Monday, August 11, 2014
The Same is True of the Laugh
He made the leap from television to movies, and then went on to make a lot of them. Probably too many, truth be told, and many of them not very good. The snap above is from one not all that much better than some, but I'm fond of it, not least because he looked so wonderful - the youthful mischief carried more calmly than before, the wildness disciplined. How hard it must be for such a natural clown to play - as it were - the straight man and let others take the reins, outrageously; and yet he did it well. Shortly thereafter, something seemed to go wrong, physically; the look, once so lush and in service of the role at hand, because harsher, pinched somehow. Neither comedy nor pathos seemed to work so well as once they had.
Once upon a time I had the kind of life that meant that people would wander past my desk and say things like, "I have a couple of tickets for Waiting for Godot - would you like them? They're for tonight." In New York, in 1988, that was approximately something like saying, "Oh, I can't make it to the coronation/Second Coming/best party ever, all at once - wanna go?"
I did. The starry cast - Robin Williams, Steve Martin, F. Murray Abraham, Bill Irwin - was almost outshone by an intimate little audience that included Paul Newman and the Missus, not to mention Cher and her Bagel Boy. And us, me and my friend the Aspiring Actress. I dined out all the rest of that season on the strength of having been there - "Oh, yes, of course - we met at Godot, didn't we? Wasn't it marvelous?"
But almost better than the show was the time a few days later when I ran into him - literally. A Hollywood pratfall, the sheaf of papers I was carrying scattering across the plaza of Lincoln Center, and he helped me pick them up. I was cool, in those days, and didn't gush. Maybe something like, "I saw the show - it was great. Thank you." He had the bluest eyes.
Tonight I went and looked, as I suppose many of us are, at pictures of him. I found the one above - not terribly appropriate, I suppose, for a sad occasion, but I like it, and I found this line, from Godot:
The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh.
I'm sorry we won't have any more of his best; I'm glad he has been spared whatever it was that brought him to the worst. Shakespeare - and if he'd ever gotten around to it, mightn't he have been a formidable Lear? - always has the last word: Good night, sweet prince...