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Screenland
August 1946




Two things about this article surprise me very much: first, that readers of Screenland should be interested in the views of an actor on such serious topics; and second, that I have agreed to set down on paper ideas which I long ago swore to myself I would never discuss. People in the acting profession by virtue of the fact that they are in a branch of entertainment, have their followings. It has always seemed to me that what any one of us believes about politics or religion should be his own private affair. Whenever an actor discusses his attitude toward politics or religion, he may alienate a certain percentage of people who feel differently.

However, we are going through a great wave of political and religious unrest. The shooting war is over, but the war in men's hearts isn't. During my three years in the service, I discovered that many servicemen, given more time for introspection than they had ever had previously, were groping about for something in which they could believe. One reason I was so anxious to make The Razor's Edge immediately upon my return from the service was because it seems to me that in Larry Darrell , whose faith in his old way of life was shaken by the first World War, Somerset Maugham created a character similar in his reactions to hundreds of thousands of ex-servicemen today. They, too, are for the most part, not content to go back to their old jobs in drug stores or banks or selling bonds. They are restless and confused. They don't know exactly what it is they are searching for.

The last thing in the world that I want is to influence anyone's religious or political viewpoint. Just as W. Somerset Maugham said he had never begun a novel with more misgiving that when he began The Razor's Edge , so I have never begun an article with more misgiving than this one. Nevertheless, discussing things frankly may help to clear the air.

One of the reasons why we got into World War II is that, for a long time, Americans didn't care what was happening in Europe and elsewhere. We shut ourselves tight behind our delightful delusion that what happened in Europe was no concern of ours. Sometimes we didn't even care very much what happened in America. Many of us often neglected to vote. We paid very little attention to the forces of religious and racial intolerance, which were springing up in various parts of the county.

Today there is a tremendous job that can be done with young people in the high schools and junior colleges. I know that's true, because about a year-and-a-half ago, when I was sent on a speaking tour through such schools to appeal to these young people to buy bonds, I found their response amazing. Here were some of the much-maligned bobby-sockers. I discovered that they were on the whole very intelligent and responsive. They were glad that the nation had at last discovered them and was appealing to them. The moment they were asked to be part of an important movement, they grew in stature. I believe they listened to me not because I was a movie actor but because I was a Marine lieutenant who had something to say to them. These youngsters are in a listening mood. I think that those who are concerned with the future of our country should go out and speak to them on such problems as racial and religious tolerance and on the job they themselves will have to perform when they become voters. I know that Frank Sinatra has done excellent work in this field.

If more Sinatras and others like him had gone about talking straight-from-the-shoulder to the people of my generation when we were in school, perhaps the whole bloody mess of World War II might have been avoided. Anyway, here for what they are worth are my views on the subjects Screenland has asked me to discuss.

Life

I don't believe that I personally have reached a definite philosophy of life. I think one's philosophy changes as one's desires, position, and ambitions change. There isn't any age where one stops growing mentally, and so there isn't any age where one reaches a final philosophy.

During the past three years I have changed tremendously, and my ideas on living have changed with me. Before the war I used to be interested in a lot of trivialities. Like so many people, I was content to live in the fringe around life. I wasted a great deal of time worrying about incidentals instead of getting to the core of things.

Another way in which I've changed is that I no longer believe in putting things off. There was a time when I used to procrastinate a great deal. Now I've discovered that doing things as promptly as possible simplifies life.

I've always been fortunate in one respect, and that hasn't changed. I've always known that I wanted to act. Today I feel sorry for many people who don't know what they want. Those, like myself, who know what they want can devote their energies to getting it, while those who don't know waste a lot of time and energy deciding.

Death

Life is trouble enough without worrying about something you don't know anything about. Naturally, the thought of death must be somewhere in our subconscious minds. We know it's bound to happen some day, but we accept it, just as we accept the furniture in our rooms without giving the separate pieces of great deal of conscious thought. Why worry about death? We know it's going to get dark tonight but we don't worry about it.

Immortality

I believe in one kind of immortality. People live in the people they live behind. There are probably peoples who have passed away who have influenced you. So long as that influence remains, they are alive in you. Just because we happen to "shuffle off this mortal coil" and leave some worm food behind, we are not dead, so long as someone on earth remains on whose life we have left some mark.

Religion

In The Razor's Edge Larry's quest for something on which to hang his life and thus find peace went through three phases. He started off with mental reactions, studied music, art and books, and came to the realization that what he was looking for couldn't be found wholly in books. Then he tried the physical path to peace and worked in coal mines, hoping that he would find peace in word and sweat. Finally, he decided to try to find what he was looking for in India, through religious and spiritual paths.

He discovered one thing, which is the basic underlying principle on which all religions are built. All the things you look for in life exist within yourself. I agree with Larry and with W. Somerset Maugham on that. I believe that the peace we all seek can only come through a combination of all three paths Larry took: mental, physical and spiritual.

I know that there is a motivating, creative force of the universe -- the Christians call him God -- the Mohammedans call him Allah -- the Hindus call him Brahma the Creator.

Faith

Screenland has asked me in what things I have faith. The question nonplusses me. I'm not sure what faith is. If by it is meant a blind acceptance of "things not seen," then I think that perhaps I am a man without faith. On the other hand, there was a poet who said: "There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me. Than in half the creeds."

By that definition I am a man of great faith, for I have many honest doubts.

I believe in prayer, because I think it does the person who prays some good within himself if he has faith.

I believe that all good and all evil exist in all people, and that the degree to which the good or evil is developed depends upon the degree of intelligence and upon environment and heredity.

Many people the world calls evil have great good in them. For instance, some of the biggest, kindest hearts are in social outcasts. By the same token, some people who are accepted as great ladies and gentlemen are full of all kinds of mischief and chicanery.

Morals

I believe that you should do anything you think right as long as you don't hurt any other person. Shakespeare certainly had something when he said, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

The Churches

They accomplish a great deal of good. I believe that one of the greatest motivating factors in life is loneliness. In the church and in religion people have someone to turn to. I go to church, not so much at the prescribed times, as at odd moments when it is empty and alone, so it isn't essentially our loneliness that brings me to church, nor is it a prescribed creed. Perhaps it's strange that a man like myself, who professes to be a man of little faith, should find a church so well worth going to. I think that going to church, particularly in those quiet hours, gives you a certain feeling of peace. Many times, you find that peace through meditation and being alone. Sometimes the atmosphere of the church helps you to work out your problems, or you are able to confide in a person or in a force which some men call God the problems you couldn't discuss with anyone else. Confiding your problems thus gives you a great sense of release.

War and Peace

I have been asked whether I believe that World War II is the last war. Let me answer by a question: Do you think human beings are any better today than they have been?

In each generation, people thought that the discovery of new and more horrible means of waging warfare would wake mankind up and lead to the end of all wars. I have no doubt that when the bow and arrow was first discovered, some people said, "Now that fighting has become so dangerous and destructive, war will end." And when guns were discovered, surely they said the same thing. The invention of gunpowder brought up the same old argument. So did the invention of airplanes and submarines. There were people who said, after each of these inventions, that their discovery would abolish warfare forever. But if I remember my history correctly, none of them did.

Now there are people who argue that the atomic bomb will have that effect. How I wish they were right! But I am afraid that you can invent all manner of new weapons, but war itself will never be abolished till someone invents a better human being.

The actual firing of rifles, guns and the use of other weapons is only on manifestation of war, just as saying "I love you" is only one manifestation of love. There are all kinds of other social and economic manifestations. Though the shooting war is supposedly over, who can truthfully argue that the world is at peace today?

Education

I believe that all young people should be educated in religious and racial tolerance, and that all of them should learn something about how our government works, so that they won't think it's all administered by some vague organization in Washington, DC, which has nothing to do with them.

I don't know about progressive schools, but it seems to me that their sort of training ought to start after young people have learned the three R's and not before. Personally, I must confess that I got very little out of the old-fashioned type of school I attended. I can't remember a single date; I haven't the faintest idea how to square a circle. Maybe I got things out of school that I don't realize I learned. But I am more conscious of the things I didn't learn.

If I had a son, the type of education I would choose for him would depend on what he wanted to do. If he wanted to be an actor, I would make him go out and act on a stage as soon as possible. You can read all the books on theory that were ever published -- and though they're good, you can't act till you really act. On the other hand, if my imaginary son wanted to be an engineer or a lawyer or a doctor, I'd want him to go to college. In either event, I think boys of six should be thoroughly grounded in fundamentals before progressive methods are tried on them. I know when I was a boy I wanted to be an engineer, but thank heavens, they didn't put me on the Southern Pacific or the Santa Fe. I don't believe boys who haven't learned to read or write yet are quite ready to run a school newspaper, and I feel sorry for the son of an acquaintance of mine who suddenly had to learn Spanish grammar, although he'd never learned anything about the grammar behind his own language in the progressive school he attended. Progressive schools would be fine, I think, for boys of high school or college age whose future occupations don't require a more conventional type of academic education.

The Post-War World

I'll be very much interested in seeing it, if it comes in my lifetime. Right now we're living in a post-shooting war America, which is rather pleasant. However, with all the unrest, turmoil and revolution, who can truthfully call this a post-war world? I don't know when that happy day will come.

Work and Success

I think that people who give advice to others should be quietly disposed of. I just can't see myself sitting down and earnestly passing out bowls of advice. I don't believe that there is any set formula for success. The closest you can come to it is to say that it's 90 percent perspiration and 10 percent inspiration. That's an old truism, of course, and like many old truisms, it's true. I think that success, particularly in this business of acting, is a combination of fortunate circumstances and work.

Believe it or not, it is much harder work being a so-called success than making yourself a success. This is exemplified every day by people who shoot up there like comets, but can't stay up for any length of time. One reason it is so much harder to remain a success than to become one is that, after you have attained some measure of success, you have so much more to lose and you hate to take so many chances. When you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, a gamble on some untried venture is easier.

Love and Marriage

Whenever I'm asked about marriage, I always think of Samuel Johnson's witty remark, "A second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience." The more you think of it, the wittier it seems. The same principle that applies to success applies to a happy marriage. You have to work harder to keep it happy than you did during courtship days. You have to be as considerate and thoughtful as during those days. Just as your work in your chosen field can't stop when you become a success, so working at marriage can't stop when you think you've achieved a happy marriage.

I think that love and marriage are here to stay, atomic bomb or not.

I don't believe in love at first sight -- and I don't expect me to define love. I'm not sticking my neck out on that! It seems to me I've stuck it out enough. Anyway, love as we accept it can't really come till you have a deep understanding of the person for whom you feel a violent emotion.

Happiness

I don't know whether peace comes out of happiness or happiness out of peace. It's like asking: Which came first the chicken or the egg? I don't believe that you can achieve happiness through conscious seeking for it. When you do achieve it, it will come out of your subconscious mind.

I am inclined to agree with the psychiatrist in The Seventh Veil that there are seven veils to the mind, veils of shyness and reserve and fear, which we drop only after we know people well.

Again quoting this psychiatrist, as we know people longer, we may drop more veils. A woman may drop the fifth or sixth veil with the man she loves best. But each person usually keeps the seventh veil -- deep in the subconscious mind-to himself. And it is in this part of the mind -- below the seventh veil -- that the deepest roots of happiness and unhappiness lie.

Friendship

I believe that we are born alone, live alone and die alone. There is always the seventh veil covering each person's mind. Loneliness is one of the great motivating forces. You can be lonely in a crowd. Many servicemen knew deep loneliness, though they were surrounded by legions of men.

To lighten up this loneliness, there are friends and there is love. Most of us have many acquaintances and very few real friends. I have two real friends, in the deepest sense of the word and consider myself a very lucky person. But that kind of friendship is based on an understanding between two people. No conscious effort is necessary. The friendship exists even if you don't see the people concerned for two weeks or two years. It's nothing you really work on. It just is.

To sum up my beliefs , I believe that one of the great motivating forces is loneliness. I believe that all good and all evil exist in different proportions in all men and women; that good exists in those we all evil, and evil in those we call good. Sometimes the good may be so deeply buried, and the evil so triumphant that we cannot see the good any longer, though there are feeble remnants of it still left.

I believe that there is a great force behind the universe. I believe death is no more to be feared than the coming of night.

I believe that while we live we should do whatever we think is right, so long as we harm no one else, and that each of us should seek peace, happiness and God in his own way, and never deny to anyone else, life liberty or the pursuit of happiness, regardless of the color of the other man's skin or the kind of religious opinions he holds. If we condemn other men because of their race or religion, then all the doctrines we fought against on foreign soil will be fighting against us on American soil.



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