The Best Possible Martin Balsam

Martin BalsamOn this day in 1879, the humorist Will Rogers was born. Of course, he was best known for his rope act. Overall, he was just an entertaining guy. Although he is thought of as a cowboy, he was over one-quarter Cherokee. But you know the old saying, “The only good Indian is an Indian who who can entertain the hell out of you on the vaudeville stage.” Although he was a big supporter of FDR and the New Deal, he is part of that long history that feeds the conservative narrative about constantly complaining that the government is useless. But how can you not love a man who said, “I never yet met a man that I didn’t like”—about Trotsky!

The great cinematographer Stanley Cortez was born in 1908. Among many other films, he shot The Magnificent Ambersons. I bring him up mainly because he lived to be 89. I’ve noticed that cinematographers tend to live long lives. I wonder why that is.

Actor Art Carney was born in 1918. He will always be remembered for the character of Ralph Kramden on The Honeymooners. He did a lot of other things. He had a great career. But I most remember him from his great performance as the drunk Henry Corwin in The Twilight Zone episode “Night of the Meek.” Here he is:

Other birthdays: painter Guido Reni (1575); botanist Janaki Ammal (1897); actor Loretta Swit (76); actor Markie Post (63); actor Ralph Macchio (52); and actor Matthew McConaughey (44).

The day, however, belongs to one of greatest character actors ever, Martin Balsam was was born on this day in 1919. There are so many films I’ve loved him in: 12 Angry Men, Murder on the Orient Express, All the President’s Men. But it’s his performance in A Thousand Clowns that always stays with me. The following is the great basement scene where he performs his speech about being fine with just being usual. “I’m the best possible Arnold Burns.”

As usual, the clip has been taken down from YouTube. Go rent the film!

Happy birthday Martin Balsam!

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