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Friday, August 10, 2012

What George C Scott Taught Me About Writing


As Buck Turgidson in Dr Strangelove
The other night, Nancy and I watched They Might Be Giants, with George C Scott and Joanne Woodward.  Actually, I watched it and Nancy went to bed two minutes before the ending.  I guess I have a soft spot for that movie because I watched it for the first time with my sister Nettie in Sandersville, Georgia.  I don't know if Nettie remembers that movie, but it blew us away at the time.  It occurred to me what an under-rated actor George C. Scott is.  Of course, his big film was Patton, and that is a great film, but lest we forget, he was also in Dr. Strangelove, and a couple of minor gems - The Flim-Flam Man and They Might Be Giants and a host of deservedly forgotten things like The Exorcist III.  He was also a director as well as a Broadway star, but the question I keep asking myself is why he wasn't bigger.  And part of the answer, I think, is because he was big.  He was big with a kind of John-Wayne bigness, with a nose that looked like he was no stranger to a fist-fight and a permanently arched eyebrow that looked like you weren't taking him in for a second.  He was so big, he couldn't fit into just a first and last name, but needed a middle initial.  It's unthinkable that you would have called him just George Scott.  During rehearsals for a play Scott was directing, Maureen Stapleton told a fellow actor, "I don't know what to do with him, I'm terrified of him," and the answer came back, "My dear, everyone's terrified of George C Scott."  So you have this big guy with a gravelly voice but who's also got this manic gleam in his eye, that he could never quite quench.  Put simply, he looked crazy, but not crazy in a charming Johnny Depp way, but dangerous crazy with muscles.  It made him perfect for Patton, or General Buck Turgidson, or Justin Playfair who imagines he's Sherlock Holmes, but he was never like James Stewart or Tom Hanks, who seem to be able to pour themselves into a role like water filling a glass, and be whatever the director wants.  Nor could he be the kind of matinee idol like Cary Grant or George Clooney who play themselves in film after film and are adored for it.  He had too many strange angles and protruding joists to fit into many roles, but the roles he fit, no one could do better.

That's what he taught me.
He never seemed to worry about who he was - and that sort of self-assurance is also terrifying to the rest of us poseurs - he just did the thing, the one thing, he was born to do, and did it in such a way there was no substitute.
God bless you, George C Scott.

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