Confessions Of A Ten-Percenter—Jeff Chandler
Each week Jeff Chandler, a wavy-haired, mammoth-shouldered giant who weighs 214 Ibs. with a towel around his midriff, and stands six feet four in his size 12 shoes, pays me ten percent of his considerable salary. Like clockwork.
I am Jeff’s talent representative, or if you want to be down to earth, I’m his agent. Lots of people don’t like to use the word “agent” in polite society because supposedly it conjures up images of blood-suckers, leeches, Draculas and other such parasites. But let’s face it. In Hollywood the actor or actress without an agent doesn’t eat regularly.
When Jeff isn’t working, which, knock on wood, is never, I find him employment. When he is working, which is always, I go over his contract with a microscope. I get it renewed when it expires—at more money if possible. In his case it was possible. I pick up his check at the studio every Friday. Never miss a single week. I read his scripts and try to see that he stars only in top-grade films which can further his career, I handle all the requests for benefit appearances. And I go around Hollywood insisting that Jeff Chandler is the sweetest most popular actor in the business. None better. Honestly!
Right now, just for the record, I’d like to say that I know Jeff as well as any person living with the possible exception of his wife, Marge. She, of course, thinks he’s a dream. She only lives with him. I have to work with the lug.
This guy will play a benefit in Peoria if you ask him. On the level. He is constitutionally incapable of saying no.
Let me give you a few examples. A number of weeks ago a lady called and asked me if Jeff would be good enough to travel out to a section of Los Angeles called Westchester. The Jewish organization, Hadassah, had elected a girl to be crowned Queen Esther of Westchester; and they wanted Jeff to preside at the ceremonies. When I asked Jeff about it, he said, “Sure, why not?”
A day later Father Patrick Peyton, who runs the Family Theatre, a radio program over the Mutual Network, phoned. “I wonder if Jeff’d do another show for us,” the Catholic cleric asked me. “He’s done so many already I’m almost ashamed to impose upon him.”
When the Man Mountain ambled in that afternoon, I relayed the request. “Be glad to,” he said, “Why not?”
When Jefi was shooting Because Of You in which he co-stars with Loretta Young, the company used the Sawtelle Veterans Hospital as a location. Between set-ups, Jeff sat around, cracked jokes, bulled with the men, listened to their old stories, their plans for the future.
Early next morning a soldier came up to my office. “I was talkin’ to Jeff Chandler out at the Hospital,” he explained. “Told him I wanted to get into show business. He said you’d be glad to help me.”
That’s one of the troubles with Chandler. He tries to foist his missionary spirit on his friends. Thinks everyone should help everyone else.
Know that crazy baseball team that Martin & Lewis have, the Aristocrats? A look at the lineup shows Chandler playing right field. Know where most of the Aristocrats’ games are played? At Sawtelle for the benefit of war veterans. Ever hear of the City of Hope, that wonderful outfit near Duarte, California, which provides free medical help for tuberculosis and cancer patients? I’ve lost count how many times Jeff has appeared for that charity.
Maybe it’s because he’s always been tall and tall people have a way of feeling self-conscious, as if they didn’t quite belong. Maybe it’s because of that, or maybe it’s Just because he’s humanitarian, but Jeff is always going to bat for the underdog.
That’s Jeff’s outstanding trait, I think. He’s unbelievable. Just look at the guy. Does he look like an actor? Does he walk like an actor? Does he even talk like an actor?
Behind that granite face would you think there lurks a first-rate intelligence? Would you think this lug is as soft-hearted as Florence Nightingale? Would you, even in your most fanciful dreams, consider him a sensitive artist or a fine singer?
Listen to the truth, friends. This guy started out in Brooklyn as a commercial artist, and a darn good one, too. He also sings. Peggy Lee had him on her radio show as a guest, and he was so surprisingly good as a canary that she insisted he make a repeat appearance.
As for his soft-heartedness and his intelligence, maybe you won’t believe this but Jeff is one of the few Hollywood stars who tries to answer personally each and every fan letter. Not with a form reply, either. He has a blonde secretary, Arleen Franz, and he dictates to her every day.
“If people are nice enough to write me,” he says, “who am I not to answer?”
If this is not a refreshing attitude in Hollywood I will eat it. Here’s one of the busiest guys in town who’s never too busy to answer his own fan mail. Few other stars can make this claim. Not that Jeff ever makes any claim. Ask the reporters about him. All of them say, “The trouble with Chandler is that he won’t talk about himself. The subject embarrasses him.”
I first saw Jeff 12 years ago when he was Ira Grossel from Brooklyn. He was enrolled at the Feagin School of Dramatic Arts in New York. At the time I was a talent scout for 20th Century-Fox. It was part of my job to make the rounds of dramatic schools, searching out new talent.
To me Jeff was a big, gawdy kid. He didn’t seem to coordinate too well, a common failing of tall guys. But there was an arresting quality about the boy, a kind of deep sincerity. I watched him for a few minutes, then walked out.
Later I was at the Mill Pond Playhouse on Long Island when who should turn up again? Right. Only this time he was a spear-carrier or something in a costume drama entitled The Trojan Horse. His face had more character and his acting showed indications of great potential, but I still didn’t think enough of the boy to recommend a screen test. I felt he was at least two or three years away. Then the war broke out and I lost track of Jeff.
When I next ran into him we were both in Hollywood, he as a radio actor and I as the general manager of Huntington Hartford’s talent agency. We met at a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast, and when the show was over I knew at once that Ira Grossel had arrived. He had not only developed his acting, but his sex appeal, his personal magnetism, that strong-but-silent he-man attitude seemed to overwhelm the audience. I was surprised after the broadcast to observe that more fans asked for his autograph than for the signatures of the established movie stars who headed the cast.
Although I’d seen him, Jeff and I had never met. A mutual friend introduced us. The first thing I said, looking up at the Man Mountain was, “I saw you in stock under a different name.” He furrowed his brow. “Yep,” I continued, “It was at the Mill Pond Playhouse in Long Island. You were in a play called The Trojan Horse.”
Jeff couldn’t believe it. “But that’s impossible,” he said. “That was more than eight years ago.”
We set up a date for the next day and Jeff came into the office to discuss representation. We talked for a while and he said, “Suppose I sign with you, what sort of parts do you think I’m suited for?”
“Maybe I’m crazy,” I said, “but I see you as a leading man.”
Jeff grinned. “Thanks,” he said. “Everybody else sees me as a character.”
Well, it wasn’t easy getting Jeff Chandler a job in pictures, I’ll tell you that. But I never lost my confidence in the guy. I remember the night I met him. I went home to my wife and I said, “Edna, I’ve run into an actor today and I’ve got a very strong feeling he’s going to become a big star.”
A funny thing. Jeff later told me that on that very same night he went home to his wife and said, “Marge, at last I’ve found the guy who’s right for me. This guy’s gonna do it.”
For three months I went from studio to studio trying to sell the lug. At one studio they said, “Look, we’ve got all the truck drivers we need.” At another, the casting director said, “He’s too tall. He’s a giant. If we make a sequel to King Kong, we’ll call you.” A third studio sent word that he wasn’t handsome enough. A fourth told me that possibly he could be used as a mug in gangster films.
It was disheartening and discouraging for both of us. It’s sort of embarrassing to ask for work, which is why actors have agents. But I think it’s especially embarrassing for a big hunk of man like Jeff to be told, “Sorry, I can’t use you.” All the time he knows what the casting director is thinking, which is, “How come a big healthy Joe like you isn’t driving a truck or digging a ditch?”
Jeff didn’t give up and neither did I. He continued to work in radio, and I kept pounding studio doors. Universal was the first studio really to let us in. They tested Jeff for a part in Sword In The Desert.
He was sensational. The studio called me and had the test run. “Aren’t you surprised?” one executive asked me. “No,” I said honestly. “I expected him to be good. What do you think I’ve been talking about all these months?” While Sword In The Desert was being made, the studio signed. Jeff to a contract.
Other than for the outside pictures he’s made at 20th Century—Broken Arrow was the best of these—he’s been at Universal ever since. A few weeks ago we signed a new contract. It makes Jeff one of the highest paid actors on the lot.
When I tell people that despite his success Jeff hasn’t changed, they refuse to believe me. “You’re his agent,” they say. “Whoever heard of an agent telling the truth about his client? How come he separated from his wife when he earned a little success? Why don’t you tell us the truth about that?”
The truth is very simple. All married couples quarrel in Hollywood and out of Hollywood. Sometimes personalities rub each other the wrong way, No marriage is perfect. It has to be worked at. Jeff’s wife is a beautiful, intelligent extrovert. Jeff is essentially introspective. Lots of times he’ll sit for long periods, just thinking. Marge will say, “What’s wrong?” Jeff will say, “Nothing. I’m just trying to think something through.” The separation stemmed from a difference of viewpoint. There was no third party involved. Jeff and Marge were apart for seven months, and my own personal opinion is that because of that separation their marriage is more solid today.
The Chandlers with their two daughters live in a middle-class house in a middle-class neighborhood, drive a middle-class car, a Pontiac, wear middle-class clothes, and live a quiet, circumspect life.
Jeff has a wry sense of humor which is open to misinterpretation because on occasion his kidding is taken seriously. It hurts him to hurt anyone even momentarily. If he feels he has, he’s quick with an apology.
He also has a pretty good idea of where he stands as. an actor. “I’ve done some good parts,” he says, “and then there have been others. I have a set of values for myself, and I know I’ve got a lot to learn.”
As an agent and talent scout I’ve seen an awful lot of actors in Hollywood. The behavior pattern is very simple. They start out grateful and hard-working. In a few years success turns them a little heady. The agent who once helped them is now a necessary evil, a sycophant. They tolerate you because they feel that one day they may need your services again.
This is not true of Jeff Chandler. He called me Meyer when he didn’t have a dime, and he still calls me Meyer today. The important thing to me is that the tone he uses is still the same.
—BY MEYER MISHKIN
(Jeff Chandler can be seen in Universal-International’s Yankee Buccaneer.)
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1952