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In 1968, Binns joined Alcoholics Anonymous. He had a few major slips but, eventually, the principles stuck.
“He could be a pain to live with,” Judy said to me. “There were times I would get furious.” And yet, “Regardless of everything he went through, I really felt he loved me. His love was always there.”
"...the phone isn't ringing."
Eddie Binns was carrying a lot of “scar tissue” from the period when he was blacklisted during the "McCarthy Terror". “My career was flowering,” Binns has said of that time back in the 1950’s. “Then it hit. All of a sudden …the phone isn’t ringing.” He goes on to explain, “I had to dig deep to find out what was going on…I knew that people were dropping like flies everywhere. Actors, writers, directors and producers were all being accused of being un-American by these self-appointed guardians of patriotism, theses scoundrels, these bullies dead set on destroying good people’s careers.” Binns had no idea of what the specific accusation was. “It was like trying to defend yourself against the wind. You couldn’t find it.”
He turned for help to his agent whom he described as being, “a little slimy.” The agent said that for $250 - a sum equal to ten times that or more today - he could get contacts at the FBI in Washington to search the files. “And no checks,” he demanded. “I want crisp bills straight from the bank.”
“This was also at a time when I was broke, out of work and had two kids to take care of,” Edward lamented. “For me to raise that kind of money was quite a feat, but somehow I managed.” There was nothing more he could do after that but sit back and wait.
A couple of weeks went by before the agent called saying, “I found out what you are accused of.”
He reported that there was an alderwoman in Brooklyn named Rebecca Binns who had run for office about ten years earlier on the Communist party ticket. They thought Ed might be related. That was all. (Well that, plus membership in The Actors Studio - whose teaching principles were founded on The Method of a Russian artist and which was, therefore, purported to be rife with “sympathizers” exploring the Communist party as an ideology - was damning.)
By writing an official letter proclaiming his patriotism, Binns was able to get his blacklisting to ease and eventually to end in a couple of years. But the wound was deep and never completely healed. “If I would have had to name names or if I would have had to go before the Un-American Activities Committee, I think my decision might have been different…I would have just gotten out of the profession - I think. I don’t know.” When the work resumed, the parts he was allowed to get were not of the stature of the parts he was getting before the blacklist. It was like starting his career over from the beginning and by the time he inched his way back up he was no longer the “leading man” he had been. Binns had become, and would forever remain, a character actor.
"I see an actor as an inside-out human being." E.B.
Edward Binns cherished performing in regional theatre and, in particular, credited Tyrone Guthrie with teaching him to be, “a tougher, more durable, more independent and self-sufficient actor.”
But he never liked seeing himself on screen. In the unpublished memoir he admitted, “I remember seeing myself in that first film [Teresa 1951]. I was horrified and could not believe I had made such a fool of myself…It might seem odd, but all these years and many, many movies later, that hasn’t changed.”
He picked up a certain trick from actor Karl Malden. Because films are not shot chronologically, Ed learned to create a “player’s roadmap” of the emotional progression of a character. He used index cards or the back of a script to make notes about the character’s emotional life; then when the time came to shoot a scene out of sequence, he could retrace everything that leads up to that moment.
“In film,” Binns said,“if you play a scene for longer than two minutes, it’s quite unusual.” He painted this vivid picture of life seen from the other side when his career was at its peak: “You look past the camera and see someone else playing grab-ass or sleeping or picking his nose…The make-up person is checking for sweat or hot spots, the script girl is writing on her clip board and the wardrobe woman is complaining about stale doughnuts. All of this goes on while you’re supposed to be delivering a serious and intense speech.”
I met with Binns’ widow - elegant Tony award-winning actress Elizabeth Franz - one afternoon in a subleased, modest but very attractively appointed penthouse on the Upper West Side of Manhattan a little more than four years after he died. She portrayed to me how - after a series of his illnesses and quadruple by-pass heart surgery - they were driving to their home in Connecticut, planning to stop on the way and have a cup of tea. Edward looked out the window and said, “Look at that sunset.” Then he just…. died. She and I just stared at each other for a few moments. Silent. She described his death as, “magical.” And I felt that I had loved him too, in a thin way - much like some of those strangers who used to grab his arm.
Edward was 7 years sober when they met. Both Marcia and Elizabeth told me of how hard he worked helping other alcoholics, particularly younger people, who were trying to travel a sober path.
Elizabeth, who was 25 years younger than her husband, told me of some of his late-in-life struggles. He struggled with health and with an increasingly profit hungry, business-oriented entertainment industry that actually made him miss the crazy kooks who had been movie moguls. He settled, for a while, into the anonymity of voice-over work, spreading his reassuring tones across the airwaves in TV commercials. He called it, “an emotional and artistic necessity.” When the director of a Volvo ad asked him to put a smile in his voice Ed gave the stony reply, “My voice doesn’t smile.”
“He never compromised who he was,” Franz said.
out of the corner of his mouth...
One time, an elderly man passing by Edward Binns on a Manhattan bus leaned in and said out of the corner of his mouth, “You never gave a bad performance in your whole life.” I think most American television and film audiences would agree. Thank you for all that, Mr. B. ~FW
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