Marrying Kind: How George Cukor Made Aldo Ray a Star
The Marrying Kind deals with the breakup of a blue-collar marriage between Florence (Judy Holliday) and ChetKeefer (Aldo Ray). An uneven film, The Marrying Kind starts off as a light romantic comedy, but then its tone changes to a melodrama. Though warm and likable, the comedy seemed condescending to the “little” people.
Cukor knew that casting was the most important element for a film like The Marrying Kind. As a team, he and the Kanins had developed a casting method, which they called “The Blackball System.” It meant that if one tried long enough, one could always find an actor who is acceptable to every member of the team. But if one member felt strongly against a given actor, it was enough to rule that actor out. After using four new actors in Adam's Rib, which contributed to the film's freshness, Cukor determined that whenever possible he would use new faces.
The role of Florence was specifically written for Judy Holliday, then at the peak of her career. Determined to cast the right actor for the male lead, Cukor tested numerous performers. Sid Caesar had turned the role down, because he didn't think it was good enough.
The trouble with most actors was that they looked and sounded like actors. Despite Kanin's recommendation, Cukor thought Tom Ewell was such an odd-looking fish that audiences might think his lack of attraction was the reason for the marital break-up. Cukor had nothing against Jews, but he “gotta lot against this one.” The combination of Ewell and Holliday didn't sound “very appetitlich.” William Holden was an “agreeable chap,” but he lacked the reality for the part; besides, he was a “too goyish.” The problem with Danny Kaye was that the audience was conditioned to expect songs and high-jinks. Too Jewish, Kaye was genius as an entertainer, but he was not funny when he acted.
Of course, they all wanted Marlon Brando; Cukor felt it was time that he got a little change of pace. Brando's “Rocky Graziano approach” would bring reality and vitality to the picture. Cukor knew he could do wonders with Brando, but he teased the Kanins that using Brando might change their script into the story of a girl who married a very strange, introspective, moody fellow and thereby got herself into a peck of trouble Cukor joked about Brando, because he knew that the chances of getting him were nil.
The timing seemed perfect for making a star out of an unknown. Indeed, the role was finally cast with Aldo Ray, formerly Aldo DaRe, the constable of Crockett, a small town outside San Francisco. Cukor found Ray attractive, but more importantly, he looked average. Endowed with an offbeat personality, Ray had an odd, husky voice. “I had a part in a football film,” Ray recalled, “Harry Cohn wanted me to stay in Hollywood, but I said `No, I'm a big fish in a little pond, I'm going home.'” The next day, however, Ray got a call from Columbia. “We'd like you to come down and make a test for Mr. Cukor, we think you have a future in the business.”
Ray took another week off, and returned to Hollywood. After being introduced to Cukor at the studio, they went to his home. “He started talking to me,” Ray recalled, “just to get to know me. For one week, five full days, he tutored me.” Initially, Cukor tested Ray on a thousand-to-one hunch. It certainly was a risk entrusting a leading part to someone with no experience, but Cukor found Ray to be touching, real, and fresh–if a little crude.
Ray went back to Crockett, and assumed his position as constable. “They called me,” Ray recalled, “as soon as the Kanins saw the tests.” “Kid, resign your job,” said Max Arnold, Columbia's casting head. “What for” asked Ray. “You can't wear two hats, you can either stay in politics, or become a movie star.” Ray was perplexed, but when Arnold mentioned that his co-star was Judy Holliday, with Cukor directing, his immediate response was, “O.K. I'm in!” “It was a big step for Columbia to gamble on me, and a big step in my life to gamble on them.”
Back in Hollywood, Harry Cohn told Ray, “I've got one standing order for you. You are never to take an acting lesson.” Ray suspected that the order came directly from Cukor, though the latter recommended that Ray be sent to a ballet school, because he walked too much like a football player.
Working with an inexperienced lead, Cukor asked for an extra five days for rehearsal. In the end, they were able to complete the film in 45 days. The first day of shooting was rugged, because Ray was terribly scared. It was pretty trying for Holliday too, but she behaved “like an angel.” During their first screen kiss, Ray asked Cukor, “What should one of these phony kisses look like” “A phony kiss looks like a phony kiss,” retorted Cukor, “Now go back and kiss her like you did the girls in Crockett.” Gradually, Cukor helped Ray become more relaxed in front of the cameras.
Ray said that Cukor, “made a point to know his actors.” In the two films Ray did with Cukor, Marrying Kind and Pat and Mike, “he taught me everything I know about acting.” Cukor created a natural atmosphere for Ray. “The key to acting is not to act,” he told Ray, urging him to do “what comes naturally.” “Don't memorize words, memorize the idea, and for that you have to listen.”
Cukor watched every little movement Ray made, giving him endless corrections, “Bring it up,” “Bring it down,” “Don't be afraid to get emotional and angry.” “A lot of actors are afraid to emote, but when you're heartbroken, you've got to show it.” “Don't worry,” Cukor would say, “the camera catches everything. It's in there, it's in your eyes, whether you know it or not.” “We didn't do too many takes,” said Ray, “The Kanins wrote good scripts. You didn't have to deviate much, everything was there.”
In preparation of the film's most painful sequence, the loss of a child, Cukor told Ray: “This is a key scene. You've got to think of something that would make you very emotional.” “At that time, I didn't have a son,” Ray recalled, “But I had a little brother, two years old, who was like a son to me.” Ray thought about his baby-brother during that scene. “I ran down there, grabbed the boy, and pulled him out of the water, screaming away. Everybody was in tears, they thought it was for real.” Indeed, the way Ray ran into the water was electrifying. Cukor saw violent rage in the frantic way Ray moved, and had tears in his eyes that day. It was a rare sight of a director who took pride in being totally unsentimental.
Cukor's idea of putting a dream sequence into a realistic comedy was also interesting. Many of the Kanins' scripts for Cukor contain a fantasy scene. In this one, Chet has a nightmare in which he is sucked downward off his bed onto a conveyer belt, which transports him to a mail shute. Chet slides down, as if he were a parcel, and resurfaces in Times Square, where a firing squad composed of many images of Florence, dressed in a policeman's uniform fires on him. This sequence visualized Chet's anxiety and dehumanization, caused by his monotonous job. “You just run across Broadway in your shorts,” Cukor instructed Ray when they shot the sequence at Broadway and Forty Second Street. The actor did it without a blink; there was nothing he wouldn't do for Cukor.
When the rough cut of Marrying Kind was ready, Cukor invited Ray to watch the film with him. “He gave me a pad and pencil, and said, `Mark down anything that you see in there.” As the film progressed, Ray made a couple of notes. “In this scene,” Ray said, “you've got something wrong, or that's in the wrong place.” Cukor was most impressed with the specificity of Ray's comments. “When they get into the cutting room,” Ray said, “they are often so close to the film that they don't see anymore.”
Cukor sent Ray out on the road with the picture, which was released during Senator McCarthy's HUAC hearings. “They were all pinkos, Judy, Garson, Ruth,” Ray said, “and the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, who were really `Gung Ho,' were picketing all over the country.” Ray toured 35 cities in 90 days. “I was the all-American boy,” he recalled, “I would tell them, `You guys are nuts. It takes 600 people to make a film and you're picketing because you think these three guys are pinkos You're not even saying they're reds.'” There were lines miles long at the theaters, but Ray broke up every picket line. Almost invariably, the demonstrators would end up apologizing to Ray and asking for his autographed picture.
Like many of Cukor's other stars, Ray said that after the two films with Cukor, “I never needed direction again. I became a pretty learned actor, I absorbed a lot in those 14 weeks.” At the end of the shoot, the only advice Cukor gave Ray was, “Just keep working. Don't worry about the size of your role. Whatever you play, a hero or heavy, just put your heart and soul into it.”
Cukor knew from the outset that Ray was made for the movies. There was something special about the look in his eyes. He also cried well, which was very difficult for actors, particularly men. Ray could be funny and endearing at the same time, and he was not afraid to play unsympathetic characters.
Before the opening of The Marrying Kind, Cukor said to the actor, “Albert, you're going to be around a long time.” Indeed, The Marrying Kind made Ray an instant movie star. Interestingly, Spencer Tracy used exactly the same words, when they finished shooting his next movie, Pat and Mike. “Kid,” Tracy said, “you're going to be around a long time.” It was gratifying to Ray that a director of Cukor's stature and an actor of Tracy's concurred.
related article 1: Marrying Kind, The.
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