Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Great Entertainer, A Great Humanitarian, and My Film Friend for Over 25 Years....

So Roy Scheider passed away the other day, and beyond his being another Jersey boy, I've got to offer up an appreciation 'cause it's hard to imagine my teens without him. Of course there's Jaws, for which it might be hard to describe the impact in a post-Star Wars blockbuster world, but it got all of us to the theater and out of the ocean and in my case got me to read the Benchley book too, for as a kid I'm not sure I understood any experience unless I read about it. (If the internets existed in the 1970s I might never have left the house.)

But everyone had Jaws. No, for me the Scheider experience really got cemented by Marathon Man (yep, read that novel, too), and not just for slumming Lord Olivier's hammy "Is it safe?" questioning that still is a goofy thrill to parody. Marathon Man was the first R-rated picture I ever saw in a theater, on a ski trip to Killington Vermont, in fact. So it was both an exciting film and a charge for Marthe Keller's breasts, too. Thanks Marthe. That Roy was part of the film was just gravy.

Actually, though, the Scheider film for me was All that Jazz. My inner gay man (c'mon, we all got 'em, guys, so fess up) was particularly a sucker for the musical back in my teens, so close to NYC and the TKTS both in the day when less than 20 bucks could get you into a Broadway Saturday matinee. We're talking the late 70s here, an era of A Chorus Line, and John Cullum in it seemed millions of things, and the original, diabolically dark Sweeney Todd. Hell, even The Magic Show was fascinating, though I knew even in my young heart magic should be Houdini and not hippie Henning. (That Stephen Schwartz would still be taking over the world is an entirely different story.) So the point is I was primed for something like All that Jazz as it had the musical numbers, it had the complexity I knew had something to do with smarts.

It's also got a central male figure--Scheider doing his inhabitation of Bob Fosse--that makes all too much sense to me. If nothing else, he's a bad father who tries to patch things up with his kid, and that certainly hit home for me given my situation. But he could also sing and dance and still be all man, flirting with the delicious death played by Jessica Lange like he could do death like a one night stand. Of course I didn't quite know what any of that meant at a still virginal 16, but I was damn well interested in figuring it out. (The "Take Off with Us" number, no doubt, helped. You can watch the whole NSFW segment on YouTube if you need to be reminded. Don't miss Scheider's eyes over that flashlight early on--brilliant wordless acting.)

Here's to Roy Scheider, for getting me to care about Bob Fosse when I didn't know who he was yet, and for leading me to Lenny Bruce, if nothing else to Fosse's film Lenny, and to finding the humanity in someone easy to hate. It made creation seem like some whirlwind, and while I was never able to dedicate myself to that life so wholeheartedly, the glimpse was worth a grin. Plus till this day, when something major's going down--that big job moment, say--I never fail to take one last look in the bathroom mirror on my way out to face the day and say, "It's showtime, folks!"

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Blogger Mike said...

Great post, George.

I also had a brief Show Tunes phase back in the early 80's.

Maybe for the best that we didn't bump into each other in those days, huh?

5:11 AM  
Blogger Rickey Henderson said...

Great tribute. Rickey dug Roy Scheider too. Only Roy Scheider could get Rickey to watch a show like "Seaquest"

7:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your inner gay man just became an outer gay man.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Smitty said...

Nice tribute. You're a hell of a writer.

7:49 AM  

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