Friendship, Character, and Jon Polito

Jon PolitoOn this day in 1800, Charles Goodyear was born. He was an inventor of processes for the manufacture of rubber—especially vulcanize rubber. What I think is most interesting about him is the fact that the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company was named after him. But the company was founded by another inventor Frank Seiberling. And he did it almost 40 years after Goodyear died.

The great Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros was born in 1896. I love his work. But he was a Stalinist who was actually part of a plot of assassinate Leon Trotsky. That does kind of spoil things a bit for me. I’m not a great admire of Trotsky, but he at least maintained many of the ideals of the Russian Revolution. Mary Tyler MooreStalin was nothing but a ruthless dictator. Nothing but the Russian Hitler. And a man responsible for many millions of deaths of his own countrymen. I understand that people on the outside didn’t have all the facts, but I think it is was clear by the early 1920s that Stalin was a bad guy. Siqueiros’ support of him in 1940 does not speak well of him.

The actor Mary Tyler Moore is 77 today. She is best known for the television shows The Dick Van Dyke Show, which ran for five seasons, and then The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which ran for seven. I loved both of those shows, but it was mostly just because they were both so well written. I rather prefer Moore in serious roles. She was amazing in Ordinary People, and even more in The Gin Game. She added a level of fear to the part that was totally absent from Jessica Tandy’s performance of it. I can’t find a clip of that, so here she is in Ordinary People:

The actor Jude Law is 41. By the standards of British actors, I would have to say that Law is not very good. Passable, but that’s about it. The reason I bring him up is that Wikipedia lists him as, “actor, film producer and director.” This is standard practice for Wikipedia and I think it is wrong. Law’s directing credits consist of the “Bird in the Hand, A” segment of Tube Tales. So he directed one-ninth of an 84 minute film. As for producing, he was one of seven who produced the horrible remake of Sleuth and one of ten who produced Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Note that he starred in both the films he “produced,” so the extent of his producing was probably just that his acting contract required that he be given producing credit. Look, I understand. There are actors who really are writers of enough merit to be listed in Wikipedia. For example, Kirk Douglas. But Jude Law is an actor, and a very successful one at that. But he is not a director and he is not a producer. At least, he isn’t either of those things to the level that Wikipedia would list him for them if he weren’t a famous actor. So can we stop pretending? It turns out that Jude Law is also a rock climber. Why not mention that? “Jude Law is an actor, producer, director, and rock climber.” It would make as much sense. And it would be as insulting to professional rock climbers as it is to professional film producers and directors.

Other birthdays: mathematician Thomas Joannes Stieltjes (1856); father of libertarian environmentalism, which is interesting but wrong, Ronald Coase (1910); very interesting physicist and traitor Klaus Fuchs (1911); Bengali painter Zainul Abedin (1914); the great Australian painter Albert Tucker (1914); chicken “nugget” inventor Robert C Baker (1921); actor Ed Flanders (1934); actor Jon Voight (75); musician Rick Danko (1942); actor Ted Danson (66); screenwriter Paul Rudnick (56); actor Jennifer Ehle (44); and actor Danny McBride (37).

The day, however, belongs to Jon Polito who is 63 today. He is one of my all time favorite character actors. He is probably best known for being in various Coen Brothers films. He absolutely steals Miller’s Crossing in the part of Johnny Caspar, the psychopathic gangster with a strong sense of ethics. He is so perfect in that part, because he really doesn’t want to be a crime boss. He just wants the level of respect that is owed to him. And even though he’s the “bad guy” in the film, he’s right. If Leo acted properly, there never would have been a problem with Caspar. And it is sad when he meets his end.

I first saw him in the role of Willy’s boss Howard in the Dustin Hoffman Death of a Salesman. And he’s great. But I would so love to see Polito play the part of Willy Loman. It’s almost like he was born to play it. He would kill the role. The thing is that the role is all subtext—what isn’t said. And Polito is the king of that. Unfortunately, great actors like Jon Polito are generally relegated to supporting cast. And so he’ll likely never get the chance to play the really great roles like Willy Loman or Juror #3 in 12 Angry Men. But as a result, he probably has a better life. He is famous enough for it to be flattering but not so much it is annoying. And he works all the time doing a lot of different stuff. But as a viewer, I miss out. Still, it is a great pleasure to watch him work, regardless of what he does.

Happy birthday Jon Polito!

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