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Fame & Fortune
Charles Grodin
Diverse career was never about the money, actor says
Celebrity interview

Fame & Fortune: Charles Grodin

Bankrate: How did you make ends meet?

Charles Grodin: I was a night watchman for Pinkerton. I was paid $1 an hour, you had to be in full uniform, and if you worked outside the city at Todd Shipyards in Brooklyn, (N.Y.) midnight to 8 a.m., you made $1.62 an hour. Luckily for me, I didn't think too much about anything because I wasn't armed. I'm walking four or five flights up empty warehouses to just check around and I'm not armed. That was a dangerous job and it never even occurred to me. If I only knew then, I never would have done a job like that.

After that, I had my favorite job: driving a cab. I did that two or three days a week, 12 hours a day, for about three years. But my rent was $10 a week and my acting class was only $3 a week.

Bankrate: Presumably things improved financially once you hit Broadway.

Charles Grodin: Even when I got on Broadway, in a standing-room-only hit "Tchin-Tchin," my take-home pay was $107 a week. I got rave reviews and it was a big hit. But then I went on and, little by little, I made $300 a week in another play and in 1965, I was hired to do a soap opera, "The Young Marrieds," for $600 a week. Before that, I was on "Love of Life."

Bankrate: It's really hard to picture you on a soap.

Charles Grodin: I couldn't do it. It's way too much to learn to be good. The people who do it are very proficient, although I once asked an actress who had done it for decades if she ever came to enjoy it, and she said, "The only thing I ever enjoy is the last line."

Bankrate: You would seem to be perfect for either humorous roles or psychos.

Charles Grodin: You know, I think that's why Elaine May cast me in "The Heartbreak Kid," because I played a psycho in "Catch-22."

Bankrate: Is it true you passed on "The Graduate" and "Jaws?"

Charles Grodin: Not true. I'm always asked that. I was never offered "The Graduate." I was never offered "Jaws." I would have done either one of them in a second. The real story is, I was the first choice for "The Graduate" so people assume I turned it down. I was the first choice, but they still want to see you on film, and before they'll put you on film you have to commit to the contract.

They offered me a seven-year contract with options all on their end, and to star in "The Graduate," if they choose to use me, it was going to be $500 a week. I was always more governed by a sense of right and wrong than I was by money, I just didn't focus on it, but I just thought $500 a week to star in this huge movie was an inappropriate amount of money. It wasn't about the money; I just thought it was not appropriate.

I think we settled at $1,000 a week, but then they delivered me 10 pages of dialogue to do a screen test the next morning. I phoned Mike Nichols and said I can't do this overnight. He said it was just a photographic test, but I knew I couldn't be very good. If they had given me three days to prepare, I think I would have gotten the role.

Next: "It was never about money with me."
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