My Day With Blake Edwards
1922 - 2010
December 16, 2010
So it's 1983 and my agent calls me for an audition for a feature film. It was to be called Mikki + Maude and it starred Dudley Moore and Amy Irving - directed by Blake Edwards. I was just starting out as a fledgling actor and I was very excited about it.
I show up at Culver Studios for the audition. I go in there and do my little reading - and I get the part! I was to be "The Piano Player" in Amy Irving's little classical quartet.
Now, keep in mind, when you perform as a musician in a film, you don't actually play the instrument live. There's usually a playback recording and you play along with the tape and make it look as authentic as possible. So, there's Amy and her little cello and 2 other guys with violins and we're all practicing our parts before we start to film... and I realize that we're about a quarter step out of key with the playback. Which isn't a big deal for the stringed instruments because they can just be easily re-tuned to the tape. But the piano couldn't be re-tuned without bringing in a piano tuner which would delay the shoot and cost lots of money. So I had to play out of tune. And as I played along with the playback - well, it just sounded terrible. And remember, this was one of my first parts in a feature film and I was just having all kinds of anxiety and grief thinking that I'm screwing everything up. I had this look of terror as sweat was pouring off my head causing the make-up artist to keep revisiting me with her pad in-between takes. Basically, it was quickly becoming a disaster and I was convinced my career was over.
Then over comes this guy. He puts his arm around me and walks me over to the side of the set out of hearing range of the rest of the crew. And he says, "Hi, I'm Blake." And I'm thinking... that's it - he's going to fire me and at least he's kind enough to pull me over to the side so as to limit the amount of humiliation. But, he doesn't fire me. In fact, he's completely understanding and just down right cool about the whole thing. He tells me he sees there's a problem and he wants to know what he can do to help solve it. So, I suggest that we put some kind of damper on the strings of the piano so we can't hear it as well against the playback and then the out of tune issue won't be a problem. And within minutes there's 2 grips huddled over the piano and just like that the problem is solved... and I still have my job! And we shoot the scene without any further glitches and I'm just feeling really relieved.
At the end of the day I go up to him and I thank him. And I'll never forget what he says to me. He says that anybody can do good work when everything is going well, but it takes real talent to perform when everything is all ****** up... Then he asks me if I'm available for more work. Wow! So, I pretend to be thinking about my availability for a moment (cough). And don't you know it, he hires me on the spot to come back and be in the Mikki + Maude wedding scene. And I'll tell you what, for a little bit player like I was, it was just like going from the cellar to the penthouse.
I show up for the wedding scene shoot, and I'm just kind of standing around waiting to be called and Blake sees me and calls me over and he starts talking to me like we're old friends. What a cool guy! So, I ask him how the dailies looked for the piano scene that we had shot earlier. And he sort of gets this sympathetic look on his face and he lowers his voice and tells me "softly" that he's very sorry but they're going to have to cut my scene. And he was honest about it -- Too much sweat on my face. I guess the camera didn't like my anxiety attack. To think that little Stevie Ameche had single handedly altered a major feature film forever... In a mild attempt to salvage the moment, I asked him if there would be any way to bring in a special effects team to correct the sweat issue. (I'm not making that up). Blake looked at what must had been a pitiful face... and after a moment... he tells someone to get me a chair and puts it right next to his director's chair. And I wind up sitting right next to him for the entire day. I got to watch him work. Talk about compassion!
Now, I don't think anyone else on the set that day really knew who I was - but I'm pretty sure it started to get around that I must had been some kind of close personal friend of Blake's because all of a sudden I started getting this royal treatment. I mean I had production assistants bringing me coffee and danish. And when I said I had to go put more money in the meter - I was told to just tell them where the car was and they'd take care of it for me. I have to tell you - at the time, and only with the exception of a particular date in the back seat of a VW Bus when I was 15, it may very well have been the best day of my life...
At the end of the day I thank him again, profusely. And Blake gives me his telephone number and tells me to call him if he can ever help me. He wrote his name and number down on the back of an old call sheet. I took the call sheet and framed it and had it hung on my living room wall for years. I never called him. I wanted to, but I just couldn't think of anything to say. I never saw him again.
This morning I read that Blake had passed away. And I immediately thought about the special time I got to spend with him. In essence, he took what had become a horrific situation ... and just turned it into a beautiful thing. And I'll tell you what - that is real talent. God bless you Blake Edwards.