Be a Star Acting School, circa 1970, promised a stage career. Full scholarship involved a Newark tenement room and days with Vera Nightsong. She was the school. "Darling," she exclaimed on the first day. "I read lines with Larry Olivier." She sniffed in disdain," and that mutt Marlon Brando." As her only student, I sat in awe.
Five feet tall, Vera teetered in black heels, and wore a paisley dressing gown. Her large brown eyes were heavily made up and thin black eyebrows arched over them. There was fleeting beauty in the high cheekbones, but up close a whiff of vodka told the true tale.
"Do you know how to smoke?" I shook my head.
She gave a dramatic sigh. "Then we must begin at the beginning of acting. You must be able to walk and smoke, sit and smoke, stand and smoke. Very important."
Day after day, I sauntered and inhaled, stood and lit cigarettes, puffed casually, exhaled angrily, waved my arms about, or sat motionless encircled by a haze. Ms.Nightsong was a tyrant. She blew smoke in my face and screamed, "You're lazy, you'll never make it on Broadway."
Then she'd soften, "See, that's how you do Albee's Virginia Woolf. Show me the veins in your neck." Woozy, I inhaled, exhaled, and emoted.
For graduation, Ms.Nightsong garnered me auditions and I earned roles. Streetwalker Number One. Gang Member Three.
I've had a career. Thank God for Tennessee Williams revivals, blowing smoke rings, and nicotine-free cigarettes.