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The scholarship, established in memory of the late actor David Coleman Dukes, is awarded annually to a third-year Theater Arts student working toward a career in stage acting. A bronze plaque commemorating the scholarship benefit held in David Coleman Dukes' name can be seen in the lobby of the Bing Theater, off Queen's Court on the USC campus.
— Madeline Puzo, Dean, USC School of Theatre
• I Married the Ice-Pick Killer (New York Times Magazine)
March 19, 2002
Scenes from the life of an actor's wife by Carol Muske-Dukes
Arriving late to a dinner party a while back, my husband and I approached the dining room, where people were already seated. A woman rose up from her chair, pointed a finger at David and cried, "My God, you're the one who raped Edith Bunker!"
I glanced at him. He'd already been established as a cross-dresser, and he'd confessed to Frank Sinatra, of all people, that he was the ice-pick killer. My husband smiled calmly. "I didn't rape her," he explained. "I tried, but she hit me in the face with a hot cake from the oven."
My husband is an actor, in case you haven't already guessed. And of all the strange marriages I've witnessed in my life (competitors in politics or business, for instance, or lovey-dovey Siamese-twin-like unions), none come close to the existential challenge of life with a thespian.
The day of our wedding I knew I had not only married an actor, I had also married an actor's life -- and thereby taken a role in a "partnership" akin to that between an orbiting astronaut and Mission Control. As I waved goodbye to my new mate, hurrying off from the reception to his evening performance as Salieri in "Amadeus," I realized I was waving goodbye to the way I'd lived up till then - as a poet and teacher of writing, a life that had provided me with a modicum of control over my own fate.
David has likened actors to wallflowers at a prom, waiting for a producer or agent to ask them to dance. But once gestured to, the actor leaps up, tangoing on table tops, belting out show tunes, ripping off his spectacles, crying, "Yes, yes, yes!" Living with an actor is like living with someone who keeps getting kidnapped. And longs to be kidnapped.
At 10 in the morning, he's lying on the couch groaning that he'll never work again. The phone rings, and a few hours later, he's throwing that last pair of socks into his suitcase and flying off - to where? Toronto? Prague? Buenos Aires? He'll call when he gets there. I gave birth to our daughter, Annie, on a mini-series schedule. David was on a 10-day break at the time, affording us a brief, golden moment at home. But when production resumed on the opposite coast, he was gone.
I was stunned and resentful when he left. Then, after years of trying to plan vacations, birthday celebrations and travel for my own work around his constantly changing schedule, I began to understand that a job is more than just a job to an actor. It is more than the money or fame. It is the chance for transformation. As a writer, I rely on words to create a voice, an identity. But an actor goes a step further -- he or she literally embodies the voice, the created self. This can make acting seem less like a career and more like a proactive search for psychosis.
Unlike mad poets, actors often confront their psychoses in luxurious settings: over catered meals, with gofers at the ready, in the pseudo-intimate atmosphere of a television or film set. Not to mention the pseudo-intimate atmosphere of bigamy David has been "married" to Lindsay Wagner, Mira Sorvino, Connie Sellecca and Jaclyn Smith, among others. He survived nicely a gender-bending liaison with B. D. Wong and a concentration-camp love affair with Richard Gere. Yet I ask myself, How many of these performers can compose a sestina? Can the young woman from Wardrobe who calls to ask me what size underwear David wears generate a triolet?
Despite ostensible glamour, actors follow the crops like migrant laborers. The actor's spouse (male or female, though in these cases usually female) tags along - for a while. Until the children reach school age (or until your own career interferes), it's possible, though not desirable, to live in hotel rooms around the world. Sooner or later, though, it becomes necessary to establish a parallel life - and adjust to periods of absence, Daily long-distance phone calls, photos of sets and hotel rooms and "travelogue" letters can all soothe separation anxiety.
Annie is now 16. She and I recently flew to london, where David was appearing in the play "Art". She misses her father when he goes away, and he has been absent for a few important moments in her life.(Though she has caught a few of his performances - starting at age 4, when she inadvertently saw his ice-pick-killer confession in the bathtub on TV and wept along with him.) Yet as we sit in the darkened theater and I see her bright face turned up toward the stage, I ask myself, How many children get to see Dad utterly, artfully reinvented before their eyes? And to recognize that this transformation is wondrous? And to know that wonder is what work can be, when the work is art and the art is your life?
Carol Muske, a professor of English and creative writing at the University of Southern California, is married to the actor David Coleman Dukes. This essay is adapted from "A Poet in Hollywood," aforthcoming collection ofher work.