It’s an odd situation I’m in. Many people these days are fortunate enough to have lived a long life, but I have the unusual experience of living mine in the midst of images from my youth. My movies–which are enjoying something of a renaissance these days–and the thousands of photos of me at various stages of my career are all there to remind me of the past.
It may sound strange coming from someone so closely associated with nostalgia, but I do not like living in the past. I am one who has always been curious about the future: what will the world be like, what will people think about, how will our lives be different? But when one’s past has been as well documented as mine, it has the habit of becoming part of the present.
Here’s what’s weird: watching a movie that I am in at age, say, 23, acting alongside people I knew, liked, or loved, all of us with that bond of co-workers doing a sometimes difficult job. And in the midst of seeing us as we were then, I realize they’re dead. Clark Gable, Tony Curtis, Woo Woo Grabowski, Steve Cochran, Gerald Mohr, Jeff Chandler, Donald O’Conner, Jackie Coogan, John Carradine, Faye Spain, Pamela Mason, Louis Nye, Jayne Mansfield, Tommy Noonan–the list seems endless. And watching them and me in a different time, almost a different world is, well, disorienting.
The fact is there are few of us left alive–Mickey Rooney, Doris Day, Russ Tamblyn, Piper Laurie, Anita Eckberg–who can experience the duality of this private time warp: seeing ourselves almost simultaneously as young and, with a turn of the head, as old. Getting old isn’t for sissies. And getting old when your life has been on film for so many years isn’t either. You’ll need balls if you expect to grow old gracefully.