Lawrence Gray — Gray Skies Are Blue Now (1930) 🇺🇸
Time was when, if you'd ask a person, "Can you sing?" you'd get the horse laugh. If the chords on which they played the horse laugh were out of order, you'd get an answer something like this: "Yeah. I got a swell voice — for calling pigs."
Nowadays you go into the reception room of one of the studios and you twiddle your thumbs and twist your hat while the girl at the desk holds a confab with her girl friend, or the sheik who's trying to get through to see Mr. Getme Inright.
"I'm up for the part of Hope, in 'Some Sweet Day,'" confides the friend.
"Oh, do you sing?" asks the girl at the desk.
"Do I sing? Do I sing?" and the friend bursts into song to prove it. The more there are in the room the better. There might be a director in the crowd.
Believe you me, baby, in these parlous times a good voice is more to be desired than great riches. If you doubt me, ask Lawrence Gray.
Until old man Mike got the upper hand in the late film revolution and ensconced himself as czar of the studios, Larry was just another juvenile. And to hear him tell it, he wasn't so hot at the job, either. "I can't, to save my life, figure out now how I ever managed to get a job," he confided.
Well, come now, little man, I didn't know it was as bad as all that. Still, I never heard of his being awarded a gold medal for turning in the best performance of the year. As a matter of fact, Larry's screen career from the start to now has been a sort of freak affair.
He was peddling his wares as teller or something, in a bank in San Francisco. One holiday, when the bank was closed, a motion-picture company was on location there, and shot some scenes on the yacht of a friend of Larry's. The director wanted some young people for atmosphere, so the owner of the yacht invited various friends, among them Larry. The director, noticing him, told him if he ever wanted to break into pictures to come down to Los Angeles, and he'd see what could be done. A short time later Larry got a wire telling him if he had decided to take a chance to come on. Larry went, and got a job. But not acting. He was that pariah of the studios — a supervisor. "I was just a little over twenty at the time. Can you feature me breezing up to some big shot at the end of the day, and bursting out with something like this, 'You fell two scenes behind on your shooting schedule today. See that you make it up to-morrow.' I lasted just so long — which wasn't very long, after all, and I was out. They'd had a reorganization at the studio.
"In the shuffle, a friend of mine named Tom White got to be casting director. So I began to eat again. Whenever there was a call for extras, he'd call me.
"But I fell in love and trailed a dame to New York. That was a big mistake as far as my stomach was concerned. None of the studios had a reception committee with a contract waiting for me at the station. In fact, none of them seemed even to know I was arriving.
"Would you believe me if I told you that even after I called on them and let them know I was in town, I still had trouble finding work? And I don't mean perhaps. When those Eastern casting directors tell you 'Nothing doing,' that settles it. In fact, I'm sure they furnished the inspiration for that song, There Ain't No Maybe In Them Babies' Eyes!
"What? Oh, I don't know what became of the girl. I was so busy trying to keep from tightening my belt up another notch I sort of lost track of her.
"Occasionally I managed to get a little extra work. "I was living in one of those brownstone houses in the Forties. You know, the kind with half a dozen steps going down to a basement entrance, and a dozen going up to the first-floor entrance. The tax for room and board was only — well, it was pretty nominal. I'll never forget the place.
"There was a big, fat landlady, and she used to sit at the head of the steps on the second floor and shout down greetings to the people as they came in to dinner in the evening. The house had four floors. She had the phone beside her and a bell cord. When the phone rang she would answer it, and then pull this bell like nobody's business. Everybody in the house would come running to the stairs, and then she'd tell who was wanted on the phone. It sounded more like the patrol wagon than anything else, and as she looked like nothing so much as a police matron, the illusion was complete.
"One night when I got home the sheriff had taken possession of the place and padlocked the front door. It seemed she had forgotten to pay the rent for a few months. Luckily she had a key to the cellar door that the sheriff hadn't noticed, so we got in that way, and lived in the basement for a few days. We couldn't turn the lights on at night for fear of attracting attention.
"Six months of that, and I had had enough. I wired my sister — she's the sort of girl you can't forget— and she kicked in with enough to get me home. I ate the fatted calf for a while, and then dad hinted that the slaughter season in the corral was about over. We went into a huddle on what to do — that is, what I should do — and he finally agreed to stake me to another shot at pictures in Hollywood.
"I went back to the land of unusual weather, and started hanging around the Paramount studio again. My friend, White, got me a bit in a Gloria Swanson picture, 'The Coast of Folly.' Dick Arlen was in it, too. After watching Miss Swanson work. I had just sense enough to realize I didn't know anything. And was she great to me! Why, if I'd been her brother, she couldn't have taken more pains with me.
"Once between scenes we were talking and she began telling me about her next picture — 'Stagestruck.' To come in and do thus, and you come in and do so.' She kept up that I-and-you talk for quite a while, so finally I said, 'What do you mean — you do so?' 'Oh,' said Gloria, 'didn't you know you're to be leading man in my next picture?'
"Well, box my ears! Who'd have thought of anything like that but Gloria? But I played it. And how! And then I played with her again in The Untamed Lady.
"Things weren't so bad for a while after that. I played the juvenile lead in 'Ankles Preferred,' 'The Dressmaker from Paris,' Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em, and about steen others, including Oh, Kay, with Colleen Moore.
"And then Came the dawn?
Like fun. Came the holocaust! Came the talkies, and Larry was outside again. I took tests for The Broadway Melody, until I knew the script better than the author.
"I used to stand on every intersection of the M.-G.-M. lot singing Broadway Melody and You Were Meant for Me, in hopes one of the executives would say 'For Heaven's sake, put him to work, so I won't have to listen to him any more'; but nothing like that happened. And presently the picture went into production without Larry.
"I finally managed to land the lead in 'After Midnight,' and thought I was sitting pretty. After that picture I loafed for four solid months. Before that the longest I’d ever been out of work was five weeks. I thought I was about washed up, and that I was just no good. Anybody could have bought my chances of a screen career for a plugged nickel.
"Then, all of a sudden, I was called for a test in 'Marianne.' There were only about twenty others tested. How I survived is something I'll never know. The test finally narrowed down to two — a Broadway man and me. Shake, rattle, and roll. Lady Luck, look my way! Come, seven!"
"Finally it got to be the night before they started production. DeMille, Thalberg — Lord only knows who else was there, and they couldn't decide which of us to take. Then Marion Davies — bless her — came in and they left it up to her. And she said, 'If it's all the same to you, gentlemen, I'd rather have Larry.'
"I guess you know the rest — contract with M.-G.-M. The lead with the Duncan Sisters, in 'It's a Great Life'; and now I'm working on 'Spring Is Here,' for First National. Well, here's how, and a cheerio!"
And Gray skies are blue skies now!
Photo by: Ruth Harriet Louise (1903–1940)
Collection: Picture Play Magazine, February 1930