Rondo Hatton at Work in Universal City

By Atkinson, Michael | Michigan Quarterly Review, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Rondo Hatton at Work in Universal City


Atkinson, Michael, Michigan Quarterly Review


The poem I'll write about Rondo Hatton

an untrained character actor for

the studio's B pulp in the mid-century,

employed not for vibrance or chops

but for his acromegaly, which fluctuating

disfigurements lent his goony face

a different ugliness in each film

the poem I'll write once I actually know

something square and plumb about his life,

this isn't that poem. This

is the Rondo Hatton poem that stands

on the tossed-up three-walled set

in a cheap, ill-tailored suit,

waiting for the lights to heave

across their rafter tracks, waiting

for the director and producer

to decide how to cut an expensive scene

and turkey-stuff its exposition

into this one, the one we're going to shoot

in a moment, or in a while, anyway,

and the commissary has soup, soup

we'll want to smuggle home to the cats.

Even the gaffers avoid looking at us,

which is fine, no one sees the secret

dread-foolish, the doctor said

that the cystic tumors and swelling growths

rising from the brow, the cheeks, the lower

lip, the soft pockets under the eyes,

that these might change as we stand here,

the face bubbling up in speedy slo-mo

like the ashen surface of a sulfur pit,

and the lighting techs will holler, c'mon, Jesus Christ! …

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