The other night I was working the remote looking to see what was on the TV. I hit Turner Classic Movies. The 1985 film, The Trip To Bountiful was on.  It was about three quarters into the movie.  I’ve seen it several times, most recently four or five months ago, but I put down the remote and settled back into the sofa.Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful

Seeing as how it’s been 23 years since the film was released I figure there may be a lot people out there who’ve never seen it. If you rank among those who have never seen The Trip To Bountiful, do yourself a favor and rent it. It’s a great story, a lovely little film.

The Trip To Bountiful is a low budget independent film, shot for something like $350,000 back then. Horton Foote wrote it. It’s brought to life by the hand of director Peter Masterson, a masterful storyteller.  John Heard and Carlin Glynn, Masterson’s real life wife, star along with Geraldine Page.  Gerry Page plays Carrie Watts a woman in the final season of her life who now lives with her son Ludie and daughter-in-law, Jessie Mae. It might be better put, to say she’s trapped in their Houston apartment by a controlling Jessie Mae.  Carrie longs to return to the place of her birth, a small hamlet in south Texas called Bountiful. She says she, “yearns to put her hands in the dirt there, one more time before she dies.”  Jessie Mae’s only interest is in Carrie’s Social Security check, and tells Carrie there is no money for bus tickets and besides her health is not good enough to allow her to travel alone. Carrie outwits Jessie Mae and escapes on a bus bound for Bountiful.

When she arrives she finds the place is deserted, the farm houses abandoned. It’s been twenty years since she left, but it feels longer. She runs her hand along the exterior porch wall, over initials carved long ago.  She sits on the porch edge and listens to a red bird’s call and talks about the place, the land and the played out cotton fields with the sheriff who helped her get there. “We left it, but we never lose what it gave us,” she tells him, another lifetime flashing behind her eyes.  That’s a sentiment understood deep in the belly of anyone who’s longed to return home.

I knew Geraldine Page.  I studied acting with her for several years in New York City.  I loved Gerry Page.  If you knew her, you couldn’t help but love her. She was a unique and delightful woman. She dressed simply, most of the time she could have been mistaken Geraldine Pagefor a bag lady, was unassuming, just like anyone else and yet somehow you were always aware that you were in the presence of an enormous talent.  Geraldine Page was perhaps the finest female actor of the 20th century.  She made a couple dozen films but theatre was her great love. Her best films had originally been plays or literature; Tennessee Williams, Odets, Capote.  Whenever she talked about them she referred to them Tennessee, Clifford and Truman. To see Geraldine Page on stage was a gift, she was that good.

She continually taught me to simplify my work as an actor, “You’re doing too much, doing more than you need, trust yourself, you are enough,” she would tell me, this from a woman who was loaded with mannerisms and a mouth that twisted and turned emitting every emotion imaginable. She told me once that as an actor, when she was nervous, she would begin to play with the buttons on her blouse, starting at the bottom and fingering each one, working all the way to the top and back down again. “Rip calls it my button cadenza,” she said grinning that grin that made her eyes sparkle, and the Rip she’s talking about is husband Rip Torn.   “You remind me of me.  I fight not to do those things and they still seep in,” she twisted her mouth up, her eyes turning serious with mercurial speed, “but you must trust me, fight it, you’ll be a better actor if you do, you are enough, always remember that.”  I haven’t forgotten her words, she was right, less truly is more. 

She told me a story once to illustrate this.  One day on the set of Woody Allen’s Interiors they were shooting a scene where she came in the front door of her home, put her purse down on a hall table and continued on into the house.  It was that simple, no dialogue.  “Eighty-three takes later,” she tells me, “Woody says, ’Let’s take it again.’ Now I was ready to strangle him.  Woody what do you want?  And he asks, ‘What are you doing, Gerry?’ I said I was an interior designer coming home and putting down my bag. ‘That’s the problem,’ he said, ‘I just want you to walk in and put down your bag.’ Well I thought he was crazy but I said fine let’s do it and I did.  I did less, just walked in and put down my bag.  Woody said, ‘Cut. Print it.’ The difference was miniscule but the result on screen was enormous.” She screws up her mouth, “He was right. I learned a huge lesson that day, did some of my best work on that one.”  I loved Gerry’s stories; great people always have the greatest stories.  

James Dean & Gerry Occasionally, she told me stories about James Dean and the motorcycle he tore around the city on.  Once she told me, “Oh, he always tried to get me to ride on the back of that damned motorcycle of his, but I was afraid of them. He loved bullfights and I hated them, thought they were cruel. We argued all the time about it.” She twisted up her mouth, considering, chuckled and tossed back her head, “I remember one day Jimmy explained bullfighting to me in acting terms. He said, ‘Imagine standing in the middle of a ring and a two thousand pound bull is charging at you. Now, try not to move your feet.’ You see you can’t move your feet because if you do the bull will go for the movement and kill you. I understood his argument,” she said, “actually I liked the image, but I didn’t like bullfighting any more than I had before.”

I saw her on Broadway in Agnes of God twice and both times her effortless power knocked me out of my seat. I saw her in Odets’s Paradise Lost and Ibsen’s Ghosts.  One night during a performance of Ghosts I witnessed the most extraordinary moment of acting excellence I have ever seen.

Gerry & Paul Newman in Swtte Bird of YouthOn stage Gerry would occasionally have moments of pulled-in quietness.  A lot of Actor’s Studio trained actors were susceptible to this, usually in moments of discovering or connecting with a new emotion.  It is the brilliance of the Method in creating life and resulting in brilliant acting performances, but on stage an actor must be heard and often a battle ensues within the actor.

During this particular performance Gerry had a moment in one scene where her voice became rather quiet, difficult to hear.  Someone in the back of the theatre shouted out, “Speak up, we can’t hear you!”

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