I saw noir movie bad guy actor Dan Duryea recently as a decidedly unpleasant character slapping Joan Bennet around in Fritz Lang’s 1945 movie Scarlet Street. I looked him up and found that he cited his experience working in advertising agency N W Ayer as providing the inspiration for his career playing evil characters! He had left advertising and become an actor after a heart attack when his doctors told him to get a job doing something he liked better! Here is his story in his own words:
“I looked in the mirror and knew with my “puss” and 155-pound weakling body, I couldn’t pass for a leading man, and I had to be different. And I sure had to be courageous, so I chose to be the meanest s.o.b. in the movies … strictly against my mild nature, as I’m an ordinary, peace-loving husband and father. Inasmuch, as I admired fine actors like Richard Widmark, Victor Mature, Robert Mitchum, and others who had made their early marks in the dark, sordid, and guilt-ridden world of film noir; here, indeed, was a market for my talents. I thought the meaner I presented myself, the tougher I was with women, slapping them around in well produced films where evil and death seem to lurk in every nightmare alley and behind every venetian blind in every seedy apartment, I could find a market for my screen characters….
At first it was very hard as I am a very even-tempered guy, but I used my past life experiences to motivate me as I thought about some of the people I hated in my early as well as later life … like the school bully who used to try and beat the hell out of me at least once a week … a sadistic family doctor that believed feeling pain when he treated you was the birthright of every man inasmuch as women suffered giving birth … little incidents with trade-people who enjoyed acting superior because they owned their business, overcharging you.
Then the one I used when I had to slap a woman around was easy! I was slapping the over-bearing teacher who would fail you in their ‘holier-than-thou’ class and enjoy it! And especially the experiences I had dealing with the unbelievable pompous ‘know-it-all-experts’ that I dealt with during my advertising agency days … almost going ‘nuts’ trying to please these ‘corporate heads’ until I finally got out of that racket!”
Gosh! Could that be the same racket I worked in all those years?