A scolding I received from Raymond Massey left me shaken, but a similar telephone interview experience with Joseph Cotten was simply annoying. I can't remember for sure when or why Cotten hit the phone interview circuit. Like most actors who came along in the late 1930s or early '40s, Cotten was adjusting to the reality that his movie career had faded and he'd have to resign himself to working mostly in television. Starting in the 1950s Cotten made several TV appearances; one of them, in the 1960s or early '70s, led to a phone call that could have been lifted from a Tim Conway comedy routine, but I didn't find it funny at the time.
It's possible Cotten called me at the Providence Journal to hype an appearance on "The Rockford Files" in 1974, the first season of the James Garner series. I say that because Cotten's role in that episode ("This Case Is Closed") was an impatient, arrogant son of a bitch named Warner Jameson. If so, then Cotten remained in character during our brief telephone conversation.
The reason I mention Tim Conway is that he had a bit – at least, I think it was Conway – about a man being interviewed who kept insisting that each of the interviewer's questions was based on faulty information. Basically that's what Cotten did to me, even when I was fairly certain he was merely being a pain in the ass. He denied everything, and had I called him Mr. Cotten he would have claimed that really wasn't his name (though it was the one with which he was born).
Finally I got just as tired of hearing "Where did you get that information?" as Cotten was from saying it. Had the man ever displayed an iota of humor during his career, I would have thought he was putting me on.
I believe I actually wrote a story afterward, but didn't save it. Cotten was a huge star in the 1940s, though he had a rather limited acting range and owed much of his success to his friendship with Orson Welles, who put Cotten in "Citizen Kane," The Magnificent Ambersons" and "The Third Man." Cotten is also remembered for Alfred Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt," and the Ingrid Bergman-Charles Boyer thriller, "Gaslight." He also starred in "Duel in the Sun," "The Farmer's Daughter" and "Niagara," the suspense tale which had him married to a scheming Marilyn Monroe.
He was an unlikely leading man because he was much more effective as a villain. There was something unlikable about his characters, no matter how virtuous they were.
But had I asked the right questions, he could have told me some interesting stories, especially about Welles. That is, if he were willing to admit his friendship with Welles wasn't something I had just concocted.