Monday, December 16, 2013

Peter O'Toole Taught Me How to Survive

For those of you keeping track, I did not write for 3 days. I was busy playing in the snow. Get over it.

The Quotidian E-mail's subject line was "Immortal Beloved."

It was from my sister, who wanted to know if I survived the crushing blow to our universe of actors who will never die. One did yesterday, and I was sad that Peter O'Toole went the way of all flesh.

A long time ago, O'Toole starred in Lord Jim, which I watched in a high school class. Based on a Joseph Conrad novel, the movie focuses on the title character's journey to redemption. Sort of like The Magnificent Seven even with Eli Wallach playing the villain.
P.O'T. in Lord Jim

Of course, my sister and I thought the coolest thing ever was Peter O'Toole being the Roman General in Masada on the TV. We decided he would have to be one of the cast members of whatever book adaptation we were casting at the time. Hence the List of Immortals.

Of course anyone eulogizing P.O'T. would talk about Beckett and Lion in Winter and My Favorite Year and A Bunch of Sad Failures in the 70's because he was sick and alcoholic. Of course they talk about Lawrence of Arabia.

I didn't see Lawrence of Arabia until I graduated from law school. Actually, I didn't see it until after I had taken the bar in Utah. I knew I had failed it. I had no life. I had failed as an actor. I had failed looking for a job. I was living in my parents' basement.

Worst, I couldn't afford to ski.

These Boots.
But there was this gorgeous blue-eyed guy who's saying "This is a dismal office. We are not happy in it." And then, he found a way to be basically happy outside that office.

I watched that movie 5 times (in a movie theatre - big screen is the only way to see that thing) in the four weeks between taking the bar exam and finding out that I'd actually passed. I began asking myself simple questions: How did T.E. Lawrence do these things? What is most effective about P.O'T's reactions? How, and why, did a tall actor get to play a man who could be Woody Allen's lost twin? And how do I relish any part I've landed with that kind of unbridled enthusiasm?

Where can I get the boots he wore in the scene where he walks along the top of the train?

How? How? How? could I apply the lessons I was trying to learn while I escaped from the drudgery of a smoggy winter in Utah?

I've spent the last 25 years figuring that out, and I haven't succeeded yet. Along the way, I've learned how to apply the lessons of the month and that movie and P.O'T's career. Someday I may teach them to someone else.

But right now, I'll just apply the lesson taught in Robert Bolt's magnificent dialogue:

(Lawrence has just extinguished a burning match between his thumb and forefinger - a trick the character's famous for, and Potter tries to do it)

William Potter: Ooh! It damn well 'urts!
T.E. Lawrence: Certainly it hurts.
Officer: What's the trick then?
T.E. Lawrence: The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts. (emphasis added)


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