The recent High Holidays of Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur brought to mind one of my favorite interviews for Lee Marvin Point Blank, and that was Lee Marvin’s career long agent, Meyer Mishkin. The two men made an interesting contrast, most of which went into the bulk of the book. However, Mishkin’s background, which he spoke of at length to me in the day we spent together, was truncated in the text for obvious reasons. Here now, for the first time, is the late Meyer Mishkin discussing just that. You’ll note how amazingly similar it was to MANY first generation Eastern European Jews……
DWAYNE: Your background’s are so dissimilar, was that ever a conflict?
MEYER: That really didn’t matter to us. My parents came from Russia. My grandfather came in steerage to NY saved up $10 a week to bring my grandmother. They and my parents came over & lived on the lower east side. I wasn’t born in hospital but in my parents’ bedroom. My grandfather was a cobbler who worked in the basement, woke at 4 am, had a snort of vodka, went to shul and then went to work. I went to P.S. 147. I sometimes stopped off at saloon to get Sammy Cahn who played piano in his father’s saloon. From P.S. 147 went to Townsend Harris Hall, which was a special prep school for CCNY. In 1929 I remember my father coming home one day and I was student, just graduating from Townsend Harris Hall…I was at CCNY already and I met him on the street. He was what they call a ‘collarmacher.’ He was a tailor, he made the suit collars. I said “what’s wrong?” He said, “They closed the factory,” where he was working. Then, a short time later, I came home one day, my mother…I say, “Why are you crying?” She said, “They raised the rent from $27-a-month to $29-a-month. Where are we gonna get it?” Okay, so two years at CCNY, I went looking for a job. I worked first in summer at the Trenchant Marine Pump Co. I delivered stuff, $8 dollars a week. Then, I worked at the Liberty Dental, delivering false teeth for $11-a-week. The Liberty Dental closed up. Couldn’t run the place, Then I went looking for a job and I was sent to Fox Movietone News. That’s how it started. I came in, sitting there were adults. Mustached men for a $12 a week job…. I was 17.
D: You obviously weren’t intimidated if you went for the job.
M: No. Then this lady came. asked my name and stuff. You know how you sometimes see a glint in somebody’s eye? She asked me questions and then she said, “You know you got to be a high school graduate.” I said, “I am a high school graduate.” I thought if I would say, “I’m a junior at CCNY,” she wouldn’t believe it. She took me into see a man named Ken Murray, not the actor. I met him and he questioned me. Then he just turned to the young woman, Edna Barrington, and he said, “Okay,” and I got a job, $12 bucks a week.
D: Which was a fortune in those days.
M: Yeah. When I was a kid on the Lower East Side, I used to go to the Golden Rule Movie House on Rivington Street. Two for a nickel. We went on Saturday morning. You stood outside and you said, “I got two, who’s got three?” because if one went in, it was a nickel. They let two in for a nickel. So you tried to get in two on the nickel. I started as a move fan just like Lee Marvin. Before you went in, you went to a place called Cheap Havers. For a penny you got stuff that you could eat in the movies. I was seeing movies when I was a little kid, same as Lee.
D: So you were basically giving yourself your own education.
M: I even sat once at the reception desk at Fox. Right next to us was a lab. It was sound engineers. I listened day after day. I hear ‘Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth..’ you know, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. I thought, Why are they doing this?” Finally, I got up enough courage and I asked one of the engineers, “Why do you keep playing Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address over nd over again? He said, “We’re trying to get rid of the sibilant ‘S’ on our soundtrack.” I was learning something. I was watching screen tests being filmed and learning from them.
D: Did you ever give Lee Marvin advice on characterization?
M: There were times but it was done as we talked, that was all. I didn’t go ‘Hey, you gotta do dis!’
D: I’m sure it wasn’t. I’m sure it wasn’t heavy-handed.
M: It was one of those things where we talked. As a matter of fact, we’ll go outside in a few minutes, and I’ll show you where Lee and I used to sit.
D: I would dearly love to see that. [pause recorder to go outside] Oh, gorgeous yard, too!
M: [conducts walking tour]. You’re in the country. This tree has been growing like this all these years.
D: Wow, it spreading out everywhere, all over the yard.
M: As my mother said when she here the first time and she sat over there in one of these chairs. She’s looking around and she said in Yiddish, “He has his own woods!”