Lyle arrived at the studio looking his best, his dark hair shimmering with brilliantine, his two-tone wingtips just as shiny. In his years as a travelling theatre actor, [he] cultivated habits that helped carry him through life. He didn't have the steadiest of moral compasses, or much in the way of self-knowledge, and he would later be undone, more than once, by his love of a strong drink or the wrong woman. (By the time he arrived in Hollywood, he had already ended a two-year marriage, to a strage actress, and had four more marriages ahead of him.) But he always maintained his habits of professionalism, and of small ateentions to himself--the sort of ruotines that can hold a person together when little else does. Lyle always showed up on time, and he always knew his lines. He never left the house unless he was well turned out, anointed with Lilac Vegetal, a clean white handkerchief in his pocket.
One thing Lyle felt certain of: the material he had chosen for his test was perfect! It was a scene from "Louder, Please," a play he'd done in Dallas. He had played Herbert White, a brash and charming publicity man for a movie studio who runs afoul of the studio's obnoxious head of production. The dialogue was quippy; the pace was modern and frenetic, with a lot of ringing phones and shouting. In Dallas, Lyle's performance had earned him some of the strongest reviews of his career.
Did it cross Lyle's mind that somebody in Hollywood might take offense at such an acid portrait of Hollywood? It did not. After all, the studio in the play was fictional. After Lyle delivered all his lines, crisp and fast, the director walked over and said, "Talbot, that scene you did -- was that from a play called, 'Louder, Please'?" Lyle nodded. "Well, that play is kind of taboo on the lot here," the director continued. "The man you referred to as King, the one you're having a conflict with, is the head of this studio. I don't think, uh, this test is something you want the studio head to see."
Opportunity knocks and sometimes we are ready -- or we think we are ready. Political blunders are rarely intentional, but can quickly kill a great casting, booking, or meeting. Having advisors close at hand to help you navigate the unknown is one smart move, but being aware of the industry and who's who within it is an equally smart move on the talent's behalf.
Lyle Talbot went on to become a household name starring alongside Carole Lombard, Barbara Stanwyck, and Bette Davis, despite his poor screen test choice. You can reach the full article in The New Yorker.
I am continually shocked by the choices talent make when they get an opportunity to read for an important CD or even meet me as an agent. Bold and appropriate (or educated) choices excite me; whereas poor or humdrum choices make us want to pass before the actor even gets through their first 10 seconds. Are you making the best choices to keep us interested and engaged?