Special Report By Monica Sullivan
One of the problems with living in a province which every resident seems to feel is the center of the universe is a pervasive snobbish smugness that what San Francisco culture vultures don't know isn't worth knowing. This is, of course, a phenomenon not unique to San Francisco as my e-mail from international centers of the world attests. True greatness does not reside in the minds of victorious contestants who win a million dollars on television game shows. The greatest minds and talents of every generation throughout history are rooted in humility. They DON'T know the answer and they'll knock themselves out their entire lifetimes in an effort to discover the truth. They don't just WANT to know, they NEED to understand so much that they forget to eat, sleep and even go to the bathroom.
Our latest local cultural calendar was filled with the opinions of a youthful scribe who said that only obsessive film buff s would know who Ronald Colman or Jennifer Jones or Marie Dressler were. Using that argument, NO ONE would think that the residents of Pompeii were worth knowing about because we're HOT and they're NOT and only rocket scientists would give a hoot about outer space. Everyone else would lose a million bucks calling their equally clueless friends. Let's hope the scribe is just young and will get bored of measuring everyone by game show standards or billboard charts or asking total strangers on the street if they remember Ronald Colman. Mrs. Colman, a cheeky English actress named Benita Hume, used to say, "It is perfectly apparent to him, if not to you, that people are born, they grow old and they die, and Mr. Colman has not cornered the market in this respect...Nor are his divergent interests in life contingent upon remaining 35 for all eternity...Ronald Colman is not and never will be the less magical for being mortal."
And Colman WAS magical his entire career. If you missed it, you can still enjoy his work for the price of a video rental. His naked face, emotional honesty, immaculate timing and gorgeous voice show just how wonderful this fine actor was during his heyday. If you catch his Oscar-nominated performance in 1929's "Bulldog Drummond," you'll be pleasantly surprised by how charming and relaxed he appears during the difficult early days of sound films. He'll break your heart as rakish Sydney Carton in 1935's "A Tale of Two Cities" and his sensitive, Oscar-nominated work as a shell-shocked amnesia victim in 1942's "Random Harvest" is in many ways even more finely shaded than the role which won him the 1947 Oscar. That would be the tortured actor in "A Double Life" who confuses his own marriage with the psychodramatic relationship Othello shares with Desdemona onstage. Colman's next challenge was "Champagne for Caesar," a bright, funny 1950 spoof of early television in which he played many great sequences opposite Vincent Price and Celeste Holm.
Who's Marie Dressler? Only the most lovable actress of the early 1930's who stole the show opposite Jean Harlow in "Dinner at 8" AND Greta Garbo in "Anna Christie" AND everyone in sight in "Min and Bill"! Who's Jennifer Jones? Check out "Beat the Devil" or "Portrait of Jennie" or even "Duel In The Sun"! You don't have to be an obsessive film buff to appreciate the work of stars of other eras. Just relax like dear Mr. Colman and have fun!
© 2000 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 3/22/00
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