Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Phrase of the Day: LAST OF THE GREATS

Over this past weekend, we lost one of the true giants in acting.  He was the last of the great actors of all time.  He was Peter O'Toole.

As with any great individual of whatever measure, there was a kind of almost mythos about the man, although he would probably say that he was just a man who lived a full life.  For starters, his birthplace:  Depending on the source, he was born in either Connemara, a small village in Ireland, or Leeds, in Yorkshire, England.  Even though he had said he had a birth certificate from both countries, many sources say that he was born in Connemara and raised in Leeds. 

He was such an actor that the mere mention of his name evoked respect and admiration.  He was such a rapscallion of a man that the mere mention of his name evoked images of wild, cavorting, bad boy behavior.  Peter O'Toole wore many hats in his lifetime.  In a commercial for the London Sunday Times in 2010, he gives what can be called a wistful (and humorous) recap of his life:

He became a newspaper copy boy in his youth, with the desire for a career in journalism.  He made the switch to acting in his late teens, saying that he preferred being the one written about, rather than the one writing about others.  His theatrical debut was at the age of seventeen.  After a two-year stint in the Royal Navy, he pursued acting again, this time by attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.  Three notable classmates of his, also well-respected and Academy Award nominated actors in their own right, included Albert Finney, Richard Harris, and Alan Bates.

He honed his acting chops for several years, performing at the renown Bristol Old Vic, often referred to as simply "the Old Vic".  In 1960, he made his silver screen debut in not one, not two, but three fairly forgettable films, 'Kidnapped', 'The Day They Robbed the Bank of England', and 'The Savage Innocents' ('Les Dents du Diable').  His life would change forever as he got the opportunity for a starring role in a film being directed by David Lean.

It netted him his first ever Academy Award nomination for the iconic role, for which he is most renowned, of T.E. Lawrence in the 1962 epic, 'Lawrence of Arabia':
Scene with Omar Sharif

Oscar would come knocking again at his door just two years later for the role of King Henry II in 'Becket', in which he played opposite another fine actor who never won an Academy Award, Richard Burton:

Before the 1960's ended, O'Toole received two more Academy Award nominations, back-to-back.  First, in 1968, for 'The Lion in Winter', playing King Henry II again, and then, in 1969, for 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips':

His only Academy Award nomination in the 1970's was for the role of Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, the 14th Earl of Gurney, in 'The Ruling Class':

The first and third years of the 1980's brought two more Academy Award nominations.  The first was for the role of the maniacal director Eli Cross in the 1980 film, 'The Stuntman':
Scene with Barbara Hershey and Steve Railsback
The other was for his flamboyant and poignant performance of Alan Swann, an alcoholic and swashbuckling film actor (a la Errol Flynn), who is terrified about performing in front of an audience, in the delightful 1982 romp, 'My Favorite Year':
Scene with Mark Linn-Baker

As of 1983, O'Toole was tied with Richard Burton, with whom he appeared in Becket almost two decades earlier, for the most nominations without a win -- seven.  Two year later, in the Summer of 1984, Richard Burton would die.  The tie with Burton for most nominations without a win would seem to remain intact. 

At the Oscars ceremony in 1983, he was awarded with a Honorary Oscar, which he begrudgingly accepted.  He felt that an Honorary Oscar was a sign a career was over, and he asked the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to hold off on the award until he was eighty, saying that he truly felt he could win one in his own.  (O'Toole was seventy at the time.)  The Academy went ahead with the presentation:
Apologies for the Japanese subtitles.
This was the only version I could find that included the video tribute to O'Toole.
He was gracious in his acceptance speech, although his "As I totter off into antiquity" comment was a sign of his feelings about what the award symbolized to him.  It would appear that, from an Academy Award perspective, such would not be the case.

And yet, just three years later, a role came around that had the chance to prove him right.  It was the role of Maurice, a long-forgotten actor (and proverbial "dirty old man"), who becomes infatuated with a much younger woman, in the 2006 character study, 'Venus':
Scene with Jodie Whittaker, in her major motion picture debut.
She plays Jessie, Maurice's infatuation, and he has lined up for her a modeling job.

When he was nominated for the Oscar for the film, it seemed that maybe, just maybe, he would have the last laugh.  He broke the tie with Richard Burton for most nominations without a win, now eight in all, but he did not receive the award.  It would be his last flirting with Oscar.

Last year, he announced his retirement from acting, after a career of more than fifty years: 

As I mentioned earlier, Peter O'Toole was known for his rebel rousing.  Here, he shares a story on 'The Late Show with David Letterman' during his making the rounds for promoting 'Venus', as well as what he wanted for his epitaph:

And now, I, along with countless others, mourn his passing.  A little more than twenty years ago, I tried to make a go at an acting career.  While I knew I could never achieve his abilities and stature in the world of film, he was someone to whom I looked up with great respect and great admiration.  I always looked forward to seeing him on the silver screen.  It always meant a great deal to me to see him perform, although I wish I could have seen him in person on stage.  His was an on-screen presence that I both welcomed and cherished, and I consider it part of the film reel of my life.  With his passing, I admit that it feels like a part of my "acting soul", if you will, is gone.

The current President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, was a personal friend of O'Toole's.  Upon hearing the news of his friend's death, he offered this tribute:
"I have heard with great sadness of the passing of Peter O'Toole this weekend.  Ireland, and the world, has lost one of the giants of film and theatre.  In a long list of leading roles on stage and in film, Peter brought an extraordinary standard to bear as an actor.  He was unsurpassed for the grace he brought to every performance on and off the stage."

I could not agree more.  For so many wonderful performances through the years, and for your talent, which was a beauty to behold and a wonderful gift, I say thank you, sir, so much!

Goodbye, Mr. O'Toole.


Friday, December 13, 2013


Just as news has been spreading of yet another shooting at a high school today (Arapahoe County, Colorado), a sobering report came out today from The Washington Post.  The report, titled Not Only Newtown, cites how nearly 100 children were killed by gunfire last year.  The reason for highlighting this particular number of children, and naming them in this breakdown, is their ages.  The oldest child noted was just ten years old.

Ten years old, the oldest.  Six months, the youngest.

Any unnatural loss of life, particularly as a result of violence, is terrible, but when the victims are children, it hits us harder.  At these ages, however, the feeling is almost numbing.  Innocent lives ended far, far too soon.

What particularly struck me about this report is the inclusion of the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, last year.  (The one-year anniversary is tomorrow.)  What struck me was not just the reminder of the Sandy Hook shooting, but the sheer number of those murdered.  More specifically, while the sheer number of those murdered in Sandy Hook is terrible, twenty-eight in all, the number of children murdered there (twenty) is but a fraction of the total noted in the report.

Think back to the shooting in Newtown: horrifying...saddening...angering.  So many young lives cut down.  And yet, the twenty young lives lost at Sandy Hook represents less than one-quarter of children aged ten or younger killed last year.  In fact, the actual percentage is closer to just over one-fifth of these young lives lost in 2012.

Just over one-fifth of all those killed for the entire year.

The report cites mass shootings, angry or distraught (ex-)boyfriends, angry or distraught parents, and drive-by shootings as the main settings and dynamics for these senseless deaths.  Approximately two-thirds of the shooters suffered from some form of mental illness, making arguments in favor of more steps being put in place to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally-challenged still germane, while . 

We, as a society and a nation, need to pay attention.  We need to see when someone is unstable, for whatever reason., and we need to address the issues.  We need to be open about addressing these problems, avoiding judgment and shunning.  Those in power of regulating mental health care need to step up and make a broken system whole again, just like those for whom they are meant to care.  Those in power, particularly politicians, need to get involved, and not just talk about it and put forth minimalistic actions.

This will never be acceptable and it must stop!  We must pay attention to what has gone before and we must do something to stop this epidemic.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Word of the Day: EXEMPLAR

Two days ago, the nation of South Africa lost a great man, Nelson Mandela.  One of South Africa's most-cherished sons, Mandela can be described as having lived a life that is nothing short of astonishing.  In fact, in addition to astonishing, words such as amazing, incredible, awe-inspiring, and fascinating are also fully appropriate descriptions of his life.

Born on July 18, 1918, in Mveso, a small village along the southern tip of South Africa, he was the first of his family to attend school.  Now a part of the British educational system, as South Africa was under British rule, a more "common" name had to be given to him; his teacher chose the name Nelson.  His birth name was Rolihlahla, which translates as "pulling the branch of a tree", although a much more common translation is "troublemaker".  Oh, what a troublemaker he was!

"I hate race discrimination most intensely and in all its manifestations.
I have fought it all during my life;
I fight it now, and will do so until the end of my days."

Mandela was just nine years old when his father died, resulting in his being raised by Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the acting regent of the Thembu people.  Mandela developed an interest in African history, including how Africans lived in peace, cooperation, and a willingness to share, until the white people came and wanted everything for themselves.  He attended the University College of Fort Hare, working toward an interpreter or clerk career.  He joined the African National Congress in 1942, and his time was spent in peaceful, nonviolent anti-apartheid protests.  

"Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people."

Although originally arrested and jailed in 1961 for leading a three-day workers' strike, stemming from a faction of the African National Congress (ANC) engaged in militaristic uprising, Mandela and other members of the African National Congress were convicted of sabotage in 1963.  They began serving life sentences that year.  Two-thirds of his twenty-seven-year imprisonment was spent in a 56-square foot cell on Robben Island with a straw mat on the floor as his bed.  During his time in prison, he survived tuberculosis (receiving the least amount of medical attention possible) and earned his Bachelor of Law degree. 

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."

By the 1980's, the pressure to release Mandela was rising not only within South Africa, but internationally as well.  Then-South African Prime Minister P.W. Botha offered Mandela freedom if he would renounce the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.  Mandela refused.  Several similar offers were made to Mandela for several years with the same result.  It wouldn't be until a stroke that caused Botha to step down and be replaced by F.W de Klerk that Mandela's release would happen.

"Do not judge me by my successes,
judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again."

It was due to de Klerk's openness and willingness to work with Mandela that Mandela walked out of prison as a free man on February 11, 1990.  In addition to bringing about Mandela's release, de Klerk also lifted the ban on the African National Congress, dismantled political group restrictions, and halted executions.  Approximately fifteen months after becoming a free man again, Mandela was elected president of the ANC.  

"It always seems impossible until it’s done."

Mandela's negotiations with de Klerk did not end with his ANC presidency; in fact, they continued.  Not merely satisfied with ascending to the presidency of the organization he had joined in his youth, even though that would have been a story of success and overcoming in itself, Mandela sought free, open-to-all, one person-one vote elections.  It was a difficult road many times, with whites' willingness to share power and blacks wanting full power, as well as the murder of Chris Hani, the leader of the military faction of the ANC known as Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation").  

Despite all this, both Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk received the Nobel Peace Price in 1993 for their working in the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.  A little over six months after their being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the first ever free and open elections took place in South Africa, on April 27, 1994.  Mandela was elected president, with de Klerk to serve as his first deputy, and he was sworn in the following month.  Later that year, Mandela's autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, which he started while in prison, was released.  (A film of the same name is making the rounds now.)  The following year, he was presented with an honorary Order of Merit from Queen Elizabeth II. 

During his first year as president, he worked on race relations and national pride.  He sought to do this in an unusual way -- rugby.  Although the team was disliked by many, the nation's love of sports proved fertile soil to plant the seeds of mutual respect.  South Africa hosted the World Rugby Cup tournament in 1995, and its team was expected to be pushovers.  They proved everyone wrong by winning the tournament.  (An account of this can be found in the 2009 film 'Invictus'.)  In addition, he later helped secure South Africa's national economy, drafted and signed a new constitution, and created jobs, housing, and health care. 

"We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right."

Following his presidency, Mandela knew his work was not done.  He continued to support efforts to build new schools and clinics, while also writing several books about his life experiences.  While leaving public life after his presidency, it was a diagnosis of prostate cancer that changed his plans.  The cancer was treated and three years later, at eighty-five, he formally resigned from public life, returning to his native village.

Nonetheless, the spirit of doing one's life's work stayed with Mandela, and in 2007, he convened several world leaders to form what would be called The Elders, whose work would affect parts of South Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.  The list of world leaders included:
Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations
Ela Bhatt, founder of the Self-Employed Women's Association of India
Gro Harlem Brundtland, former first woman Prime Minister of Norway

Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president
Graca Machel, Mandela's wife and Mozambique politician and humanitarian
Mary Robinson, former first female president of Ireland, former U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights
Desmond Tutu, former Anglican Archbishop in South Africa
Muhammad Yunus, Bangladeshi banker and economist, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize recipient
Li Zhaoxing, former Chinese foreign minister

The task of The Elders was to address serious issue around the world by promoting peace, promoting democracy, fighting for women's rights, responding to humanitarian crises, and promoting respect for all of humanity.  The group's work continues to this day.

After several hospital visits between 2011 and this year, Nelson Mandela died in his home in Johannesburg at the age of ninety-five.

I have, throughout this posting, posted quotes of Nelson Mandela.  At the end of this, I think one more quote of his is appropriate:
"When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country,
he can rest in peace."
Mr. Mandela, you, can undoubtedly rest in peace!

For fighting for what is right ... for standing by your convictions ... for surviving unnecessary imprisonment ... for the lack of arrogance toward your oppressors ... for the lack of smugness at your oppressors at the time of your freedom ... for ultimately rejecting revenge and embracing reform ... and for embodying compassion and grace ... you have shown us the way to live our lives.  Not only is your homeland of South Africa better because of you, but the entire world is, and will be, better off.  May we all be Rolihlahla.  

To the man who went from protestor to prisoner to president, I say rest in peace.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Word of the Day: UNHEEDED

The Native American peoples of this land have much wisdom to share.  Some of that wisdom has been heeded -- I would suggest heeded many, many, many years ago -- and some of that wisdom has been, and continues to be, unheeded.

Chief Arvol Looking Horse of the Sioux tribes addressed the United Nations last month about the perils the world faces as a result of not heeding the warnings of a people whose connection, understanding, and respect for the earth knows few peers.  I would encourage you  to take the time and read this thoughtful and insightful address in its entirety.

By the way, the mainstream really didn't bother giving this address much attention.