Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Eric Linden - His Second Chance

Girl trouble caused Eric Linden to drop a promising career, but he's back now, a wiser young man. 

Eric Linden is the lad who walked out on a Hollywood career which was going great guns, because he had girl-trouble. 

That may sound facetious, but there was nothing facetious about Eric at the time. He was torn wide apart — raw, sensitive, quivering in every nerve. At twenty-one, you get that way. When the girl is Frances Dee, I suppose you get it a little bit worse, for Frances is in a class by herself. 

That wasn't all, either....

"I wasn't doing what I wanted to do — I hated the parts I had to play. Wild youth and suffering mama's boys — suffering cats!" said Eric. "I was getting labeled, you know how people get the idea you are what you play. I avoided everyone. I was called eccentric. At my age! You can be erratic at twenty, but eccentric is out. Well, I just got funny, I guess, and thought it best to have a change of scene." 

We'll refer to that later, as the tax-collector says. It was discovered while he was away that a darn good actor was lacking for many a part that no one else could quite fill. Maybe his absence made them realize it all the more. 

At any rate, when he returned he didn't have to pick up where he left off. He was way ahead of it. He made a fresh start with one of the grandest juvenile roles ever written, the boy in Ah, Wilderness. And some say he beat a Barrymore to the draw. The whole cast was pretty fast company for a kid who was out of practice but, I reckon before things went very far, Eric was pacing 'em. If he had read every script in town and had his choice of parts to play, he couldn't have found one that could approach the anguished dawn-of-love lad in Ah, Wilderness. There was something so helpless and lovable and pathetic — and familiar — about the boy in his first relentless grip of love. He has just done another stand-out performance in The Voice of Bugle Ann. They have some wonderful things planned for him, way into the future. When a studio does that an actor has arrived. 

With Maureen O'Sullivan in Voice of Bugle Ann
He's twenty-four now and doesn't look it. But still, he doesn't seem exactly a child, either. There is calm confidence in his bearing ; he has lost the old too-eager-to-please that had him tied in knots. He says he used to go for days without seeing anyone, then when he did, he talked a blue streak about nothing. He really didn't want to talk, but was afraid silence would be rude. 

Not knowing the first thing about acting — he says so himself — he played one intensely dramatic part for the Theatre Guild. So Hollywood called him and began talking over contracts and prospective roles with him. "You're emotional, aren't you?" they said, in substance. "Okay, emote." 

Poor kid, he presided at every death-bed scene and wept gallons and had hysterics and paced corridors and wore his nerve-ends down to the quick. He didn't know how to act, and he was afraid to tell anyone, so all he could do was be what he was playing. If it happened to be a frantic, jittery, end-of-the-rope kid, why Eric drank gallons of coffee and didn't go to bed, and thought about terrible disasters, and got himself in fine shape to scream if anybody looked at him. He relived all the family tragedies that had ever happened to him — things he might better have forgotten. Well, no human can keep that up forever — and be in love, in addition. 

Frances Dee with her man , Joel McCrea
So he put two and two together and decided that he'd soon be measured for a strait-jacket if he didn't break loose. Eric didn't even pause to say goodbye. He boarded a plane for New York, and sailed next day on the Bremen. He found a villa near Nice, got himself a cook, a police dog, a French gardener, some chickens and a lot of books. He had yearned to write a book for some time, so he wrote one. It isn't for anybody to see. He wrote steadily for four months. ". . . and I was purged of all my complexes," says Eric. "I wrote them down and got rid of them." 

He adds, "You have to be in love to write." Well, I guess that's as good an excuse as any. Then, all his obsessions, aberrations and frustrations being neatly cataloged, disposed of and checked out, naturally he fell in love again. 

He met a girl. She was very young, and recently divorced. She was entirely lovely. 

"She had a lot of healthy young madness in her," is the way Eric says it. They walked around Juan Les Pins, they swam in the moonlight, they bicycled. They found a great, empty, haunted old gambling house on the Island of Campiane and gave an animated and inspired vaudeville performance which echoed through the vast vacancy. 

Eric's recovery was almost complete when they joined forces with a group of fun-making young Americans, doing Europe and doing it right. Another group, from Cambridge, appeared out of the azure and were instantly members of the same club. Through France and Spain and Italy, they pursued their merry way. Not the usual time-wasters and money-spenders, but happy young intellectuals who knew where they were going and why — but were not in any great hurry about it. They knew how to play, and for the first time in his life, Eric Linden played. He lost track of time, he didn't have to be any place at eight o'clock, or give out interviews, or consider the consequences, or work up a fine frenzy for the camera, or wear his heart on his sleeve. 

He was cured. He was well. He felt so good he wanted more outlet for it than play. All of a sudden, he figured it was time to go back to work. Confidence welled in him. He paused in New York to do a play — preparation for Hollywood again. And then Hollywood. Right away there was Ah, Wilderness, and he fitted into it like the center piece of a jigsaw puzzle. The company went East to Grafton, Massachusetts. Eric was feted by the Swedish colony in Worcester — he is of Swedish ancestry, though born in New York City. All told, it was a grand trip. 

Near Grafton, Eric found a charming seven-acre farm with a house two hundred and fifty years old. "So cheap," he says, "it took my breath away." He bought it. It will be rented to tenants, and will form a nice nest-egg for the boy whose M-G-M contract is bringing him his first real money. 

He bought it because he wants to experience the turn of the seasons, the bleak spareness of real winter, which is never felt in California. He says he would like to live the way Robinson Jeffers, the poet, lives in his stone house looking over the sea at Carmel. He goes up to Carmel and drives 'round and 'round the Jeffers place and he sits and looks at it — because there lives a great poet who is a god to the Eric Lindens of the world. 

You might get the idea that Eric was arty (perish the thought), if he wasn't so blessedly sincere about it. He is the best-read young man with whom I have had the pleasure of conversing with in Hollywood. He would like to be remote and contemplate life, to be a great hermit, perhaps, but a lot of living seems to be going on all the time, and he doesn't want to miss it. Thinks he won't be a hermit until next year. 

He says he came back to Hollywood enjoying things, and wants to keep on. He likes Hollywood better now because he isn't too analytical about it any more. He is making up his week of seven days, and living them, until the next seven days. No more glooming into the future. 

He may have the soul of a poet, but he is a right good trencherman at the table, too. Right now, Eric is up at Lake Arrowhead building himself a sturdy log cabin, where he is going to practice, at odd moments between pictures, being a hermit. I can almost hear his hammer ringing on the nails, and almost see the waiter, wherever Eric takes his dinner tonight, rushing out for double orders. 

Because Eric has his health back, he's located his lost perspective, and, barring a little girl-trouble that may crop up here and there, it's all clear sailing from now on!

By Ruth Rankin

Magazine writers were so optimistic in the 1930s! Eric Linden did indeed make a comeback but it was a short-lived one, and by 1939 he was playing an uncredited bit role once again...as a "soldier with gangrene leg" in Gone with the Wind. Linden then went into theatre work, joined the Armed Forces for WWII, and finally settled in Laguna Beach, where he wed and had three children. Later in life he divorced and worked for the County of Orange in California. 

This post is a part of our Movie Magazine Articles series and was originally published in the June 1936 issue of Modern Screen magazine. Click here to view the full article in its original context. 

1 comment:

  1. My, but that was a wild ride. I do adore Linden in "Ah, Wilderness" and I recognize his voice from "Gone With the Wind" - such a haunting scene. He made a lot of interesting movies in the pre-code era and had the touch of sincerity.