My father was a working actor. A character actor. They barely use that term any more, because these days so many people become actors to be movie stars. But my father wanted to act. The fact that he could make a living at it never ceased to amaze him, I think. And he never fully trusted it either. No matter how successful he became, every time he finished a job — a Broadway play, a film, a television show — there was something in him that believed he would never work again.
But he did. Over and over again. So he had stories to tell. It was one of the joys of my life that he asked me to help him tell them. And to tell his own story as well. Though he would have been loathe to be regarded as an archetype, my father had something about him — an everyman quality, a simple authority — that commanded respect. I cannot begin to count the number of people who have said to me, over the years, that my father reminded them of their fathers. These were people who knew my father personally and people who knew him only through his work on the screen. There may have been something fundamentally paternal about him. But often, I think they were talking about the father they wished they’d had. Writing When Do I Start? gave me the chance to let these people know, Yes, this is the father you wish you had. Your sense of him is right. With this man, what you see is what you get.
We wrote When Do I Start? over a period of two years. Three or four mornings a week, my father and I sat together in his office over the garage of the house I grew up in, my fingers on the keys of my laptop. I listened to my father’s stories and asked questions. I made him tell the same stories over and over again; each time, new details would emerge, deeper emotions would bubble to the surface. We laughed and we cried, sometimes simultaneously, as we unearthed these memories — the stories of a first generation American; the stories of a family man married to the same woman for seventy years; the stories of a working actor.
In 2004, Vanity Fair included a portrait of my father in their annual Hollywood issue. The Workhorse, they called him. After sixty-plus years in the business, that was just fine with him. Even when he was approached with the prospect of writing this book, he asked his favorite question: "When do I start?"