Kismet Interrupted

Don Shook

© Copyright 2020 by Don Shook

Photo of a Liberace.

“Huh?” I responded.

“Just listen to them!”

In the background I heard the sounds of what seemed like a rollicking good party. “Huh?” I repeated.

“They just looked at your tape. We’ll have to get you up here soon.”

“But I just sent it to you.”

“Yea,” Mari Lynn replied, “it came this morning. We just looked at it. You’re on your way, Mister.”

Suddenly it struck home. ABC was going to produce a Movie of the Week based on the life of the famous entertainer Liberace. During our last Dallas casting workshop, Mari Lynn had left a script for me. She thought I was right for the lead role. Surprised but delighted, I watched several of the pianist’s old movies, practiced his voice and mannerisms, put together a video tape, and it now appeared that the movie’s producers liked what they saw. “My God.” I sighed as I hung up. Could this be it, after all these years?

Having struggled for what seemed ages to be a successful actor, I had discovered that particular goal, coveted by all performers, was as often reached by fortuitous circumstance as it was anything else. I had done numerous roles in various theatre and film productions both locally and across the nation including New York, but never one that had the potential of catapulting me into the upper echelon of acting success. That appeared about to change. A lead role in a television network movie of the week offered a fantastic opportunity. So, as one might expect, I was thrilled.

I told Mari Lynn I was preparing for that night’s show and I’d call her back the next day. Literally floating on air, I helped get ready for our production of the Neil Simon comedy “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” at a country club in Tyler, Texas. It was a great play in which I had the lead role, but for the rest of our preparation time all I could think of was my conversation and the prospects it presented. I couldn’t wait until the show was over, the night passed, and tomorrow dawned. It was going to be a great day. And would have been too except for….

Kathryn was a talented actress and my business partner. Upon first meeting her, I thought she was one of the most striking girls I had ever seen. Wheeling the audiovisual equipment into my classroom, she blithely tossed soft brown hair, clasped in a headband, over her shoulder and away from her face. A loosely fitting sweatshirt subtlety suggested a full, but not exaggerated, figure, breasts heaving heavily under the fabric - an invitation to further visual examination. Her long legs, encased in tight blue jeans, accentuated a five-foot-nine-inch frame which seemed to glide into the room. I stood inaudibly transfixed, mouth agape, eyes unwavering. Finally looking up, she asked, "Where do you want it?" Quickly dismissing an obvious retort, I surveyed the rest of her.

If I had been attracted to her body I was overwhelmed by her face. No classic beauty, her high cheekbones were all but lost in the glow of the palest green eyes ever seen. How could they radiate such mystery? How could they express such a perfect contradiction of indifference and scalding sensuality?

 Her solid jaw-line detracted not one whit from full lips and a perfectly formed nose, straight and symmetrical. Such features I usually found uninteresting, not unique, not really pretty. But then she was not pretty. She was beyond pretty. For, in spite of an array of attractive features, her appearance was overridden by a deep depressive sadness, a reflection, mainly in the eyes, of some forbidden secret held captive behind that face, furrowed in the inner recesses of a troubled soul. At that moment, she was the most fascinatingly pretty person I had ever seen...

A month or so after that encounter in the classroom, I saw her again. Recovering from some of the worst monologues my Tuesday Evening Acting Class had ever presented, I huffily dismissed my students early and was making my way to the college parking lot. There had been no reason to pass by the Security Office but, by some strange twist of fate, on that night I changed my usual route. Coincidentally, Kathryn was seated there at the desk. Surprised, I stopped, looked hard at her through the glass wall, and walked in.

"Hi!" I blurted cheerfully.

Slowly she raised her eyes. Again, I was stunned. She was stunning. "Yes?" she asked softly.

"Remember me?"

"Yes." Her voice was flat. She appeared unimpressed.

"What are you doing here?"

"I work here."

"Oh? What happened to audio visual?"

"I couldn't handle it."

"Too difficult?" I was making small talk.

"Too boring." Her's was smaller.

Nevertheless, I saw an opening. "You know you really should become an actress. You'd never be bored."

"Really?" Was there a hint of interest?

"You know you look like an actress." Did that sound phony?

"Oh? How does an actress look?"

I smiled, she had taken the bait…"Like you."

Slowly she leaned back in the chair, reached into the pocket of her blue flannel shirt and withdrew a pack of cigarettes. I noticed the swelling of the fabric, the soft swaying of flesh beneath the material as she pressed her hand into the pocket. A drop of cold sweat trickled down my spine. She reached into her jeans pocket, arching her back, purposely jutting her breasts forward, driving me the short trip to distraction. From the pocket she pulled a silver lighter which sprouted flame at the snap of her thumb. Lighting the cigarette, she puffed sensuously, drawing the smoke into her mouth and very slowly exhaling – pushing a stream of white smoke in my direction. I coughed, squinted, and blinked several times.

"My father was an actor." She said, matter-of-factly.

"Really?" Another opening. Or was she toying with me?

"Yes. He always discouraged me."

"Well, if you can be discouraged, you should be." I responded quickly, not wanting to lose the moment. "Although I can't understand why anyone would want to discourage you. Such a wonderful look."

She eyed me suspiciously, then, for the first time since we had met, offered the suggestion of a smile. "Thank you," she said.

"I mean it. Why don't you take my class?"

"Acting class?"

"That's what I teach."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

She drug deeply on the cigarette. The pungent odor offended my senses, but I didn't want her to know that. As she exhaled, my nostrils contracted, eyes watered, and I almost coughed again. A deeper smile prowled across her face. She almost seemed to be enjoying my discomfort. Then she spoke, "I don't have the money."

I coughed. "I ...(cough) ... I'll ... (cough) ... pay ... (cough, cough) ... for it." What had I said?

"You're kidding?" She seemed truly amazed.

"No, I mean it." Hell, it’s only fifty-four dollars.

"You do, don't you?"

It was my time to smile. And smugly. She was impressed. I was on the verge of saying something clever when she continued, "I'll think about it."

"Good." I had made my point, my offer, and the possibility of nurturing a relationship with her. Not one to press the issue, I smiled most genuinely and said, "Good, let me know."

"I will," she smiled in return.

"Well, got to scoot. Nice to meet you ... er, ah ..."

"Kathryn. Kathryn Johnson."

"Nice to meet you, Kathryn. I'm Don."


It was time to go. "Right," I replied and did. I hoped to see her again soon. That happened a month later when she showed up for class. Within a year she was performing in my Actors Company shows. Six months later she became my business partner. Soon thereafter we were lovers. Even sooner thereafter we were ex-lovers, but remained good friends and partners. She continued performing in the shows. That was my first mistake.

Kathryn was a fine actress. The problem was we had some very different philosophical ideas that bled over into our acting techniques. Consequently, frequent heated discussions were the order of the day. Sensing my attitude, she had become recalcitrant to the point of it affecting our scenes together on stage.

During the performance that night there was a scene where she had intentionally drawn focus away from me, upstaging my monologue. This was the source of my ensuing anger and frustration which, when elaborated to Kathryn during intermission, elicited a sarcastic response. As I thought about it I compounded my mistake by making several others; the first of which was to go back on stage still fuming. This was a cardinal violation of "good acting." Leave your personal problems off stage, off camera, and off-load (I hated that trendy computer technology word) them on someone other than your fellow actors or your own characterization. This I didn't do. I went on stage mad, forgetting my character and thinking only about how furious I was with her.
The script called for me to seize her, kiss her awkwardly, and then lose balance and fall on top of her on the sofa. The seize and the kiss worked wonderfully. The fall didn't. I pushed her past the staged "falling point" and as we began our desent I realized that instead of her head hitting the targeted arm of the sofa, that the back of her skull was headed straight for the mahogany endtable. Immediately, my mind went into high gear…

There was no time to think, for although the whole sequence of events seemed to be moving in slow motion, my brain wasn’t. There was no time to act; only react. Of course, this was a basic premise of “acting” stressed over and over in my classes. "Don't act ... react. Don't act ... react." What I couldn't stress then was that it worked only "most" not "all" of the time.

 Sometimes, if you had your own agenda you didn't even listen to, much less react to, what the other actors were saying. But you were always reacting to the situation, the sequence of events, the moment. This is what I did as Kathryn’s head accelerated toward the endtable.
As I fell with her, one hand was still on her waist, the other behind her neck. In the next mini second, with reflexes approximating C-squared, my hand moved to the back of her head and jerked it over the space between my shoulder and neck, protectively cradling her as though burping a baby. In the same instant, I felt my nose smash into the endtable.
I knew it was broken. Although dazed and literally out on my feet, cognizance of collapsed structure swept over me and, as usual in times of extreme stress, I reacted objectively, almost detached. "My God, I'm sorry." I heard himself say. Obviously, instincts had taken over as I had repeated lines from the script. "Oh!" Was Kathryn’s tentative response beneath a look of horror.
I immediately pulled myself up from the sofa. Through a curtain of pain I heard the words from the script somehow coming through lips on which I also felt a warm, wet stickiness.

Despite the pain, dizziness, and blood belching from my proboscis, I continued the scene until, finally, I turned to the audience and apologized for the amount of blood on the stage. I called for an early intermission, made a quick trip to the emergency room of a local clinic, and returned, stitched and anesthetized, to finish the show. And, miracle of miracles, at least half of the audience stayed through the extended 45 minute intermission to witness my struggle to the final curtain.

As I thought about it, I knew that it doesn't really matter what the circumstances are: pain, fear, danger, or unexpected turn of events. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and fight it out. It isn't courage, or intestinal fortitude, or any other such noble attribute that drives you to do what has to be done. It's just a matter of doing it. Regardless (as trite as it sounds), "the show must go on."

Three days later Mari Lynn called me wondering why I hadn’t contacted her. My explanation was simple: The day after the show my doctor repaired and reset my nose. Still swollen, I asked if it would look the same when healed.

“What?” Mari Lynn squealed. “Your nose is crooked?”

Although plastic surgery might help, for the time being my nose would remain somewhat less than straight. Mari Lynn was flabbergasted. The ABC producers wanted some immediate headshots and a New York audition. The short of the long of it was: Production was to begin in less than a month. Liberace possessed a prominent straight nose. I didn’t. Plastic surgery healing would require time, makeup wouldn’t cut it, and I was no longer right for the part. C’est la vie.

Sometime later Kathryn told me she was terrified that night, not necessarily because of my injury, but because she was freaked that we wouldn’t be able to finish the show and she wouldn’t be paid. I laughed. She is still a good friend, although we rarely see one another. The days of country club shows are long since over too, as is my involvement with ABC Daytime Casting and Mari Lynn Henry. I never opted for reconstructive surgery.

My slightly crooked nose I see as a character trait of which I can concoct fabulous tales of fierce battles. I still perform and occasionally lose emotional control, but I seldom, if ever, resent or regret what happened on stage that night. I made my bed. Fortuitous circumstance more often than preordained luck determines our fate; much of this due to the choices we make. I’ve laid in mine. And one fateful moment in time often determines what happens during our time remaining. Kismet interrupted is still Kismet.

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