Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tall Tale

At a few points in "Electra Glide In Blue," Robert Blake's character reminds anyone who will listen that "Me and Alan Ladd were exactly the same height?" This was, of course, many years before Robert Blake was put on trial for the murder of his wife. He was five feet four inches tall. He was acquitted of the murder, but his star never shone quite so bright. Another star who once burned quite bright and who rarely ducks to get into his limousine, Mel Gibson, no has receded into the background with the rest of those of us who don't top six feet. This has less to do with his distance from the ground than the distance from reality.
Franklin Roosevelt was six feet two inches tall. He was loved and hated in the course of his career as a politician. He was also a philanderer. And the biggest secret kept from the rest of the world was that he had polio. It was not a secret that was kept very well. Maybe it was a more genteel time, when we didn't make the kind of fuss we do nowadays. Babe Ruth was a drunk. So was Mickey Mantle. The Babe and the Mick were able to finish out their career paths without being dragged down by their personal demons or frailties. In some corners, it made them even more revered. What becomes a legend most? Drunks and cripples and racists and midgets. We used to be so much more forgiving of our legends.
I blame what a college professor of mine called "the drag of animality." Movie stars and sports heroes are, for the most part, human beings. They have to live with the constant reminders of age, physics and all those urges and limitations that would be perfectly understood among the beasts of the wild. Or in strict avoidance of that burdensome reality. What that means is that the moment that someone presents themselves as anything but an animal with nasty pointy teeth and smells that defy other explanation, we should all do that animal thing ourselves and start sniffing around to uncover the truth.
Unless what we really want are heroes, in which case all that animal stuff should be ignored. Darwin would tell us that only the fittest survive. But since we're all so evolved, maybe it's not the strong who survive, but the ones with the best publicists.

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