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August 2014 Archives

August 17, 2014

Robin Williams

Robin Williams hanged himself. The very idea seems nonsensical. Why would a man so dazzlingly talented and universally beloved do such a thing?

There are countless testimonies from those who knew Williams regarding his decency and kind heart. No one needs to testify about his abilities as an actor, clown and wit. To listen to him for thirty seconds in "Good Morning Vietnam" or "Aladdin," or see his modern-dance spoof in "The Birdcage," or watch his earnest talk to Matt Damon on a Boston Commons bench in "Good Will Hunting" is to realize that Williams' talents were unique, astonishing and virtually limitless. Even knowing that he suffered most of his adult life from severe depression, murderous chemical dependencies and (according to some sources) bipolar disorder, it is scarcely credible that a man who had been given so much in life would want to end it. But the revelation from Williams' widow that her husband had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease makes it more believable. It was one affliction too far.

Williams had any number of people around him--and who knows how many millions of fans--who would, to borrow a phrase from "Good Will Hunting," have laid down in traffic for him. Now, we can only be haunted by another image from "Good Will Hunting"--if we could have stood in front of him, looked him in the eyes, and repeated, "It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault." .

Lauren Bacall

It was one of the most spectacular debuts in cinematic history. Betty Joan Perske, a 19-year-old girl from the Bronx, became in one film--Howard Hawks' "To Have and Have Not"--the sexiest, most glamorous actress in Hollywood, Lauren Bacall. She had that sultry, sidelong glance--created, she said later, because she was too shy to look straight into the camera--and that incredibly sexy, smoky contralto, which took her months of coaching to cultivate. That glance and that voice were put to magnificent use in her big seduction scene with Humphrey Bogart: "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together, and blow."

That was enough to convince every man who saw :"To Have and Have Not" that Lauren Bacall was the most desirable woman in the world. It certainly convinced Humphrey Bogart, who married her the next year. And Bacall was only marginally less sexy when she repeated those lines for James Lipton on "In the Actors' Studio" more than six decades later.

Bogart and Bacall are so much part of our collective memory that it's easy to forget just how fragile their union must have seemed to even their closest friends in 1945. Bogart was more than twice Bacall's age, a hot-tempered, hard-drinking type whose three previous marriages had ended explosively. But Bacall, it turned out, was his perfect mate, sticking with him for 12 years and three more movies. As their close friend David Niven recalled, Bacall could bring Bogart to heel with a single shout of "HUMPHREY!" He also remembered her fierce loyalty to him in his final, horrible illness: at five every night she would bring him downstairs in his wheelchair, give him a sherry (the only alcohol he could still tolerate), and have him greet the assembled guests. Those who wept or gasped at Bogart's apperance were not asked back; and those who stayed away were written off, henceforth and forever. (Niven, Alistair Cooke and Truman Capote were among those who came repeatedly.)

Lauren Bacall was a unique, charismatic talent, one who reinvented herself often in a 70-year career while remaining recognizably herself. Unlike some actresses of her generation, she kept up with the times: she had roles in Lars von Trier's "Dogville and "Manderlay," and one of her last appearances was in a voice role on "Family Guy." She had guts, she had optimism, she did not suffer fools or backbiters gladly, and she was unmovably loyal to friends and fans alike. And, above all, she had elegance and beauty. She will be remembered with admiration and love.

About August 2014

This page contains all entries posted to MDM in August 2014. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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