Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Quote of the Day (Anjelica Huston, on Ryan O’Neal)

“I think you also get the face you deserve. Have you seen it lately?”—Actress Anjelica Huston, answering whether abusive ex-boyfriend Ryan O’Neal got “the career he deserved,” quoted in Andrew Goldman, “In Conversation: Anjelica Huston,” New York Magazine, April 29, 2019

The face you see here was not the one Ms. Huston had in mind when she made this remark. This one was taken in 2008 by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, after Ryan O’Neal was arrested, along with son Redmond, on charges of drug possession.

Granted, nobody is going to look good in a mug shot. And O’Neal has looked even worse since then. That would be normal to expect for a leukemia and prostate cancer survivor who, as it happens, also turns 80 today.

But Ms. Huston would have it that the actor—a romantic heartthrob since his days on the primetime 1960s soap opera Peyton Place and the 1970 weepie, Love Story—is finally paying the wages of sin. In other words, the once-handsome actor now looks as ugly as the way he once acted towards others.

In a period when she was separated from longtime companion Jack Nicholson, Ms. Huston took up with O’Neal. It’s a safe bet to say, judging from her recollections, that this relationship-on-the-rebound is one she deeply regrets.

O’Neal, an amateur boxer before he started his acting career, not only exhibited his pugilistic skills onscreen in The Main Event, but also during an argument with Ms. Huston, according to her 2014 memoir Watch Me:

“He turned on me, grabbed me by the hair and hit me in the forehead with the top of his skull. I saw stars and reeled back. Half blind I ran away from him.”

Even as his celebrity has dimmed over the years (his latest roles were guest appearances on Bones), O’Neal has had a tabloid half-life because of the drug use of three of his four children, as well as their charges that he acted violently towards them when they were growing up

Pointing to how their lives turned out, the actor has acknowledged he was a “hopeless father,” admitting he wasn’t ready for parenthood in his early twenties. But his defects are worse than a substance abuse problem: well into his sixties, he was a narcissistic roue to an extraordinary extent even for Hollywood. (At the 2009 funeral of longtime lover Farrar Fawcett, according to this article from Huffington Post, he made a pass at an attractive younger woman—who turned out to be his Oscar-winning daughter Tatum, from whom he’d been estranged for years.)

For all his tabloid exploits, O’Neal was fortunate indeed that Ms. Huston’s charge of abuse (which he does not appear to have denied) came a few years before the #MeToo movement. The noise afterward might have been deafening.

Watching a onetime celebrity—with looks ravaged by disease and time—can be disheartening. But some, having lived their lives with dignity, go out the same way, while others who made grave personal and professional mistakes successfully grab at a last shot at redemption.

For the longest time, O’Neal did not follow that script. Within the last year, he has been photographed with his troubled offspring, in an image long thought unthinkable. Whether that reconciliation will hold, given this troubled family, is another matter.

But while he was at it, it wouldn’t have hurt for him to try to make amends—even publicly—with Ms. Huston, in the hope that others might learn from his example of taking responsibility for domestic violence.

Monday, April 19, 2021

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ As Andy Tells What Led to ‘The Shot Heard Round the World’)

Sheriff Andy Taylor [played by Andy Griffith]: [explaining the founding of America to Opie and three other schoolboys] “Well, one time a long time ago, this country was a part o' England, and we wasn't gettin' along with 'em too good. Fact, we was thinkin' about breakin' away and startin' our own country, but the king over there in England, he says, ‘You do that and I'm gonna send my redcoats.’ They was British soldiers and he's a gonna send 'em here to whup us.”

Deputy Barney Fife [played by Don Knotts]: “Of all the nerve!”The Andy Griffith Show, Season 3, Episode 23, “Andy Discovers America,” original air date Mar. 4, 1963, teleplay by John Whedon, directed by Bob Sweeney

On this day in 1775, the Battles of Lexington and Concord took place—the commencement of continual hostilities between royal forces and their rebellious American colonists, what we know as the American Revolution.

The ideal way to learn about the day when, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “the embattled farmer stood/And fired the shot heard ‘round the world,” is to visit the bridge itself where the volleys were exchanged, which I was lucky enough to visit, as I recounted in this post from a dozen years ago. 

Not quite as involving is to explore in detail the poems the poems that made these fateful encounters part of American legend: Emerson’s “Concord Hymn” and, for the events preceding this, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride.” A couple of bestselling novels from yesterday—Howard Fast’s April Morning and John Jakes’ The Bastard—might, if you’re lucky, still be found in public libraries or book/remainder sales.

But for as long as I remember, most people learn about this and other major points in American history from a school textbook—or, as one of my college professors once termed it, “a cultural menace to our society.” These are often committee-reviewed, leeched of personality and drama, but filled with what kids hate the most: dates.

That’s why Andy Taylor has come to the rescue.

As I discussed in a prior post, The Andy Griffith Show has become for me in the last few years a gentle cleansing agent for all the toxins in American news and souls. And the episode where today’s quote comes from is a special favorite of mine, for the following reasons:

*Griffith plays a brilliant straight man to Don Knotts, as the sheriff, to test whether history really was Barney’s favorite subject, asks his deputy what the Emancipation Proclamation was (not a bad question to ask at the time of its centennial, amid rising civil-rights activism—or in our own time, come to think of it);

*It kicks off the relationship between between the Sheriff of Mayberry and Opie’s teacher, Miss Crump, as Andy, with his sunbeam smile, changes her from antagonistic to—well, more friendly; and

*It piques interest in American history in an unusual way, as Andy has Opie and his pals—previously uninterested in history, much to Miss Crump's dismay—hanging on his every word as he relates what happened at the outbreak of the American Revolution. He does it without any dates (the closest thing: “a long time ago,” which, in his Southern twang, is the equivalent of “once upon a time” for boys), but with a good deal more content than Jeff Spicoli expressed about the Declaration of Independence in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (i.e., Jefferson called for “some cool rules ourselves, pronto”)

This, folks, is why Southerners are such excellent storytellers.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Spiritual Quote of the Day (St. Augustine, on What Scripture Asserts)

"Now Scripture asserts nothing but the catholic faith, in regard to things past, future, and present. It is a narrative of the past, a prophecy of the future, and a description of the present. "— St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), On Christian Doctrine, Book 3, Chapter 10 (397 AD)

Saturday, April 17, 2021

This Day in Yankee History (Much-Heralded Mantle Gets Hit in Big-League Debut)

Apr. 17, 1951—So anxious about his hype as the successor-in-waiting to Joe DiMaggio as centerfielder for the New York Yankees that he couldn't sleep the night before his major-league debut, Mickey Mantle got his first of 2,414 career hits, contributing to the team’s 5-0 season opener victory over the rival Boston Red Sox.

Yankee veterans and fans alike were curious to see the 19-year-old rookie. His output that day, a single in four at-bats, gave only the slightest indication of the exhilarating combination of power and speed that led the Oklahoma native to be nicknamed “The Commerce Comet.”

Over the years, Mantle’s statistics for his first season and his own recollections underscore 1951 as a sometimes painful period of adjustment. (It wasn’t this much-heralded minor leaguer who was named AL Rookie of the Year but his teammate, infielder Gil McDougald.)

But it wasn’t until after Mantle’s death that a circle wider than his intimates realized how a traumatic childhood and the heavy burden of expectation combined to produce what he called the worst day of his life.

Start with his family background. His father, Elven “Mutt” Mantle, had drilled him in the basics of baseball, in the hope that the boy’s talent would carry him far from life in the zinc and lead mines where Mutt worked.

But Mickey was not only carrying family hopes but terrible secrets, a fact not disclosed in depth until Jane Leavy’s 2010 biography The Last Boy. As a youngster he had been sexually abused multiple times—by a half-sister, neighborhood boys and a high-school teacher. Few realized at the time the psychic damage (including Mantle’s adult promiscuity and alcoholism) caused by such events.

In coming to the Bronx, he was also the proverbial fish out of water—a country boy in a city environment, removed from his normal emotional support and painfully aware of how inarticulate he could sound.

All of this he carried inside. What people saw on the outside was a ballplayer that Bob Sheppard---also making his debut that game, in the stadium public-address role he would have for the next half-century—described, in contrast to a later Yankee centerfielder, Mickey Rivers, as “Mick the Quick with muscle.”

Manager Casey Stengel put it even more memorably, in his eccentric fashion, to sportswriter Bob Deindorfer: “He has more speed than any slugger and more slug than any speedster—and nobody has ever had more of both of them together. This kid ain’t logical. He’s too good. It’s very confusing.”

One gift the youngster did not have was the ability to play shortstop. But Stengel converted him to right field—a position he himself had played—and then took the time to teach him the rudiments of the position.

Anyway, it was just a marker until DiMaggio—a superstar that Stengel had difficulty relating to—retired, as so many expected him to do the following year, given the increasing toll that injuries had taken on his body.

As for DiMaggio himself: perhaps he was jealous of the attention given Mantle by the press and Stengel, or perhaps this most graceful of centerfielders disdained how green the youngster next to him looked. But the proud, touchy Hall of Famer remained aloof from his teammate, further increasing Mantle’s unease.

In mid-July, Mantle—with a high propensity to strike out—had been reassigned to the Yankees’ Triple A Kansas City Blues unit. But, still slumping, and now with his power seemingly snuffed out, the despondent Mantle called his father to say he wanted to come home.

That would be fine, Mutt Mantle told his son. “But, if that’s all the man you are, then get your clothes and let’s go home.”

How much of Mutt’s reaction was due to frustration that the boy in which he’d invested so much emotionally wasn’t turning out as planned? How much of it was an attempt at tough love? How much was it a secretly ill man who would be dead within a year of cancer simply unable to contain his emotions?

Whatever the source of his reaction, it led Mickey to reconsider going home. He stayed and began drilling the ball again with the power and authority everyone had predicted. He was recalled to the majors, this time with his old uniform number 6 exchanged for #7, the one he wore for the rest of his career (and which the Yankees retired when he stopped playing 17 years later).

One more trying event remained for Mantle in the 1951 campaign: In Game 2 of the World Series against the New York Giants, pulling up short when DiMaggio called him off on a fly ball between the two, Mantle tripped over an exposed drain pipe in right center and injured his right knee. He would be dogged by the pain from that knee for the rest of his playing days.

Even so, he would progress steadily in the next few years. The following season, he batted over .300 and placed third in the voting for MVP. In 1956, he put all his offensive skills together by winning the Triple Crown, leading the league in home runs (52), RBIs (130) and batting average (.353).

Over the years, some have seen Mantle as a real-life embodiment of Roy Hobbs, the astonishingly gifted player who never achieves his full potential, in the novel and movie The Natural. In addition to injuries, Leavy has pointed to the personal flaws that crippled him inside. In an interview with sportswriter Bill Madden, she observed: 

“The tragedy of Mantle is that he had so little time, at the beginning of his baseball career, and at the beginning of his sober life, to be his best self. He was a decent man who was genetically pre-disposed to alcoholism and enabled his whole life by the trappings of his celebrity.”

Yet other players with the gift-curse of potential never went on to enjoy the Hall of Fame career that Mantle did. When he stepped down at the end of the 1968 season, he ranked indisputably among the greatest players in baseball history:

*He influenced players of subsequent generations to become switch-hitters, and though many became Hall of Famers themselves (e.g., Pete Rose, Eddie Murray), he remains, by common consent, the best;

*He hit home runs so far—particularly one he blasted out of Griffith Stadium in Washington in 1953—that a new term was coined for the phenomenon: the “tape-measure homer”; and,

*Most important to him, he became the cornerstone of the Yankee dynasty after DiMaggio retired as anticipated after 1951, leading the team to 12 pennants and seven World Series championships.

Quote of the Day (John Updike, on the ‘Rainbow Edge’ to Prose)

“I suppose, yes, I do find it easier to write than some writers, and maybe harder than some others, because I'm aware of the need to write--especially in a time when there are so many alternative claims on our entertainment budget….All that, I think, makes it more urgent than ever that a book be more than just the news, that it be the news plus something extra, some shiver, some rainbow edge to the prose. You can't really control your writer’s voice. It’s a lot like your handwriting—you can't stop it. You can try to alter it, but it always comes out as you. My prose tends to come out as me, and I know it turns off people, because I really ask you to read a little slower than maybe you read the newspaper—but my feeling is that's what makes a book different than a newspaper and more lasting.”—Pulitzer Prize-winning American man of letters John Updike (1932-2009), “A Conversation With John Updike” (interviewed by Leonard Lopate on C-Span, Nov. 28, 2000), edited and reprinted in Leonard Lopate, “Interview: The Writing Life and Times of John Updike,” The Writer, 2001

Friday, April 16, 2021

Quote of the Day (P. G. Wodehouse, on Golf, ‘The Great Mystery’)

“Golf is the Great Mystery. Like some capricious goddess, it bestows favors with what would appear an almost fat-headed lack of method and discrimination."— British humorist, playwright and lyricist P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), The Heart of a Goof (1926)

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Quote of the Day (Robert A. Heinlein, on Drinking and Taxes)

“Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors and miss.”—Science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988), Time Enough for Love (1973)

Oh, what a card Mr. Heinlein was! A common school of thought about him was that, starting with Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), he wrote novels that were, as summarized by Gary Westfahl for Locus Magazine, “increasingly long-winded, idiosyncratic, and highly opinionated”—not to mention reflective of his libertarian beliefs.

The quote above merely expresses, in tongue-in-cheek form, what Heinlein concluded in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966): “There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.”

Still, in the current political environment, today’s quote belongs in the “don’t try this at home, folks” category. With or without liquor, taking a shot at a tax collector is not a good idea—even if the tax system is intrusive and inequitable, and even if the tax collector one encounters is as obnoxious and allegedly criminal as Joel Greenberg, the (perhaps former?) friend of Congressman Matt Gaetz.