This morning, I was walking Bella. It was still dark and quiet in the 'hood. We were just finishing our 1.5 mile daily walk and a man came out of his house, whistling. He had a strong and clear whistle and the tune was Stormy Weather, probably in celebration of the fact that we've had a cold front blow through that might give us some free water for the yard.
While he whistled and we walked, I could envision Lena Horne, sitting on her windowsill, singing her heartache for all the world to hear and I was glad that I had that memory of a great singer, singing a great standard and making me feel the emotion her character was feeling at the time.
I have a lot of memories of classic performances. I love the classics. I hope I will always cry when the sky goes dark in Bette Davis' Dark Victory performance. I know I will always smile when I see Robin Williams, in Mrs Doubtfire drag, throw a lemon at Pierce Brosnan and shout "It's a drive by fruiting." And, when Kathryn Hepburn sheds that one tear in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner as Spencer Tracy explains to Sidney Poitier that he doesn't care about the color of his skin, so long as he has half the love that Spencer felt for Kate, I want to stand up and shout Hurray! Every time. And, I hope I always do.
I remember my first classic movie. It was the early 70's and we had a color television and had just had cablevision installed. No more static and bad pictures. The very first movie that we saw was on Turner Classic Movies and it was the end of The Hurricane, staring Dorothy Lamour. I can remember the footage on the Early American console like it was yesterday; Dorothy clinging to that tree while her island home was destroyed. It would be years before I saw the entire movie and to this day, the part I remember most is the storm. How did they make that happen to get it on film?
Television has taught me a lot. I learned how to act and how not to act by watching actors on the screen. I saw what worked for people and what got them into trouble, jail or killed. I saw couples argue and I saw them make up. And, I imitate a compilation of their actions in my every day life. Okay, so not every moment can be Scarlett swearing that "As God is my witness, I'll never go hungry again" or even Carol Burnett coming down the stairs in the green velvet drapes and announcing "I saw it in the winda' and just had to have it."
But, I did learn how adults can break up and start over from Holly Hunter's performance in Living Out Loud and I learned that I want to be a fiesty old person from Jessica Tandy's performance in Driving Miss Daisy. I saw that sometimes death is messy, even when you're surrounded by love by watching Sally Field in Two Weeks. I'm also inspired by Gena Rowlands in Playing by Heart; an independent adult, in love with her lifetime partner, Sean Connery, and surrounded by her modern adult children while dealing with the complexities of life. And, I want to learn about strength from Jane Darwell as Ma Joad, in The Grapes of Wrath, in two scenes especially; when she has to explain how Grandma died for the family while they were crossing the desert into California and when she tries to feed all the children in the migrant worker's camp from her family's leftovers. Compassion. Strength. Character.
And, when I'm in a crowd and feeling uncomfortable, I just remember Bette looking out from under that hat while disembarking the ship in Now, Voyager and I know that a little class and confidence can get me through any situation. And, speaking of Now, Voyager, I learned a lot about how to parent by contrasting Charlotte's friendship with Tina and Gladys Cooper's performance as Mrs Vale, Charlotte's mother. Children are not there to live for their parents. Parents are there to teach children how to live and then let them get on with it.
Now, not all my favorite performances are women. I'm inspired by the patriotism of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and the display of courage not to fight shown by John Wayne in The Quiet Man. I'm inspired to be a good dad by Edward G. Robinson's paternal devotion in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes. I love a brave and loyal male character and won't forget that even though Rhett Butler was a scoundrel, he was also the one that got Melanie and Scarlet out of Atlanta, despite the fact that the city was burning and exploding around them.
There's a pattern here: Courage, Loyalty, Blind faith. These are the characters I've most tried to imitate in my life. And, while I haven't mastered the quiet dignity of a Beulah Bondi performance, I'm going to keep trying to imitate the larger than life characters I've seen on the screen. They've taught me so many lessons that real people couldn't teach. These characters were as much a part of the village that raised me as the neighbors and relatives that lived near us, and I'm glad that I picked good characters to imitate.
I'm also thankful that TCM is still around so I can show these same performances to my kid and maybe give her the insight that sometimes a written character can teach us how to handle a situation. After all, they aren't having to think what to say on the spur of the moment, so I can talk to her about the courage they're displaying in the actions they take. And maybe one day, when she's not sure what to do, she'll remember one of these strong characters and how they handled a situation and maybe it will help her know how to act.
So, all this remembering should tell you one thing...it's Way Back Wednesday again! Take care and have a great one. L:et's go watch a movie! Lane