There were certain faces that got you off to a good start:
Sweet Dick Dawson, who had such extraordinary sensitivity to mood that he could pick up on how you were feeling the moment you stepped into the make-up trailer, either working quietly and comfortingly, or if you were up to it, unleashing his wicked, razor-like tongue with comments that could leave you howling helplessly with laughter;
Bobby James, always full of beans and bounce and endless enthusiasm, almost childlike in his joie de vivre, cheerful in such an infectious way that only a corpse could not immediately feel better, laying out the countless wardrobe changes with such good humor it almost made tying the forty-seventh necktie of the day enjoyable;
And Paul Cajero. Paul always reminded me of the very best cops or doctors: he had that calm, unruffled competence that made you feel there was nothing, no emergency or disaster that could or even might occur, that he couldn’t quickly and effortlessly deal with. If North Korea had dropped the big one on Los Angeles, Paul would have been able to decide whether it would be better to finish the scene or go home immediately. And you would have trusted his judgement.
They were all wonderful people, the guys and gals (the guys and dolls, to get Runyonesque about it) who made up the crew of Simon & Simon. It is something Mackie and I have talked about many times over the years—the decades—since: how blessed he and I were to have had the privilege of working with such talented, patient, competent, good-humored, nice, and decent people. But always, in any group, there are some with whom you resonate more than with others, and Paul was one of those.
Disasters occur when filming. Things go wrong, mistakes are made, accidents happen, people screw up—not least the two so-called stars of the show, who were known to indulge themselves and get a lot crazier than they should have. It takes someone at the helm to keep things running, and that can be hard enough to do when things are going well. But when the light is fading, the clock is ticking, equipment is failing, tempers are fraying, when all about you are losing their heads and blaming it on you (to flagrantly steal a phrase), it takes a special kind of person to stay calm, stay organized, stay focused, and to keep everyone else at their posts, also calm, organized, and focused. Paul was one of those.
And he did it all with humor, good cheer, grace, dignity, and that special kind of humanity that keeps some people floating above the fray, never judging, never losing their nerve or their tempers, never indulging in the childish ugliness so many of us are guilty of all too often.
Wynton Marsalis once said that when life got you down, when everything seemed to be falling apart, and you didn’t know how you could keep on going, that Louis Armstrong’s music was always there to remind you everything was going to be all right. When I saw Paul Cajero on the set, I knew everything was going to be all right.
I only just found out about Paul’s passing this past October, but he is remembered with great love and great respect.