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Robert Mercy on I Hear No Bugles

Robert Mercy on Dermatoglyphics and acting...

READERSVOICE.COM: You have an interest in dream analysis and your book mentions dreams you had during the Korean War, and their consequences. Do you still analyse your dreams, and what do you think dreams can tell you?

ROBERT MERCY: This could be the basis for another book. Perhaps because of my unusual dream history and having studied the process for so long I’d somehow evolved to the point that while asleep, I could analyze my dreams AND selectively call up ANY past dreams of a similar or opposite nature to make comprehensive comparisons.

I could simultaneously see both as though they were on a split screen; and, like a projectionist, put one on hold while I viewed the other.

For more than a decade sleep was my most creative work period. Unfortunately the capacity lessens as we mature, but dreams still capture my full attention.

To conclude, the current clinical consensus of dreams is that they’re translations of “repressed daytime thoughts and actions” that are released as “psychic energy” in a pictographic form. Severe inner ‘conflict’ will produce nightmares.

RV: What is dermatoglyphics and how did you become interested in it and the profiling of personality?
RM: Dermatoglyphic translates into Derma=skin & Glyphic= writing. It literally means “Writing of the Skin” and is recognized by AMA (American Medical Association) as a diagnostic tool in the study of human genetics.

I’d dedicated myself to a seven year study of clinical texts at the NYC Medical Library on 5th Avenue in upper Manhattan.
Not surprisingly my quest started at age twelve as a result of seeing a 1940s film entitled Flesh & Fantasy, in which Actor Thomas Mitchell played the role of a psychic palmist with limitless insight into the human psyche. This planted seed came to fruition in my late twenties and after years of scouring every published book on palmistry I inherently knew that hands held deeper secrets.
By the early seventies I was a noted palmist who, like the film character I fashioned my interest on, attended social soirees, made appearances on radio talk shows and was invited to celebrity parties. Knowing there was more to learn, I meditated for days on end, which led me to the NYC Medical Library.

There impulse prompted me to select a single book from the shelves that housed thousands. I trustingly fanned the pages till they automatically stopped on, Dermatoglyphic indicators in pancreatic cancer. It was pure magic.

RV: Did your interest in psychology help you in writing I Hear No Bugles? For example, in knowing what readers would like. Or is it just a good story.

RM: Not really, because I think that only fiction can be written from a perspective where each step a character takes is calculated to illicit a predetermined response that will justify the author’s concepts and draw the story to a logical conclusion—but war is illogical; and Bugle’s power lies in the absorbed-reader’s inability to predict or perceive what might happen next.

As the cliché has it, “Truth is stranger (and more compelling) than fiction.”

RV: How did you get the job acting on Combat! ?

RM: I was called in to audition and asked to improvise a scene in German and imagining myself in their army my residual military bearing and attitude did the rest.

RV: Did you give them advice on military matters? What are some of your memories of working on the show, and the actors you met?

RM: I did advise the director, the late Bob Altman, on sketching out a tactical map overlay for use in the Cat & Mouse segment we were shooting that day. The star Vic Morrow always remained removed from the other actors, unlike his co-star Rick Jason who was social and gregarious.

I was still comparatively new to the business and had only been in one Hollywood play Stalag 17, in which I had portrayed Reed, a captured airman who’d been a former comedian that could do vocal impressions of popular stars. It was that very gift that got me that role, which then led to a MGM contract.

The one depressing discovery was the near desperation many of the “bit-actors” displayed in their desperate attempts to be noticed by the director on this and many other shows.

RV: Was it eerie acting on the show after your war experiences?

RM: Actually I enjoyed being back in a uniform and the simulated combat and smell of burnt cordite did revive some vivid memories, which activated a whole chain of conditioned responses more quickly than I imagined. Nevertheless it did feel odd to fire at American uniforms.

On another plain it offered insight into the universality of soldiering and how fate and geography alone dictates what side we are compelled to fight on.

The more I surrendered to my image the more real I became; and could forget my actual self, which is the great joy of acting.
RV: Is it dangerous to mix psychology and the arts, in your opinion? Some think of art as therapy, but I’m not so sure it’s that good for you.

RM: Perhaps if you’re working with personalities who are clearly psychological unstable that could present a problem, but generally speaking its not. I’ve had some excellent results in my acting groups by applying certain exercises designed to stimulate and/or reactivate internal needs that may be dormant or frozen within certain individuals.

An actor must develop his or her sensitivities in order to believably express the raw emotions of love, lust, hate, fear, etc. Simply “thinking” these passion will not work, but genuinely “feeling’ them will. There’s a professional truism that says “you can not lie to the camera,” which in fact sees through everything.

Most performers, singers, authors and painters are neurotic to one degree or another, which is why they are drawn to those respective modalities of expression; and when their personal pains are applied to their specific articulation it is always enhanced.

RV: Acting is a tough path to follow. What sort of advice have you given people following this path?

RM: A simplified solution would be to quote the great Broadway producer David Merrick: “If you can do anything else—do it!” I would strongly suggest that any artist should continue their academic education and not make a ‘do or die’ commitment to acting.

Only one per cent of the total Screen Actors and Theater Guild memberships make a living wage. However, finding a truly good drama coach to develop your abilities of expression will prove an asset in any career, or relationship, you might eventually choose.

One of my promising students gave up the business and became, due to her training, a spokesperson for a major NYC Pharmaceutical Company. I’d asked Henry Fonda’s advice on this once and he said, “Well…if it doesn’t pan out after seven years…its time to move on;” and then added, “I reckon,” with a wink.

-I Hear No Bugles by Robert Mercy is published by Merriam Press.

-Copyright Simon Sandall.