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Zero Mostel discusses the play "Rhinoceros" and acting theory ; part 1

BROADCAST: Aug. 14, 1961 | DURATION: 00:36:42

Synopsis

Zero Mostel talks about acting theory, French and American theater differences, and the reflection of art in society.

Transcript

Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.

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Studs Terkel Ionesco's play Rhinoceros. Now at the Edgewater Beach Playhouse. Now and for the next three weeks. Perhaps this caused more comment than any contemporary play in recent years. One of the reasons might be the performance of one of its major figures. Plays the role of John, a rather pontifical pompous bourgeois fop. But the role is played, one of the great clowns of our day, one of the great actors of our day, Zero Mostel. Zero, a guest this morning on The Wax Museum, who has won a number of awards, a result of this performance and as a result of the performance as Leopold Bloom, an off-Broadway production Ulysses in Nighttown and the question really arises-

Zero Mostel Quite quite far off Broadway too-

Studs Terkel Far off

Zero Mostel As far as off-Broadway as London and Paris. That's pretty far for off-Broadway and The Hague.

Studs Terkel And

Zero Mostel And Amsterdam.

Studs Terkel And I think in The Hague and Amsterdam and Paris and London the result was the same. I think that there was a recognition of, of a, of a performer rare in our time and the question that immediately comes up Zero Mostel, the question is [phone rings] Someone has called you a clown but a clown in the noble sense of the word. We think of a clown in theatre. Hasn't clown in theatre always told the truth? The clown.

Zero Mostel Yes. When you consider that the great clowns were people like Moliere. His theory of drama was clowns very interesting the word for actor in French is comedienne. It is not an actor like we say, they think of the truthful type of actor as a comedian. A man who can heighten drama and add to life rather than just, you know, a simple piece of realistic acting. It was always what you would do more natural. Moliere's famous impromptu at Versailles gives his theory of acting is the first modern plea for good larger than life acting that there is. He he indicts the other actors because they are pontifical in their, they do all sorts of poses.

Studs Terkel Well tell us more about this this this matter of larger than life acting and the role the clown, the clown, the figure who speaks true.

Zero Mostel Yeah. It's becau-the reason I say that is because that type of acting that you go to see at the theater that type of play which I like to call the mishpocha play, the family play, where they have a wife and a husband and a daughter who's pregnant with some minority somewhere. Those are the things that happen in your own house. There's nothing. It's dull it's mishpocha. I have that in the house. What I like to see is something larger than that. It's like painting and painting when Picasso is great because he heightens the truth and then therefore you can't mistake it. I don't like it to be hidden in that false realism that you usually see in our plays.

Studs Terkel You speak of heightening the truth and the false realism. Hasn't this, hasn't this been one of the malaises of American theater, the fact realism, what some people call the tape recorder kind of writing and acting? I don't mean to point out Raisin in the Sun [unintelligible] kind of plays but basically this

Zero Mostel Well they are they have that fault.

Studs Terkel Yeah Yeah.

Zero Mostel They are taped. There are tapes. It's it's just reportage. I don't think it's more than that.

Studs Terkel What do you think theater should be then? You spoke of Moliere and you spoke of

Zero Mostel I think theater should be an, an enlightenment a great aspiration. Whenever you see great theater or the great actor or the great painter you're never the same and that's a remarkable thing. When you see W.C. Fields. Some of that dignity that he has against all the terrible things of our times rubs off on you. When you see the great actor it rubs off on you. When you see the great play it does something to you, you're never the same.

Studs Terkel Well one of our local critics has described you as in the tradition, being in the tradition of W.C. Fields. I think of what Robert Lewis Taylor said about W.C. Fields Zero, see if you agree. He said Field's reaction was that of the lone sane man in an insane world. Fields everything he did.

Zero Mostel Yeah what I think about him is this: that he was, I, in Elaine May and Mike Nichols' show, you know, they had on Broadway. As soon as you repeat one of the great things that one of the great comics say, like Fields, it was the biggest laugh in the show. He just merely mentioned a definition of Fields and the theater broke up. He said 'do you ever hear what Fields' definition of a virgin was?' He says 'It's a four-year-old girl and very ugly.' The whole theater broke up. It was this, 'it's such a marvelous attitude toward society he had' he said. If you cheat you'll get ahead. Your family is rotten. Beat children, don't organize anything. Be completely disorganized and then you'll get ahead. And that doesn't mean to say that that's what we should be, but his attack on those things, on society as it is, makes him the great clown.

Studs Terkel As you probably suspect Zero we're coming closer and closer to the basis of this interview. The role that you play and the play itself Ionesco Rhinoceros.

Zero Mostel Why are you changing the

Studs Terkel No we're coming to it, no we're coming

Zero Mostel Can

Studs Terkel [laughing] We're coming to Fields.

Zero Mostel Can I talk, what I want to say, he changes is another [unintelligible]

Studs Terkel We're coming to Fields.

Zero Mostel Yeah.

Studs Terkel You said something about challenging the mores of our day.

Zero Mostel Yeah.

Studs Terkel Beating old women, kicking little children, such as baby Leroy.

Zero Mostel Well he never kicked him. He, I think it's a reaction against false sentiment is wonderful. If a kid bites you in the finger I think maybe you should bite him back. I don't, you know, I think that's the, the extent of it. I don't think it's. I think it's just the fact that he refuses to conform to what goes on. Don't you think?

Studs Terkel I'm asking you.

Zero Mostel No I'm asking you, wise guy.

Studs Terkel The question of refusing to accept certain values of our day. Isn't this Ionesco's point?

Zero Mostel Yes it's Ionesco's point as well. I, and any, for myself I like anything that defies tradition. Not that we don't get a great deal from tradition. Not that we don't get a great deal from heritage. But I always like somebody who keeps you on your toes about tradition. Who who lashes out or makes you think who stimulates you, the greatness of Ionesco is that he he prods you. He tells you "think." He doesn't make any solutions for you. He doesn't say society is like this and this is my comment on society. He just says think here's something. Now what do you think about it?

Studs Terkel His his purpose, then, is to make the playgoer, the man that comes to the theater, think he comes with no solution. He doesn't say this is what

Zero Mostel No this is not what's going to be. He just says or that he agrees with it even is is his intent is has several things. One he makes you think and and and and the other he doesn't want to tell you how to think he wants you to do it yourself.

Studs Terkel Well if we may, then, the Rhinoceros, I'm sure people come out with different opinions of what

Zero Mostel Sure they come off thinking they're not

Studs Terkel They're not rhinoceroses. And many-

Zero Mostel No they never see they don't see themselves. They always say someone else looks like a rhinoceros.

Studs Terkel Just about to ask you this very point Zero. I'm wondering now about the effect of plays. Of those of Ionesco or say of Genette. I'm going to come to this in a minute because I know that you reviewed a book recently fr-on French contemporary French drama from from Gerard Genette I believe. But what, coming back to Ionesco and to Genette and to Beckett. But the reference, a play is about certain people in the audience, but these people never associate the play with themselves do they? So what is gained? I'm asking.

Zero Mostel What is gained is this: I think that if you become aware of the thinking of the playwright. And the mere fact that they say we are not rhinoceroses they're saying we won't behave like rhinoceroses. In other words, the fact that they already say 'well we're not like that everybody else is like that.' So there's a little bit effect that it's had on the audience.

Studs Terkel I assume that most people listening to this program are aware of the nature of the play Rhinoceros, those who haven't seen it, of it being called an attack on conformity. And someone has said [phone rings] see if you agree with this Zero you you've been involved with this so directly as one of the focal figures [phone rings] in the very beginning the Amer-

Zero Mostel Watch your language.

Studs Terkel Zero.

Zero Mostel Not everybody is a focal figure like this.

Studs Terkel Zero.

Zero Mostel Yes. Please watch

Studs Terkel We have animal values in some ways Ionesco is saying to carry it to its ad absurdum where animal, values today are such animal values. Let us be animals and he's saying was the opposite but he we become rhinoceri, rhinoceroses?

Zero Mostel He doesn't say he does not say though that what you say he isn't, he doesn't make that solution. He doesn't give you a positive thing. He's changes a, his hero might easily change into a rhinoceros. He never tells you why he does not change. He just can't because he's interested, I think, first in the narrative of the thing as Alice in Wonderland is a narrative as any story is a narrative. And I don't think he likes to pontificate. That's why this, he's such odds with Sartre who will give you a mor-a moral and everything. I don't think he cares to make your eve-wants you to make your own moral, you see.

Studs Terkel Since you brought up the name of Sartre this is directly connected with it. Apparently Sartre and Ionesco are aware of each other very much. Sartre made a comment that Rhinoceros does not fulfill its mission. This is Sartre talkin.

Zero Mostel Well he-

Studs Terkel And that doesn't explain why a person should not become a rhinoceros should stay human.

Zero Mostel Yeah well that's exactly the point. I don't think he cares to tell you why someone becomes the rhinoceros. He just presents you with the fact finished and you look at it and you take what you want from it. He does not ca-he's not interested in telling you how to behave, how to think, what to believe in. He never does. For me.

Studs Terkel And he-

Zero Mostel Nor nor is his intention I, and of course, Sartre, who is involved in social problems, wants to always have a solution. He wants to present a problem. He wants to tell you the solution of a problem.

Studs Terkel But this isn't Ionesco's point.

Zero Mostel This is not Ionesco, you see, Ionesco is quite different.

Studs Terkel Thinking about this play again. Here's Zero perhaps-

Zero Mostel He's a little clown himself Ionesco, you know. He was in New York when this was being rehearsed. He's a tiny little man who reacts quite like a clown, you know, he does all sorts of takes. He's, he has sort of a a marvelous little clown face, you know, with blue eyes that dance around. And he when he came into the room he barely speaks English and as the sign says please return the Pepsi-Cola bottle. I said 'did you return the Pepsi-Cola bottle?' He says 'yes yes my God I did yes.' He got very scared. But he played it, you know.

Studs Terkel [laughing] He played along with you.

Zero Mostel Yes.

Studs Terkel Well what of-

Zero Mostel He jumped twenty feet 'I have no Pepsi-Cola bottles' he said.

Studs Terkel Maybe he's Bérenger maybe he's Bérenger.

Zero Mostel Well he won't tell you, you know, he's very bright. He doesn't tell you who he identifies with. There was a marvelous interview with him. They said, he said 'before we go into the interview I don't want to talk about this: America, New York, France, my place, my life, my private life.' 'The rest,' he says, 'is an open book.' [Studs laughing] He doesn't leave anything else.

Studs Terkel Now back to the the play again. [Zero coughing] The one the one figure who will resist seems to be seems to be the weakest figure.

Zero Mostel [coughing] These are the Chicago vapors-

Studs Terkel The Chicago

Zero Mostel -this illness I'm having.

Studs Terkel Here are you you're John the the the fop. There's Shifter.

Zero Mostel Watch your language. God Studsy. Don't call me fop-

Studs Terkel The Shifter.

Zero Mostel -in front of 50 million listeners. 60. All those lying figures you give about those people who listen to this show. How many listen to it 50 million?

Studs Terkel A half million listeners to the station.

Zero Mostel You show 'em to me. [Studs laughing] Really?

Studs Terkel Would you know you're being John.

Zero Mostel Then you can call me fop fop.

Studs Terkel But each each one each figure there's the articulate Dribble is that his name?

Zero Mostel Dribble.

Studs Terkel Dribble. He turns rhinoceros, the girl turns rhinoceros, Shifter turned rhinoceros. But the one figure who doesn't, Bérenger the weakest, seems to be a toper resists. Is this, again I ask you and you would say to me Ionesco says draw your own conclusions.

Zero Mostel So don't ask me if

Studs Terkel But I am asking. I'm

Zero Mostel What kind of thing is

Studs Terkel I'm asking

Zero Mostel Then don't give me the answer-

Studs Terkel No I'm not-

Zero Mostel Let me ask you a few answers.

Studs Terkel Shoot.

Zero Mostel Of questions.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Zero Mostel I don't know. Let's change seats.

Studs Terkel No no.

Zero Mostel Well that's-

Studs Terkel Here is the clown actor. But why, that is he has, someone calls them the most optimistic of Ionesco plays.

Zero Mostel Yes.

Studs Terkel In that the one guy resists. The weakest figure in the town, really, isn't he?

Zero Mostel Well

Studs Terkel Shiftless-

Zero Mostel I don't know if he's the weakest figure in the town. He's a massive comic figure. And I think he just doesn't change because he's incapable of change. And I think if he's the hero of it, then he might as well be the almost unconscious feeling we have for the good. You know, sometimes we're attracted to a cause and we don't know why. We know it's good. We feel it's good. And I think that's all that figure is. I, you know I I I don't want to go

Studs Terkel

Zero Mostel Ionesco's play Rhinoceros. Now at the Edgewater Beach Playhouse. Now and for the next three weeks. Perhaps this caused more comment than any contemporary play in recent years. One of the reasons might be the performance of one of its major figures. Plays the role of John, a rather pontifical pompous bourgeois fop. But the role is played, one of the great clowns of our day, one of the great actors of our day, Zero Mostel. Zero, a guest this morning on The Wax Museum, who has won a number of awards, a result of this performance and as a result of the performance as Leopold Bloom, an off-Broadway production Ulysses in Nighttown and the question really arises- Quite quite far off Broadway too- Far off Broadway. As far as off-Broadway as London and Paris. That's pretty far for off-Broadway and The Hague. And And Amsterdam. And I think in The Hague and Amsterdam and Paris and London the result was the same. I think that there was a recognition of, of a, of a performer rare in our time and the question that immediately comes up Zero Mostel, the question is [phone rings] Someone has called you a clown but a clown in the noble sense of the word. We think of a clown in theatre. Hasn't clown in theatre always told the truth? The clown. Yes. When you consider that the great clowns were people like Moliere. His theory of drama was clowns very interesting the word for actor in French is comedienne. It is not an actor like we say, they think of the truthful type of actor as a comedian. A man who can heighten drama and add to life rather than just, you know, a simple piece of realistic acting. It was always what you would do more natural. Moliere's famous impromptu at Versailles gives his theory of acting is the first modern plea for good larger than life acting that there is. He he indicts the other actors because they are pontifical in their, they do all sorts of poses. Well tell us more about this this this matter of larger than life acting and the role the clown, the clown, the figure who speaks true. Yeah. It's becau-the reason I say that is because that type of acting that you go to see at the theater that type of play which I like to call the mishpocha play, the family play, where they have a wife and a husband and a daughter who's pregnant with some minority somewhere. Those are the things that happen in your own house. There's nothing. It's dull it's mishpocha. I have that in the house. What I like to see is something larger than that. It's like painting and painting when Picasso is great because he heightens the truth and then therefore you can't mistake it. I don't like it to be hidden in that false realism that you usually see in our plays. You speak of heightening the truth and the false realism. Hasn't this, hasn't this been one of the malaises of American theater, the fact realism, what some people call the tape recorder kind of writing and acting? I don't mean to point out Raisin in the Sun [unintelligible] kind of plays but basically this is Well they are they have that fault. Yeah Yeah. They are taped. There are tapes. It's it's just reportage. I don't think it's more than that. What do you think theater should be then? You spoke of Moliere and you spoke of the I think theater should be an, an enlightenment a great aspiration. Whenever you see great theater or the great actor or the great painter you're never the same and that's a remarkable thing. When you see W.C. Fields. Some of that dignity that he has against all the terrible things of our times rubs off on you. When you see the great actor it rubs off on you. When you see the great play it does something to you, you're never the same. Well one of our local critics has described you as in the tradition, being in the tradition of W.C. Fields. I think of what Robert Lewis Taylor said about W.C. Fields Zero, see if you agree. He said Field's reaction was that of the lone sane man in an insane world. Fields everything he did. Yeah what I think about him is this: that he was, I, in Elaine May and Mike Nichols' show, you know, they had on Broadway. As soon as you repeat one of the great things that one of the great comics say, like Fields, it was the biggest laugh in the show. He just merely mentioned a definition of Fields and the theater broke up. He said 'do you ever hear what Fields' definition of a virgin was?' He says 'It's a four-year-old girl and very ugly.' The whole theater broke up. It was this, 'it's such a marvelous attitude toward society he had' he said. If you cheat you'll get ahead. Your family is rotten. Beat children, don't organize anything. Be completely disorganized and then you'll get ahead. And that doesn't mean to say that that's what we should be, but his attack on those things, on society as it is, makes him the great clown. As you probably suspect Zero we're coming closer and closer to the basis of this interview. The role that you play and the play itself Ionesco Rhinoceros. Why are you changing the subject? No we're coming to it, no we're coming Can [laughing] We're coming to Fields. Can I talk, what I want to say, he changes is another [unintelligible] We're coming to Fields. Yeah. You said something about challenging the mores of our day. Yeah. Beating old women, kicking little children, such as baby Leroy. Well he never kicked him. He, I think it's a reaction against false sentiment is wonderful. If a kid bites you in the finger I think maybe you should bite him back. I don't, you know, I think that's the, the extent of it. I don't think it's. I think it's just the fact that he refuses to conform to what goes on. Don't you think? I'm asking you. No I'm asking you, wise guy. The question of refusing to accept certain values of our day. Isn't this Ionesco's point? Yes it's Ionesco's point as well. I, and any, for myself I like anything that defies tradition. Not that we don't get a great deal from tradition. Not that we don't get a great deal from heritage. But I always like somebody who keeps you on your toes about tradition. Who who lashes out or makes you think who stimulates you, the greatness of Ionesco is that he he prods you. He tells you "think." He doesn't make any solutions for you. He doesn't say society is like this and this is my comment on society. He just says think here's something. Now what do you think about it? His his purpose, then, is to make the playgoer, the man that comes to the theater, think he comes with no solution. He doesn't say this is what is. No this is not what's going to be. He just says or that he agrees with it even is is his intent is has several things. One he makes you think and and and and the other he doesn't want to tell you how to think he wants you to do it yourself. Well if we may, then, the Rhinoceros, I'm sure people come out with different opinions of what the Sure they come off thinking they're not They're not rhinoceroses. And many- No they never see they don't see themselves. They always say someone else looks like a rhinoceros. Just about to ask you this very point Zero. I'm wondering now about the effect of plays. Of those of Ionesco or say of Genette. I'm going to come to this in a minute because I know that you reviewed a book recently fr-on French contemporary French drama from from Gerard Genette I believe. But what, coming back to Ionesco and to Genette and to Beckett. But the reference, a play is about certain people in the audience, but these people never associate the play with themselves do they? So what is gained? I'm asking. What is gained is this: I think that if you become aware of the thinking of the playwright. And the mere fact that they say we are not rhinoceroses they're saying we won't behave like rhinoceroses. In other words, the fact that they already say 'well we're not like that everybody else is like that.' So there's a little bit effect that it's had on the audience. I assume that most people listening to this program are aware of the nature of the play Rhinoceros, those who haven't seen it, of it being called an attack on conformity. And someone has said [phone rings] see if you agree with this Zero you you've been involved with this so directly as one of the focal figures [phone rings] in the very beginning the Amer- Watch your language. Zero. Not everybody is a focal figure like this. Zero. Yes. Please watch your We have animal values in some ways Ionesco is saying to carry it to its ad absurdum where animal, values today are such animal values. Let us be animals and he's saying was the opposite but he we become rhinoceri, rhinoceroses? He doesn't say he does not say though that what you say he isn't, he doesn't make that solution. He doesn't give you a positive thing. He's changes a, his hero might easily change into a rhinoceros. He never tells you why he does not change. He just can't because he's interested, I think, first in the narrative of the thing as Alice in Wonderland is a narrative as any story is a narrative. And I don't think he likes to pontificate. That's why this, he's such odds with Sartre who will give you a mor-a moral and everything. I don't think he cares to make your eve-wants you to make your own moral, you see. Since you brought up the name of Sartre this is directly connected with it. Apparently Sartre and Ionesco are aware of each other very much. Sartre made a comment that Rhinoceros does not fulfill its mission. This is Sartre talkin. Well he- And that doesn't explain why a person should not become a rhinoceros should stay human. Yeah well that's exactly the point. I don't think he cares to tell you why someone becomes the rhinoceros. He just presents you with the fact finished and you look at it and you take what you want from it. He does not ca-he's not interested in telling you how to behave, how to think, what to believe in. He never does. For me. And he- Nor nor is his intention I, and of course, Sartre, who is involved in social problems, wants to always have a solution. He wants to present a problem. He wants to tell you the solution of a problem. But this isn't Ionesco's point. This is not Ionesco, you see, Ionesco is quite different. Thinking about this play again. Here's Zero perhaps- He's a little clown himself Ionesco, you know. He was in New York when this was being rehearsed. He's a tiny little man who reacts quite like a clown, you know, he does all sorts of takes. He's, he has sort of a a marvelous little clown face, you know, with blue eyes that dance around. And he when he came into the room he barely speaks English and as the sign says please return the Pepsi-Cola bottle. I said 'did you return the Pepsi-Cola bottle?' He says 'yes yes my God I did yes.' He got very scared. But he played it, you know. [laughing] He played along with you. Yes. Well what of- He jumped twenty feet 'I have no Pepsi-Cola bottles' he said. Maybe he's Bérenger maybe he's Bérenger. Well he won't tell you, you know, he's very bright. He doesn't tell you who he identifies with. There was a marvelous interview with him. They said, he said 'before we go into the interview I don't want to talk about this: America, New York, France, my place, my life, my private life.' 'The rest,' he says, 'is an open book.' [Studs laughing] He doesn't leave anything else. Now back to the the play again. [Zero coughing] The one the one figure who will resist seems to be seems to be the weakest figure. [coughing] These are the Chicago vapors- The Chicago vapors. -this illness I'm having. Here are you you're John the the the fop. There's Shifter. Watch your language. God Studsy. Don't call me fop- The Shifter. -in front of 50 million listeners. 60. All those lying figures you give about those people who listen to this show. How many listen to it 50 million? A half million listeners to the station. You show 'em to me. [Studs laughing] Really? Would you know you're being John. Then you can call me fop fop. But each each one each figure there's the articulate Dribble is that his name? Dribble. Dribble. He turns rhinoceros, the girl turns rhinoceros, Shifter turned rhinoceros. But the one figure who doesn't, Bérenger the weakest, seems to be a toper resists. Is this, again I ask you and you would say to me Ionesco says draw your own conclusions. So don't ask me if you But I am asking. I'm asking What kind of thing is that? I'm asking Then don't give me the answer- No I'm not- Let me ask you a few answers. Shoot. Of questions. Yeah. I don't know. Let's change seats. No no. Well that's- Here is the clown actor. But why, that is he has, someone calls them the most optimistic of Ionesco plays. Yes. In that the one guy resists. The weakest figure in the town, really, isn't he? Well Shiftless- I don't know if he's the weakest figure in the town. He's a massive comic figure. And I think he just doesn't change because he's incapable of change. And I think if he's the hero of it, then he might as well be the almost unconscious feeling we have for the good. You know, sometimes we're attracted to a cause and we don't know why. We know it's good. We feel it's good. And I think that's all that figure is. I, you know I I I don't want to go into No philosophies

Studs Terkel Please- he's basically a benign figure

Zero Mostel Yes yes.

Studs Terkel You said something just then as a as a comment you made a phrase used just then. He was incapable of changing is what you said.

Zero Mostel Yes. He, there's, is there something good about him? He just, he goes, he groans, he tries to do the animal snorts. He does everythi-he wants his skin to change. He wants to look lovely like the other rhinoceroses. He even leaves out one one of the grunts and it doesn't suit him. He says 'well then I'll never surrender.' He's somehow got some kind of a unconscious drive towards being good.

Studs Terkel So this is the hope then-

Zero Mostel Yes.

Studs Terkel of the human race.

Zero Mostel Yeah that there's goodness.

Studs Terkel And it's this very goodness despite everything despite trends despite drives-

Zero Mostel Yeah we have

Studs Terkel it- -despite

Zero Mostel People are good you know. When you pin 'em down finally they they agree with what's good.

Studs Terkel So Ionesco then is an optimist.

Zero Mostel You know, you very seldom see a man who suddenly expound money or write about money or write a poem about money or paint about money. They always somehow for the good.

Studs Terkel So this man then, seemingly cynical, is basically a-

Zero Mostel A good man-

Studs Terkel A man of hope.

Zero Mostel Yes.

Studs Terkel Ionesco.

Zero Mostel Yes.

Studs Terkel Well what of, well then let's speak of some

Zero Mostel But again he's always [unintelligible] and when he sees something rotten in you and yet he heightens it. He does it like a vaudeville. He does it. And that's why it's so one of theatrical it can't be done anywhere else. It's an excitement on the stage, and it's wonderful to sit through. You don't have to evolve a long character with a history in the novel of the character and being the character. It's a vaudeville you can do it heightened. It's big it's a big canvas-

Studs Terkel Right-

Zero Mostel As broad brushes strokes.

Studs Terkel And he writes theatrically-

Zero Mostel That sound very Italian

Studs Terkel broad [laughing]

Zero Mostel You know, as a broad brush strokes. You understand,

Studs Terkel I think the audience probably guessed, is certain of the language Zero Mostel uses may give you a hint that he's a painter as well. He says broad brushstrokes. He used certain painting phrases and-

Zero Mostel There's an Italian painter broad brush strokes. And there was a painter called Foppa. Domenico Foppa the great Milanese painter. He also made the broad brushstrokes.

Studs Terkel I want to ask you about painting later, your feelings about what's happening in that, before I do that you you you you did the role of Gogo in-

Zero Mostel Estragon.

Studs Terkel Estragon or nicknamed Gogo in Waiting

Zero Mostel And no one knows why he's called Gogo I think that's marvelous. And when they ask him directly what's your name? He says Adam. I love that instead of that realistic writing.

Studs Terkel So here is-

Zero Mostel Because if you'd asked him whether my name is Estragon my father was, but you don't know who their fathers are. It's a pleasure.

Studs Terkel Was his Beckett as Janae as Ionesco all three French or the one Romanian descent and one Irish yet French. What is it about that these three playwrights who write in what is described as theater of the absurd? I want to ask you about that in a minute. French what is it, now we come to you and I know recently you re- Well

Zero Mostel Well they're not French. You said yourself they are not French. They are people who come from very different backgrounds. The pop of them all, Joyce, was not French. There's no peculiarity because of their nationality. I think that it's a a character peculiarity not a nationality peculiarity. I don't think that because you go to France to live in France you will write that type of drama. I think, though, that if when Beckett writes, and it's produced in France, there's an audience for that type of drama which is, you know, at hand, not like here. You have to fight for it here.

Studs Terkel That's the point, perhaps, I was trying to make. The fact there's an audience there for this kind of

Zero Mostel Yeah. But also I I don't like to knock our country. There's an audience for our for for that theater here as well. Is, there is an audience everywhere for all kinds of theatres in this country, a young country. You can play Waiting for Godot if it wasn't done on Broadway probably would still be running.

Studs Terkel If it wasn't-

Zero Mostel It wa-it was not on Broadway when they had to get, you know, a certain commercial flair about the show and therefore it couldn't run. They couldn't make money. But it could have played elsewhere.

Studs Terkel But have have playgoers, I want to ask you this question without low rating the country, have playgoers of our land been conditioned to a certain kind of thinking that, say, French playgoers have been conditioned to? You know a certain-

Zero Mostel Oh you should see the junk they play in France.

Studs Terkel Yeah I'm sure there's

Zero Mostel Terrible stuff. You know, we only hear about the best or we import just the best.

Studs Terkel Like foreign movies.

Zero Mostel You know, the the same thing. There's a lot of junk there too, but there are good theaters all over this country too.

Studs Terkel Now I was curious to know why

Zero Mostel There should be more.

Studs Terkel I was curious know why it was that these three represent. Does that phrase ring a bell to you? Theater of the absurd?

Zero Mostel Yes I've heard of mention of the theater of the absurd. But that also is an attitude about it. I don't know. To me art, and since writing is an art, is an invention, and I'm always tickled by even something I don't understand, you know. There's many a painting you go to you are attracted to it. You don't know why. You look at it you say 'there's something about it. I can't put my finger on it.' I think what tickles us when we see something of this sort is that it's different, it's unique, it's original, it's an invention, it's a piece of creative work. And that's what it that's, and I'm crazy about that element when I see it in something-

Studs Terkel The

Zero Mostel As you are as you are crazy about when you read Shakespeare and you read The Variorums and you read the 10 million versions of what one line mean-means. The wonderful thing about it is the invention the creation of that language as it is the creation of a character in these so-called absurd plays.

Studs Terkel Now by absurd I meant these guys these writers-

Zero Mostel Yes, yeah I know-

Studs Terkel Are challenging the absurd values and so they comicalize it.

Zero Mostel Yes they comicalize it, they put a mystery about it. You don't quite sometimes know even what it means but it's wonderful you know. They do something happens like a real creative process.

Studs Terkel Before we come to your feelings about painting, Zero, since you're involved in that world. What of the, you spoke of Joyce the pop of them all.

Zero Mostel Yeah.

Studs Terkel It was in in recently was it three years ago?

Zero Mostel Yeah.

Studs Terkel That you did Leopold Bloom.

Zero Mostel Yes.

Studs Terkel Ulysses in Nighttown.

Zero Mostel Yes.

Studs Terkel And what of your interpretation of Leopold Bloom? You of this man of fantasy and fact both? You spoke of Joyce the pop of them all.

Zero Mostel Yeah when they in in the book that was that I reviewed on the French theater. I think one of its flaws was that it talks about Beckett, who was a secretary to Joyce, and Ionesco, and all the avant-garde writers. And they all derived from the writings of Joyce. Not that he wasn't influenced by somebody and it's wrong not to mention that he is the pauper. The rhinoceros it could easily have come from the Circe scene in Ulysses where the men turned into pigs and they continue to be turned into animals. They continue to turn into something. The hallucinations make them turn into all sorts of things. So that's why he's the pauper and he originated that language, that inventive language, that's colorful, deep, mysterious. You have to take five dictionaries nine languages and sit down and read it.

Studs Terkel And yet it's all it's all

Zero Mostel It's all one, it's all one, it's all marvelous.

Studs Terkel And yet it's all part of our lives, whether it be a fantasy life, or or our conscious life. What have you, Zero, we come, before I come to painting again I'm holding off on that. You Zero, the clown, earlier we just touched on the word clown.

Zero Mostel Yes. [hitting noise] I just hit Studs on the arm.

Studs Terkel Clown. You Zero have been one of the most-

Zero Mostel Once more I hit him.

Studs Terkel The most imaginative. I want to hold you for a minute, I'm holding your hand. The most imaginative of our comedians. And in a way it's, yet you play the role of Leopold Bloom, who's a tragic comic figure. And I missed seeing you, but friends of mine who have seen you speak, all of them, unanimous in speaking of your wild imagination. At the same time the discipline that you had in playing Leopold Bloom used vaudeville, used burlesque.

Zero Mostel Well, it's there, it's written. The pantomimes I did they're all described word for word by Joyce. The the hallucinations are vaudeville some of them. Some of them are deep deeply tragic things like the Bella Cohen episode. The soliloquies are very touching and it's very entertaining things. It's you know it's a remarkable range of

Studs Terkel You mean Joyce was director [Zero coughs] as well as writer and he he gave you directions.

Zero Mostel Oh everything that I did in Ulysses came from Joyce [phone rings] even the direction which, you know, he didn't write as direction. But you could figure out exactly what you do with the hallucinations from what Joyce wrote, and you didn't have to alter a word or a gesture, [you] see.

Studs Terkel And yet somehow I have a feeling that Zero Mostel the artist on the stage is this way, not only because you're a good actor and a good vaud-comedian, a good clown, a good burlesque comic.

Zero Mostel But a good son.

Studs Terkel And

Zero Mostel And a good father.

Studs Terkel And

Zero Mostel And a good mother, a good sister, and a good brother.

Studs Terkel Well this is something-

Zero Mostel [singing] Clap your hands.

Studs Terkel But something else involved here too.

Zero Mostel Yes.

Studs Terkel That's you the the in in painting the artist. Zero a question comes up. We speak of lack of communication of our day.

Zero Mostel Yes.

Studs Terkel What what of. And we speak of non-objective painting today and action painting. What's your feeling? What do you feel is authentic and what do you feel is false about this, a general question, just want to get your

Zero Mostel If you want a general answer.

Studs Terkel No I want

Zero Mostel I th-well you asked me a general question-

Studs Terkel I

Zero Mostel -that you want a specific answer-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Zero Mostel You are crazy my friend [Studs laughing]. You are deeply crazy. Rephrase the question otherwise I don't even attempt to answer it, Studsy.

Studs Terkel Your feelings about trends in in painting.

Zero Mostel Well first of all how I feel about a painting-

Studs Terkel About a painting-

Zero Mostel -is this so, you know this whole thing about well what is he doing or what does it mean or what is it for our times? Who is to tell us what is for our times? Too many painters painted for their times and no one knew it. And it was only later that we found out. I'm just fascinated by the wonderful things that the human hand and mind do. As soon as it's done by hand and the mind, I accept it, and then I hope to have the tolerance to sit through it. Maybe find something out about it. The action painters have something. They reflect something. Jackson Pollock's drips reflect something of our time: the worthlessness of it maybe of a certain section of it. There is something about it that's so. What's his name? The wonderful art critic, John Berger, the English art critic, said he gave a wonderful picture of Jackson Pollock and he said 'he paints as if he would never had any communication in the world. He lived in a cell and there happened to be paint there and this is how he expressed himself since there was no language.' Well we live in a nuthouse. A large section of the our thinking is nutty and he reflects it. There is something about it. The busyness that we always get ourselves involved which would produce nothing at all. It's reflected in his painting. It is a reflection of our time and it's done by hand and it's done with imagination. So I like to sit through it. So also I always distrust the man who says 'that's what I like.' I don't, you know, you it may be art but I don't like it. I know too many people who go into a room full of Rembrandts to say 'I don't like it.' Well he's a fathead. He doesn't dig it.

Studs Terkel Instead of saying I don't dig it he says I don't like it-

Zero Mostel I

Studs Terkel He says I know what I like-

Zero Mostel Like like like like like you know with the like. King ego walks in. And he used to tell you what the painter. The mere fact that art is from the hand and mind and eye is a remarkable thing. And therefore I will sit through it and I'll try to find out something about it.

Studs Terkel That-

Zero Mostel I hope that puts you in your place.

Studs Terkel That's self-sufficient from the hand and mind. That and so you will sit through it. In other words, if you sit through it.

Zero Mostel That doesn't say it might be rotten after I sit through it. But, you know, our conception of art is based on a little sampling of it. It's never based [match striking] on a huge knowledge of it [air sound] Oh excuse me the cigarette just

Studs Terkel [laughing] This is a visual gag that the audience missed. The cigarette flew out of Mr. Mostel's mouth. We'll let that go-

Zero Mostel Across the room and almost killed the proprietors of the station. Where was I?

Studs Terkel About the matter of-

Zero Mostel And why was I there?

Studs Terkel Why wait?

Zero Mostel And where am I going? To see Waiting for Godot? And what are we doing here? Waiting waiting for what? Waiting for this to be over. It will never be over. Oh waiting for Godot.

Studs Terkel Woul-or this is connected to something you said earlier. We live in a nuthouse you said.

Zero Mostel Yeah. I don't say we, there is a part of our house that's terribly nutty.

Studs Terkel It's a big part.

Zero Mostel Yeah y-when you read all the literature about atomic energy and you still read about the missile race, that's nutty. When anybody thinks there can be any warlike uses of missiles. It's nutty. It's crazy. The building of shelters, protect us from what? We're doomed if it's dropped. We're in a nuthouse. We're in Pollock's little shelter when we gonna go down there and hide from something.

Studs Terkel So Jackson Pollock makes sense then.

Zero Mostel Yes he does. Of

Studs Terkel But I mean he couldn't have painted this

Zero Mostel Jackson Pollock, and nobody is nudging my shoulders, is a great artist. And de Kooning is a great artist.

Studs Terkel But he couldn't have painted this could he? Couldn't have done this work in the time of the Flemish could he? I mean could he?

Zero Mostel I see a a a parallel between the work of Bosch and Bruegel and Pollock-

Studs Terkel you

Zero Mostel I see a of almost natural development. I see developed down to Ensor and to Pollock. It's almo- they reflected the nuthouse.

Studs Terkel Could could you expand this more,

Zero Mostel Well you have to know the Bosch paintings like the Garden of Delights, you know. His feelings of Hell, of religious fanaticism. Bruegel's painting of the Flemish proverbs. Ensor's paintings of medicine and doctors and quacks.

Studs Terkel And so-

Zero Mostel And although it's more representational that doesn't make it better. It still reflects. It's still by the hand and the eye, you know.

Studs Terkel So they the hand and the eye in that time reflected nut houses of that time perhaps-

Zero Mostel Of course-

Studs Terkel Is Jackson Pollock-

Zero Mostel And another marvelous thing is we don't know what these people looked like. You see a Rembrandt portrait. What we're attracted to is not in the remarkable likeness of the 50 extant Rembrandt self-portraits. He looks quite different in every one of them. So there's a gr-a quality other than that that's wonderful. And that is because it's done a certain way and it's done with a great [artistry?]

Studs Terkel Isn't-

Zero Mostel What was I saying? I don't know what I'm saying.

Studs Terkel Here's a question-

Zero Mostel Join Studs Terkel bull session.

Studs Terkel Here's a question of of the clown. Again you don't mind being called a clown, Zero.

Zero Mostel Say it to my face.

Studs Terkel A clown in a sense-

Zero Mostel [crack?]

Studs Terkel Raimu was, I know that you admired some of certain French film actors they weren't t-we saw'em in films: Raimu and Harry Bauer, certain actors-

Zero Mostel Oh Raimu is fantastic actor, there's the fullest of strange of expression. It was never little, it was big. He was a big actor. When he could cry, laugh, make you cry, make you laugh. In a second his his character was like a pot that was always boiling. It had every range of emotion and every little thing he said it was life plus that addition of that monumental character. Same with Baur. Volpone remarkable-

Studs Terkel Baur Volpone.

Zero Mostel Chaplin.

Studs Terkel Mosca. And and Chaplin, you said you say Chaplin.

Zero Mostel Charles was a fantastic one.

Studs Terkel I think it's clear to those who've seen Rhinoceros, everybody who's seen Rhinoceros, that Mostel on the stage. I speak in third person now.

Zero Mostel Yeah.

Studs Terkel Mostel on the stage and doesn't waste emotion. There's a great deal of activity there's a great, the juice and life. But at the same time nothing, whether it's you think someone said I don't know who was though said this. Even your gestures are those of a painter. And has it been said of you before? Your gestures are those of a painter-

Zero Mostel They say know because I paint. My gestures I I know come from some inner urge I don't know why you do a certain gesture. But it's I see. I think that's the greatest effect of a certain gesture. I don't think, I think it should be clean. Clarity is a great thing in art. And you must make everything simple so that they get it.

Studs Terkel Clarity

Zero Mostel Yes.

Studs Terkel Do you find is a-is there a lack of clarity in a great deal of what is happening today in any in all of the arts?

Zero Mostel Yeah. But don't get me, you know, on the word clarity. Did I mean that anything would be so simple that even an idiot can understand it? It must be more complex too, you know, y-must have substance as well.

Studs Terkel Well clarity and what-

Zero Mostel You have a puzzled look on your face.

Studs Terkel No no. [laughing]

Zero Mostel That's because you're looking in the microphone. You think it's me. I'm the fatter object to the right of the microphone.

Studs Terkel Now I'm thinkin', can we come back, if we may, to the play?

Zero Mostel No let's not come back. Never back, always forward. Forward

Studs Terkel Forward to the play.

Zero Mostel Let's go forward to the play.

Studs Terkel Forward to Rhinoceros which has three more weeks to go at the Edgewater Beach Playhouse. You spoke earlier of Jackson Pollock and de Kooning. What they're, you spoke of a nuthouse and they in a sense what they're doing reflect, they're that reflects

Zero Mostel Yeah but don't bug me about the nuthouse it's more than the nuthouse too. It's an attitude about about the nuthouse and very often a healthy attitude about the nuthouse. It also is like all great art. It's an exposure. You are exposed to yourself. You are exposed to your times. I like art which always enters into you and tears you apart and you find out what is the the middle of everything. And and I like it because that tears away a facade and it's good it's healthy. It's like Joyce's Ulysses, you know, it's always thought to be obscene. It was banned for a while. I like that type of obscenity because it's a cleanser. It cleans you.

Studs Terkel A purge.

Zero Mostel It a it's a purge it's an emetic and I always was biased towards that art. That type of art.

Studs Terkel Isn't this the, isn't this the real purpose of a good painting or a good play or a good novel? That is to leave people arguing and debating-

Zero Mostel Debating yeah

Studs Terkel And discussing after it's all over. In other words being alive really makes sense of being

Zero Mostel It means something. You go to see the mishpocha play and you go home and you have it in the house and there isn't a second thought about it.