WT, Fountain of Youth (continued)

This dichotomy also permeated his relations with his own family. I noticed that his brother and parents treated him like the ten-year-old he played professionally. He had to ask his mother if he could go for a swim, to eat a snack before lunch, and to take something out of the garage. I’ll admit that I was shocked, but figured it was best not to interfere. Walter’s family life was outside the jurisdiction of my job as his liaison. I was hired as Walter’s liaison for a good reason. And he accepted me into his complicated life for the same reason. I felt empathy with him and I was able to help him, for I had lived the same dichotomy that he did. Walter and I were soul mates. As a momentary break from the strict and tedious routine, Walter invited me to ride one of his horses, and he took a photo of me in the saddle. However, he was loath to allow me to take his picture. This was the first time that I had witnessed his objection to a photo. He was also loath to write a letter or to sign his name. Only a few photos of Walter are available to the public. Consequently, many people in the theater business never saw Walter. They were not sure what he looked like. They imagined that he might be short. They figured he made his voice high pitched for effect. They wondered why he was always cast in kid’s roles. In answer to all these misconceptions, what about Walter’s voice? He never resorted to a falsetto, nor did he raise his voice to a high pitch. He used his natural voice, which was that of a 10 year old child --- sort of high and squeaky. His height was normal for a child of 10. He was cast in kid’s roles because he looked and sounded the part.

I worked with Walter when he was the lead character in several shows. I recall a show where the subject concerned a pony that LeRoy (the character he played) wanted. There was irony in this episode to laugh at, because in real life Walter owned two horses. He and I did get a kick out of that. In several shows, LeRoy either wanted, or looked for something in great need. It required him to project the corresponding emotion, and since this was radio, he had to accomplish that with only his voice. That was one of Walter’s great talents, but it’s funny how he did it. He made faces. When he first read the script, he conjured up the emotion --- be it delight or sadness -- and he made the corresponding facial expression. He did it again during rehearsal, and finally when the show was on the air. Why display facial expressions when the audience cannot see it? Why? For himself. He needed that to give him the impetus to really feel the emotion. There never was anything false about Walter’s performance. And on radio, all the audience perceived was his voice, and yet Walter was able to convey the emotion emphatically.

Walter and I were getting to know one another. When we exchanged biographical histories, Walter referred to what he’d do when he grew up. This was his dilemma. He was thirty-years old, and he was grown up. Yet, because of his voice, appearance, and behavior, he considered himself a child. Yes, even Walter himself fell into dichotomy’s pit. There was little I could offer as advice, because I never had any training as a guidance counselor. The best I could do was to listen to what he had to say, and encourage him to follow his ideals. The most important concern was to treat him as an equal, and to grant him the status as the adult he really was. Never mind that he looked and sounded like child. He needed to be revered as an adult --- and he deserved that honor.

One time, Walter was down in the dumps. It was his volition to call it a day and send me home. But that would only leave him feeling blue. As a comedian I had an idea. “Say Walter, how about some hot chocolate and cookies?” The little boy in him was delighted. I spoke like a professor, “But it tastes best if made with cold water. Now I offer the appropriate warning. Since the cold-water tap in on the right hand side, never turn it on with your left hand. Because you must cross the plumbing fixture.” As I said that the spigot slid up my sleeve. And when I turned on the water, we had Niagara Falls in the kitchen. The water poured out of the sleeve into the sink, which was OK. But it also gushed out of neck of my shirt. Since I wasn’t a fish, I was drowning. The scene was so funny that Walter was convulsed with laughter. By the time his guffaw died down, I had heated the drink and served it. But Walter wasn’t able to let go of the gag. Seeing the water dripping from my sleeve as I reached for a cookie, he suddenly burst out laughing. And it was a burst of monumental proportions. But his mouth was closed and the warm chocolate drink poured out of his nose. That sent him into convulsions of laughter. Of course, his laugher was contagious, and I had no control. Did you ever laugh so hard and so long that your jaws ached? He was over the blues, and we resumed working on the script.

Another time when Walter and I went over the script, he asked me why I gave him a certain series of short lines.” I explained, “I don’t always write your comedy lines. Most of the time the writers do that, but they allow me to substitute my own words, as long as it fits into what they wrote. Timing. Now, here Gildersleeve had to introduce the conflict. But it was a long, dragged out affair. At the same time, how will the radio audience know you are in the scene? So the writers gave you meaningless words to create your presence. I chose to give you a few one-liners and also had you ask Gildersleeve a question to break up his long tirade. Can you imagine the sound?” “I’m not sure what you’re getting at.” “OK, let’s ask your brother to act out the scene with me --- first as it was originally written, and then as I’ve changed it.” Walter’s brother and I did that and I asked Walter his opinion. He opened his eyes wide. “You want my opinion?” “Of course. I’ve observed that you read your lines with perfect interpretation. So I know your opinion will be professional.” He shook his head in disbelief. Then he gave me his opinion. “I like your version because the long tirade is boring. And the original words are the same as if I just grunted like an animal. So master, I see that you know how to do stuff like that.” I laughed, “That’s my expertise. In show biz, each person must be great at their specialty. If the person plays the piano, he or she must know how to change the key to suit the singer. On stage, the guy who operates the spotlights must know how to follow the dancer. And the actor, like you, must know how to read the part, how to modulate the voice, how to introduce a laugh, worry, happiness or sadness in the voice. All of us expect the other person to know his specific job.” He laughed, “We’re all great, aren’t we?”

There was one show where LeRoy was sick. It called for a way to find humor in an event that was unpleasant. Of course, the writers did a good job with the dialog, but it was up to the actor to carry the ball when the show was on the air. Walter and I performed the scene to get in the mood, and to give Walter room to try a few different emotions. In a way, the task was like walking a tight rope over a conflagration. I was a bit too relaxed, counting on Walter to sort out the appropriate emotions. Finally he said, “I once was sick and I can’t see the humor in this.” Here is why I was engaged as Walter’s liaison --- not his director. I placed both hands on his shoulders and spoke like a father to his son, “Walter, one of the difficult tasks for an actor is to ignore his own memories and feelings. The words are very good. The humor is good and is not forced. The staff must have spent a lot of time, and I’m sure they had little sleep this week working on that script. Remember when you and I talked about each guy who had to be good at his task? The writers did their share, and now they’re depending on the actor to breathe humor and life into their hard work. I think you’re a great actor. Now let’s see you read that script." He did marvelously.

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