"I don't think my case will take up much space in your book," Tony Randall told me, dismissing his story as not "dramatic" enough. But, exuberant and articulate, Randall opened up about himself in a way he rarely does. When a PR man stopped by and asked if our interview was something he should know about, Randall sent him scurrying off; he obviously did not want any interference.
Then, applying his make-up as we talked, Randall plowed his way through a free-form conversation punctuated by laughter and occasional expressions of painful remembrance.
Most people don't want to admit they need thereapy, although the fact is that everyone on earth needs it, just as everyone needs to go to the dentist and everyone needs to have his eyes checked every two years.
The most terrible symptom I had was insomnia. You know how awful it is to go one night without sleep, but imagine going 600 nights!
I'll tell you how it came about -- and I think around 7 million other men had the same experience I did. I'd never had a sleepless night in my whole life. I was in the Army four years, and the day I learned I was going to be discharged, that night I didn't sleep, and then I didn't sleep for two years.
That sudden fear of being on my own was the thing. The Army was a great mother, a great womb. Every decision was made for you: Today you'll wear your o.d.'s [olive drab uniform]; this afternoon at 2 you'll change to your fatigues; here's your food; here's your salary; here's the doctor. Everything was done for you.
Suddenly you're going to be expelled and absolutely on your own, have to earn a living and make every decision for yourself. It threw people.
I felt my therapy was a positive thing all along. It's all so illusory in some ways, because after the first session I was able to sleep. You think, "I'm cured" -- and that's why it's so easy for quacks to function, because symptoms are often very easily cured. But to get at the causes is very difficult.
My shrink was very easy to take. He had developed the art of listening sympathetically and saying almost nothing, just nodding, seeming to be friendly, listening. And that is an art.
For a long time I was so ashamed of being in therapy that I couldn't tell my wife. Then one day I told her and -- big deal, who cares?
The main thing you learn through therapy is to live with yourself, to accept yourself. The typical neurotic hates himself -- or has a very low opinion of himself, in any case. He thinks everything is wrong with him and that if he were really an okay guy, he wouldn't have such contemptible failings.
In therapy you learn that your failings aren't comtemptible, they're only human. You learn to forgive yourself and to live with yourself. And you learn another thing: that you're never going to get over your failings.
I remember saying to my therapist, "Why am I like that?" And he said, "Because you're built that way." Now that sounds like advice anybody could give you, but this is technical and deep and results from much analysis of all the evidence and data you've presented to him.
The most difficult thing for me to accept about myself is that I'm a nervous wreck, that I have a terrible need to prove myself all the time, It gets a little personal and embarrassing, but the failings people have don't mean that life is finished; you get another chance and you try again.
I guess it's the way a good businessman or a good gambler learns to operate: Today I lost, but tomorrow I'll win.
But that was always my feeling about anything, that if I lost, that was the end; I was finished. If I tried to hang a picture on the wall and I didn't hang it right and the plaster broke, I'd think, "I'm through, I'm no good, I might as well jump out the window." I'd just go into the depths of despair over anything. Anything seemed the end.
During therapy I began to realize how boring I was, and it used to embarrass me. How could the therapist stand to listen to the drivel! Because it's mostly drivel that you speak -- it's not interesting dialogue written by Graham Greene. And he had to sit and listen to exactly the same sort of thing eight times a day for an hour each session, sometimes more, every day of his life.
I used to tell the shrink jokes all the time just to make him laugh. I could make him laugh until he cried. I've always used that as a form of acceptance. If I can make people laugh, I feel I've won their approval: they're glad to be with me. Many performers have the same background: They were the class clown in school and so forth.
I remember exactly what the most surprising insight about myself was. I asked the therapist why I had this terrible urge all the time to be "on," to be the center of attraction. If I was at a party, I'd talk: I always talk too much. When the shrink asked me why, I said, "Well, if I just sit in a corner and don't say anything, I'm a schmuck."
And he said, "Look: You don't have be the big macho and you don't have to be a schmuck. There's something in between." That was a revelation for me.
Success changes you. One of my problems in the past was intense anxiety about ever making it in my profession. I think that treatment helped me to make it, gave me more confidence in myself; but if I hadn't made it -- and this is such a chancy business -- no amount of treatment would have saved me; I'd be suicidal again. I don't think I could have taken it.
My entire pride in myself, whatever self-respect, self-esteem or macho I have, is based entirely on my ability as an actor. Acceptance by others as a fine actor.
You could tell me I'm a rotten citizen, a rotten lover, a rotten traitor or the lowest thing in the world; it wouldn't bother me. I would just think, "What the hell do you know?" But tell me I'm a bad actor and you've killed me. I can't take it. It's the only thing I have any pride in.