I intended for this week’s post to be about air and water. I still intend to post a piece about that, but something else occurred to me this morning.
Today is my 58th birthday – and Liz Taylor’s 79th.
I posted birthday greetings and get well wishes to Ms. Taylor via @DameElizabeth on Twitter this morning. She has been in the hospital. I also asked my Twitter followers to post a Happy Birthday to her, if they are so moved.
And I think they should be. Why? Because every actor is a vehicle for story-telling.
Liz Taylor has served story well for most of her life.
She began her career as a child. If you have never seen “National Velvet”, please do. It is a classic. My favorite Liz Taylor film is “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Liz won the Oscar as Best Actress for this film, and I believe she deserved it.
Part of a balanced life is taking the time to relax, and good stories – whether they are presented in print or on film – are a great form of relaxation. And for getting in touch with your feelings – a good story always makes contact with us on an emotional level. That’s the reason they stay with us.
Storytelling used to be the way we passed information on through the generations – the oral/aural tradition. Theater was born out of this.
Then we were blessed with the print medium and got books, newspapers, and magazines. Eventually, film arrived and story could be told in a visual medium that is very different from theater.
I am thrilled that this year, the Academy Awards telecast falls on my birthday. I plan to spend this evening watching and rooting for my favorites.
I have watched “the Oscars” every year of my life since I was 10 years old. Not because I am star-struck, but because I believe in the power of a good story, well told. And for me, the “Oscars” honors the best of the people in a business that specializes in telling stories well.
My mother knew how to tell a good story. I can still remember some of them and see my mother’s face and hear her voice and remember how I felt as if it were yesterday and not over 50 years ago. That is the power of a good story, well-told.
Mom taught me to read at age 4, and she insisted that I read good books – no junk. I’m talking “classics” here. In fact, I still have the classic books I received on a regular basis as a child. “Black Beauty”, “Little Women”, “The Prince and the Pauper”. Good stories, brilliantly crafted.
Although we had a television, it did not have a central place in our home. My mother insisted that books were more important. Her only concession to TV was classic movies.
In my youth in New York, “Picture for a Sunday Afternoon” was a regular weekly show that featured classic films. After church, we would have an early afternoon Sunday dinner (very formal – good china and silverware) and then relax by watching “The Yearling”, “Pat and Mike” “Wuthering Heights” “White Heat”. Each week I was treated to a fine story. This is where my lifelong love of classic films was born.
These shows introduced me to Jimmy Cagney, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Lawrence Olivier, Olivia de Havilland, Gregory Peck, and Elizabeth Taylor, along with many others – far too numerous to mention.
But, again, I was never “star struck”. I admired – and still admire – actors as instruments of writers who craft good stories. I have never seen a really fine actor who does not acknowledge that they would have nothing to do without the writer.
As I grew older, I began to develop a great appreciation of the film director as the guardian and champion of the story. The best directors (Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, William Wyler, David Lean, Frank Capra, Billy Wilder) understand how to frame the story and how to get the best performance out of the actors.
If you have ever seen any of the following films, you have experienced the power of story:
The Aviator, The Godfather, ET, Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, It’s a Wonderful Life, Double Indemnity.
I am still a voracious reader. There is always a Nora Roberts book in my eReader, which sits on my nightstand when it’s not in my gym bag! And I am eagerly waiting the next Jodi Picoult book.
But in an hour or so, I will sit in front of my television and celebrate some of the best of this year’s stories – “Black Swan”, “The King’s Speech”, “The Social Network”, “Inception”, “127 Hours”, “The Fighter”, “The Kids are All Right”.
If you haven’t seen these films, I hope that you will. They are all good stories, well-told and lovingly crafted by the directors and actors nominated along with them. I have seen them and I was touched by all of them.
And if you are watching the Academy Awards this evening, I hope you will pay a silent tribute to Elizabeth Taylor and wish her a Happy Birthday!
“Acting deals with very delicate emotions. It is not putting up a mask. Each time an actor acts he does not hide; he exposes himself.” Jeanne Moreau