Don't Look Back
Soap Opera Digest, February 9, 1988
by Michael Logan
Article Provided By Wanda
Wesley Addy is a tough nut to crack. It’s not that he doesn’t have show biz stories to marvel us with (he played opposite Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in the historic Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet); it’s not that he isn’t one of the kindest, sweetest, nicest guys in the world (his favorite passion, besides taking it easy is in his 1777-built New Jersey farmhouse, is keeping bees and making apple honey); and he hardly leads a lackluster romantic life (he’s married to Oscar-winning actress, Celeste Holm). But he is the most reluctant subject ever to come down my personal pike.
Who’d a thunk it? After all, he’s Loving's immensely colorful, consummately underhanded, money-to-burn Cabot Alden, a role that caps off a fifty-year-long career so distinguished it can barely be matched by anybody else in soap opera circles. But it seems he would rather leap off the Brooklyn Bridge than talk about himself.
There’s a shy, retiring, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly sense about him (odd for a guy who achieved the rank of major during his five years of active service during World War II). There’s a tremendous calm, too. No feelings of opportunities missed, goals not achieved or chances not taken.
“I have to confess,” Addy says right off “that I’m not that committed to my career.” He once almost gave up acting altogether, he admits. “I think it was about to happen right at the beginning of the second World War. I was ready to start looking for something else when I was drafted. Afterward, I came back to this country with an open mind, ready to consider other things, but I found that there was nothing that presented more interesting work...There’s still nothing I would rather do than act,” he smiles, the gentlest of smiles, “but it isn’t that important.”
Born in Omaha, Addy became a Los Angelino at the age of three months. (His parents, intended on becoming missionaries to China, got no further than the pier at San Pedro, California). He attended UCLA as an economics major, dabbling here and there in campus plays. Spotted in one by a movie studio talent scout, the green-behind-the-ears youngster nixed an offer of a one-hundred-fifty-dollars a week and a seven-year contract. “I wanted to be in the theater,” Wesley explains. So he accepted a no-salary, free-room-and-board, summer-stock stint in Martha’s Vineyard instead.
The time was the 1930’s and Addy played all the wholesome, juvenile parts in a seemingly suicidal season that saw the company cranking out nine plays, one per week. He recalls, though, that the chaos was divine and it only served to convince him he was Broadway bound.
Once there, he didn’t land a gig for a year - and then it was for eight bucks a week in a most forgettable show called How Beautiful With Shoes. Not much later, he appeared in Leslie Howards’ Hamlet, joined Maurice Evans’ acclaimed repertory company and won matinee idol status in Henry IV, co-starred with Helen Hayes in Twelfth Night and shared the stage with the Oliviers in the aforementioned Romeo and Juliet. After the war years, more Broadway successes followed, as did a lengthy episodic TV period. Addy did them all - The Defenders, 12 O'clock High, The F.B.I.; I Spy; The Fugitive, and Ironside. He did double-medico duty on The Edge of Night (as Dr. Hugh Campbell) and on Days of Our Lives (As Dr. Cooper) and, prior to Loving, tackled the year-long Bill Woodard role on Ryan's Hope. His movie performances have all been class acts: The Big Knife, Seconds, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Europeans, Network, The Verdict, The Bostonians. So, how can you have graced the screen with such unquestioned legends as Davis, Crawford, De Havilland, Newman, Redgrave - not to mention the theater greats - and not be over-brimming with mouth-watering tales?
The actor offers another shrug - this one definitely apologetic - and insists, “No, I don’t have a bag of stories, I’m afraid. They were experiences of the time and I don’t have any reminiscences to share with you.”
He will admit, however that he’d hardly try to the struggling routine in this day and age. “We’ve seen several young actors come through this show already, and I stand in awe of the effort that it takes to break through the mass of competition. I don’t think I would try it again now....no...I don’t think I would.”
And as to the special aspects of the biz? He terms himself ‘reluctant,’ noting “I try to go to the parties that are absolutely necessary to maintain contact. You can’t, I think, successfully isolate yourself in this business.”
Has all this hesitation to follow the mainstream of things made any difference? Wesley concedes, “I don’t think this has done anything for my career, particularly, but it’s made my life more interesting. It’s a big world and one can get bogged down in the sawdust and the greasepaint - or buried in it.”
He is, despite anything he might silently indicate, really in love with his Loving role - but not to the extent that he worries about losing it in the face of the soap’s low ratings. “What happens outside of Cabot Alden,” he states, “is somebody else’s responsibility. What happens inside is mine - and I find that it’s satisfying and enough work for me as an actor.”
The star splits town whenever possible to his Morris County farm in Jersey. The Revolutionary War-era structure has been in his wife Celeste’s family for decades but it’s clearly still in the fixer-upper stage. “I’ve been working on that damned house for three years now,” Addy says, mustering up something resembling feistiness. “We’re reaching a point where we can have people come out there.”
He and Holm met shortly before the war in a crossing-the-country-by railroad tour of Hamlet. Both had minor parts and she hadn’t yet achieved her Broadway fame as Oklahoma's original Ado Annie or won her Academy Award for Gentleman's Agreement. Despite all those Pullman car possibilities, Addy confesses. “We didn’t get to know each other very well but, some twenty years later, we got re-acquainted in another production.”
Their life, out in haystack country, seems to provide this most private man with the very balance he needs to keep the nutty world of entertainment in a comfortable, workable perspective. When not soap emoting, he’s content enough to clear out underbrush on the farm and keep the homefires burning for the Mrs. - who is actively involved in State Department activities and is a top fund-raiser for UNICEF.
“I’ve had no unhappiness so far,” he allows - and Wesley Addy knows, by this, that he’s one of life fortunates.
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