I was on the couch watching an old Perry Mason. OK that’s redundant, all Perry Mason’s are old. But I mean an OLD one. One of the black and white ones where Raymond Burr looks like he’s wearing mascara. I suspect late 1950′s-very early 1960′s.
So anyway in this one scene a Doctor is talking to the Police Inspector. Suddenly a woman walks into the room.
Woman: I’m sorry Doctor. I didn’t realize you were with a patient.
Doctor: No not a patient. This is Lieutenant Wilson from Homicide, my wife.
And that was when I totally lost it.
OK when this was made people would have picked up that he was doing introductions and that ‘my wife’ was directed to the Lieutenant indicating who the woman was. But it was delivered just like I wrote it, with a barely perceptible pause. In 2016 it’s just as likely to be telling the woman that he and the Lieutenant were a couple. Something that never would have crossed anyone’s mind in 1958.
It shows how times change.
Society changes and dialogue takes on whole new meanings. It’s why as an actor I have to be aware of both how the author meant a line to be read, and how it will be perceived, and if necessary adjust accordingly.
It reminds me of an incident in Junior High School. We were reading some Norse Mythology from a book written in the 1940s or ‘50s. In one scene Thor comes into the room, walks over to the fire, “pulled out a big joint and after finishing it said “There I feel better now.”” As stupid Junior High kids we totally lost it and the teacher had to go onto a different assignment. Mind you, the teacher and I knew that “joint” in this context referred to a leg of mutton or other such meat that Thor pulled out of the fire and ate. But almost nobody else in the room did.
And the result was pandemonium.