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The LONG ROAD
I The Success Story
Of Peter Finch
I By GEORGE H. JOHNSTON
PETER FiNCH, tlie boy Buddhist in India, the young swagman in the Australian outback, the liappy go-lucky, rather feckless player in Sydney radio serials and third-rate vaudeville, gave few outward signs of ever becoming the brilliant, highly-paid stage and screen actor lie is to-day. \
But he had begun to learn, in a gay, tough, amusing, sometimes hardworking apprenticeship to fame.
The year now is 1936, and lie is 20 . . .
HPHE first person who A ever gave Peter Finch any tuition in acting, the first person who ever shocked him with the rea- lisation that there was a different and serious side to the theatre, was a rangy American comedian named Bobby Capron.
And he was the first person who ever showed him life's darker facet of personal tragedy, for Cap- ron was drowned before Finch's eyes on a Sunday picnic on the bank of the River Yarra, at Warran- dyte.
They had been playing to- gether in the comedy "So This Is Hollywood." They had become great friends. "Peter," Capron would say to him, "one day you can become a good actor, maybe a great actor, but, boy, you've got work ahead!" And with his whisky glass in hand, Capron would move around his hotel room, ex- plaining to the "juvenile" how you walked across a stage, how you picked up a telephone, Ijow you read a newspaper. And then came the day of the picnic . . .
The Yarra was in flood. Suddenly Capron looked down and saw his pet dog in the water, desperately strug- gling to get to the bank. The American jumped in, grabbed the dog, and the two of them were immediately swept away on the yellow current. Finch raced to the bank, but the man and dog, to everyone's horror, were swirled into a flooded mining
Finch scrambled to the outlet of the tunnel and dived into a mad whirlpool of churning floodwaters and interlocked branches. Almost drowning himself, he saved the dog, but Capron was
Peter Finch was later to receive a scroll of commen- dation from the Royal Humane Society and a letter of thanks from the United States Embassy; but he had lost his first mentor in the thespian art.
He returned to Sydney and to radio acting, but Capron's death had subtly changed him. The man whom London drama critics would later describe ecstatic- ally as "the greatest Mer cutio of a generation, per- haps of this century" was still little more than a brash amateur, but there was al- ways now to be a more seri- ous undertone, a purpose, to his work. He would then have laughed - and still would-at the use of the word "dedication."
In Sydney he was offered a job by one of the fabu- lous characters of the Aus
traliañ entertainment world, George Sorlie, "the King of the Road," whose six-bill tent shows were known all over inland Australia.
Sorlie was a veteran who had made a fortune touring with "Uncle Tom's Cabin,'* in which he played an unforgettable Uncle Tom, and "East Lynne." The tent shows of his New English Comedy Company (which was neither new nor Eng- lish) packed 1,100 people into its great circus big tops, playing vaudeville and what in the profession is known as a "straight six bill"-six different plays on a one-week stand, with a change of play every night, the toughest and most in- valuable training for a young actor. They were plays like "While Parents Sleep," 'Ten Minute Alibi," "Rookery Nook," "Tons of Money."