Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Poking about in Wiki, ol’ Robbo noticed that today is the anniversary of the birth (in 1919) of long-time Hollywood stalwart Robert Stack.
My first exposure to Stack (and to Leslie Nielsen) was the 1980 disaster movie lampoon “Airplane!”, which I thought so damned funny that I literally fell out of my seat at the theater laughing. (35 years and umpteen viewings later, I still think it’s hy-larious.) But it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I first saw the John Wayne movie “The High and the Mighty”, in which Stack played a pilot who cracked under pressure, that I realized his performance in “Airplane” was largely a riff on that role. Although I’m pretty sure I wasn’t meant to, I also found myself rolling on the floor and laughing while watching Stack in “THATM” as a result.
Chronology has consequences.
I mention Nielson in this context because I experience the same sensation whenever I come across his earlier work. For instance, he was the ship’s captain in “The Poseidon Adventure”, as well as the commander in “Forbidden Planet” – which was an important forerunner of the Roddenberry/Lucas/Spielberg line of outer space flicks. As serious as these roles were supposed to be, I couldn’t help expecting him to suddenly say, “And don’t call me Shirley” and fart.
Interestingly, I do not have these feelings with respect to Peter Graves and Lloyd Bridges, who also did some self-parody in “Airplane!” I can only suppose this is because I had already seen them in other roles, so was inoculated against the effect.
Stack died a few years back, but I’m sure he must have been aware that a whole generation of movie-goers would only remember him for his self-parody, instead of the underlying body of his work on which it was based. If he was teh pro that I believe he was, I suppose his reaction would be to shrug his shoulders and say, “Well, that show-biz. And don’t call me Shirley.”
UPDATE: Regular friend of the decanter NOVACurmudgeon calls me out for failing to mention Stack’s work as Eliot Ness. Fair enough, although this was not directly related to the flying link. In fact, I will go so far as to say that Stack IS Ness, IS the actor who defined the character on screen.
Old hands here will know that this is a favorite hare of ol’ Robbo’s. There are simply some connections of actors and characters that cannot be broken. In addition to Stack/Ness, I give you some other examples:
Adam West IS Batman.
Bill Shatner IS James Tiberius Kirk.
As fond as I am of Peter Ustinov, David Sachet IS Hercule Poirot.
As fond as I am of Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett IS Sherlock Holmes.
Margaret Hamilton IS the Wicked Witch of the West.
And so on. Some chemistry, some combination of factors, sets the mold, which must then be broken. And ol’ Robbo will have no truck with reboots, retreads or Johnny-come-lately wannabes who attempt to put it back together again.
*Thumps table. Glares all around.*