so only one will fall of each two. Well, I must say that despite their lack of any discernible talent whatsoever, their dedication to the craft is admirable. I myself have never gone in for all that death-defying stunt stuff. Old Willy Shakespear never wrote a chariot-chase scene, and anyway I have rather delicate knees.
After what I believe are termed ‘the credits’, we see shots of the eight young contestants practicing martial arts in the veranda of a rather over-stated house - the kind that is often associated with vulgar Hollywood actors like John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart. The martial arts being practiced are of a type where every punch and kick misses. Now if that’s the type of fighting they wish to practice, they should have got my friend Pete O’ Tool round. I’ve seen him take drunken swings at many a man, and he’s hit none of them, bless him! The same, unfortunately for Pete, cannot be said of the men he attempted to fight, mind you.
Someone named Mark says: "So we had martial arts this morning, and I'm very sore. Not looking forward to it at all"
Now that is a perplexing statement. If he just had martial arts, how can he be not looking forward to them? Perhaps Mark is also as foolish as Dicky Burton.
Ah! Now we see the fabled Melisande up close, and she is a fetching young lass. She reminds me of a young Margot Fontaine - or even… What’s that young American actress who does the English accent so well and was a marvelous ‘Emma’? Ah yes! Gwyneth Paltrow! I knew her father, who was good-looking enough to have sired Gwyneth, and foolishly Welsh enough to have named her Gwyneth. Why she is engaging in a dalliance with that idiotic brute Jared, I simply do not know.
Anyway, Melisande says: "Mark, Mae, Jared and I were given a reprieve there at the call back. I kind of feel like I was given a second chance." Her voice is rather American, but she has a nice self-deprecating delivery. Now, if this girl can only act, she’ll be a force to be reckoned with. Mark my words! From her statement, I see that the other two in the threatened foursome are Mae and Mark. Mae is a nice-looking round-faced dark-haired girl who has a little Hepburn in her, if I’m not mistaken. Audrey, that is. Not the lantern-jawed Katherine, esteemed thespian as she was. Mark, however appears to be simply a wide-mouthed clod.
The wonderful Melisande is then shown kicking Mae lightly in the ear during the martial arts training. Mae says: "That for me was a big wake-up call.” I should think it was, my dear! A kick in the ear will do that every time, though I’ve never thought it advisable to overuse it. When I directed “The Tempest” at Swindon’s “The Frog and Lake”, I used to occasionally slap my cast if they appeared distracted or lazy, but I’d only ever use a kick in the ear once a season or so.
Mae continues: “They gave us a second chance. And that means that Melisande and I are in a more vulnerable? Position?" That American accent does make people sound most strange.
I’ll say this for Jared. He does have cheekbones. They’re almost Valentino-like. The rest of his face is rather wan, unfortunately, and he has the mouth of a petulant young girl. I notice this as he said: "For the four of us, this next scene is crucial. I was sitting on the couch, and it could have been Mark or I that went home… I hope that I get to stay." Well said!
Now we see a shot of Jared and Mark dancing towards a van, holding hands. Now, this is more like it! One must never be afraid of making ambiguous one’s sexuality! Only a true actor can welcome in the feminine side of themselves and express it without self-reproach! If you can do that, the major roles just open up! Richard the Third is made for such an approach!
But is seems that Jared is open to a little self-reproach. He tires of being ambiguous with his sexuality: "Woah, woah, woah,” he says. “That's not being an action star!" He drops Mark’s hand as quickly as if he was the Queen shaking hands with a commoner.
Jared then continues, to camera: "We have absolutely no idea what we're going to be doing at any point in time. We get a van and just start driving somewhere. It's all a surprise to us." I remember Dicky Burton saying much the same thing before he drove his Morris Minor van off a cliff in Pembrokeshire while he was filming “The Portcullis” in 1953. And the car was loaned from Dylan Thomas, too. No one was happy when they sobered up that day, I can tell you.
We see an exterior of a stadium that is evidently called ‘The Rose Bowl’, then the scruffy oaf ‘Sean’ speaks: "We get there at the Rose Bowl,” he says, “and there's good ol' Kurt, the stunt leader."
The ‘stunt leader’ Kurt says to the eight contestants: "Morning guys. Welcome back, welcome back. I see eight still." Hmm… Another genius, it would appear. This one can count up to eight. Rather an obvious point that, but we can’t all be Noel Coward. The eight contestants agree that, yes, they are still around, as one would expect them to do.
Once more Jared’s strangely androgynous face appears on our screens, and explains what’s going on. I’m beginning to wonder if Jared is being paid a little extra to act as an announcer - perhaps the original announcer’s voice finally failed, and Jared is the understudy. "The scene is 'Last Kiss',” he informs us. “It's about crashing off a bridge, clinging to dear life, and one sacrifices themselves to save the other."
I can but salute the dedication to their craft of these young bad actors. To lay down one’s life for the career of another is truly selfless and admirable, if a little foolish. Yes, the Deans and the Monroes are revered for their untimely deaths, but they were famous before they were dead. I can’t help but feel that these young people are getting it the wrong way round.
Then the stunt coordinator Kurt says that the fall will controlled be a cable! So they won’t be putting their lives at risk? Well, that puts an entirely - and somewhat anticlimactic - complexion on the matter. They cease to be noble young bad actors, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our exalted art. They are simply bad actors. This is such a disappointment. I haven’t been this disillusioned since Johnny Geilgud took a prominent part in ‘Caligula’ - though there were, of course, many parts more prominently featured in that film, if you follow me.
Oh, excuse me. I amused myself so thoroughly with that last bon mot that I spilled my tea. By the time I’d realized that the maid wasn’t responding to my calls for help because I’d had to fire her, then I’d cleared things up, then, finally, got a fresh cup of tea, I’d missed some of the show. As far as I could gather from my occasional glance at the screen as I mopped, it appeared that an argument had developed between Jared and a fleshy-faced woman named Jeanne who reminds me of a young… or a not so young, indeed, Liz Taylor - though of course her features aren’t quite as arresting. Liz, as has been shown by her sad later career, is as sensible as her late two-time husband Dicky Burton, and I wonder if Jeanne has a similar mental handicap.
It seems that Jeanne has been calling advice up to John on how to make the jump from a platform some yards above the ground. (Most of the others have already performed this trick successfully). Jared - who it seems is a dedicated scene-stealer of the order of that reptile Vincent Price (who stole notices from me in shows from Bognor to Bangor right through the fifties until Hollywood hauled him off - an act I am eternally grateful for) - objects to this direction from Jeanne. Jared demands that Jeanne ‘act her age’, while Jeanne counters that said Jared should ‘shut up’. Yes, very eloquent. It does rather remind me of listening to the arguments from Liz and Dickie’s trailor while we were filming “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” in 1965.
Jeanne says, to Jared: "If I'm in a house with you, it's nearly impossible not to listen to you."
Jared responds: "It's a peachy-keen experience for the rest of us to listen to you."
Then Sean says, in what I believe is termed ‘confessional’: "I thought she was gonna breathe fire on him, man! I thought she was gonna burn him with her eyes." The man truly is an oaf! Is she supposed to both breathe fire from her mouth and radiate it from her eyes? Be consistent, man, if nothing else!
The tasty filly Melisande speaks: "This is Next Action Star,” she says. “If you want to stay in the competition, you do have to jump." Well, it’s not acting as I understand it. In my day actors exertions were limited to sword fights - and even then we used feather light ‘epées’ so that we couldn’t strain our wrists.
John finally jumps, to much acclaim of the girl contestants. It crosses my mind that the other three men would have done well to delay their jump, if they could have been assured a similar reception.
The words 'Netzero High Speed Challenge" now appear on the bottom of the screen. I have not the faintest conception what these words mean, but understudy announcer Jared quickly explains that this challenge this week is about who can hold on to a bar sixty five feet above ground. The prize is a night on the town. I am meanwhile having more misgivings about this whole enterprise. Skiver assured me that this show was about young actors trying to learn their craft, but I’m dashed if hanging from a bar is acting, no matter how high above the ground it is. The only bar that Ollie Reed, Dickie Burton and myself hung on were the ones that came with a tender, and a generous supply of scotch.
The oaf Sean is first. He says in ‘confessional’: "I'm thinking I've got this in the bag. No one's gonna be able to hang longer than me." I have to say that I was surprised to see such a blatant display of over-confidence from one of the contestants. It would seem that such arrant hubris can only be followed by abject failure, and thus the director of the piece is giving the game away before it’s been played.
And such proves to be the case. The oaf lasts less than a minute before releasing his grip and falling to a cable-assisted halt.
The tasty Melisande lasts two seconds over the minute, then the wide-mouthed clod Mark lasts even less long than Sean. Dark-haired Mae then says, "All I can think is; night on the town, night on the town..." She would perhaps have been better served by thinking of holding on to the bar, but she lasts the longest so far - nearly a minute and a half. But then the bookish John holds on for over the ninety second mark. Dark-skinned but blonde Corinne then lasts well over two minutes.
Then we have another over-confident statement that will no doubt be followed by egg-in-the-face. Jeanne says in confessional: "I love to win. I am probably one of the most competitive people you will meet in your entire lives." I wonder how many lives she expects each of us to have, and how we are expected to compare our experiences over them, but such considerations are not the concern of this show, and no one asks her to explain herself. Meanwhile, she lasts three minutes ten seconds before falling.
Sure enough, the remaining contestant, Jared, true to his scene-stealing nature, wins the competition with a time three seconds longer than Jeanne’s.
The oaf Sean then summarizes what just happened, informing us again that Jared won the night at the town. Sean goes on to inform us that Jared picked Melisande to accompany him. Taking Jared’s announcer role for the moment, he continues "And that was different to the retake card. The person who one the retake card was the person who Kurt thought had a grasp of falling with the wire."
Kurt awards this ‘retake card’ to young Gwyneth, which I think was an excellent decision. She reacts with enthusiasm. "Oh my God! I got a prize!" she cries, clapping prettily. Ah, if only I was forty years younger and still had clout with Lew Grade - who made the original Bond movies, you know. In 1964 I could have had her cast opposite me in an adaptation of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ quicker than you can say ‘Wherefore art thou’.
It turns out that the person who had the best grasp of falling with the wire was the one who didn’t grasp the wire when falling. Rather ironic, what? Jared, who has resumed his announcer role, tells us that: "Melisande was awarded the retake card because she didn't grab the wire." Melisande then adds flesh to the rough skeleton sketched by Jared. "I got the retake card,” she says. “Which is very good because we get to retake a scene during the screen test. So this is worth its weight in gold." I personally am opposed to retakes - there are no second chances in theatre - but if anyone has to be given this advantage, I’m glad it was a girl with as nicely turned an ankle as Melisande has.
The show then takes a break for commercials, accompanied by explosions, fire, and the same two martial ballet artists that we saw earlier. I am already unutterably bored by this tableau, but at least it doesn’t last long.
After the break, the eight contestants are at dinner. Melisande is shown telling a story about a friend who - after seeing her for the first time in months - asked her when she had broken her nose. She explains that her 'bump' spouted that summer, so for the next two years, she wouldn't talk to anyone in profile. How adorable, I think. And I do recall that Margret Rutherford had a similar profile when young, and no one would have dared comment on her bump for fear of getting a wine decanter shattered over their head - and quite possibly this would be followed by the bottle the wine had originaly been in. (She was a passionate woman, Margie Rutherford - as well as a terrible drunk, of course).
A nighttime scene features two men - Jared and John - dangling their feet in what I believe is called a ‘hot tub’. Jared is telling John about his argument with Jeanne over her advice to John. The argument footage is shown again in washed-out color. John’s words are subtitled for some reason. "You're right,” he tells Jared. “When I was up there, I didn't want to hear someone saying to me; "Don't look down... This was me, and my world, and my fear..."
Well, he does have an actor’s usual grasp of solipsism, if not the talent to go with it.
Jared, showing I think that he is as big an oaf as Sean, says: "Dude, she's over thirty years old. Act like a (beep) adult!" I don’t think the word expunged was a word I’d like my wife - if I had one - or my servants to hear, and I am left to wonder if this is what Jared considers ‘acting like an adult’. Well, on the evidence we’ve seen so far, this is the closest to ‘acting’ we may see on this show. I am growing increasingly disillusioned with the whole enterprise, and I although I started this summary with the wish to enlighten and inform, now I’m close to simply doing it for the money, again like Johnny Geilgud in ‘Caligula’ (we never did forgive him for that, you know). And speaking of the fee, I hope it’s sizable. Perhaps even enough for me to hire back my maid for a week or so, so I can start eating hot meals again. That would be nice.
In any case, it is the next morning on the show, and the eight contestants are entering a place named Howard Fine's acting studio. Ah-ha! Finally some acting! At last I have an opportunity to use my expertise. Now is my time to shine!
Howard Fine is quite possibly the ugliest man I’ve ever seen associated with any form of acting. It is, I think, no accident that he has confined himself to ‘training’ actors, though one would think that his demonstrations of love or amusement may tend to get confused with those of psychotic anger, given the arrangement of his facial features. "This exercise addresses the screen test,” he begins by telling the contestants. “And the 'Eulogy Exercise' calls for loss”.
Loss? I think, baffled. Loss of what?
It turns out that what is lost is marbles. The exercise that follows is an exercise in absolute, unabashed poppycock. Apparently this Fine chap thinks that acting is about crying and nothing more. His training seminar is like deeply unpleasant group therapy, where various contestants are shown weeping for some genuine and extremely traumatic events in their past. Poor Melisande is made to relive the death of her mother and her own subsequent thoughts of suicide just so this cad Fine can see a few tears. Honestly! If this charlatan operated in England, I’d write a stiff letter to The Telegraph about him, and I’d make sure they published it, too!
Despite my growing unease, no one rushes in and interrupts this disgraceful charade. I am left to curse the legacy of that upstart Brando and his ilk, who convinced a generation of Americans that acting was about recalling painful emotions. And what about those who have no pain, eh? Are those of us who had perfectly agreeable childhoods supposed to stay out of acting, or are we supposed to go out and murder our parents just so we can cry on command? And where is the skill, the artistry of acting if it is nothing more than being your - excuse my French - fukced-up self?
Following poor Melisande’s break-down, the sadistic cad Fine reacts with nothing more than a measured 'Thankyou'. That makes me so mad that I spill what remains of my second cup of tea! Luckily, there wasn’t much left, but I resolve that I’m going to need something stronger than tea to see me through the rest of this terrible nonsense. While ‘Casting Cards’ are awarded to John and Melisande, I pour myself a large belt of Scotch. It’s a little early in the day for hard liquor, but needs must, etc.
Fine then says in ‘confessional’: "If you are afraid that you're going to die, literally, from your emotions, you have to hang on to them..." That statement was worth a gulp of Glenlivet all on its own. What is the man talking about? And why does he have a lucrative television engagement, while a distinguished - some might even say ‘great’ - actor such as myself can’t even make a go of a one man show in Brighton, and can’t afford to pay his maid? And I worked with Larry Olivier, Ralphie Richardson, and Johnny Geilgud! Who has this person on my telly worked with? What has he worked on? Given his ugliness, I’ll warrant it was something involving puppets.
Jared is shown comforting Melisande. Even though he’s a bounder and a humbug, I’m glad that someone is. The show then - mercifully - breaks for commercials. I use the time to mop up the remains of the tea from the floor.
After the break, the caption: "24 Hours to Screen Test" appears. A dark-haired and rather over-made-up woman named Tina Maleve introduces the role selection process. She waffles about how important today's decision will be 'especially for the four of you who we talked with at the last call back'. Hearing this, Melisande smiles and bumps shoulders with Mark. I’m glad that the poor dear has recovered from the ordeal they just showed us, even though I certainly haven’t. Jared is shown brooding, perhaps because of Melisande’s closeness to the clod Mark.
In the picking of roles and partners, John, confusingly, chooses the role of 'Sean'. He chooses Corinne to play the role of 'Drew'. It is not afterwards shown if Sean chooses the role of ‘John’.
Melisande is next. She chooses Jared to appear in her screen test with her. She says, in confessional: “I just feel like my head is on the block. And I didn't want to risk it and work with someone I've never worked with before. I mean, it could be fantastic, but... What if it's not?" A very sensible point, my dear. It is but a shame that there are no men in the cast who are worthy of her, and she has to settle for co-announcer Jared.
The third pair is Mae and Mark, and the fourth is Jeanne and Sean.
Jared and Melisande are reminded by the host of their date that evening, as if it is likely they would have forgotten. Mark says in confessional: "Jared likes Melisande, and Melisande likes Jared. The only problem with this situation is that Jared has a girlfriend." The girlfriend! I forgot that I’d originally - many pages ago - labeled Jared as a Richard Burton type. Add a wife into the equation, and he’d be Dicky reborn - except that he’s rather worse-looking, of course.
It seems that it is time for another commercial break. Our usual announcer, still forgoing the throat lozenges, pronounces: "Coming up on Next Action Star: Jared and Mel's first date could make this their last screen test." He follows this up with: "Two hundred feet, ten fingers, one survivor." Even though I’m not a habitual television-watcher, that phrase seems familiar, somehow. But before the first commercial actually begins, we see a clip of the clod Mark acting terribly in the upcoming screen test. "I gotta go, you'll be safe!" he yells, as if ordering a double at the bar on a crowded Friday night. He then drops from the car he had been hanging onto, as a scream is heard. I can but hope that they forgot to attach the cable.
Back from the commercials, we're back at the rather vulgar house where all eight of the contestants seem to be staying. Corinne and the clod Mark are talking, each on a bed. He is talking about his brother who drags him into acting gigs in his student films.
Mark then says, in confessional: "The more this thing goes on, the more you find yourself in conversations with everybody, 'cause there's nothing to do in this damned house." I should think I could think of something to do if I was your age and living with four young fillies, young Clod - especially when one of the fillies is Melisande. Mark then goes on an unintelligible mumbling soliloquy about callbacks and being 'busted'. Appearing to understanding only the two words I understood, Corinne repeats 'busted' and laughs politely.
Melisande and Jared are then shown separately preparing for their date. Jared says: "It's gonna be fun if Melisande ever comes out of the bathroom." Melisande is next shown in the bathroom in a red dress. She is with a dumpy-in-comparison Jeanne. (Ah, but could anyone compare to the dolled-up wonder that is Melisande at that moment? Not even Claudette Colbert in her prime could have outdone Melisande’s wondrous appearance as she primps in her red, sheer dress. I may be old, but I still appreciate the female form - more’s the pity, I often think. Life would be a lot simpler if that appreciation had disappeared along with my hearing).
Jeanne seems to ask (this may be just my aforesaid poor hearing) "Do you think he'll wear red?" Melisande, hearing this, appears as confused as I am watching, at that moment. "Ah...Ah... No?" she hazards.
Corinne, who in comparison to the beauty that is Melisande looks like a cleaner, has the audacity to address the lady in red as if she was a common flower girl: "You need to get your ##### out of the damn bathroom," she tells her.
Jared is shown cooling his heels and rolling his eyes at the door. Then we see Melisande packing her make-up kit, with the help of Jeanne. There are yet more shots of Jared striking an impatient pose by the door. He then wanders into the courtyard, to stand next to the enormous truck that is to transport them on their assignation. "Melisande!" he cries, reminding me of the accursed Brando in ‘Streetcar’ and irritating me still further.
Melisande soon walks out in the courtyard, accompanied by Corinne and Jeanne. She calls to Jared. He responds "Hi!" which is enough to send the two attendants into hysterical laughter. And they say comedy is harder than drama.
Mae, confessional: "I would like to think that Jared is being the gentleman...In allowing Melisande to choose how the night plays out..." I should hope so too! If he dares harm that charming creature, I’ll come to Hollywood and shoot the blighter myself! I was there in sixty three, shooting ‘She’ with Dicky Attenborough, so I know my way around. I trust it hasn’t changed in the meantime.
Jared whistles at Melisande as she passes by him. At least he’s showing some appreciation of his good fortune.
Mae continues: "He does have a girlfriend at home..." It seems that everyone is more concerned about this so-called girlfriend than Jared is. Do they know her? Is she a well-known psychotic with a fondness for poisoning people? I suppose we’ll never know.
Jared in confessional says: "I feel good to meet someone new. I mean, it's exciting." I should think so too, if that someone is Melisande! Meanwhile, I’m beginning to have yet more doubts about this Bounder Jared. The monster car carrying the couple pulls away as John and Mark throw rice and hum the wedding march for some unfathomable reason.
Jared and Melisande are then shown walking arm-in-arm in some illuminated area that is evidently near a fairground, called "Yacht Club". The same sign that says that also says: Sport Fishing, boating, and cafes. It’s not exactly St Tropez, but it appears a nice enough place.
Finally Jared talks about this increasingly mythic girlfriend of his. He says: "I have a very good friendship with Melisande… And it is incredibly difficult, because I have a girlfriend at home who I really do love." It is funny, I reflect, that all the philanderers I’ve known, from ‘Erry’ Flynn to President Billy Clinton - who saw my ‘Cicero’ when our touring production of ‘Julius Caesar’ passed through Arkansas in 1984 - claim they love the woman they’re cheating on. It is most curious.
The two go to a restaurant called "The Lobster", and are shown sitting at a table examining menus in subdued lighting. Melisande in confessional say: "He is just amazing. I'm just so happy to have met him." I assume she is talking about the callow youth she is spending time with, but I cannot help but hope she has met someone more substantial in the time it’s taken them to walk to the restaurant. Jared in confessional then weighs the prospect of staying safe with his girlfriend, or ‘dating’ Melisande. He dares compare a goddess like Melisande to a normal, mortal woman who is not even good-looking enough to be shown on TV! Is there no end to this youth’s foolishness? Melisande, in confessional then says that she is falling in love with ‘a person’. “It's this uncontrollable avalanche, and you just love how it feels,” she says. “You can't stop it." Is she still talking about the bounder Jared? Surely she can’t be?
My nerves are completely shot at the end of this scene, and I need another stiff measure of whisky to steady them. To think that this young Margot Fontaine is in the act of throwing herself on a bad-acting, womanly-mouthed philanderer. It is almost tragic as that presidency they have across the pond right now.
While I am pouring myself another Scotch, the contestants remaining behind in the house indulge in various pointless arguments. I take little notice, still shaken by Melisande’s latest confessional. Margie Fontaine and myself had a little dalliance at one time. I caught her on the rebound from Winnie Churchill, who had left the poor dear to declare war on Germany, and it was a small-enough affair. But I am beginning to realize that I’m being a little too affected by this American youngster’s resemblance to Margie. I need to remember that Margie left me for a young Alec Guiness, even though he was a pooftah.
Jared and Melisande are shown arriving back at the house. They seem a little depressed. Has she come to her senses and told Jared to go to blazes? One can but hope.
Melisande goes to Jared's trailer at the screen test to ask him "What's going on". She goes through the door, and haltingly asks him what his plans are after he ‘goes home’. Jared claims in response that he will not go back to his old life.
Melisande says: "Because if you do, we need to stop." The utter bounder Jared responds as weakly as if he'd been asked to defend his haircut: "Honestly, Melisande. I don't know." Melisande then says to Jared that she's 'crazy' about him, and "doesn't want to make him look bad." I am so glad that I remembered not to be so enamored of this young Margot - and that I refilled my glass. Otherwise this speech would have broken my heart, sentimental old fool that I am. Jared, meanwhile, continues to act like a bounder and a cad: "I care very much about my girlfriend, but I don't know if it's the best thing for me to stay in this relationship," he says.
At the end of their conversation, we or shown Jared and Melisande kissing on a bed, then, confusingly, we’re back to the evening stroll at their date. I can only assume that some lowly editor mixed up the film at this point.
A ray of hope! Melisande confessionals that in a relationship that is not ideal, the first step is for the two lovers to remove themselves from each other. I take it that means the youngster wants, somewhere in the deep recesses of her mind, to separate herself from the unshaven fool that she is afflicted with. Yet she goes on to say that, living together as they do, they cannot remove themselves from each other. My hope is dashed, and just to compound my misery we are again shown Jared kissing Melisande. My queen goes on to say that she isn't mad at the petulant fool "'cause I couldn't be mad at Jared." She should try it just once, I think. She might like it.
While we recuperate from that intense scene, the editor of this show prevents the screen going blank with some footage of another two of the class arguing. I am unable to dredge up much interest in these two people, the oaf Sean and late-era Liz Taylor lookalike Jeanne. Apparently, the oaf wanted to rehearse more than the later-era Liz, who says that she doesn't want to 'lose her zest'. Isn't that a form of soap? Someone should tell the deluded fool that the only way to act is to rehearse. I remember a time when Peter Cushing and I rehearsed a scene from 'They Came From Outer Hebrides' in a bar for twelve straight hours only to find out that we were mistakenly reading from the bar's volumous restaurant menu. (We were a disaster in the scene, but we knew just what to order when we went back to that restaurant).
I'm sorry, I've rather lost my way. Oh, yes. The show.
Oaf Sean has just said to Jeanne that if she starts screwing up her lines, he's gonna give her (expletive-deleted) about it.
Jeanne responds that the oaf is 'a pain in the a$$'. Rather marvelously, she goes on to admit that she herself is also a pain in the a$$. Such wonderful self-knowledge! If only she could act and was better looking. She adds: "Everybody's a pain in the a$$, here." Although I might quibble about the inclusion of Melisande in that category, I cannot deny the essential justice of her point.
The oaf goes off to rehearse with bookish John, instead. And then we have another break. Is this normal? Although I rather like the breaks from this increasingly insufferable nonsense, I wonder that Americans can be bothered to watch any of their low quality television shows, when they are interrupted with so many brash and annoying ads for 'Wal-Mart' and an establishment named 'Macdonalds'. But of course Americans are rather shallow, in my experience. I remember meeting one who not only had no idea who I was, but had never heard of Larry Olivier's bravura performance in 'The Entertainers' in 1959! Amazing, what? Of course, they all know who that hag 'Dame' Judy Dench is, and the woman has acted in sit-coms! Not for her the pressure of watching the audience trickle in to their Brighton one man show, night-after-night, hoping against hope that enough will buy tickets to cover the bills. No, she acts for seven minutes in 'Shakespear in Love', and gets an Oscar. Well, P'sha, I say!
After the commercial break, we are shown shots of the upcoming 'screen test' that is still inadvisedly named 'Last Kiss'. We see the crew putting a car that looks very much the worse for wear in position over the edge of the bridge on which the screen test is to be filmed.
In their trailer, Oaf Sean and 'Jeanne' apologise over their recent spat, and make up. Jeanne says that she heard Sean venting 'over there'. The oaf asks for clarification. Jeanne says, "I'm right next door to you." Actually, she's standing right next to him, but I assume that she meant that she was next door to him at the time he was 'venting'.
Sean then goes up in my estimation somewhat. Using an old actorly trick named 'breaking the fourth wall', he whispers to camera, "That's not good." I'm so impressed by this that I shall drop the 'oaf' from his name until he bores me again.
I'm beginning to miss Melisande, but still the camera concentrates on the Sean and Jeanne. They are shown hugging, then each of them say rather uninteresting things to each other and in confessional.
Now we see shots of a high bridge supported by narrow arched supports. It reminds me of a Roman viaduct, but even after a couple of stiff whiskys, I'm pretty sure the Romans never made it to California, so I suppose this is just another of these American facsimiles of European architecture.
Then we see young Gerry Lively on camera! What is that Welsh fool doing on this show? The last time I saw him he was failing to pack 'em in at Cardiff Town Center with his revival of Hair! In 1979. Of course, it didn't help that he used an entirely Welsh cast, since no one wants to see thirty Welsh people in the all-together. "It is good to see all eight of you back. You all richly, richly, deserve it," he says. I can tell he's lying, because he shares with his father (a fine man with a strange fondness for sheep) a slight twitch of the right eyebrow when he does so. Young lively goes on to say that he hopes they're all "good with heights". And still the camera refuses to focus on Melisande!
Now we see the shooting of the actual screen test. In my day, screen tests were done in a white room with two chairs and two copies of the script, and we were supposed to 'act' the scenes out without the help of a fifty man crew, wind machines, prompters, and directors. But it seems that things are going to be different for these eight would-be actors. If they still can't act with all the advantages they're being given in this so-called screen test, then they're terrible actors indeed. Worse than Ollie Reed on the day after one of his famous 'benders', when no one could stand downwind of him before midday.
Despite the advantages, Sean and Jeanne make a complete hash of their scene. Then Sean in confessional goes on to say that it was good that "we worked out everything. We weren't really getting along too much... We had the right attitude goin' in there and we banged it." They 'banged it'? What is that oaf talking about?
Sean says to Jeanne: "Good job, babe. You were awesome."
Jeanne responds, mystifyingly: "You laughin' at me?" I think to myself that amusing is the last thing this lass is.
Next, dark-haired Mae is being held by the clod Mark. "We've gotta push the envelope. I'm not gonna play it safe," she says, one cliche in a single statement not enough for her. We then see bloody awful acting by Mae and Mark. Mae appears to be having a full-blown fit of hysterics in her car-seat. If she'd ever done that kind of thing on any set I was on, they would have taken three men to prevent me slapping some sense into her. Mae says in confessional that she got caught up in the moment, and allowed herself to be a little over-dramatic. I'll say.
Despite the evidence of his own eyes, John then says that "Mark really hits it. He really shines." Mark seems a little more realistic, though. He says in confessional. "I have a lot of work to be the Next Action Star." Learning proper grammar might be one of the first things he should work on, I'd have thought.
Finally, we're being shown Melisande again! She is shown telling the bounder Jared that they'll be fine. Much better, she is shown in a tight head-shot saying that she wants the people watching her screen test to be "afraid for me. I want them to be scared when they see me dangling from that car... I want them to be heartbroken. I feel like anything else and ..." She makes the throat-cutting motion. Ah, Melisande! Thy every word is poem. If only she could act.
Melisande then, unfortunately, acts rather badly - though perhaps not as badly as Mae - while Jared hangs from the car and acts terribly himself. Melisande is shown saying that the kiss she had to share with Jared during the scene was a problem, but she didn't want to use her 'retake card' in case it seemed she just wanted to kiss him again. She finds this statement quite funny, and I myself am happy to hear that she took at least one opportunity not to kiss the bounder.
Corine then talks about her scene with the bookish John. Because of his fear of heights, he stays in the car, but she thinks he was brave because he had to look down. She says that he both 'hit it and nailed it'. Assuming that this is a statement of approval - and one cannot be sure of this - once more I am left wondering if they have any conception of how they look on screen as they shriek and scrunch-up their facial features up like children confronted with cabbage.
As Corinne is winched back up after her fall, the car above lurches, and she immediately lets out a terrified little scream, thinking she is about to fall and crushed. That's what happens when you put women in the action roles, don't you know. A man would simply have stayed silent and let the car fall on him if it was to fall on him. Or at least an English man would have done so. I remember watching Peter O' Toole's impassive features as he was dragged a hundred yards by a camel. A rope had caught around his ankle, and he broke three ribs and a collar bone, but uttered nary a sound until they shot the camel and a stray bullet hit him in the buttocks. Even then he was acting again by the end of the day. Do you think if Corinne had been shot in the buttocks she'd have continued filming? No, I didn't think so either.
Gerry Lively then congratulates all eight of the contestants. He says they "all did tremendously well under the conditions." Like a lot of Welshmen of my experience, Gerald is a little parsimonious with the truth - of course he could be just simple-minded.
At dinner that evening after the screen test, Melisande is talking about how awkward her screen-test kiss was. She says: "I will always feel I could have done better." And I, my dear, will always wish I could have met you forty years ago. John, Corinne, and Sean are shown on the steps of the house discussing their high pressure life of living in a luxurious house, rehearsals, 'working-out', and screen tests. John says that after all that, then there's the call backs. John says that "tomorrow's gonna suuuuuck." Ah, the American vernacular. No words greater than two syllables. Corinne says that "tomorrow is going to be a hard day." Then the oaf Sean says: "Get ready, 'cause this is gonna change all your lives. Your lives are gonna be different for ... a while." It is no surprise that Sean's declaration runs into trouble at the end, because after all he'd strung something like fifteen words together before that.
Yet another commercial break! Excellent! Time to recharge my glass for what will hopefully be the last time.
After the break the director of this piece decides that now would be the optimum time to expose us to clips from all four of the screen tests just filmed. We see terrible acting from them all, including the angelic Melisande. I'll say this about Margie Fontaine. She may have been a lush and a harlot, but by God she knew how to perform a scene. This reincarnation may be have qualities that are entirely oppositte to those of Margie.
Next we see three middle-aged Americans - two undistinguished men and a very brassy hatchet-faced blonde - who are charged with assessing the performances of the contestants in their screen tests. We see clips in which we find the judges like Corine, but they're unsure about Jeanne. They Liked Sean, and, much to my satisfaction - even if I fail to see how it can be true - they say Melisande is greatly improved, somehow. They say that 'Jared has risen once again.' Risen to what? New heights of idiocy? They liked Mae calling for a line and keeping going, then they disagree about the clod Mark. A little worryingly, they then return to Melisande and contradict each other's opinions about her.
The next scene is the hostess Tina confronting the castmates. She begins, "As you know, last week our panel had an impossible time trying to figure out which two of you should not get a call back this week. Because of that you were all able to perform the screen test 'Last Kiss'". Apparently she is not confident with the mental capabilities of the youngsters, and feels she has to gently remind them of important events in their lives that happened several days ago.
Tina goes on to says that the next screen test is called 'Road Kill', and it will involve a high speed chase and a little stunt fighting, 'but as you know, only six of you will have the opportunity to perform it." Again, she is reminding them of something they should all have branded into their consciousness. I wonder what Tina knows about the contestants that is not being shared with the rest of us.
Clod Mark speaks. "It's not just co-incidence that I've made it past five call backs," he says. "There's something about me - if it's not my acting, maybe it's something else they see in me. I'm hoping it's my acting..." I'm sure you are, young clod, but this appears to me to be another instance of the director giving the game away before it's played. Now, you might get away with this kind of thing once - perhaps even twice if your audience is children in short-pants. But I believe this is the third time our inept director has used this tactic in this show, so it would appear certain that the clod Mark is doomed.
The first three contestants are called across the room to participate in the next screen test in the following order. Oaf, Corinne, then bookish John. They all apeared to act as if their pubic hair was being tweezered, but perhaps the judges tossed a coin. And more importantly, Melisande is not yet safe! My heart begins to race, which is not good for a man of my age. I attempt to calm down with another belt of Glenlivet.
Then we see the director repeating the trick again! Does he think we're brain-damaged! Mae says in confessional, "Honestly, deep down in my heart? I think I'm going to get a call back tonight. I do." Even I, two whiskys down and working on a third, am offended by the blatant, patronising practice of our unnamed director, whoever he is (or she is, one can never discount that, these days).
Jeanne is called across the room! Jeanne and Corinne are called and the transcendent Melisande is left on the couch! I am outraged. The two chosen women are not fit to act as her parlour-maids!
Jared then says, reclaiming his announcer role: "Acting on the supposition that the four of us that were left on the couch last time were in the most danger of being removed, I don't think it was any co-incidence that the four people left sitting on the couch tonight were Mae, Mark, Melisande, and myself." Yes, but let's have some sanity! This is Melisande we're talking about! My pulse continues to race, but finally the Host puts me out of my misery. Melisande is called. This relief turns out to be a little bittersweet, because the bounder Jared is called along with her, so he'll continue to twit her with his girlfriend outside the show until at least the next screen test. I shall now have to ensure that my young friend Skiver sends me the tape of the concluding episode, so that I can continue to watch the delightful Melisande - and hopefully watch her dropping the bounder Jared like he was a hot coal.
So it seems that Mae and clod Mark are out. The peroxided harridan that was on the casting panel is given the opportunity to say: "What Mae was missing for me was the romance and the vulnerability." So it's come to this. Romance is supposed to be demonstrated in a car hanging off a two-hundred foot drop. Do these people know nothing of real romance? You didn't see Claudette Colbert and Clarke Gable hanging from a bridge in "It Happened One Night". We are unwelcomingly shown a shot of Mae in hysterics. I don't know about the missing romance and vulnerability. I saw very few recognisable human qualities in Mae's performance, unless she was imitating a child still in nappies.
The hatchet-faced woman continues: "This was Mark's second chance. I would have like to see more urgency, more danger, more vulnerability, more power, and he just didn't give it to me where I could see it on film." I should say not, you silly woman! Those qualities are contradictory! Even I in my prime - and on a day I was not hung over - would have had a hard time delivering that kind of performance. Larry Olivier himself would of blinked at the requirement. Anyone expecting the clod Mark to deliver urgency, danger, vulnerability, and power all at once - and while hanging over a two-hundred foot drop - should be locked up forthwith! Admittedly, this judge woman should probably be locked-up simply for her appearance, but this is a another powerful reason.
Mark and Mae make tiresome final statements, before they are shown being ushered out the door of their shared house by the other six contestants. The door is slammed behind them and locked. As that happens, a woman - presumably Mae - says "I hate the ____." It would appear that this young woman carries a grudge, but it will avail her none. She and the clod are out, and the episode is over. There is a couple of fraught scenes from the next episode - the finale, in fact - and we go to commercial for the last time.
The tape ends. I have seen the last of Melisande for now, and I am feeling rather maudlin. Like so much that comes out of America these days, it has all been rather depressing, I decide. (Though don't get me started on those blasted cretins at the BBC, who are doing even worse). But at least I'll get some money as a result of watching it. I wonder how much I'll be paid?
Requested, transcribed, and posted by: