Question No. 2: Why is it that of all the people on earth the only ones who continually have to be reminded what time it is are actors and actresses? That is not my main question of the day, but it was brought to mind recently by a TV ad for Alberto VO-5 hair spray with Miral 80, in which an actress by the name of Rula Lenska is sitting in her dressing room, chatting about hair spray, when an off-dressing room voice calls: "Five minutes, Miss Lenska." It is always thus. All the actors in history have had to be told by some unseen stage hand the amount of time remaining before their entrances. That these people cannot keep track of the time themselves is mysterious to me, so I asked the drama critic of The Post why it is so. Barely raising his head, he made with some gibberish about the time-warning being a subtle device used to ascertain if the performer was drunk or asleep - in effect, telling me to take a walk.
He was not so cavalier about Question No. 1, which I had deliberately held back to lull him off his guard: All right, then, who is Rula Lenska?
She appears in not one, but several ads for Alberto VO-5 with Miral 80. I'm not sure if there are three separate ads, but there are at least three separate scenes: Rula Lenska alighting from a small plane; Rula Lenska showing friends around London; and the dressing room scene. In each her role is a star's. Her voice is a star's - something Czech or Russian scumbled over with British, the kind of voice Anatasia would have had, had she been played by Rula Lenska. Her poses are a star's poses, as are her words, which, when they are not devoted to Alberto VO-5 with Miral 80, concern themselves breathlessly with the hectic life of a great and famous actress. And, of course, her hair is a star's, a field of auburn heather that swishes when she swishes, and fairly hums as she stands under a marquee beside an enlarged theater notice on a poster, bearing the single word, "brilliant" - a reference, no doubt, to a performance of hers.
So I should have known who she was. And at first I chalked up solely to my bottomless ignorance the fact that I recognized neither the face nor the name of an out-and-out star, who surely would not be endorsing Alberto VO-5 with Miral 80 were she not an out-and-out star. Yet I did not recognize her, which brought me to question my friend the drama critic, who that time said: "Beats me."
Cleared. If the drama critic of The Post did not know who Rula Lenska was, she had to be a nobody. And if she was a nobody, what was she doing sashaying about like a somebody? (Question No. 3.)
Because - it occurred sadly - she very much wanted to be recognized as a great and famous actress, or at any rate, someone in the upper reaches of the Alberto VO-5 with Miral 80 company wanted that for her. Therefore the elaborate pretense - the theatrical chitchat, the notice poster, the "Five minutes, Miss Lenska." Cheaper than hiring a bona fide star, to be sure. But how does Miss Lenska feel once the ad is shot, and five minutes have passed and all she has is her hair in perfect shape?
I remember seeing an ad like Miss Lenska's once before, 20 years ago. It was for a different kind of hair spray, and in it a movie director used a light meter to read the sheen reflected in the hair of a young and pretty woman. The woman was one Olga Nicholas, referred to in the ad as "rising starlet, Olga Nicholas." I never saw Miss Nicholas rise anywhere but in that ad, eventually concluding that a rising starlet could only rise to the rank of starlet anyway, and not to a full-fledged star. If Miss Nicholas has risen at last, she must be 40 now, and she must also have changed her name.
In fact, it may be that her new name is Rula Lenska, who looks to be about 40. If that is so, so much the worse, as it would mean that Miss Nicholas or Miss Lenska or whoever has led an entire life of star-playing, when the bitter truth is that her hair, not she, is the star, her lustrous eye-catching hair that must seem to her now as Lassie and Trigger must have seemed to their owners - a beautifully trained animal whose glory reflects everything save the soul of its trainer. Imagine the petty ignominies:
I'm Rula Lenska, Mr. Coppola.
Rula Lenska. Remember...
Oh sure. The girl in the ad for Alberto VO-5 with Miral 80. How ya doin"?
And so on. No blown-up word of praise. No voice calling out, "Five minutes." Nothing but a stylish woman, whose performance in its way is more demanding than anything ever tried by Sarah Bernhardt.
For it is no great trick for a star who actually is a star to play a star selling hair spray. But for a star who is not a star, although she would like with all her heart to be a star - for her to play a star selling hair spray is something else. And if I could, I would give Miss Lenska five minutes - not of preparation, but of life - five minutes in which the unrecognizing world would come to a stop and point as she passed by, saying: There goes Rula Lenska. The Rula Lenska. How dazzling. How brilliant. And will you look at that hair.