“A Book That’s Meant To Be”
By Sandra Grabman
This is a modification of an article that appeared,
under another title, in the October 8, 2003, issue of Raivaaja,
a Finnish-American weekly publication.
More information on Albert Salmi can be found in the
Albert Salmi section of this website.
My biography of actor Albert Salmi will be released on March 11th
. Published by BearManor Media, it will be entitled
Spotlights & Shadows: The Albert
You are probably quite aware of who Albert was. He appeared in
over fifty movies and hundreds of television shows during his forty-year
career, but what he loved the most was working on the Broadway stage.
It was there that he could feel a personal relationship to the audience.
His parents, Svante and Ida Salmi, immigrated from Tampere, Finland,
to America in the early 1920s and settled in the Finnish section of
Brooklyn, New York. Even though Albert was born in Brooklyn, he remained
true to his Finnish roots. He spoke Finnish at home and in the neighborhood
until it was necessary to learn English so he could enroll in school.
Nevertheless, the Finnish culture remained with Albert throughout his life.
He was a different kind of actor – he was honest, caring, quiet, a
meticulous craftsman – he was a Finn.
What inspired me to write his life story? I wasn’t sure at
first. I had admired Albert’s work for decades and was shocked
that no biography had ever been written about him. It was about time
that one was. Why it was I who had the burning desire to write it, I
didn’t know; but now I’m very glad I did. It boggles my mind
when I think back of all the “coincidences” that helped me
in my research and the many good things that have resulted.
I had never met Albert in person so had no recollections of my own to
put into his life story. It would obviously be necessary to find people who
knew him and get that information from them. It’s simply incredible
that, in my first tentative web search, I came upon the name of Allen Salmi,
a retired schoolteacher in Michigan. I don’t know why, of all the
Salmis that came up in that search, I chose Allen to contact, but I did. Allen
did not know Albert or his family, but he did know the sister of the lady who
served as their housekeeper. He put me in touch with her.
Upon interviewing this kind lady, I learned that Albert had three
daughters, not just the one I had read about. She said the names of the
younger two were Jenny and Lizanne. Catherine, the eldest, was the child
of his first marriage.
Albert’s daughters would be in their thirties by that time, so it
was highly unlikely that they would still be listed in the phone books by
their maiden names. In fact, because they were children of a celebrity,
they might not be listed in phone books at all. I looked anyway and was
very surprised to see that there was a J. Salmi and an L. Salmi listed in
the phone book of the city in which Albert had last lived. I contacted them,
and they were indeed Albert’s daughters. They have been very
helpful to me in my research. (It might be interesting to note that Jenny
married that very summer and Lizanne married two years later. Because
they both have different last names now, I might not have found them if
I had waited too long to do my research.)
Information about Albert’s professional life was readily
available on videotapes, television reruns, articles in long-ago newspapers
and magazines, and the memories of his co-stars – but how
would I find out what his childhood was like? It wouldn’t be much
of a biography if it didn’t start at the beginning of his life.
During my first visit with Albert’s daughters, Lizanne had
shown me several large pads of paper on which her father had begun
writing his memoirs. She graciously allowed me to xerox them and
incorporate his writings into my manuscript. In these many pages was
the answer to my dilemma. There, in his own words, was a narration of
his childhood. He wasn’t remembering just the good things,
either. Good and bad, they were all right there.
I was so glad that these memoirs began at the beginning –
with Albert’s childhood. Otherwise, it would have been very
difficult to get that kind of information.
Another thing he wrote about was his first love – a lady
named Claire, whom he had dated in the mid-1950s while a student of
the Actors Studio in New York. Wouldn’t it be fun to interview
Claire, I thought, and find out what Albert was like back then? But, alas,
he had mentioned her by first name only.
In the meantime, I was writing to many of the actors and actresses
that Albert had worked with, asking for their memories of him. It was fun
getting letters and phone calls from movie stars! I was especially
delighted to receive a letter from actress Patricia Neal. She wrote that
Albert’s girlfriend had stayed with her while Patricia was pregnant
and her playwright husband was on tour.
Could that girlfriend possibly be Claire, I wondered, or would that be
too much of a coincidence? I wrote back to Patricia, asking if Claire was
that lady’s name and, if so, did she know how I could contact
her. In a very short time, I received a joyous letter from Patricia, giving
me the full name and telephone number of Claire Kirby Hooton!
Albert had been married twice. His first wife, with whom he had
daughter Catherine, was former child actress Peggy Ann Garner. Peggy
had died of cancer in 1984, but I thought maybe their daughter could
give me some insight into their married life. Neither Jenny nor Lizanne
had heard from Catherine in many years, though, so her whereabouts
was unknown to us all.
Again, I went to the internet for information. There was a very nice
webpage about Peggy, written by Elizabeth Anthony. I e-mailed Elizabeth
to see if she could tell me how to contact Catherine. Thus began another
remarkable coincidence. It was around that time that a man named Vince
Devito, Jr. e-mailed Elizabeth. His mother had inherited four boxes full of
documents, letters, and memorabilia from Peggy’s mother, and he
was wondering if Elizabeth knew of anyone who could take this information
and write a book about Peggy’s and Virginia’s lives.
Elizabeth put Vince and me in contact with each other and he shared
with me the information he had, so I now had not only the facts I needed
about Albert’s marriage to Peggy, but also four boxes full of
information for my next biography – that of Peggy and her mother.
A blessed project
The awesome results of my research have convinced me that it must
have been the hand of God that was pushing me to write this book. It
seems that Spotlights & Shadows:
The Albert Salmi Story was truly meant to be.
Until I came into their lives, Jenny and Lizanne did not know what
had become of their half-sister Catherine. I found out that she had died
in 1995 of premature heart disease, leaving behind three daughters she
had given up for adoption and a son named Christopher.
Jenny wanted to get in touch with Chris and he was eager to know
her too, so I gave them the contact information they needed. In addition,
Chris is hoping someday to find his long-lost sisters. I put their dates of
birth into both Albert’s and Peggy’s biographies so, if
they read either book, they might realize they are Catherine’s
children and contact me. I then hope to be able to introduce them to
Patricia Neal and Albert’s girlfriend Claire had lost touch
with each other over the years. Once Patricia got Claire’s phone
number for me from their union, she then called Claire herself and they
re-established their friendship, having lunch together shortly afterward.
Jenny and Lizanne have read my manuscript of their dad’s
life prior to publication, and it has told them some things about him that
they did not know before. Consequently, they might have a greater
understanding now of the Finnish culture that was so ingrained in his
being; and reading Catherine’s letters to her grandmother (quoted
in the manuscript) showed them how she had fared as an adult. In the
manuscript that they read, I included a chapter devoted to Albert’s
fans. (This chapter was deleted from the first edition by the editors, but
reinserted into the second edition as an appendix.) It consisted of
fans’ comments about Albert and his work. If his family did not
know before how much people admired their dad, they do now. He had
touched the lives of people all over the world in a very positive way and
still influences young actors today.
Now I understand why I simply had to write this book: People have
been brought together, some mysteries have been solved, and
Albert’s friends have finally been allowed to vent their
frustrations at the media’s misunderstanding of his heartbreaking
And I’ve come to realize why it had to be done now –
after the ten-year anniversary of the tragedy: Family and friends have
had time to grieve, time to heal, and time to think, so they were now
ready to talk about it.
The result, I feel, is a very well-balanced life story of Albert Salmi,
the ultimate craftsman.
Spotlights & Shadows: The Albert Salmi
Story, by Sandra Grabman, is available in both print and
audio formats. Read by author Michael Hoctor, the unabridged
audiobook runs 6 hours and 58 minutes.
Print edition ~
Tune into Sandra’s YouTube channel for a video
Spotlights & Shadows: The Albert Salmi