There it was on page 6 of Daily Variety one sun-flooded, dream-ripe, Hollywood morning last spring, stuck amid the usual desperate classifieds and real-estate hypes: "OWN YOUR OWN NIGHTCLUB! IN VENTURA COUNTY!" It was entitled, "Dear Joyce Selznick, Casting Director," and it looked exactly like a newspaper comic strip. You had to read it.
The whole town read it. Hey, Loretta, what inna name a Cecil B. DeMille is this? Some guy from someplace in Virginia's got a cartoon about himself in Variety. Says he wants to read for Selznick, the lady who found Tony Curtis.
A lot of people want to be in pictures, burning up there in Kodacolor with Nick Nolte. So much for Walter Mitty. But Douglas Edwards of Annandale is different. Like Fred C. Dobbs in "The Treasure of Sierra Madre," one of his largest heroes, he never says anything he don't mean.
So far, since last spring, Edwards has placed three comic strips about himself in Daily Variety, and one in New York Variety. No takers yet, though the idea has gotten national exposure on Tom Snyder's "Tomorrow" show. And recently a scriptwriter and filmmaker called Edwards to say, "I only just now realize you're serious."
His last strip in the California edition of the paper appeared Oct. 19. It was a seven-panel comic that featured Capt. Queeg and Errol Flynn and James Dean and Gary Cooper and Laurel and Hardy and, of course, Douglas Edwards. The strip cost $165. Peanuts when you've got dreams. It was wedged on page 14 between a three-graph story headlined "NEA Forms Advisory Panel for Short Pix" and the production progress of an epic called "The Man at the Edge of the Freeway," shot by Palm Beach Pictures.
"Actually," says Edwards, "I've become quite good friends with the man out there who takes all these ads. We're on a first-name basis."
Pause. "I guess what I want everybody to be thinking is, 'Who is this blooming idiot?'"
Like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a Christmas choir, Douglas Edwards is just struggling to be himself. "Who else have I got but me?" he says, palms up.
He is 41, the same age, he thinks, as Robert Redford, though Redford isn't particularly a hero of his. His hair is thinning some at the back. And his teeth are imperfect. And his nose, he'll be the first to admit, is all wrong for leading-man roles, even though he got it straightened this past summer. (He ran into a plate-glass door 15 years ago when he was courting his wife.)
On good days, he's 5-feet-7 and weighs 135 pounds. But look at DeNiro. Look at Cagney. And of course look at Bogart. Didn't he prove it was character, and not some Redford mop or Eastwood chest, that counts?
Bogart? "Get away from that phone. I was willing to shoot Captain Renault and I'm willing to shoot you." The hooded, brown eyes have suddenly gone cold as clams. The mouth is flexing manically, as if trying to swallow Frisbees. The delivery is clipped and Bogeyboiled. Maybe this is a wicked tic.
Nope. "Eeee-gads," he says, swiftly changing voice, "how I like to talk to a man who likes to talk." Split-second pause. "Sydney Greenstreet. 'Maltese Falcon.'"
This isn't Rich Little, this is Douglas Edwards, freelance commercial artist and would-be cinema star. It is 10:30, a placid weekday morning, a street with trees and dogs and fireplugs. Doug Edwards' wife has gone off to work. His 8-year-old daughter is at school.
"I'm an introverted extrovert, actually, an optimistic pessimist. I feel that inside I can unleash.But I am somewhat hesitant, if you follow me. I know this: If you follow the crowd, you get lost in the crowd."
Hold here, for the room to swell, the voice to flip back to Bogart: "But I don't expect anything. I stick my neck out for nobody."
Most of this has come out with a dapper English accent, not unlike the look of the man himself. He is seated on the forward edge of a beige sofa in his living room. Across the room is a tumbler of whiskey and a set of glasses he keeps for guests.
In a while, he will go down to the basement, to his cubbyhole studio, where there are posters of Errol Flynn, his childhood idol, and where Douglas Edwards spends his days drawing display ads for watches and cars and about anything else that comes up.
He is wearing a narrow maroon tie, a British woolen cardigan. He is bearded, a man not without character. You could see him maybe in a Basil Rathbone role; Rathbone is one of his villain heroes. Or perhaps as David Niven. He's fancied himself in Niven comedy parts, actually, he says.
"Look, I've been out there to California. It's a desperate place. I've seen people doing their act right on the street. If I were some stunning blond -- and we know how some of those ladies can get themselves advanced -- or I were a gorgeous Adonis. . . .
"I mean, you see fellows out there who stand six-feet tall and have a full head of hair and big broad shoulders. I don't stand a chance in that league, and I know it. I wouldn't pretend to be Frank Sinatra, with a cabaret voice. You can put that down, if you like. I've got to capitalize on what I've got. And I'd like to think I can stick to my own code."
Afterthought: "Barrymore, for what it's worth, was a frustrated artist."
But why do you want to do it at all? he is asked; it is nearly blurted. "Easy. For the same reasons I draw: as a means of self-expression. And maybe I want to prove to myself I can get in the door. It's escapism, you might say. Cinema's always been a great escape. 'Great Escape.' I was thinking of the picture."
Pause again. Dapper smile. "Don't give up the ship." He has made a little fist salute with his arm.
It would be a mistake to write this off as absurd. There is something plucky here, something to be reckoned with. Edwards, born on the edge of Wales, seems timid as he is resolved.
"Actually," he says, "I'm inclined to think the only sober people in the world are those who are drunk."
All this started rather innocently one day last Januray when Edwards was reading an issue of American Film magazine. The issue featured a piece on casting directors, in particular Joyce Selznick, who found Gary Busey for "The Buddy Holly Story," who gave Julie Christie her first break, who picked an almost unknown named George C. Scott for "Anatomy of a Murder." The article quoted Selznick as saying that all she needs is to find a 10 percent capacity for talent.
Douglas Edwards was smitten. Stroked.
"I thought to myself, 'I can at least show 10 percent.' I went right down to Martin Luther King Library to get a Los Angeles phone directory. Of course she was unlisted. Quite stupid of me. I thought 'How can I get hold of her?' And then, it hit me: By Jove, you've been promoting other people's products for years with your art. Why not do a comic strip of yourself?'"
But the genius of every inspiration needs some midwifery. As it happened, the very day Edwards placed his first comic strip in Daily Variety, Joyce Selznick, the object of his affections, was scheduled to appear on Tom Snyder. "Luck, blind stupid luck," he says now, with a lucky little grin.
About 10 o'clock on the night of Thursday, April 5, Edwards got a call from Snyder's secretary. They had just taped the show, and Snyder and Cliff Robertson and Selznick had sat around discussing the unusual ad that had appeared that morning."'The whole town's talking about you,' the secretary told me."
Well. Douglas Edwards thought it was Hello Hollywood. No deal. Selznick called the next afternoon, at 5 o'clock, as she had promised Snyder whe would soon get in touch. "She was quite pleasant, affable, actually. She said, You've an English accent,' and I said, yes. She wanted to know how long I've been in this country. So I told her, 20 years.She went off the line at one point -- I think she was gone about 25 minutes. I could hear her talking about Donny and Marie and all these other important people. I thought, 'Oh my. This is the real thing.' She came back on and said to send as many photos of myself from different angles as I could get together. She said, 'I'll study them and get you some scripts.' She also said I should get together a 15-minute film of myself, maybe get myself a coach."
This was Friday the 6th. On Monday, the 9th of April, he had everything together, including a bio telling how he grew up on "The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Jolson Story" in the Music Hall in Chester, England. (The Music Hall is now a supermarket, says Edwards.)
"I had even found a director to loosen me up. She is a friend and has done amateur theater. I said, 'How can I pay you?' and she said, 'forget it Douglas, you're doing it for all of us.'"
It may sound like Horatio Alger so far. But here it turns into "Pilgrim's Progress." Edwards never heard. He waited, and then he waited some more. "No airline tickets," he says, with a sad little wag. "No letters of transit."
What to do? Place a second strip, of course. This one was also entitled "Dear Joyce Selznick," and featured a trench coated man standing outside of Dick's Cafe Americain. The balloon in the first panel said, "It's me again. Douglas Edwards! As I've not received any replies to my letters I'm wondering if my photos were too much for you?"
Joyce Selznick was not amused. She called Edwards that same afternoon, June 7. A joke's a joke, but hey, cut this out. According to Edwards, Selznick denied that she had received any mailings (by this time, he had sent three), told him to get her a tape, and then hung up on his ear without saying goodbye.
"I think," says Edwards, "she underestimated me a bit."
Reached in Hollywood, where she put a reporter on hold for five minutes, Joyce Selznick was peachy-sweet. Yes, she certainly remembers Douglas Edwards. "This guy was original. This guy was ingenious. I must get 500 to 1,000 letters and calls a week, desperate people."
Selznick admitted to receiving Edwards' pictures and a voice tape, among other things, but insisted she had told him to send her a video tape or 8mm film of himself. "I told him to go out in his backyard and just do something, read me something from Sherlock Holmes, anything. I would screen it for people out here immediately if I thought he had talent. If he has no talent, I'd tell him in two seconds flat. I think he's a great artist. Why doesn't he just stick to that?"
Edwards can't say why he hasn't yet sent the tape. Maybe he's getting cold feet? "I'm thinking about it," he says.
Joyce Selznick has recently joined ABC as overall talent coordinator. "You tell him I could do him a lot of good and to get that tape to me," she says, ringing off.
So who knows? Cinderella may splinter her glass slipper, and then again she may not. "You know what offends me about all these new films? Obscenity. Why can't they make films like they used to? The magic of the little black and white film."
He sighs, a weary little sigh. "Look at people like Gary Cooper and Ray Milland in 'Beau Geste.' Magic. Ray Milland was born in Wales, you know. He's been bald for years. Used to have a full mop."
Will he keep it up? "I never make plans that far ahead," Douglas Edwards says, sounding just like Bogey.