Guy Madison: “I Believe”
One thing I have always known about my life: I get miserable results any time I am not fully honest—with myself or with others.
Whatever I am a part of, whatever I put my hand to, if there has been any dishonest aspect to it at all, it will fail somehow. Maybe the venture will appear to go through but if it does the knowledge that the gain involved wasn’t rightly come by is enough to give the whole thing a bad taste.
This is more or less the basis of the pattern of conduct I must follow in my existence, and I don’t suppose it is necessary to say that it also applies to my faith and the manner in which I practice it. I never think of myself as a pious man. Yet in my heart is belief fostered in the home in which I was born.
Everyone, I think, has some pattern of life which is best for him and wisest to follow. When he deviates from it something, I suppose it is conscience, tells him about it. The governing instinct is the feeling of well-being that fills us when we know we are living as we should. I was only a small boy when I first realized this. I don’t suppose I will forget it if I live to be ninety-nine years old.
I lived in Bakersfield, California, when I was nine years old and I had some cousins who lived-just out of town. On Sundays we would visit, and sometimes we played ball. One such day, when the game was over I slipped the ball—their ball—into my pocket and said nothing about it. I knew I was stealing it, all right. I practically started to get sick the second I did it.
That night when we got home I felt so horribly guilty that I threw the ball into a corn field just to get rid of it—and rid of my guilty feeling, I guess. But when I went to sleep I started to dream about it; I dreamed I could see the ball lying next to some weeds in the field, and then I awoke. It was more than I could stand. I went to my father and told him all about it.
He got out of bed, we went into the field, and there I found the ball next to some weeds, just as I had seen it in my dream. My father started the car and we drove to my cousins’ right then and there and I returned the ball. I will never forget the weight that untangled itself from around my heart and dropped off.
I suppose that some people either have little or no conscience, or can turn a deaf ear to it. I think I knew kids like this. I can remember one who, when we were both about ten or so, wanted to let me in on a great scheme. He had found a way of sneaking into the church vestry unseen and he suggested that we steal the money from the collection plates on Sunday morning immediately after the offering.
By this time I was pretty well set on the sort of life I had to follow in order to be able to live with myself and stealing church money was not on the list. My declining didn’t bother him nor did he give up the scheme; come Sunday he got away with $70, mostly in small coin.
A little detective work involving a check-up on which boys who belonged to the church were not at service at the time, and a further inquiry as to which of these had suddenly become prosperous, ended with the Bakersfield police force triumphant and my pal quite rump-sore. But only a couple of days passed, it seemed to me, before he was ready with new ways and means of breaking the law.
You’re either one kind or the other. I couldn’t be the way he was, and for a fellow who was going ta continue stealing probably it was just as well he wasn’t like me!
I may be giving the impression that my reason for staying on the straight and narrow was my fear of getting caught. This is not the way it works out with me, I am certain. I know that in any wrong-doing I am hurting the other man. That seems to stop me more than the knowledge that I may be punished if caught. My punishment would start the moment I had done my deed and getting caught would have nothing to do with it. I remember taking some eggs from a grocery store and throwing them at someone’s house. Later on I was nabbed for it, but I know I felt worse thinking of the mess I had caused someone else than I felt after my guilt was established and I was “messed up” myself.
It happened that in my parents’ home there was a strict regard for what was good and what was evil; my father and mother were Baptists who subscribed fully, even intently, to every tenet of their church. Their way was the only way I knew from earliest memory and what they thought and did seemed right to me. One rule which I followed without question may be of interest in view of the kind of work I am now doing; none of us as children was permitted to go to Sunday movies and I was never inside a theatre on a Sunday until after I was seventeen years old.
It goes without saying that while other kids did go to movies on a Sunday I was in church. I didn’t mind it much and I think the reason was not that I was naturally pious or anything like that, but that the custom was iron-bound; you didn’t even discuss breaking it. I have always felt that a young child feels more secure if he has a definite program of life to follow, one which is laid out for him and from which he can’t deviate, than he does if he is allowed to feel that he can choose what to do. He doesn’t want that much responsibility yet and he senses that guiding a life as important as he feels his own to be is really a responsibility!
I don’t suppose that my relationship to the church today is as close and uncompromising as my parents’. No man can measure his piety, nor should he, perhaps; but the faith into which I was born is the faith that I understand best and rely on. I pray as I was taught to pray, and I have always felt that my prayers have been recognized if not answered directly.
I have a pretty positive attitude towards religion. And more than this, I carry through with this attitude in my everyday life—I have no truck with negative views.
If, for instance, I have to meet someone—a producer or studio head, perhaps—in regard to some arrangement affecting my career, I always expect that we will get along well and that I will be treated fairly. I do not change this feeling even when, as they sometimes do, friends warn me that I am dealing with a particularly aggressive individual and will find myself on the losing end if I don’t keep on my toes every second. In almost every case I have found myself treated well if I have expected good treatment. I have a sneaking hunch that if I were worried about getting cheated that is exactly what would happen.
This confidence that all will turn out for the best is something a fellow can use around Hollywood where so many things happen (or the printed gossip says they will happen) to confuse you.
If all the pictures I read I was in were actually filmed with me in the cast I would probably be the most often-seen actor in the business. If all the companies I was supposed to be with had actually signed me I would be working in no less than three studios at a time—most of the time. I never said or did most of the things I’m credited with. I wouldn’t have had time for anything else! If this sounds all mixed up then you are beginning to get the general idea of the atmosphere around here.
To make it worse these reports about your work aren’t the only kind that fly up about you; there are the more personal ones to upset you unless you learn to save yourself the headache of worrying about them by eliminating them from your mind. Before my marriage columnists had me romantically identified with actresses I had never even met. They would tie me up with one, and when this association proved to be obviously without foundation, they would merrily trot out another girl—and again a stranger, or at least no more than a casual friend—with whom I was supposed to be hunting full moons to sit under. And, of course, when I did get married, the experts really went to town.
Well, our marriage didn’t go well. But I think both of us would have suffered a great deal more than we have if we had not learned to ignore negative stories about ourselves. If I am bothered at all by such stories today it is because the columnists always feel they have to place the blame for every marriage that fails, I do resent any such outside judgments. Equally, when they absolve me of any fault and imply that the fault is my wife’s, I resent them. No one knows the situation but the principals in such a case—and no one else should know or pretend to know. When two people are immersed in personal difficulties of this kind, outside opinions delivered without any real knowledge of what is involved can be very cruel.
Something else I was taught as a youngster was to be resourceful, to make do with what I had when I couldn’t get what I wanted. I mention this because I think the idea of it stems from the humility with which my people faced their Maker and their destiny on earth.
My father was a mechanic in the railroad shops in Bakersfield. He wasn’t a rich man; he was.better than just rich, he was a contented man. By this attitude he showed his sons and his daughter that life was worth the effort and that one didn’t need much material bolstering to be spiritually happy, that is, to be really happy.
This teaching has been invaluable to me in so many ways; in small ways and in big ways. When I wanted a bow and arrow as a child I didn’t have to have the fancy one hung in the window of the sporting goods store downtown. I made me a crude one out of a tamarack branch with arrow weeds for arrows and I was really happy. When I wanted to make good as an actor in Hollywood and didn’t catch on it didn’t have to be that or nothing. I was not only willing to learn my business all over, but I had fun doing it.
Now, to go back to my boyhood for a moment—after my tamarack and arrow weed archery my grandmother in New Mexico sent me a real Indian bow and arrow when I was twelve, and it meant more to me because I was now trained in its use. Similarly, when I found myself again recognized as a top picture star by the studios after some lean years, the time I had spent in going over acting fundamentals in TV and lesser pictures helped me to really take advantage of this second opportunity. In each case when I didn’t get what I wanted I could have been so hurt as to do something foolish and really spoil my chances. I refused to let it mean that much to me and, curiously enough, I am getting a lot out of my career now because I was willing to accept so little before.
I might make one more point about my dependence on honesty as a sort of guide rail in everything I do. There isn’t any business as crazy as the movie business is (or can get at times) and it takes all a fellow has to keep himself sane and well balanced. If you are susceptible to flattery, for instance—well, you’re done. Because they can sure hand it out here.
Furthermore, flattery comes in unsuspected ways. The Charge At Feather River was my first “A” picture in eight years, but it turned out to be a huge success at the box office. For my second picture, The Command,the studio made big plans to assure another success. When I got the script I realized the writer had put in some mighty fine scenes for the character I was to play. They were great.
The temptation to play them was strong but I knew in my heart that I wasn’t the man the writer had in mind when he wrote them and I couldn’t live up to his hopes. Unless I could be myself in my part I wouldn’t be much of anything. I told the producers and the writer this and I made sure to explain that it wasn’t the writer’s fault, it was the fact that he was stuck with a guy like me, They understood, and with a few changes I was able to play my role and be a lot more believable in it.
My particular defense against developing too much ego as an actor is to keep seeing myself as the small-town boy I was when I arrived in Hollywood, and to keep telling myself that essentially I am that boy and not much more. Any time I get too far away from the sort of fellow he is I am making a mistake.
Too many odd things can happen here for a fellow to lose his head over himself. One night I remember leaving Los Angeles on a Southern Pacific train bound for Dallas, Texas, to attend the world premiere of Texas, Brooklyn And Heaven. I was a star in that picture so I had me a fine bedroom on the train. But that’s all I had. In my pocket was thirty-five cents and in my stomach was the hunger of all time. If a porter hadn’t come to my rescue with a loan of five dollars I would have eaten the fancy cowboy boots I had brought along in my bag—I was young enough.
Yes, something had gone wrong with the arrangements. But the point is that something can always go wrong, not only with the arrangements about a train trip, but with your whole trip through life. Against such eventuality a fellow needs to know that his faith in his ultimate, his spiritual future is so strong that he will be able to ride out any kind of trouble. It’s wonderful how much more secure you feel to know this about yourself!
—BY GUY MADISON
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE JULY 1954