I found this bad boy ($5) on my latest Book Barn run. To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, this book had me at “Balls.” The seductively-inane summary given on the book’s jacket, though, is what made this purchase a necessity:
Written by the well-known Broadway and Hollywood actor himself (a refreshing thing in these ghostly times), [Ed. The book was published in 1965.] here is a high-spirited account of life crammed full of wild encounters and unusual events, told as only an actor with more than fifty years of experience could.
When wanderlust and a yen for adventure diverted the Boston-born, snub-nosed redheaded youth from MIT and a career as a construction engineer, he found himself on the high road to a self-made education in the grand tradition. From the Canadian border in Maine and a terrific fist fight in a logging camp, across the country through hobo jungles and Mulligan stew, from Capone’s Chicago to exhilarating San Francisco, headstrong Charlie Bickford fought, drank, and worked his way through a variety of jobs: brewery truck helper, barker and guide for Chinatown tours, roach exterminator, wheat harvester, pick swinger, and even sparring partner to the world’s heavyweight champion, James J. Corbett.
At 21 he was 190 pounds of self-reliant masculinity and, almost as a gag, joined a burlesque show in Oakland, California. This soon led to vaudeville, road shows and stock companies, training which propelled him into his first great roles on Broadway and in Hollywood.
“Parts make actors,” a friend told him. “Never take a bat part.” This advice, which he heeded, made him an actor to contend with. It also probably caused him more trouble than his own innate sense of rebelliousness. Few actors ever made the heart of agents, directors and producers beat faster nor ever raised their blood pressure higher than Charles Bickford.
Here is red-blooded defiance of conformity reminiscent of Jack London, enough to satisfy the most vicarious of readers.
I know, I know. And as if that wasn’t enough, here’s the book’s hugely promising first sentence:
No man of letters, I.