headshot used during run of Meegan's Game
In the mid-1970s I spent a lot of my time hanging out in bars like the Copper Hatch on Manhattan’s upper west side, writing poetry. Michael Slater tended bar there and our friendship was such that I would buy my first drink, but the glass never got empty after that until closing. We could spend hours together discussing the art of film and theatre. Mike's acting career never got started because his fear of rejection was so great, he rationalized his way out of every opportunity that came up, instead of taking a chance and going for the brass ring. Mike was destined to tend bar his whole life, dreaming about “what might have been.”
One night, as I was sitting in my usual little niche at the end of the bar trying to compose a rhythm of words, a scuffle broke out on the far side the bar. I saw Mike out of the corner of my eye, all five foot seven inches of him, catapult himself over the bar and pounce on this six-footer who had gotten into a drunken altercation with his girlfriend. Mike was no match for him. Like swatting a pesky fly, the drunk flattened my friend with a single backhand.
Almost immediately, I was off my barstool. In one swift, sweeping motion, I had this guy pinned against the brick wall with my left hand tightly anchored around his neck, right fist poised and ready to pummel him at will. I was surprisingly cool and collected.
“Look, man, I don’t know what your beef is with this woman, but it’s not going to take place in here. Take it outside. It’s bad enough you hit my friend, but you interrupted my train of thought and that's pissed me off. Now, I better start feeling the muscles in your body relax or they’re gonna carry you out’a here on a stretcher. You got that?”
His body went completely limp. Mike pulled himself together and we escorted the guy out into the street and set him on his way. Mike told him not to bother ever coming back.
Back inside, I returned to my little cubbyhole and ordered a drink. Before long, Mike placed a scotch on the bar in front of me.
‘It’s on the house,” he said. “Your money’s no good in here tonight.”
Shortly thereafter, he wandered over and said, “See those people at the other end of the bar?”
I looked up and saw several people milling around a short fellow in a cowboy hat with a rather elegant-looking lady. “Yeah, what about them?”
“They saw the incident with that jerk and were impressed. The lady says you’re a macho man.”
“Aw, screw that noise,” I said. “It had nothing to do with being macho.”
“I know that. Look, I don’t know these people, but the guy in the cowboy hat says he’s a theatre director and he wants to meet you.”
“Are you serious?”
“That’s what the guy says. What harm will it do? Go over and say hello.”
“Oh, what the hell,” I sighed.
Mike took me over and made the introductions. The guy in the cowboy hat was Paul E. Davis and his lady friend was producer Donna Powers. It seems that they were in the midst of casting a play by Elliott Caplin to be produced Off-Broadway. They were having trouble finding an actor to play the antagonist.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Davis said. “We’ve been agonizing for months trying to fill this role and all of a sudden, I come in here to find Dutch hanging out at the bar. You’re the perfect type for the part. Then, lo and behold, the barkeep tells me you’re an actor and I’m thinking there really is a God in heaven. Would you be interested in auditioning for us?”
“Sure, why not,” I said. Then after a short beat, “Here? Now?”
They all laughed.
“No, tomorrow morning at 10. Here’s the address.”
He wrote out the address on a bar napkin with his phone number.
“Here’s a script. Look it over tonight and we’ll read you in the morning with the playwright. I’m expecting you there at 10:00 sharp, so don’t be late. Anything comes up, call me.”
“I’ll be there,” I said, and went back to my alcove.
Mike immediately started his nightly ritual of announcing to the entire bar, “All right, folks. Don’t you have something better to do than hang out here drinking all my booze? Let’s drink up and go home to our families. Last call! Come on, drink up. Last call!”
Of course, closing time was still four hours away.
I helped Mike clean up the lounge at closing time. Behind locked doors, we drank the night away until the sun came up.
“Don’t you think you should study that script?” he advised. “You’ve got an audition in a couple of hours.”
“Naw! I do better with cold readings. I just need to read it, to find out what the play’s about.”
“Come on, let’s get out of here and go to my place. I’ll put on a pot of coffee while you look it over.”
His apartment was just around the corner on
The reading went exceptionally well, especially considering I was still carrying a buzz from all the scotch the night before. My only obstacle was convincing playwright Elliott Caplin that I could become the character he created. That concern was put to rest the moment I finished reading the first scene.
Elliott unwittingly blurted out “My God, it’s Dutch. That’s exactly how I envisioned him.”
I would later learn he was Al Capp’s conservative older brother, was a renowned syndicated columnist, and owned all his late brother’s rights to the Li’l Abner cartoon strip.
They didn’t play any of the usual waiting games with follow-up negotiations. Paul said I was perfect for the role. If I wanted it, it was mine.
“You want some time to think about it?” he asked.
“No need to,” I said. “Let’s do it.”
We shook hands.
“Welcome aboard,” Elliott said.
Rehearsals started the following week. “Meegan’s Game” opened at the
Cricket Theatre on New York's