Charlie Wilson’s War and Pat Hingle, RIP

Don’t read if you intend to see the movie, Charlie Wilson’s War.

This Boston Globe editorial accurately summarizes a lesson which the creators of Charlie Wilson’s War attempt to make.

Toward the end of “Charlie Wilson’s War,” a CIA officer played by the pitch-perfect Philip Seymour Hoffman cautions the Wilson character (played by Tom Hanks) not to be too sure they have done something glorious. To make the point, he tells the story of a Zen master who observes the people of his village celebrating a young boy’s new horse as a wonderful gift. “We’ll see,” the Zen master says. When the boy falls off the horse and breaks a leg, everyone says the horse is a curse. “We’ll see,” says the master. Then war breaks out, the boy cannot be conscripted because of his injury, and everyone now says the horse was a fortunate gift. “We’ll see,” the master says again.

This is screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s way of warning against triumphalism. Yes, Afghan suffering at the hands of the Soviet invaders was atrocious, and the Soviets’ defeat by Afghan mujahideen armed with US Stinger missiles ought to have been a humanitarian liberation. But the fighting among Afghan warlords that ensued opened the way for the fanatical Taliban to take power, for Al Qaeda to set up terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, for the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, and then for to the Bush administration’s global war on terror, whose destabilizing effects are likely to extend far into the future.

I watched the movie recently and agree with the editorial’s characterization of the Zen story’s [see it here] intended message, but disagree with it’s attempt to tie in all that followed to the US response to the Soviet’s invasion. What’s always missing from this type of analysis is the possible ramifications of never having responded to the Soviet invasion. So while the Zen story reinforces how future conditions will always affect our interpretation of past events, the logic behind the latest Zen / Tao / The Secret / Oprah / Dr Wayne-ish philosophical foray, also leaves a hole as wide and as deep as Al Gore’s heated greenhouse pool enclosure, aka Al’s Toke [Tennessee Ozone Killer Extraordinaire]. For example, I think it’s easy to imagine that if the US never got involved in Afghanistan, there could be great resentment towards the US for that type of passivity. [FYI - see another great Hoffman scene from the movie].

By the way, you won’t be surprised to learn that the real Charlie Wilson loved the movie. But you probably will be surprised to learn the following from Wilson:

… he loves the fact that the belly dancer he sent to the Middle East to woo Egyptian allies is lasciviously portrayed in the film by Tracy Phillips, the daughter of Dallas Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips.

“She sure as hell doesn’t look like her daddy,” Wilson said, “and you can put that down!”

Put another way, Bum Philip’s genes are in that woman. Forget the covert Afghan war, that’s the real shocker!

I thought of the movie and the Zen story when I read about the death of actor Pat Hingle [see his filmography], who was born in Miami. Hingle may be the actor we’ve most seen without knowing his actual name. My favorite of his roles was the Kansas track coach in the story of Billy Mills–the North American Indian who earned an Olympic gold medal–Running Brave. Read about Hingle’s ‘we’ll see’ moment from his life.

He earned rave reviews in “J.B.” and was offered the title role in the film “Elmer Gantry,” but then tragedy struck. Several weeks into the play’s run, Hingle became caught in a stalled elevator in his apartment building. He lost his balance while trying to crawl out and fell 54 feet down the shaft. He sustained massive injuries, including a fractured skull, wrist, hip and leg, and several broken ribs. He also lost his little finger on his left hand.

Hingle spent much of the next year relearning how to walk, and the Gantry role went to Burt Lancaster.

“I know that if I had done Elmer Gantry, I would have been more of a movie name. But I’m sure I would not have done as many plays as I’ve done,” he later told the New York Times. “I’ve had exactly the kind of career I hoped for.”

Over the next 50 years, Hingle fashioned a career as a top supporting actor in film, television and theater. His TV credits include “Twilight Zone,” “The Untouchables,” “Route 66,” “Gunsmoke,” “The Fugitive,” “Mission Impossible” and “Hallmark Hall of Fame.” On television he’s played J. Edgar Hoover, former House Speaker Sam Rayburn, Col. Tom Parker (Elvis Presley’s manager) and, in the miniseries “War and Remembrance,” Adm. William F. “Bull” Halsey.

On the big screen, his films include “Hang ‘Em High,” “Sudden Impact” and “The Gauntlet” with Eastwood, as well as “Muppets From Space.” He and Michael Gough, who played Alfred Pennyworth, were the only two actors to appear in the first four “Batman” films.

Can you identify your ‘we’ll see’ moments? I can definitely list one. An aneurysm and stroke, following brain surgery, suffered by my Dad when I was 18. Many lessons which have served me well in life were learned as a result of that. Not the least of which were based on long talks with my Father about his youth, his memory of which was unimpaired, in contrast to other damage caused by the aneurysm.

All articles referenced are copied in full at end of post.

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Charlie Wilson’s Zen lesson

GLOBE EDITORIAL – January 4, 2008

TWO MESSAGES are appended to the end of “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the artful Hollywood flick about a hedonistic Texas congressman who in the 1980s raised covert funding for the Afghan mujahideen from $5 million to $1 billion, thereby helping to drive the Red Army out of Afghanistan and precipitate the implosion of the Soviet Union. An explicit moral of the movie comes from the real-life Wilson, who lamented that America did the right thing in Afghanistan but messed up “the endgame.” Today there can be little doubt that Washington’s brusque loss of interest in the fate of Afghanistan after the Soviets’ withdrawal was a calamitous error.

But it is the second, more philosophical message that ought to be at the center of current debate about America’s role in the world. This lesson, which the Bush administration has learned all too slowly, teaches the need for humility in those who make America’s moves on a global chessboard – a virtue that seems almost totally absent from the patriotic posturing of the presidential candidates.

Toward the end of “Charlie Wilson’s War,” a CIA officer played by the pitch-perfect Philip Seymour Hoffman cautions the Wilson character (played by Tom Hanks) not to be too sure they have done something glorious. To make the point, he tells the story of a Zen master who observes the people of his village celebrating a young boy’s new horse as a wonderful gift. “We’ll see,” the Zen master says. When the boy falls off the horse and breaks a leg, everyone says the horse is a curse. “We’ll see,” says the master. Then war breaks out, the boy cannot be conscripted because of his injury, and everyone now says the horse was a fortunate gift. “We’ll see,” the master says again.

This is screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s way of warning against triumphalism. Yes, Afghan suffering at the hands of the Soviet invaders was atrocious, and the Soviets’ defeat by Afghan mujahideen armed with US Stinger missiles ought to have been a humanitarian liberation. But the fighting among Afghan warlords that ensued opened the way for the fanatical Taliban to take power, for Al Qaeda to set up terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, for the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, and then for to the Bush administration’s global war on terror, whose destabilizing effects are likely to extend far into the future.

In a similar vein, Bush should have foreseen that the invasion and occupation of Iraq could become a strategic gift to Iran; that his pledge to foster democracy in the Muslim world while backing Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan would make America look hypocritical; or that his reluctance to seek a United Nations Security Council resolution to halt Israel’s bombing of Lebanon in the summer of 2006 would inflame anti-American feelings in the Arab world. These are the sorts of unintended consequences a Zen master would expect – and a president must try to anticipate.
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Pat Hingle dies at 84; veteran actor was perhaps best known for ‘Batman’ role

From the Los Angeles Times – OBITUARIES

By Jon Thurber

January 5, 2009

Pat Hingle, the veteran actor with more than half a century of impressive work in theater, film and television who was perhaps best known to a generation of movie fans as Commissioner James Gordon in the first four “Batman” films, has died. He was 84.

Hingle died Saturday night of myelodysplasia, a type of blood cancer, at his home in Carolina Beach, N.C., according to Lynn Heritage, a cousin who was acting as a spokesperson for the family.

He wasn’t a household name, but his solid, broad, hang-dog screen face became a household image. On film, he worked with stars ranging from Clint Eastwood to the Muppets. He was Sally Field’s father in “Norma Rae” and Warren Beatty’s in “Splendor in the Grass.” He played the bartender who needles Marlon Brando about his former prize-fight style in “On the Waterfront,” and he was the sadistic crime boss who terrorizes Anjelica Huston with a bag of oranges in “The Grifters.”

Hingle had an illustrious Broadway career and was in the original casts of some of the great plays in American theater, including “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs” and “J.B.”

James Morrison, the actor who is best known now for his role as Bill Buchanan in the television series “24,” was a friend of Hingle’s and worked with him in a 1983 production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum.

“Only a chosen few had the body of work that he had,” Morrison told The Times on Sunday. “The reason he stands out is that he had the humility and ease that made acting look easy.”

Hingle was born Martin Patterson Hingle in Miami on July 19, 1924. He’d had one semester at the University of Texas when World War II broke out. He entered the Navy and served as an enlisted man on a destroyer in the Pacific. After the war, he returned to college but switched majors after observing that every pretty girl he saw was headed toward the university’s theater department.

Over the next three years, he did 35 plays and found himself more comfortable in the theater than anywhere else.

He said two actors were responsible for his deciding to become a professional actor.

“There were the Gary Coopers and the Clark Gables, but they didn’t really appeal to me,” he told the Washington Post some years ago. “But in three weeks’ time, I saw Walter Huston (Anjelica Huston’s grandfather) and Hume Cronyn in about 10 movies and I saw that it was possible to play a wide variety of roles where there was no connections between one or the other; they weren’t put in a slot . . . I saw what was possible.”

After graduating in 1949, Hingle moved to New York and studied acting with Uta Hagen at Herbert Berghof Studios. He later was accepted into the prestigious Actors Studio.

His break came in 1955 when Elia Kazan, one of the co-founders of the Actors Studio, cast him as the scheming son Gooper in the original Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Two years later, Kazan cast him in William Inge’s “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,” which became a major Broadway hit and earned Hingle a Tony Award nomination. A year later, Kazan once again helped him land a role as the title character in “J.B.,” the Archibald MacLeish play about the life of Job that won both a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize in 1958. Hingle was also in Arthur Miller’s “The Price” in 1968.

He earned rave reviews in “J.B.” and was offered the title role in the film “Elmer Gantry,” but then tragedy struck. Several weeks into the play’s run, Hingle became caught in a stalled elevator in his apartment building. He lost his balance while trying to crawl out and fell 54 feet down the shaft. He sustained massive injuries, including a fractured skull, wrist, hip and leg, and several broken ribs. He also lost his little finger on his left hand.

Hingle spent much of the next year relearning how to walk, and the Gantry role went to Burt Lancaster.

“I know that if I had done Elmer Gantry, I would have been more of a movie name. But I’m sure I would not have done as many plays as I’ve done,” he later told the New York Times. “I’ve had exactly the kind of career I hoped for.”

Over the next 50 years, Hingle fashioned a career as a top supporting actor in film, television and theater. His TV credits include “Twilight Zone,” “The Untouchables,” “Route 66,” “Gunsmoke,” “The Fugitive,” “Mission Impossible” and “Hallmark Hall of Fame.” On television he’s played J. Edgar Hoover, former House Speaker Sam Rayburn, Col. Tom Parker (Elvis Presley’s manager) and, in the miniseries “War and Remembrance,” Adm. William F. “Bull” Halsey.

On the big screen, his films include “Hang ‘Em High,” “Sudden Impact” and “The Gauntlet” with Eastwood, as well as “Muppets From Space.” He and Michael Gough, who played Alfred Pennyworth, were the only two actors to appear in the first four “Batman” films.

To the end, Hingle preferred being in the theater.

“The stage is an actors’ medium,” he told The Times some years ago. “When the curtain goes up, there are those crazy actors. The story comes through them. The director can pull his hair in the back of the house and the producer and the playwright can cry on each other’s shoulders. But there go those galloping actors.”

Hingle’s friend Morrison recalled him Sunday as a “great listener.”

“The great actors have this and he taught me this. . . . You were the most important thing when you worked opposite him. He was present, right there, in his life and in his work. He was the most authentic man I’ve ever met.”

Hingle is survived by Julia, his wife of 29 years; five children; 11 grandchildren; and two sisters.

http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-hingle5-2009jan05,0,4120812.story

jon.thurber@latimes.com
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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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