Monday, January 19, 2009
Lost Prisoners Shall Be Set Free
There are two things we can be truly sure of, in this life - no, not death and taxes but rather trials and a resolution to them, a LIBERATION by any other name...!
Anything else comes either in spades or not at all - and it is all trivial, ultimately, I assure thee! Trivial on this side of things, that is; scoring points for the afterlife, as Al once sang, is nothing trivial at all. Ask these two, the Prisoner and the Robot, they'll confirm that illico now.
Patrick McGoohan could have been a name on everyone's lips, circa 1963 - and if a cerebral James Bond had been what the masses wanted, he could have been that too. As it is, he was considered for the role anyway - but womanizing while pretending to do a tedious and dangerous (in real life, it is) secret agent's job was not his inclination. He prefered to move on to write, direct and produce his own brainy brainchild of a "spy show" - and the result was the cult favorite The Prisoner.
Now, as his earthly passage came to an end, that is the role he is most remembered for - that of a number, not a man. Number 6. Although he fought throughout the series' short tenure to avoid being "stamped, briefed, debriefed..." - shouting in the end that he was "not a number, (but) a free man!"
Number 2 always laughed at that.
Maybe the way God laughs at us, his silly children...?
Without actual malice but with that look that says "you poor thing!"
But that is another story...!
McGoohan was at the height of his fame when he took on this pet project of his - the Prisoner coming hot on the heels of Danger Man/Secret Agent (Man) and gathering him a loyal, devout following, though not as large as the Secret Agent fanbase. The Johnny Rivers song of the same name must have played a large part in the success of this British actor on American soil. Here it is:
The song even prefigured the following project for McGoohan; as the lyrics say, "they've given you a number, and taken away your name" - and that is Number 6 right there. Whatever the creative process that truly occured there, McGoohan made history with his truly original project that followed - and then there was... nothing. Years went by, and there wasn't much of anything aside from minor roles here and there, homages, nods, cameos, stints as director that even garnered him two Emmy nominations and wins (again, he'd managed to pierce onto American territory, somehow; evidence enough that you can't keep a good man down - eternally. Indeed, McGoohan succeeded in this thanks to old friend Peter Falk, Columbo himself, who gave him the chance to reintroduce himself to American audiences when he guest-starred on several episodes of Columbo, which were, by then, two-hour in length. He directed two more in which he did not appear on-camera -another old friend, Robert Vaughn, did instead- and those were the Emmy-clinchers.) But truly; aside from all that, appearances in films ranging from Scanners to Braveheart were it for McGoohan (my favorite remaining his role in Mary, Queen of Scots, which starred Vanessa Redgrave in the title role) - and it was and is quite a shame for such a refined talent as his to be so underused.
Truly, Patrick McGoohan never attained the level of notoriety that he richly deserved. Even in his death, he was shoved aside by mighty CNN and other news agencies, as the latino pioneer Ricardo Montalban passed away on the exact same day as McGoohan and had all the calamitous spotlights firmly set on his own demise instead. Even the CBC, which had re-aired The Prisoner fairly recently, frowned upon McGoohan to focus on Montalban as well... Favoritism, even in death, is quite ignominious - wouldn't you agree? You won't see any of that on my own lugubrious blog; but that is another story once again. Here is the headline I penned myself for said lugubrious blog post though:
"Prisoner" Patrick McGoohan Liberated At 80
Almost next to it, is the one for Montalban. And then there is this one:
'Lost in Space' actor Bob May dies at 69 from congestive heart failure
Dying at 80 is one thing - but not even making it to 70 is quite another. Bob May is another character-actor who never got his just desserts; his reward was in the undying affection he found amongst fandom, those knowledgeable fans, that is, who knew him for the man inside The Robot suit...! From 1965 to 1968, Robert May was The Robot on "Lost In Space," one of my most favorite shows on television while growing up. Save for the voice which was in fact series narrator Dick Tufeld's, The Robot and Bob May were one and the same indeed. And, in recent years, fans didn't forget that one iota. Mr. May was always honored for his most patient work (as being cloistered within that metallic shell for such long hours was anything but easy) and the affectionate feelings the audience had for that Robot character translated into admiration for the man who animated it for all of those wondrous adventures - timeless as they are, for there never was a conclusive end to those adventures...! For all we know, within the storyline, The Robot and the Robinsons, along with that execrable/loveable Dr. Zachary Smith, are still "lost in space" out there... Books and sequential art works have been written in order to bring a satisfying resolution to that saga; a movie was made (more like a remake, really - and a bad one at that) but nothing takes away that timeless feeling because nothing has ever brought us that final episode in which The Robot would utter something like "there isn't any more danger, Will Robinson!" Hence, one can imagine that there was no end to those trials there - though fictive they are.
Real life, mercifully, is not like that. The Robot can most definitely say it now: "there isn't any danger here now, Robert - we're in Heaven!"
Like Patrick McGoohan, but on another level, Bob May never got what he deserved either. He proved his great talent by taking on the most difficult role of all: that of Adolf Hitler, on an episode of another Irwin Allen show/favorite of mine, The Time Tunnel! This he did in brilliant, most convincing fashion, years before all these revisionistic, intimistic films about Hitler's last days ever graced the silver screen... Bob May proved to have a talent and flair for comedy as well - guest-starring with Jerry Lewis, Ernest Borgnine and Red Skelton himself on The Nutty Professor, McHale's Navy and Skelton's television show. Did that translate into more roles for Bob May? In a word - no. He was soon seeking work as a STUNTMAN of all things; which makes me wonder if his story wasn't the inspiration -somewhat, at some point- for another favorite TV show of mine, The Fall Guy...? Wouldn't it be neat if it was, hmm? Yeah - but that's another story too!
Lately, Bob May had had much bad luck. His health wasn't a concern - however, his home had been one of the many destroyed by the California wildfires that hit the Los Angeles area just this past November. (No one must ever think of naming a baseball, football or any-other-ball team "the California Wildfires" - ever.)
And after this event, Bob May suddenly took ill and died, very quickly.
It always happens so fast, when the Reaper snatches someone near and dear - and, here, he snatched The Robot and The Prisoner as well, two old faves rather than one, simultaneously. Heck, "Mr. Roarke" was a fave too, for that matter...
Their memories remain with us -
as they are now set free to roam the vast mysteries of the universe.
For, allegorically (and allegories were always dear to these guys - all of them) The Robot's suit was a prison for Bob May; one which he did not come out of often, for it was so difficult to get that costume in place, he'd stay in it even during breaks from filming...! The Fantasy Island host played by Mr. Montalban, "Mr. Roarke," was a prisoner of his own choosing and even of his own destiny as well. As a latino actor in those early days, Montalban felt like he was doing time in a myriad other ways too, surely... And then there was The Prisoner; no need to say more there! McGoohan, for his part, was a victim of his own excellence and refinement; one might even say his own eccentricity as well, as the Brits always look different to Americans, no matter what.
Life itself, as the TEST that it is, is a long-term sentence, we could say; sentences vary in length and intensity, that is all.
All of these jail sentences have been revoked now -
they are liberated, forevermore.
They are free to join other stalwarts like them, who deserved more - sometimes MUCH more: Oliver Reed, Leo McKern, Philippe Noiret (to name, once again, some of my notable favorites) and countless others, oftentimes unknown others...
They are headed, ahead of the rest of us who remain, for the place where the deserving are not ignored nor forgotten; much less shoved aside and left to fend for themselves.
They were lost - now, they are found.
They have truly found themselves, that is certain.
They were imprisoned in frail mortal vessels; well, not anymore.
They are headed for the true freedom now.
Now, They Are Free