The Milwaukee Journal September 10, 1960
Robert Taylor Hits Actors Who Strut, Pose as Artists
By Robert Taylor
North American Newspaper Alliance
A frequent source of embarrassment to actors fortunate enough to have achieved that ephemeral state known as stardom is that they are popularly supposed to possess all-inclusive wisdom equipping them to discourse expertly on any subject from aardwolves to zymosis.
Let’s face it, I knew neither the meaning or the existence of those two words until I saw them in my dictionary just a moment ago. Why should I? They’re hardly valuable additions to anyone’s workaday vocabulary.
Using the same line of reason, why should I be regarded as an expert on finance, politics, love or the emotional world of the teenager? Yet scarcely a week goes by that some newspaper or magazine doesn’t invite me to pontificate upon these subjects–sometimes even to give advice which readers may take seriously.
This is the lot of the actor. I appreciate the compliment but must decline with one exception. I don’t claim to be an expert on acting although it’s been my profession for many years. But I do know something about actors. Some of my best friends are actors–but that’s not why they’re my friends. And there are other actors I can do without–the lads who mistake temperament for art.
Of course, there are a few practitioners whose characterizations are really worthy of the word art. But by and large, acting is no more an art than cooking or “pops” singing or gardening. It is a craft–a challenging one–which requires dedication and practice. But it is rarely art. And I’ve been at it a quarter century.
Don’t get me wrong–good acting is no cinch. It is not a profession just anyone can handle, a job anyone can successfully carry out. In my TV series The Detectives, we shoot in three days what MGM in days of old took six weeks to film. And the results are just about as good. This demands proficiency, intelligence, organization. But the art, if it’s there–and I think it is from time to time–is in the writing, the direction.
Actors, particularly those with little experience, who regard themselves as artists don’t help their profession. Years ago the hallmark of the glamorous actor was a thing called temperament. He showed up late for work or failed to show at all. He quarreled with his director, disregarded general rules of etiquette and procedure. He has to hog the spotlight.
Today temperament is largely under control. The economics of a business under pressure of competition from bowling and boating does not permit tantrums. In its place we got art!
The trouble with many actors is that they take themselves too seriously. They feel they are a breed apart. I recall when I first gained recognition actors were regarded as little white gods, and it was the studio which placed them on this pedestal. There’s a longing for group identification among many actors today–so they wear buttonhole badges saying “artist.” I’ve worked with some of these gents who can’t remember a page of dialog or mouth a line so it can be understood.
But they’ll research a role for weeks. They’ll seek the motivation which prompted this cowboy to mount his horse in a certain manner, or that detective to carry a gun strapped to his left kneecap.
True artists never speak of themselves as such. Schweitzer doesn’t, nor does Spencer Tracy. Irving Berlin doesn’t compare himself to Beethoven or affect whatever appearance the artist is supposed to wear–in Hollywood it is frequently goatee for the male and heavy eye make-up for the female!
These “arty” actors are wont to say they act because it allows them vast emotional release. It permits them to express their inner selves. I say phooey. Busy actors only occasionally get a role permitting them to express their own emotions. The challenge is to express the emotions of the character you play, and to move the emotions of your audience.
This sometimes can veritably be art. More often than not it is an exhibition of considerable skill, the exercise of self-discipline and imagination.
It is a worth while trading serving a worthy purpose and the gratification it offers is that of a job well done. I consider myself a thorough professional, but I do not consider myself an artist in any way, shape or form. The term is one to be reserved for a special few.
Those who appropriate it for themselves do the true artists wrong.