(Barry Cutler, by John Rabe.)
Rabe writes: Barry Cutler has regaled Off-Ramp with stories about George Carlin, schoolkids acid response to his Lincoln impersonation, and more. This week, he remembers Kevin McCarthy, the actor's actor who died September 11th. Here's the full text of his essay (minus three letters from the F-word), which I had to eviscerate for broadcast this weekend.
I was very sad to learn of the death of Kevin McCarthy. I had the good fortune to work with him, briefly, and then blessed with an ongoing, if distant, (I dare to declare) friendship, for years thereafter.
His passing didn't seem to get a lot of Press. It was but a passing reference compared to the importance of Lindsay Lohan tweeting that she had failed her latest drug test. Not to knock the talent of that young actress - or even her character - but I knew the rich talent and character of Kevin. Still, I suppose I'm just being an old fart. My grandparents may have been just as displeased when the newsy quarrels of Taylor and Burton relegated some great actor of the Yiddish theatre to a back page obit.
I worked with Kevin in a short-lived production of A Christmas Carol. Our Scrooge, Brian Keith, was too unhealthy to remain in that role. For a brief time, I was assigned the role of Ebenezer but the producers would not hear of having a Z-list actor in the starring role, so Kevin was hired. Briefly, in Pasadena, Brian played Marley. For not much longer, in the Detroit area, I played Marley.
It had been a long time since Kevin had worked on stage. So long, in fact, that Actors' Equity Association had allowed some young actor in Brooklyn or the Bronx to take his name. He was told he would have to use a different stage name. Furious but funny, Kevin signed off as "The Kevin McCarthy".
I believe it was opening night in Michigan, when a group of us went for drinks, that Kevin learned he had replaced me as Scrooge. He took a swig of his scotch and said, "well, I guess you have no damned use for me."
Early the next morning, Kevin was being interviewed by a local television station. The host asked him which actors he most admired in the role of Scrooge. First he mentioned the great Alastair Sim. Then he said, "and there's a young actor named Barry Cutler." That sealed the deal for me.
As I said, the production was very short-lived. I stayed in touch with Kevin with an occasional letter or email and I was delighted that he almost always responded. "To my Marley" he would begin and, later, sign off, "Your Scrooge."
Some years later, I was cast as Lee Strasberg in a played entitled Names. The play was being produced by Strasberg's widow and youngest son. It was to be seen by many who knew Strasberg personally. So, I needed to do a lot of research if I wasn't to be humiliated. I knew Kevin had worked closely with Lee and I asked him if he would meet with me to discuss the great acting coach, director, and actor.
Kevin was always a wonderful story teller and he had lots of stories to tell. Stories of one of his best friends, Montgomery Clift. Stories of his beloved sister, the great writer Mary McCarthy. Still, his best stories were of those folks for whom he felt great animosity. Those tales were thick with wit and well-chosen profanity. A drunken actress who vomited back stage before the scene with their big kiss. Gossiping fools he couldn't abide. And Kevin hated Lee Strasberg. Over a long lunch, he told me great, angry, comical tales of the petty nastiness and meanness of Lee. (To defend Strasberg, there were others I met who worshipped and adored him.) Then, shortly before we left, he handed me a tiny picture frame holding an ancient Russian postage stamp featuring Constantin Stanislavski. Kevin had been holding this as a keepsake since the fifties. "Lee gave this to me on opening night of Three Sisters. A disaster." I turned it over. On the back, Strasberg had written "Break a leg! Love, Lee" Grabbing back the frame, Kevin said, "Love! What the f--- did Lee know about love!"
I'm pretty sure Kevin was already passed his ninety year milestone yet he drove himself, from the Sherman Oaks to Hollywood, to see me in that play. And, afterwards, he joined me and most of the cast - eager to meet him - for drinks. "Well," he said, "why don't we talk about my favorite subject? Me." And he did that, that being the favorite subject of all around the table that evening, late into the night.
Not long thereafter, someone put together a book about his most famous film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In the book was an interview of Kevin. He asked me to read it and, when I had finished, he said, "not bad, huh? The fellow who interviewed me did a terrible job so I rewrote it myself. I think I may have some have some of my sister's blood running through my veins."
We stayed in touch until, probably, a year or two ago. I was unaware of how he was doing - though, despite fading eyesight, he always seemed to have enormous energy and health - and I failed to really follow-up. So, despite his age, I was shocked and saddened to hear of his death, on the news, despite significant events in the lives of Lindsay, Joaquin, Bristol and JLo. Some people did remember and took note, as I did, of the passing of a talented, funny and good man ... The Kevin McCarthy.