Last Tuesday I chanced to find myself four fast food commercials into “Purple Rose of Cairo,” at the magic moment when Mia Farrow (who, by the way, turned 65 this year, not that I hold that against her) is joined from the silver screen by image-come-to-life, Jeff Daniels.
You’re probably not going to believe this, but who should come tumbling into my studio space from my 24-inch, off-and-on HDTV (maybe that accounts for this freaky encounter): Tom Baxter. Cairo’s Tom Baxter!
Pith helmet and all. Munching a hot tamale, drinking a Dr. Pepper.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. And as I vigorously rubbed them he expanded from a tiny celluloid image into a solid, 6-foot-1-inch, living, breathing, avatar of sorts. A trifle out of focus. But golly, gee, gung-ho!
“Woweee! Thank my lucky stars somebody’s home. It’s been 25 years since I’ve gotten out on my own. You haven’t seen my co-character Cecilia? (She’s not chasing after Woody is she?) I’d don’t mean to be pushy, guy, seein’ we just tuned in. But you doin’ anything important tonight?
“You look like somebody who could show me a cheer-up good time before I hop back polishing nickel apples on Old Broadway. You’re rather debonair. Say, is all that crazy art stuff yours? Funny way to make a living. Unfortunately, I’m broke.
“Actors Equity – and Cecilia – took all my pocket change. As the song sings, ‘Buddy, can you spare a dime?’ This is 1936, isn’t it? Is FDR still makin’ up for old Herb Hoover bungling? Say … you got plans, Picasso?”
“I was actually invited to four parties,” I lie. “But – given a very rare opportunity that few of us ever get – I’ll stay put. So! If you’re going to unreel for me, there’s two things I need to cue you in to … I’m ‘light in the loafers.’ And it’s depression era 2010.”
“Believe me, guy. I’m use to both typecasting. There’s so many ‘funny’ actors in old Hollywood flicks. I’ve been propositioned by Roman Novarro, Franklin Pangborn, Edward Everett Horton, Zach Scott, Ty Power, Clifton Webb, and – get this – Jimmy Dean. He was ‘either/or’ you know…
“Yeah, Deanie and I smooched a bit in between movie flashbacks. Truth is, I’ve been jilted by so many screen vamps – Theda Bara, Vilma Banky, Greta Garbo – I’m grateful for any attention I get. Hey, in the kinda films I’m in nobody, but nobody, gets laid anyway.”
“I don’t want to play director, Tom Baxter. I know you’ve got to bop back before ‘Cairo’ ends – and with 20 more commercials you’ve got an hour more to kill. But! If you’re up to a little wildebeest adventure, you might just prolong your time-warp visit with me ’til the late Fox News. Possibly get lucky big time!”
“I’m game, if it’s really big time. I’m a big time hunter, you know. Just look at the travel stickers on my pith helmet. Hippos. Giraffes. Crocodiles. Hyenas. What’s up, ‘Angelo?”
“Well, there’s a Hollywood siren type whose news clips air out at 12. They’ve been showing all day long. Sorta TV’s Pollyanna of Politics. She’s fancies herself a bit part big game hunter. Name’s Sarah. Hails from Alaska. Hunts rogue elephants. I think you’d rate her B-movie Republic; but not Universal. I’m sure she’d love it if you popped back and into her frameups. She worships movie he-men.”
“Is she into black and white reruns?”
“Hey! Never hurts to ask. You’ve only six more low-cal Cheez Spread ads away from the chance. Give her a fanny pinch for old times’ sake. But watch out, her knuckle sandwich is sneaky. Tell her The Gimper sent you. She adores gimps, chimps and chumps.”