“Good Acting Is Like Good Love-Making” – Old Time Movie Stars Reflect On Acting

 Actors Talking About Acting

Heartbreak Pair in New Air Epic – William Holden reaches new stellar heights as a flying cadet whose career is temporarily shattered through his love for Veronica Lake in Paramount’s “I Wanted Wings” an Arthur Hornblow, Jr., production based on the Army Air Corps training and tactics. Blonde and sultry newcomer, Miss Lake, plays menace in piece. photo – Paramount studios

William Holden – “The best actors I know have no style but that of genuine professionalism. They act each role according to the script. And if they do have a style, it is so much a part of their personality it can’t be noticed.” (Atlanta Constitution April 22, 1956)

If you hear people lament that today’s movie stars don’t stack up to the old stars, there are probably many reasons for the lack of charisma or star power today. Regardless of their approach to acting, the old-time Hollywood stars all had one thing in common: they came through the studio system, where they were trained and “groomed” to be and act like movie stars. How each actor accomplished that varied from actor to actor.

Whatever techniques they used to develop their acting style; “The Method,” “Chekhov,” or simply showing up and knowing your lines, movie stars usually could provide philosophy or insight into their craft when being interviewed by the press. Whether they had honed their skills on the legitimate stage or come straight from a farm, to be a star you had to learn and understand something about acting.

Here are twelve old time movie stars expressing their views, sometimes simply, other times with great insight about acting.

Veronica Lake – “I’m no great actress. I just had a movie job dumped into my lap, the public seemed to like me, and that’s all there was to it.”  (Wide World Features May 3, 1942)

Rod Steiger – “Good acting is like good love-making. Leave yourself alone and explore. Do it. Don’t watch yourself do it. Don’t think about yourself doing it. You just go from moment to moment. But don’t take anything for granted either, especially not in acting. That’s when you get your ass kicked.” (Los Angeles Times  September 15, 1994)

Yul Bryner – “I’m not of the can-kicking, shovel-carrying, ear-scratching, torn T-shirt school of acting. There are very few real men in the movies these days. Yet being a real man is the most important quality an actor can offer on the screen.”  (Detroit Free Press April 27, 1958)

Paul Muni – “Acting is a scientific art. It’s a matter of trial and error. You try out your effects like a man who is experimenting on a new chemical formula. I enjoy the experimenting.”  (Boston Globe Feb. 6, 1949)

Barbara Stanwyck on reluctantly accepting the role of the “no good” Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity – “Once I said yes I was awfully glad. During the making of it Fred (MacMurray) would go to the rushes. I remember once the next day he said, ‘You’re not acting, you’re enjoying it.’ And I remember saying ,’Fred, really, how was I?’  And very candidly he looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know about you- but I was wonderful!’ And that was such a true remark. Actors only look at themselves.”  (Los Angeles Times April 5, 1987)

Spencer Tracy – “I’ve always played the same character. Larry Olivier says the way to act is learn your lines and get on with it. I’m Spencer Tracy with some deference to the character. When a person says he’s an actor – he’s a personality. The whole idea is to show your personality. There are people who are much better technically, but who cares?  Nobody cares.” (Los Angeles Times  November 18, 1962)

Joan Fontaine – “Acting with me boils down almost completely on the character. I must live the part as I believe it was lived. I know that sounds hackneyed but it’s true. I don’t think there are any short cuts. That’s one of the things I have against pictures. Everything about them, the way they are made, the crowd of idle people standing about while the actor works, then working madly while the actor does nothing, all seems to be designed  to prevent the sort of concentration on a part to me that is essential to any sort of sensitive reproduction. On a sound stage in Hollywood you are supposed to be able to turn an emotion on and off like an electric switch every time a director crooks a finger. Maybe I shall become accustomed to it in time, but I doubt it. Or perhaps I should say I could if all directors were Hitchcocks.”  Christian Science Monitor March 21, 1942

Charles Bronson on his early career playing “mostly punks, construction workers and punchy fighters” –  “I got a lotta jobs. All the parts nobody could play because of their educated backgrounds I could play because I was just a bum. Most actors are impersonators, but in me they got the real thing. I came along when you had to look like a part to play it.” (Chicago Tribune July 23 ,1972)

Brian Donlevy – as an actor “I think I stink. Naturally I have my own theories about acting. I believe the most important thing is not to ‘read’ lines at all, but to listen to the other guy read his. I know this is contrary to nearly all textbooks, but Arthur Hopkins taught it to me in ‘What Price Glory,’ my first professional play, and I still live by it. I try and minimize everything I do. I don’t like to make gestures;  I keep my hands in my pockets.” (Los Angeles Times April 22, 1945)

Robert Montgomery – “I welcome a sincere criticism but I want to say that no matter how putrid a picture is I had rather cut off my right hand than give a really bad performance – accidentally, or otherwise. I can think of nothing worse. Not that I am satisfied with any complete performance. Scenes, but never an entire picture.” (Boston Globe November 16, 1930)

Deborah Kerr – “I want to be an actress, that’s all. I want to put makeup on my face and pretend to be someone else. I don’t want to be me. That;s the whole point. That’s what this business is about.”  (Christian Science Monitor October 17, 1978)

William Holden – “I don’t think there ever comes a moment where you say ‘Oh boy that was it!’ Actors, unlike painters and musicians are never quite sure of themselves. I know I haven’t done my best part yet. Sure, I hope someday I’ll round out things so that instead of receiving satisfaction from acting, I’ll actually get some gratification ….Over the years I must have made some 70 pictures and I consider myself fortunate if one out of every 10 were good and one out of every 20 were great.”  (Newsday September 3, 1978)


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