Might win an Oscar you can never tell
The movies gonna make me a big star
Cuz I can play the part so well”
- “Act Naturally” – Buck Owens and the Buckaroos (1963)
I recently saw a very funny snippet of video about acting. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, himself a recipient of many entertainment industry awards, was about to receive another one when he turned the tables on the Hollywood stars (another name for someone with an inflated sense of self-importance) assembled. A small sampling follows:
“They come to these award shows dressed like senators from Krypton.” “They haven’t got an original thought in their brains.” “He pretends to be ‘Bob Johnson’ on screen and he’s declared a genius.”
Oh, give ‘em hell, Jerry!
I’ve always been grateful that I never dreamed of gracing the silver screen or seeing my name in lights. Acting to me is about as worthless a job as being a professional food critic. I mean, don’t these folks have anything better to do with their time than to sit around restaurants complaining about the amount of saffron in the bouillabaisse. Talk about a useless profession. Film critics and op-ed writers, by comparison, are just a rung below sainthood on the social ladder.
When I was going to college, a faculty member in the arts department asked me to play the part of Jesus in a stage production. I should have felt flattered, but I didn’t. Now, mind you, I have the greatest of respect and admiration for Jesus. After all, he’s the one who opened the door to heaven for me. But, playing the perfect, sinless man was way out of my league. “How about giving me the role ‘Phil Dillon, chief sinner?’” I replied. “I’ve got that one down pat. In fact, if it weren’t for the grace of Jesus I’d be dead meat right now.”
Think of it. Does any actor on the planet actually believe they can portray sinless perfection on the stage or on film and be perceived as believable? Come on, now. It’s not that a few haven’t tried. I saw Jeffrey Hunter in “King of Kings” and Max von Sydow in “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” How believable were they? Hunter was an American and von Sydow was a pasty-faced Swede. Jesus was Jewish. I don’t know much about Hunter’s background, but I believe I can safely assume he committed a sin or two in his life. In terms of belief systems, von Sydow was either agnostic or atheist. How about that – an atheist playing the part of God in the flesh? That’s what I call creative casting.
I don’t go to the movies as often as I used to, but it’s not because I don’t like actors. I just don’t see many actors these days I can find believable. It hasn’t always been that way. One of my favorite actors from the 40’s and 50’s was Jimmy Stewart. I absolutely loved him in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Harvey.” Why? As I watched him, I realized that Jimmy wasn’t playing George Bailey or Elwood P. Dodd, he was playing Jimmy Stewart. He was playing himself. He was so good at it that I can still believe that an invisible, six foot, three inch tall rabbit roaming around is perfectly plausible and that I can also believe I too have a guardian angel named Clarence.
Another of my favorite actors was Jack Palance. He always seemed to play the bad guy and, man, did he do it well. He was at his most vicious in the great western “Shane,” when he played the gunfighter Jack Wilson. His lines were short, but both memorable and blood-curdling. “See ya’ later Shane,” as he hissed through clenched teeth.” “What’s it mean to you Shane?” as the two men faced each other down in Grafton’s saloon. “You mean I’ll kill him if you have to” in response to Rufus Ryker as they discussed killing Joe Starrett.
Why did I love Jack Palance? For the same reason I loved Jimmy Stewart. Jack Palance played himself in Shane, not Jack Wilson. The more I watched him the more convinced I became that I’d never want to meet him in a dark alley.
There was something else about the two men I admired. Both served in our military dyring wartime, Stewart as a bomber pilot in World War II and Vietnam and Palance served in the Army Air Force during World War II.
The reason men like Stewart and Palance were so believable was because they were ordinary guys who just couldn’t help being themselves.
I’m not sure that much can be said of our current crop of actors. "Superstars" like Tom Cruise and Matt Damon have never served in the military and Jane Fonda once manned an anti-aircraft gun for the North Vietnamese. How’s that for patriotism?