I had the pleasure of meeting some amazing people during my life. Gregory Peck was one of them. During the creation of Will Rogers Follies – the Broadway musical, Gregory Peck was brought to New York to become the voice of Flo Ziegfeld. Mr. Ziegfled was the big Broadway impresario of the time. He would personally control the shows he produced, with his voice, emanating from his office high in the back of the theater. Ziegfeld really did, shout, and yell down at the actors on stage. He had a little window cut through the wall, penetrating into the theater, from his office high above. (New Amsterdam Theater, is still one of the best theaters in NYC. Every seat is close to the stage.)
Will Rogers was in many of Ziegfeld’s shows. Ziegfeld would scold from high above shouting “Mr. Rogers, Please, Mr. Rogers”. So this line was in the show, repeatedly. I had to record these lines for the show. They would then be played back from a loudspeaker high in the back of the theater, to imitate Flo Ziegfeld.
My studio at the time was Sound Designers Studio. It was a little place I designed and built within the Sound Associates building on west 45th Street. The main room was quiet and had a good natural living room non reverberant quality. There were two control rooms off the main studio space, each with more than enough isolation to have separate session going on separately. Within the studio space was a small Industrial Acoustics vocal booth. If you wanted real quiet you would put the talent in the vocal booth within the quiet studio.
The session started. All the producers and the director, and lead actors were in the control room with me. Gregory Peck was in the studio in the Industrial Acoustics vocal booth, alone. Take One – “Mr. Rogers, Please, Mr. Rogers”. And with that the discussion started. How should that line be read? Should it be read in a directed manner? Should it be read cajolingly? Should it be read seriously? Should it be read sternly? And the discussion turned argument continued in the control room.
As it continued, I thought why should this older man, great actor, maybe one of the greatest actors of all time, Captain Hornblower, Ahab, Atticus Finch, be left sitting, stressed out in the stuffy, ultra quiet isolation booth? This isn’t right. I got up, left the control room, went into the studio and opened the vocal booth door to invite him out.
He thanked me for my concern and I offered him some water. While he drank I joked with him. I showed him that there was a place on the vocal booths door where a lock could be put on. I said that if I simply dropped a pencil into the lock holes I could make a fortune. I said, I could walk out onto the street and get at least 10 bucks from every passer by. “Wanna see Gregory Peck?” I said to him, “Who wouldn’t pay 10 bucks to see Gregory Peck?” He laughed.
Then we briefly talked about our families. He was concerned about things happening with his, I won’t mention here. He was surprisingly open.
Then I asked him, “How come the producers and director wouldn’t ask you how to say the line?
You are Atticus Finch for god’s sake!” He didn’t really answer the question. He explained there were many many ways to read this line. But then to my amazement he proceeded to demonstrate. Over and over he would say the same line. Each time he would announce what the line was to convey and each time he would hit that expression exactly. What command of the language! He would say “Silly”, and then speak “Mr. Rogers, Please, Mr. Rogers” and the line sounded silly. He would say “Angrily”, and then speak “Mr. Rogers, Please, Mr. Rogers”, and the line sounded angry. On and on he went with my jaw dropped open. “Mr. Rogers, Please, Mr. Rogers”. He must have said that line forty times. What a treat. What an amazing voice. What an understanding of how language works. It was some moments I will never forget.