Friday, December 21, 2012

John Wayne's Last Films

If you want to argue about who is the best actor or actress, that is entirely subjective.  In the 1930s, Sir John Gielgud and Sir Laurence Olivier had a rivalry as to who was the best Hamlet.  However, who is the all-time most popular movie star?  That is an entirely different manner.  It is objective and entirely quantifiable.  Who sold the most tickets or who spent the most years ranked among the ten most popular actors in Hollywood.  Any guess as to who that might be?
Who rated in Hollywood’s top ten most popular actors for the greatest number of years?  The winner is John Wayne.  No one else is even close.  Clint Eastwood is a very distant second. 
Nowadays, people tend to underestimate Wayne as an actor.  (Granted, he found a winning formula and largely stuck to it.)  He is also regarded by many liberals as a boogeyman.  (His attitudes were consistent with someone born in 1907.)  I went through a John Wayne stage in my early-to-middle teens.  Upon reviewing some of those films, I found a number of surprises.  The country changed a great deal during John Wayne’s career and so did John Wayne himself.  For example, in 1970, John Wayne made a film called Chisum, which was approximately the101st retelling of the Lincoln County War in New Mexico.  Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett and all of that.  The Duke played cattle baron John Chisum.  Part of the backstory of Wayne’s character was that he fought with a Comache chief named White Buffalo over the same piece of land.  Of course, Chisum had come out on top.  However, as he mentions at one point to his young niece, he and White Buffalo had grown closer than Chisum and his brother.  Any two men who can fight over the same piece of land and develop a respect for each other knows nothing about Field Marshals Rommel and Montgomery.  Or, for that matter, Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.
There’s a scene almost midway through Chisum in which the title character is meeting with the cavalry officer responsible for the territory.  White Buffalo and a number of other Comanche are present.  John Wayne was sixty-three at that point.  The actor who played White Buffalo was quite a bit older.  In that scene, Chisum has to tell the colonel that because of an attempted cattle rustling, he can’t deliver the beef contract on time.  White Buffalo starts to speak: “Chisum’s word is good.”  The colonel cuts him off, saying, “Your opinion of Chisum and his word are of no concern to me.”  Moments later, as the meeting breaks up, White Buffalo finds Chisum and says, “This changes nothing between us.”  When an overly efficient cavalry sergeant grabs White Buffalo and tells him to get in the wagon.  Chisum steps up and says to the younger man: “Sergeant, don’t you know who that man is?”  The Sergeant says, “Looks like an Injun to me.”  Chisum says, “That is the chief of the Comanche nation.”  The Sergeant replies, “I don’t care if he’s the crown prince of Montenegro, he’s getting on that wagon.” 
At this point, the screenwriters came up with a neat twist.  Chisum reaches into his pocket and pulls out a massive cigar and offers it to the Sergeant, who accepts.  He then offers another to White Buffalo and takes one for himself.  All three light up.  After puffing away for a few seconds, Chisum says to the Sergeant, “If you ever lay hands on White Buffalo again, I will kill you.”  The sergeant is goggle-eyed.  I thought that if a man John Wayne's size said said that to me, I would take notice. And if a man who *any* size who was wearing a pistol on his hip said that....   White Buffalo takes another long drag on his cigar and says cheerfully, “Sergeant,.... we go now.”  It’s just a little bit, but I found myself liking Chisum’s character quite a bit for standing up for his old rival.
In 1969, Wayne made a film called The Undefeated, which takes place in the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War.  His character is named John Henry Thomas (one of my oldest friends is a gentleman named Jonathan Thomas, so I got to tease him about that movie).  Colonel John Henry Thomas was a Union Cavalry officer (dear God, that poor horse) who is getting back to the business of capturing wild horses and selling them to the federal government…until he gets a better offer from the French government of Emperor Maximilian in Mexico.
Rock Hudson plays a Confederate colonel who is such a bitter ender that he would rather burn his home and relocate to Mexico than live in a defeated South.  Adventures ensue.  The biggest casting surprise in The Undefeated was the role of "Blue Boy", Colonel Thomas’s adopted son.  Who did they get to play Blue Boy?  Roman Gabriel in his only film role.  Roman Gabriel was six foot four and weighted 220 and built like he could play quarterback for the Rams. (Which is what he did). He was of Irish-Filipino ancestory- so he was swarthy enough to play a Native American.  I was simply astounded that after making a career out of playing Indian fighters, John Wayne played a character who had adopted an Indian son.  I would have liked to have been in on the script development meeting before filming started.  Roman Gabriel was plenty big enough to play one of The Duke’s kids. 

DI Therapy

The folks at GEICO have put out a very funny commercial which begins with the question, “Does GEICO provide great insurance?  Does a drill instructor make a terrible therapist.”  Former Drill Instructor R. Lee Ermey then plays a therapist calling his patient a “jackwagon” and smacks the him over the head with a box of tissues.  The commercial is funny and makes my own experience that much more ironic. 
Anyone who appreciates irony will appreciate this story; as will anyone who appreciates the adage, “When the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear.”  Since many of my readers are parents, I hope that you’re all smart enough to know that if your child messes up, it is vital to separate the behavior from the individual.  If you say, “Johnny, you spilled noodles on the floor; that’s bad.”  The kid will say, “What’s the big deal?  I spilled noodles on the floor and if I pick them up, everything will be fine.”  On the other hand, if you say, “What’s wrong with you?  You spilled noodles on the floor, you rotten kid.”  The kid will reply, “What’s the problem?  I’m a rotten kid.”
I really wish someone had explained that principle to my father about half a century ago.  My father was in the habit of saying, “This is ANOTHER example of your goddam half-assed attitude.”  Let’s parse this statement.  First, I’m “goddamned,” which means I’m divinely cursed.  (A pretty ironic statement for someone who has been an atheist for half a century.)  And I’m “half-assed,” which sounds like a terrible congenital birth defect. 
I once told my father that I didn’t know who taught him to say that, but I told him that I hoped whoever it was was burning in hell.
Back in 1989-1990, I spent almost ten straight months teaching on board US Navy ships as part of a program providing sailors with a college education.  While on board the USS Lawrence in the sub-Equatorial reaches in the Indian Ocean, I happened upon some literature from Alcoholics Anonymous.  I’ve never had any problem with alcohol or any other substance abuse, but as I read that literature, I had a complete revelation.  I knew that some of my behaviors were so compulsive that they could be classed as addictive and I knew I needed to make some major changes in my life.  In March of 1990, the USS Cape Cod (which I cross-decked to) pulled into San Diego and I had the delightful experience of catching up with some old friends I hadn’t seen in years: Mark and Barbara and their three children.  I’ll never forget walking in their front door and being treated to the sight of their six-year-old and three-year-old daughters Erin and Seana jumping up and down and yelling, “It’s Uncle Kent!  It’s Uncle Kent!”  If that wasn’t the happiest moment of my life, it easily cracks the top five. 
During my visit, I had occasion to sit down and had a long talk with Mark, who is one of the more colorful characters it has been my pleasure to meet.  After a stellar twenty-five year career with the Marine Corps,  he retired as a First Sergeant, a rank which about 1% of all Marines attain.  In five of those years, he served as a Drill Instructor, one cycle as a Junior DI, another as a Senior DI, a long stretch as a Chief Drill Instructor.  Then he was selected for duty at the Drill Instructor Academy.  At the end of his career, he was offered the opportunity to train aviation cadets at the Military Academy in Pensacola.  (Does everybody who saw "An Officer and a Gentleman" remember Louis Gossett, Jr. as Gunnery Sergeant Foley?  Yeah, one of those guys.)
The First Sergeant does not have much college education, but over the years, he frequently surprised me with what a thoughtful and intuitive fellow he can be.  Indeed, if you gauge a man’s intelligence by the woman he marries and the children he raises, he is a *flat-out* *genius*.  I have at times kidded him that listening to his comments resembles watching Dom Perignon pour out of an oil can.  While wearing the biggest grin I could manage, I’ve told him that I’ve never known anyone who is so much dramatically smarter than he looks.  I am delighted to report that he shot me back an even *broader* grin and replied, “You bet!  Camouflage is one of the most important military weapons.” 
I told him about the reading I’ve done and the insights I’ve gained and that I have a lot of work to do.  He nodded and said, “Kent, it sounds like you have a great attitude.”  A couple months later, I was working at Mead Data Central near Dayton, Ohio.  I once took a break to go to the cafeteria, which was, at that hour, completely deserted.  When I tried to put a nickel into the Coke machine, I dropped it and the coin landed on its edge, rolled under the Coke machine and I couldn’t retrieve it.  I was terribly frustrated and somehow, while I was not hallucinating, I could vividly imagine my father whispering to me, “This is ANOTHER example of your goddam half-assed attitude.”  I was so angry that I started hammering my fist on the Coke machine.  After a few minutes, I caught myself with the thought, “Dear God, I’m turning into Norman Bates.”  It also occurred to me that if anyone saw me acting that way, there was the distinct possibility that they would be coming after me with a bunch of butterfly nets.  I took control of myself and my mind played a trick on me.  For some reason, I remembered the words of my friend, the First Sergeant: “Kent, it sounds like you have a great attitude.”   It then occurred to me that I would VERY much like to see my father try to get in a shouting contest with the First Sergeant, a man seven inches taller, sixty pounds heavier and thirty-five years younger than he.  The image of that mismatched confrontation made me guffaw.  Yeah, Dad.  Try yelling at someone who did that for a living.  Go for it, Dad. 
In the years since, I sometimes share that story with people I met at twelve-step meetings.  (There are twelve-step meetings for a number of addictive behaviors.)  Maybe I’ve done someone else some good; I know it did good for me.  It’s fascinating how the mind can heal itself.

A Hemingway Story

Okay, everybody.  If you know your Hemingway, then you should know “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Care to guess the answer?
“To *die*....... in the *rain*.”
Whenever I interact with someone who passes up a chance to do something spectacularly stupid, I will often sing a little ditty which I have entitled the “You Are Not a Total Idiot Song.”
It goes:
“You are NOT a total idiot
You are NOT a total idiot
You may or may not be a rocket scientist, but
You are NOT a total idiot.”
This past year, I’ve spent a great deal of time serving as guardian ad litem for a family named Hemingway.  In that capacity, I had to write a report to the judge after visiting the biological parents and foster parents and making my recommendation as to the best interest of the Hemingway children: young girls about three and six.
Option #1: Biological Mom and Dad.  Biomom looked like she was getting her act together but violated her probation and got sent back to Marysville’s Ohio State Reformatory for Women.  It was not her first time there.  Biodad will shortly finish a stint in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and will soon be relocating to Kentucky, where he will be serving a double-digit stint. 
Option 2: I went out and visited the foster parents who were Mr. and Mr. Responsible Gay Couple.  They have a very fine-looking house on a multi-acre plot in Union County and are taking care of a couple of other small children.  The household includes four dogs (who do not bite; I checked).  There’s enough of a backyard for a very gentle horsey to graze.  When one of the foster parents expressed concern about the outcome of the case, I explained that the Ohio laws don’t care if you’re an angel walking the Earth with the resources of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, the biological parent gets a chance to clean themselves up.  That said, I did have a couple concerns as to how they conduct their household.  I asked, “Do you conduct religious rituals involving human sacrifice?”
   “Do you raise any fighting pit bulls?”

     I commented on the horse in the back pasture and asked if he ever held rodeos involving bull riding for the kids. 
     I said, “I really don’t think we have a problem here, fella.”
Do you get the point I’m making?  Biomom’s in Marysville, the nice gay couple has dogs and a horse and a beautiful home.  I’m proud to say that I recommended the foster parents continue to have foster custody of the children.  Sometime in the near future, they’re probably going to get *permanent* custody.  I don’t pretend to be some Great Brother of Man for making such a decision, but I am fully confident that I made the right choice.  You may disagree, but then I would NOT sing my “You Are Not a Total Idiot” song to you. 

Dog Lovers and Screenwriters

I just saw "Seven Psychopaths"- film to be viewed by dog lovers and aspiring screenwriters (and people who have a  high tolerance for screen violence). Colin Farrell plays an aspiring screenwriter with a couple of shady friends (Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken) who are dog nappers- they steal dogs and turn them in for the reward money. OK, this is a Hollywood movie, so you see it coming- they steal the dog of the WRONG guy. Personally, I would ALWAYS return a lost dog...and if the Shih Tzu in question was wearing a collar tag that read "Bonnie. Return to Charles Castello @ (address & number) or F***ING DIE!", shoot, I'd get Bonnie home in a BIG hurry!

Woody Harrelson plays Bonnie's owner, a man with a psychopathic personality, large numbers of firearms, and several like-minded associates. (Am I only person who appreciates the irony of Woody Harrelson playing a homicidal thug? Woody's dear ol' dad, Charles, went to prison for murder-TWICE- once, a five-year stretch for second degree, then he spent the last 28 years of his life in Federal "SuperMax" for the contract killing of a Federal judge.)
With some reservations, I recommend it.

Mongolia's Downside

The only downside to being a lawyer in Mongolia is that if your office is in a Ger (as the locals called them) or  a yurt (as the Russians call them), you are never going to get a corner office.

If President Morsi Rents...

Am I the only person who has figured out that if Egyptian President Morsi rents, he will be "Morsi the lessee"? I recently read that he is of the opinion that it might be possible that the United States might release the "Blind Sheik" from prison- the guy who went to prison 19 years ago for his part in the first World Trade Center bombing. If President Morsi were a truck driver, and a member of the Teamsters Union, I would ask him if he had lost his Brother Trucking MIND! If the Blind Sheik lives another 19 years, I say he should spend every second of those years and then I STILL would not favor his release- not even if he lives to be 100.

Does anyone disagree? Comments welcome.

RIP, Daniel Inouye

America lost a great patriot, soldier, and lawmaker when Daniel Inouye died at the age of 88. It's hard to believe, but he had represented the state of Hawaii since the day it joined the Union back in 1959. Two years in the House, and fifty years in the Senate. (His was the second-longest service EVER.)

As a young man, Inouye served with great distinction in WWII; he earned a battlefield commission and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for an action in Italy in April, 1945, that cost him his right arm. He had hoped to become a doctor; when he woke up in the hospital, he said, "Well, it looks like it will be law school."

Not many people know that while recovering from his wounds, he met a young officer from Kansas who had also suffered a terrible wound that cost him the use of his right arm--also in the last month of the war. Daniel Inouye and Bob Dole got to be good friends...and they did quite well for themselves, too.

Camel Distinctions

Mongolia is the home of the rare in the wild Bactrian, or two-humped camel, as opposed to the Dromedary, or one-humped camel. The way to remember how to distinguish the two is that B for Bactrian is like a double hump and D for Dromedary is like a single hump.