David Hedison and Serena Hedison

Recorded May 20, 2005 Archived June 27, 2005 34:48 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: GCT001687


Daughter interviews her father about beoming an actor, relationship with family and being a father.

Subject Log / Time Code

Piano lessons for cousin- playing what he heard
father being cross at son for acting
walking on beautiful fall morning in NYC
Dropped out of school, Brown, sold brushes
14 leading roles, tough work, his nose in acting came up again
getting parts- in daze- collapsed crying
Why it’s wonderful being a father
Words of wisdom - be true to thy self


  • David Hedison
  • Serena Hedison


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00:02 My name is Serena Hedison. I'm 34 years old. It is May 20th 2005 where in Grand Central Terminal and I am talking to my father.

00:14 My name is David Hedison. And my daughter is interviewing me. This is May 20th and 9th at 2005 and my age is 78 today. Today is my birthday and I was 77 and I miss it. But now I'm 78 years old and I'm here with my daughter Serena who's interviewing me at Grand Central terminal.

00:44 Okay, Dad. This is doesn't have to be formal. Like I didn't realize there be somebody else in the room. So it's. Don't don't feel like you need to be formal at all. I just wanted to get a record of you and your experiences and what your life has been like tell me what tell me what it has been like for you to be an actor. What how will you first came to wanting to act and what it's been like.

01:15 Well, I wanted to be an actor for a long time since I can remember and I think when I saw a film in 1940 with my cousin hike Hedison, and it was blood and Sand with Tyrone Power as I went ballistic. I just thought it was the most fantastic thing. I ever saw and I pressured my cousin to sit through the second screening of the movie and from that time on I knew that that's what I wanted to do and I did several plays in high school and Junior High School. And unfortunately, my father was in the jewelry business and he wanted me to take over for his business and and I was the only child.

02:06 And I I just thought I'd found Greener fields, and I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to go to New York. Maybe go to Hollywood. I don't know but that's what I wanted to do, but he probably thought it was a phase and I would get over it.

02:24 What was it about when you said you went ballistic what happened to you? Can you be specific about what happened in that moment is my father, you know, we it was during the time of the depression and he was making much money and he was working very hard and he would go to a store at 7 a.m. In the morning until about 11 at night. He would eat there in the store and my mother would somehow take take over for him in the afternoon so he could come home and take a quick nap. So I saw very little of him and it was difficult and it was really basically a dreary childhood because again, as I said the depression, I remember waking up on several Christmases and then they were no gifts. It was no tree and I was always just taking it was a Santa Claus and there would be a gift but there was nothing

03:23 But that's life. And so it is I see it was a dreary life a dreary existence and I just wanted to get away from it all and I remember there was a piano teacher and this was in Medford Mass and we were living there then his name was Mister with low and I could hear the music the piano playing and I thought I would love to learn to play the piano and I told my father and I told my mother they just didn't have the money and I think I must have been like $0.50 an hour $5 an hour at most and I was just aching to study piano. It would be something so interesting to me to do that and I remember visiting my cousin and

04:10 Providence his name was Harry and he had to take piano lessons and I would sit there while he took his piano lessons and he would play and play quite badly and then he would run out of the house and the teacher would go and my aunt would be in the kitchen and I would sit at the piano and I would remember the things he was doing and what he was taught and I would slowly start playing the piano and my aunt Mary said it's such a shame. That's what you should be doing. You should be taking piano lessons. Well, it never happened but you asked me originally about what was it about blood and Sand that's film it was that the excitement of that life of that man who was a bullfighter fell in love with beautiful Rita Hayworth and it was all color and dramatic. That's the life. I want get me out of here get me out of Providence.

05:10 And away from this life and

05:14 God was good to me and I dreamed about becoming an actor and I work very hard at it and

05:22 I wouldn't say I'm a famous actor. I shouldn't have not wear or estar, but it working after and make me very happy. I've been very lucky.

05:32 It sounds to me, you know, when one looks back on one's childhood. Sometimes we think about.

05:39 We see we understand things in retrospect that do this is why I was unhappy or and you didn't know it then but it sounds to me that you knew quite acutely when you were a child that your parents didn't have money and that you couldn't do the things that maybe your friends were able to do your family member was able to do what was the experience and also you being an actor not coming from any background like that. What was it like for you did you have will you did you feel isolated? Did you feel special did you feel sort of touched or I mean something that you must have had a strong enough Vision to have taken you from that one moment in the movie theater to you know now 70-odd ears later. Can you describe what who that is? What is that in yourself at that has blossomed.

06:28 I really don't know but I can tell you is that during those times in West Roxbury with my father had to shore because the one in Medford wasn't working at all cuz I just knew.

06:41 I was going to do something wonderful and excited. I remember walking home one night and was around 5:30 and I would look up at the stars and I would see the stars and I would just look at the stars and it was almost as if they were talking to me and saying don't worry, you're going to be fine. Everything's going to be fine. Because I knew it was going to be fine. And I realized it was going to be a battle because my mother and father knew no one in New York or Los Angeles or the big cities to help me along so they were very very worried and I would sometimes

07:22 Being plays like a church play and I was not allowed to do it because you know, your studies are more important and I remember doing a church play anyway, and it was Les Miserables and I played Jean Valjean and it was all The Bishop's candlesticks and the minister of the church played the priest and I was Jean Valjean having just been caught with a gang of that that knows a great scene and I remember doing it and being very very good and I think I was about

07:55 1415 and I played it and he had put a little makeup on me for the part and all that stuff. So I went home and I went up the stairs and I went into the living room and my father looked at me. He was quite cross and he said

08:16 Even acting huh? I should do know. He says don't lie to me. I see the massacre in your eyes you have instead of mascara cuz I see the massacre in your eyes is very funny. And what did you do then? Did you end up having nothing? He didn't he didn't he could not understand that sensitive side of me which was unfortunate because we didn't have it the greatest relationship and because he couldn't understand me I would listen to buy classical records when I could this was when I was about 16 17

08:54 And he would hear that music and you would think something was wrong with me that I would listen to that kind of music and he was very angry and I remember once it was my birthday and one of my cousins came into the house and she brought a big one of those old LPs remember and she brought me.

09:17 What he thought was a record and he was so angry and he embarrass my cousin and so I opened it and it wasn't a record. It was a map to Big Square map Dad Dad. It wasn't not a record. It's it's a map. So you look so there was no working on this thing together and I think my mother was much more supportive. But even then thinking there was something very strange about me and I wasn't like all the other relatives and they were worried about me.

09:52 And what can I say?

09:56 What was it like for you? You know he describes me one of the year when you came to New York. Finally you should have told your parents. This is what I'm going to do. I don't care I need to do this tell me in some sort of even visceral detail what your first week was like in New York or one of your earliest memories of being in the city and the independence and walking and I

10:21 With the Summer Stock Newport Casino theater and it was a wonderful actor there and he said you want to be an actor and he said you should be a go to New York and he mentioned a wonderful School call the neighborhood Playhouse School of the theater. So I did go in and how was interviewed by Sanford Meisner and the next thing I know I got a letter and I was accepted. What year was this? This was 1950 and it was a 1950 and I remember taking the train to New York.

10:59 And I went to the YMCA.

11:02 Say that night because the first day of school with it the following day and the YMCA was like on West

11:11 64th 63rd something like that in the neighborhood Playhouse was on the east side on 54th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue or 2nd and 1st and 2nd and I remember waking up.

11:27 Washing up

11:29 Walking out it was one of those beautiful full mornings into the air was so fresh and clean and I remember walking.

11:39 Walking walking feeling like a free man and so happy to be in New York and walking to the neighborhood Playhouse. It was a long walk find me a ride and I'm at my fellow student that I met the teachers Martha Graham Sanford Meisner Louis Horst. I mean you would know who these people are, but they would we know they were Geniuses wonderful wonderful teachers. So I was very lucky and I went to the neighborhood Playhouse. I was there for a couple of years in my class was Steve McQueen a Joanne Woodward Mark Riedel should Pollock some wonderful wonderful people. So I was lucky and I had a great training crate training for you in New York, but with your life like your social life.

12:29 Very little social life. I only socialize with my students my fellow students and I remember we just worked very hard everyday and dance classes voice classes acting classes all that stuff. So it was just a very a very thrilling time for me and

12:54 Well, then you had together you have a room. I have to get a room in the park. So I left the YMCA and I was finding a room and I found a room in an old Brownstone and the room was on the second floor landing and it had a little sink and bed.

13:17 Putrid green Walls and the above level was the bathroom and that cost me and believe it or not $5 a week $5 a week. So that was great and my father was very kind and he was supporting me and every now and then he'd send you some money and how did you get him to support you when he was going somewhere. I think he may have felt some guilt. He didn't want me Starving in the big city and that we see before I left to go to New York. I had dropped out of Brown University. I was gone there for three years. It's wonderful, but I wanted to be an actor and I dropped out and I just told my parents they were heartbroken that I wanted to be an actor and well how you going to support yourself? You know that kind of thing.

14:17 Cuz I'll do it for Holy year. I worked as a fuller brush man. And I have piles of brushes and everything and I walk the streets of Providence and soul. My brushes made money. I had a wonderful cousin her name is Annie and I would go to her and she was so sweet. She bought brushes. She didn't even need the kitchen brushes and all that stuff and I got about $10 from her, you know, that's sort of thing. So I managed to save up about $1,000 and I did go to New York and I think my parents would rather respected me for that. So I got a New York at somebody and every now and then other check was come from my father and support which I was so grateful for and

15:03 Then my mother came to see my first play and I haven't been very good at it. And she was thrilled and she loved what I did was Arthur schnitzler as the green cockatoo and it was a lot of fun very very ethical and she loved and she went home and she told my father how great it was and all that stuff. Yeah. It was it was the beginning, you know, but still very difficult because I graduated in 53 no work.

15:37 I was going around the agents offices with my pictures and my credits and going from one place to the other together and it was a difficult time. How did you finally break? How did you finally get work? How do you get your first job job? I got smaller parts in those days. Television was live. There was a craft TV theater. That was Studio One Playhouse 90 and I got under 5 the color on the five roll, maybe two or three lines and I started out that way and

16:10 And then I would work. Of course after I finish with the neighborhood Playhouse, I continued getting my training and went to the Actors Studio and work out their work with who do the Herbert berghof school and she gave me some great training. She was absolutely wonderful to me but still it was a long time before I could get any work and people didn't think I look commercial enough and I had a very Armenian nose and in those days.

16:43 To be to get a job you had to look pretty you have to have a like a boy next door face. The girls have to be attractive than the method that was that was then and I remember going to when I graduated from the naval to Playhouse Sandy Meisner and Rita Morgan saw they called me into the office and they said, you know that my name is Al then because it was Al Hedison.

17:14 And if you don't David you have a very good actor and you will do very very well. If you did something about your nose just maybe had the bone taken out in this and that and whatever and I said, oh, yeah, and the Sandy said look how I know a very good doctor. So I went home to Providence and I said, you know, I told my mother and father and I we both let we all laugh he thought it was the most ridiculous thing and I remember saying that the Joanne Woodward and she thought it was in the most ridiculous thing. She ever heard Buddha. Hagen said to me, don't you dare?

17:52 So time went on I got to hear that work bit parched people that I know around me student say we get from Joanne was getting work. This one was getting work. The other one was getting work.

18:04 Then I went to stalk another season its stock in Pittsburgh and 14 leading roles of 13 leading roles in 14 weeks tough work. I did some very good work and some very bad work, but I got some great training and at the end clay flag with the producer said, you know, David you're a good actor. You should do something about that nose of yours, and I thought this is bananas. What is this about for nose? Because it wasn't that bad. So I went home and again, I told my parents so mean with doctor in Boston, his name is dr. Kazanjian, and they sent me to him and I went to him we had a discussion and it was like $200.

18:53 And my father said you would pay for and I went home and I was scheduled to go to Boston from Providence, which is about an hour by train and remember I left at night to check into the hospital and I remember, you know, it's night when you look in the windows of the train got to look at yourself and you'll see your profile and I kept thinking there's nothing wrong with this. What is this what I'm looking and looking and I'm suddenly losing heart and I finally get to Providence I me to a Boston went to the hospital. It was nighttime a nurse check me and she says yes, I just arrived in surgery tomorrow. Who's your doctor says kazanjian and she looked at me so you're not going to be a nose fixed. Are you with that Boston accent? It's perfect. Anyway, I did.

19:47 Next morning, I woke up and I looked at myself in the mirror and I was depressed and I got all this is terrible. So finally, I went back to Providence recuperated the swelling went down and it was the face changed a bit and I was depressed. I went into a terrible depression because I was a different person but then Serena every job I went out for I got everything I would audition for this I audition for that. I got this TV. I got the lead on this I got the lead on that. I got the lead in a play directed by sure Michael Redgrave and then was the star. I had a vision for her place so many times and never got them and all the others. It's time. I hear I was a leading role in in a in a play directed by Sir Michael Redgrave and I remember when I went to read for it. I felt very good and Michael Redgrave was very nice. And I thought you said I gave a good reading and

20:47 Lieutenant I call the girlfriend her name was Mary Ann Riordan. I just married, you know, I gave a good reading. I think I just might get the understudy. I guess might you know, I I might do that. Was it going out me know how I check my service in those days. You had a service? Hello? Hi Allison. Any messages? Oh, yeah. She has Phoenix. You got the part. They got the script. The part pick up the at The Phoenix Theater called and and then what you got you got the part pick up the script and I was in a daze and I walk down 3rd Avenue and it was an Alamo station of the overhead Subway, whatever it was rattling along and I walked about two blocks.

21:32 And I Collapse on the edge of the sidewalk and I started to cry balled crying saying thank you. Thank you God and whatever I was saying people walking by Davis. What is this bum this crying and all that stuff and I was just you know, so grateful that it was I knew it was a break it meant something maybe I was going to be lousy in the play. I don't know but it was the beginning of the foot-in-the-door is it what and the why did the play it was very successful.

22:06 My phone was ringing non-stop, you know agents calling me this one calling me the other one calling me and that was the beginning and I was put under contract and those days they put you under contract to 20th Century Fox and that April 1st 1957. I was put into contract 20th Century Fox and that's how it'll be in and I went out there. Yeah, I went out there and my first film was in 1957.

22:34 It wasn't it was 1958. We made it in 5757. Sorry and was called the enemy below with Robert Mitchum. Security organs are fine fine though. And then I did that and I went to Hawaii and you know, what the Pearl Harbor in this particular day is good. Then after that I did the famous cult film The Science Fiction thing called fly and I did the fly that was 1958 and that was the beginning of things.

23:12 Let me ask you having that. You know, I'm stuck in that without moment on the train. Where are you? Look at yourself in this whole time you've been training and you've been doing really good work and you have an attachment to yourself and who you are and your persona and then the moment you give that up. You become successful.

23:33 Did that inform you at all about what the world was about or was it when you just so grateful to have an opportunity didn't care what it meant. No, it isn't for me a lot because it meant that I went did it something that I didn't believe in because I am even though. You should say to me she sold David you had such a great wonderful presents that knows and the stage work that you did the other Hamlet that you did for me. It was Magnificent Seven me. I was a different person. I was at I would get different parts and I wasn't fulfilling myself at the one hand. I became very commercial and doing all that stuff and making money, which was nice cuz I wasn't used to it and it was making a lot of money, but I was commercial and and not doing the things that I wanted to do.

24:28 I know a strange but yes, I was given opportunities as well. When I was under contract Joe Papp who was with the mean of the Shakespeare of the public in the park and he he had directed me in that play at the neighborhood Playhouse the green cockatoos that I had mentioned earlier and he sent me a letter when I was in Hollywood wanted me to come and this was like 58 to do Henry V the park and the studio wouldn't let me go because I had to fill in for me and I had to do the film.

25:04 That when I look back on it.

25:09 When I look back on it, I think to myself how stupid I could have done it. I could have said the hell with the studio. I'm going to do it. What can I do? I put you on suspension and it's not as if I was going to do another film it said nothing to do. I just go I should have gone to New York done Henry V. Please myself, but I didn't do it for some stupid reason and this is what happens as you get older here. I am 78 today today and I realize looking back the mistakes of My Life As We all will as we all do and I think that we are what are they? I mean what is some of the things that you regret if I had if I had

25:55 I had not gone to Boston but say I wasn't commercial ahead and become eventually I would have done a lot of plays a lot of theater.

26:07 And been respected is a theater actor.

26:11 Then again, who knows cuz the other thing people want me to go here. They would send you there. They would it's crazy this for this commercial world. That's the way it is. Yeah. I mean, it's not like you've had a bad life. You've had a pretty terrific life. Have you been able to you know, you say that there has been a soda, but you weren't able to fulfill yourself in an artistic way because of the parts that you were offered. What have you done if anything or have been able to do to counter that feeling to make yourself feel fulfilled. Do you know who plays in Summer Stock and working with Lee Remick in the BBC? We did Summer and smoke Tennessee Williams always displays that I would do. I went to Nebraska rep. I would too rough Crossing by Tom stoppard. So I always had the opportunity. I did blithe spirit with Juliet Mills to faena theater in New Jersey since they were always knows moments.

27:11 That I could really fulfilling myself and have a great time. So I'm going to switch gears a little bit and tell me what it was like the day that Alexandra. My sister was born.

27:25 You're swilling. I mean, you know who were here. I was married and this was after the series I did was on for 4 years Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea which was John from 64 to 68 then 68-67. I Met Your Mother and 68. We got married in London and the next thing we knew she was pregnant then she had Alexandra in Los Angeles. There's this really moment, you know it when you see your child for the first time and I was 40 and no 41 and that's pretty late and she was a beautiful child beautiful. I would love that thing right away and we have one and have another one and then you were born in London and it was it was wonderful being a father why

28:17 I like being a father because I have a family and I have somebody to talk to and I'm 78 now and 10 years out 78 10 years. I'll be in the end. 2 years. I'll be eighty. Oh my goodness. There's always somebody to talk to and whatever. I have two daughters beautiful daughters a wife who still loves me, even though I'm an actor but you know, it's it's it's it's it's it's a good life. I can't complain. It's been really nice. I think we all have complained what you know so quickly, who do you think has been the most important person in your life? I mean threw out whether it's someone to professionally or a teacher or a friend or anything if you could, you know one or two but really someone who you might

29:12 One particular person know I don't I can't think of one, but I think of a lot of people I think it might teachers and wow, what would I've been without them and my friend all it was the wonderful friends I have and having a lot of friends is better than having a lot of money. Believe me.

29:33 Yeah, what are you most proud of?

29:42 When am I most proud of I don't know but I think that I'm proud that I'm not a bad person. I think I'm going to a compassionate understanding person. I'd like people let me ask you about that. You know, I remember Mom saying something a long long time ago, you know, your father doesn't have an enemy and it's really true you really I think what you I was thinking the other day that I think what I got from you is

30:09 Compassion for people in an understanding and kindness. Why are you like that? I don't know. I think everybody has a story. Let's face it. Maybe it's not somebody you like particularly, but they have a story they come from someplace. They're human beings. You know, that's it to have no like I go to these celebrity conventions and they're all kinds of weird people there but that people and you know, they've had a background they've come from certain kinds of families some abusive families and and not as lucky as I've been I've been very lucky.

30:46 Can you tell me maybe?

30:51 Some of the happiest moments in your life. I mean when you really felt I've done it. It sounds to me like the moment on the sidewalk. Are you remembering that moment than that? Of course of the birth of my two girls, you and Alexandra that was a big high line and getting married with a big highlight. It was a lovely wedding in London that are beautiful reception at the Savoy. So was there these nice I've had a good life and I've got many more years left. I Vino I come from good stock. My mother died when she was 97. My father died when he was like 83, so I am I think I'll be all right till I'm 90 95 now you just come from Venice and you went because you would never been there before. Is there something that you would like to do or like to see your like to be that you haven't done yet?

31:49 Well, I would die would think more traveling and lots of the world that I haven't seen yet. And I think I'd like to go biking to Scandinavian countries and I've been to Russia but I would like to go back again and I'd like to go back to where my parents came from Armenia. I never I have never been there and the parts of the country even though it's changed a lot just like to go through that through that time.

32:19 Do you have any?

32:23 Words of of of wisdom to impart not even to me to somebody you wouldn't know or is something that you've learned in your life that you think will carry on and on and on. Yes, I think it would it is is this above all to thine own self be true be true to yourself. Who whoever you are be what you are at. Listen to people love people. That's the advice at I and then I should get to know people and as you go at end as you go on in life, you got to know people and meet people and that's the only way you connect with other things in your life and not to be a rekluse and why is that important? It's important because it's take you for instance. If you could if I said to you Serena, please call Joe. He might be interested and and you for this particular job and you I'm not saying you would do this, but somebody might say all dad down there, whatever.

33:23 But you know what I'm saying, but it's important to get to know everyone to meet them show them your show show them who you are and move on but showing somebody your soul doesn't get you a job. What is it specifically I'm trying to get to what is it about showing your soul because you're good at doing that. You've always been very open and emotional. Can you tell me articulate to me? Why you do that? I don't know. I just do what I do. And I just I am and people use I hear people say he's he's never changed. He's so open. He's so sweet. He's so kind. Well, I'm not trying to be kind of sweet or putting on a show. I am who I am and I've always been that way. I think I got that my father was that way with other people is always very open and very it was a wonderful host. My mother was to wish you know,

34:14 And I think I just pick it up from them, and I'm very lucky and I hope my daughters have picked it up as well. I will see what happens. All right, Dad. Well, happy birthday. Thank you, sweetheart. Thank you for doing this with me. I do appreciate it. I love you too much. I love you. I do and you're going to be fine. You just graduated and things are going to happen. I told you in the car nice things are going to happen to you you wait and see cuz I know thanks Dad.