Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nikos Capralos: A Heartfelt Performance

It’s been some time since I’ve seen a performance of Simon’s that I have not previously seen. But this past week I have at last seen another, an episode of The F.B.I. entitled The Maze.

Simon plays Nikos Capralos, a man grieving over the loss of his daughter due to an overdose of drugs. She gave the name of a man she claimed gave her the drugs, and now Nikos, heart-broken and devastated, wants to see this man pay for it.

A friend of his on the lam from the law, Frank Dixon Wells, stops in to see him and learns of the tragedy. He wants to see justice done too, and offers to kill the guy for Nikos. Nikos is very agreeable and relieved.

But things grow far more complicated. Tina Aliki, a pub owner who is love with Nikos, knows something he refuses to face: his daughter lied. The man who gave her the drugs was someone else. She tries again to get Nikos to listen, but he explodes and says that she’s always been jealous of his daughter.

Meanwhile, Frank is involved in a shootout with the authorities and winds up mortally wounded. With no one to knock off the man Nikos still believes is responsible for his daughter’s death, he decides to take matters into his own hands. He sets out to kill the man himself.

The F.B.I., hot on the trail, find out what’s happening from the horrified Tina. They manage to track down Nikos just in time to save both the man’s life and Nikos’s own. Finally reasoning with the devastated father, they witness Nikos dropping his knife and stepping away from the frightened man.

I was worried wondering what would happen to Nikos. The epilogue is wonderfully satisfying. The real drug pusher has been found and confessed. No attempted murder charges have been pressed on Nikos, most likely because of his mental state at the time. We see him finally beginning to heal. He appears happy again, mingling with some of the people in the pub. And he has asked Tina to marry him at last.

Simon delivers an amazing, thoroughly believable performance, as always. As Nikos Capralos, we see a man utterly torn apart by his daughter’s sudden and needless death. He doesn’t even have the will to dress neatly or, apparently, to comb his hair. Losing hold of all reasoning power, he becomes focused on one thing and one thing only: serving his brand of justice on the man supposedly responsible for his daughter’s death.

The character of Frank Dixon Wells affords Simon with the unique opportunity of interacting with another highly skilled character actor whom we lost far too soon—Czechoslovakian-born Steve Ihnat. Frank is also a multi-faceted person. In the opening scene we see him shoot and kill a man as he and his girlfriend flee. Yet he is not entirely cold-blooded; with Nikos he shows a definite softer side. The two friends even embrace during their meeting. And he is outraged by the death of Nikos’s daughter. His offer to kill the drug pusher, while of course illegal, seems to be born out of his genuine caring for Nikos and the girl.

Also of note is Ina Balin, who plays the pub owner Tina Aliki. She is forced to stand by and watch Nikos descend into hopelessness and despair. It’s even worse since Tina loves Nikos and wants only to see him be able to be happy again. For most of the episode, that seems a near-impossibility.

To see Nikos at last begin to climb out of the pit he fell into is beautiful and inspiring. Some actors would not be able to successfully portray this after having played someone so tortured. But Simon pulls it off perfectly. We believe in the character; we rejoice in his finding peace.

And this episode takes its well-deserved place among my most favorite of Simon’s performances.

~Lucky Ladybug

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Antagonists, Villains, and Anti-Heroes, Oh My!

As Lucky Ladybug mentioned in her previous entry, she and I happened upon a few archived news articles about Simon that helped us understand a bit more about him.  We already knew before that he was an extremely talented actor who could fit in flawlessly in any genre, taking on roles of different kinds.  We also already knew that he was a Renaissance man---an actor of the screen, of the stage, and also a musician, as well.  And we also knew that with a filmography covering decades of media and bringing to life several vibrant characters (featuring an impressive group of heroes, anti-heroes, and villains), there’s guaranteed to be something in Simon’s credits to please even the pickiest TV or movie watcher, if not absolutely enamor them altogether.

I have mentioned in previous posts about several of Simon’s complex characters, including ones that you couldn’t help but sympathize with a little bit, even if they were in the wrong.  I normally don’t think too much of villain or anti-hero characters, yet I found myself curious about William Poole from Bonanza, siding with and worrying for Frank Epstein in Hawaii Five-O, laughing at Nick from Follow That Dream, crying for Adam Howard in The Big Valley, pitying Howard Walters in Perry Mason, and being intrigued by Lt. Schrank in West Side Story. 

Even someone like Stawski from The Sand Pebbles---a man who, at times, was an utter brute and, if he were real, would’ve gotten a slap upside the face if he ever crossed paths with me---managed to have me captivated during the times he wasn’t making me cringe.  My feelings of intrigue and curiosity for these villains and/or anti-heroes puzzled me initially, especially in the case of Stawski, who was a character that, normally, I would’ve detested immensely at his worst.  But I found that I couldn’t hate him; he did have his good moments, plus there was the fact that I was able to see past the brutishness of the character and appreciate Simon’s acting ability.  I decided not to overthink and try to analyze why I didn’t hate Stawski, so I just shrugged it off.

After Lucky Ladybug and I made our article archive discovery, we were both thrilled to find an article where Simon described how he brought his antagonistic characters to life---that he tried to make them as multifaceted as possible and showcase their good points.  And, suddenly, the lightbulb went off in my head and I realized that was why I couldn’t find it in me to hate Stawski; Stawski did have his good moments, and that definitely factored into my accepting the character.

It’s why I couldn’t bring myself to hate Adam Howard in The Big Valley, either.  Every fiber of my being was ready to loathe Adam for some of the things he had done.  But then he just had to launch into a heartfelt speech that had me in tears, and I couldn’t hate him anymore than I could Stawski.

It’s why I sided with Frank Epstein in Hawaii Five-O, believing him when there was (initially) no evidence to otherwise, despite his short temper and sharp tongue, and why I was so worried when it became clear he was heading for a trap.

It’s also why I find myself intrigued by Lt. Schrank, whose abrasive words I would normally find repulsive and would want nothing more to do with him---but then it seems that his words are just a product of his own frustrations and that he might not even mean them.  It doesn’t excuse him, but it opens up another way to look at his character.

For a while, before I read that article, I was initially worried about myself because of my inability to detest these antagonistic characters that I normally would detest (Frank Epstein is not included among these---he was vindicated, as the Hawaii Five-O episode later revealed, which earned from me a sigh of relief and an “I knew it…”).  Was I so charmed by Simon that I was letting my personal standards slip in regards to some of those nastier characters?  I didn’t want to think so, and after reading that article, I realized that I hadn’t; it was Simon’s intent to give those antagonistic characters another side to them and make them difficult to loathe.  In the article, he referred to it as a “trick.”  Well, it looks as though I’ve fallen for that trick, and on more than one occasion, yet!

And you know what?  I don’t mind at all.

~Crystal Rose

Monday, October 24, 2011

Rare Gems: News Articles and Ready for the People

A little over a week ago, Crystal and I made a thrilling discovery, one that we had hoped we would make for months. We immediately linked it up with our site. What was it? Articles about Simon.

Just as we had gleaned from the scant information we had managed to turn up before, we found that Simon was a warm, friendly, funny guy. He had a lovely sense of humor and saw the gentle amusement in such oddball situations as people insisting they recognized him, but thinking they had personally met him somewhere, as opposed to having watched him on television.

To our excitement, we also confirmed how Simon approached his characters. He studied each one individually before starting to act out the part. Sometimes scripts were even altered because of Simon’s interpretation of a character! That article mostly described his villains, but I’m sure it applied equally to his heroes as well.

It’s thrilling that Simon put so much time and heart into even his oneshot guest characters. Of course, we could clearly see that he had, but I wasn’t sure if the sympathy we often felt was deliberately introduced by Simon or the writers or if we were picking up on hidden nuances as Simon’s true self shone through even the darkest of scoundrels. Now I know it was most likely both.

I am excited to realize that the more human side of characters such as Howard Walters and even William Poole were brought out on purpose by Simon’s marvelous, professional skills. He wanted every character he portrayed to be three-dimensional, to have both good and bad sides. That is, I’m certain, one of the many reasons why he is still so beloved today.

As previously mentioned, it’s just a misconception that Simon usually played villains. He himself said in one of the articles that it isn’t true, it only seems that way. Sadly, many of the heroes he played are not easily accessible for us to view today. There were many of them on anthology and other shows that are simply not available now, likely because of both not being as well-remembered as other shows and simply because there is no one to re-release them.

I believe the one role of Simon’s that I would like to see more than any other is the prosecuting attorney Murray Brock in Ready for the People. From the information I have found, it was a failed pilot for a television series that was turned into a theatrical movie. Would the series have featured Simon as a regular? We don’t know. For all we know, it could have been an anthology series or one with a rotating cast, such as the later The Name of the Game. All we know for certain is that Simon was heavily involved. It is a great shame that this series failed.

There is something about Ready for the People that makes it highly unique and sets it apart from every other known movie or television series that Simon worked on. As far as we can tell, at least in the failed pilot, Simon was the star. He was not playing second banana to anyone, as he did in every other television series in which he was a regular. Even in movies where he had a large role, such as I Want to Live!, he still was not the first-billed (nor was he the true star even if billed lower). In Ready for the People, Murray is the main character. It’s his character that advances the plot, attempting to uncover the truth about the case he is currently trying. He believes the defendant is innocent and strives to find this out.

(Perry Mason aficionados should find it of interest that Murray’s assistant is played by Karl Held, who portrayed eager law student David Gideon in nine episodes over seasons 4 and 5. Was it because of his role as David that he was chosen for Ready for the People?)

Is there any way to view this relic of the past? Both Crystal and I have searched high and low. I had hoped that, since it was released as a theatrical movie, it would not be as difficult to locate it. But so far we have not had any luck. I believe I was told that it is available on a file-sharing network, either Kazaa or LimeWire, but Crystal and I do not use such sites. I am assuming that the copyright long ago ran out, rendering Ready for the People in the public domain and therefore, legal grabs for anyone. If this is true, I wish it could be located and placed online for all to see. If instead the copyright is still valid, I wish the holder would release it.

This is such a unique role of Simon’s. It should not be lost to time. I of course wish that everything he acted in would be made available. If only two rare productions could resurface, I wish it would be this one and his first collaboration with Darren McGavin, The Problem Child episode of the Purex Summer Specials anthology. Such gems should be viewable to all as examples of classic television, as well as rare and amazing performances by some very talented people.

~Lucky Ladybug

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tony Vincenzo: Editor and Friend

The role of Tony Vincenzo remains one of Simon Oakland’s most endearing and memorable roles.  On the surface, Tony seemed to be a rather easy man to read; all he wanted were facts---facts that could be verified.  Much to his chagrin, of course, it was all but impossible for Carl Kolchak to prove his unbelievable stories, leading to clashes between the editor and the reporter more than once.

In an old newspaper article from 1967, Simon was described as an actor who studies all aspects of a character before bringing him to life.  Though the article was referring to his villain characters, it’s obvious that Simon took the same approach before becoming Tony Vincenzo; there is so much more to Tony than the loud-voiced skeptic on the surface.

Though Tony’s role (and subsequent characterization) in the first Night Stalker movie was limited, it was clear even then that Tony respected the forever-unlucky reporter, particularly in their last scene together.  This is expanded upon even more in The Night Strangler; in the beginning of the movie, Tony happens upon a half-drunk Carl at a press bar in Seattle, and though his tone suggests that he very well knows that he’s setting himself up for another series of headaches in dealing with the reporter, Tony still walks over and says hello, and then helps him get a job with the paper he’s currently working for.  After the events of the first movie (and all of the clashes they had been through), Tony had every opportunity to just ignore Carl and leave, yet that was the one thing he did not do.  No employer would willingly seek to hire a former employee who gave him so much trouble; this is our first hint at the unspoken friendship between Carl and Tony that we see more hints of in the series.

The series, though lasting only twenty episodes, gave us even more depth to Tony’s character.  We get more confirmations about his unspoken friendship with Carl, but we also see another side to him: his genuine concern for Carl.  Tony is screaming with worry at him in “The Trevi Collection” (despite, ironically, saying that he can’t afford to worry about him), immediately checks up on Carl after he lets out a yell of fright in “The Spanish Moss Murders” (leaving a party in his office, I might add), insists that he take a rest in his office after Carl collapses from exhaustion in “Firefall,” and even keeps a vigil over Carl in the end scene of “The Energy Eater” after the reporter’s latest misadventure leaves him frostbitten and unconscious, among other examples.

Simon’s portrayal of Tony also shows us something else.  If there is the right kind of evidence, Tony will be far less likely to dismiss Carl’s story.  We see this in “Primal Scream,” where Carl gets convincing photographs of the monster ape he’s trying to chase down.  Rather than telling him to get off the case as he usually does, Tony instead encouraged him to keep following the story (much to Carl’s surprise, too).  Even after their superiors told Carl to get off of the story, Tony still encouraged him to keep going; clearly, if Carl can prove his unbelievable stories, then Tony will be willing to print them.

In just two movies and twenty episodes, we got an incredible amount of characterization for a character who was clearly multifaceted.  One can only wonder how much father Simon could’ve taken the character had the series not been canceled; there was already a script for a third movie, plus scripts for three more episodes.  One of these lost episodes, “Eve of Terror,” was adapted into comic form by Moonstone, and if their comic is any indication of the script, then we would’ve seen even more character development of Tony.  At one point, Tony openly expresses his regret that he can’t support Carl’s story, even apologizing to him; it’s a very powerful scene, and one that I would’ve loved to have seen Simon bring to life.  At another point in the story, we also see Tony show off what I like to refer to as Swivel Chair Judo, which consists of him sending a swivel chair careening across the office floor to knock another chair out from under Kolchak via the domino effect (I should point out that this was well before the considerably more heartwarming scene, and that Tony did have a reason for it); I would’ve loved to have seen Simon do that, as well, for no other reason than that it would’ve been incredibly cool.

I know that I certainly can’t complain with what we have.  Simon managed to breathe so much life into Tony Vincenzo with just two movies and twenty episodes.  Yet there will always be a part of me that will wonder how much deeper a character was he.  As good as Moonstone’s original comics are in helping explore that (including showing us what would happen if Carl and Tony took on a monster together), there is nothing that will ever compare to the joy of seeing Simon bringing Tony to life.

~Crystal Rose

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Simon's Early Roles: A Treasure-Trove of Classics

Something that may not be very well-known except to those interested enough to research is that Simon Oakland got his film start on television rather than in the movies. A very young Simon can be seen in early episodes of Gunsmoke, Have Gun-Will Travel, Decoy, Brenner, and other mid to late 1950s shows, including episodes of anthology series.

It’s interesting to note that for the most part, these early roles were all as protagonists and “good guys.” When it comes to guest-starring roles, it sometimes seems as though Simon is most usually remembered for his villains. And while they are excellent, so are his heroes, and they should be well remembered too.

Among the earliest of Simon’s works that is still commercially available appears to be his second appearance on Beverly Garland’s gritty vehicle Decoy, in the episode Saturday Lost. He portrays a hard-nosed, cynical sergeant, Steve Necclo, who works with Beverly’s character Casey Jones on a strange and disturbing amnesia case. He is both no-nonsense and compassionate, and by the episode’s end he is grim over the heart-breaking solution to the mystery.

Sancho Fernandez, from the first season finale of Have Gun-Will Travel, The Statue of San Sebastian, is an angry man locked in a rivalry with a local, believing him to have killed his brother. His rage is certainly understandable. Simon portrays him, as always, as very human and three-dimensional.

In the early days of Gunsmoke, Simon played everything from a protective Mexican father enraged over the treatment of his daughter to an honest businessman in Dodge City to an innocent man accused of murder. Jim Nation, the latter role, is my favorite of his Gunsmoke characters. It’s thrilling to see Matt Dillon forced into a position where he must trust that Jim will help them when their stagecoach is hijacked. And it’s even more thrilling to see Jim come through with flying colors.

The poker player Enoch Mills doesn’t appear for too long in the episode How to Cure a Friend, but it is highly gratifying to see that the richest man in Dodge is upright. Sometimes it seems a bit too cliché that businessmen in old Westerns will be crooked. And an important note: Simon filmed this role in 1956, making it one of the very earliest television appearances he ever made. And, next to Decoy’s Saturday Lost, it is the oldest Simon Oakland role that is easily viewed today.

The titular character in Miguel’s Daughter is the darkest of Simon’s early Gunsmoke roles. And it’s difficult to know what to say about him. He is not a villain, but he has a warped sense of justice. When Matt tries to explain to him that if he goes after and kills the men who assaulted his daughter, he will end up leaving his daughter alone because he will be arrested and executed, it makes no difference. He still pursues his brand of justice, seeking and killing the one man who escaped Matt’s capture. The last line of the episode is heart-breaking, as Matt says to Chester that now he must tell the daughter of Miguel’s kind of justice.

Simon plays Miguel complete with a Spanish accent. Another thing about him that has always impressed me, which I believe Crystal wrote an entry on, is his amazing array of accents. I have heard him portray Russians, Mexicans, Italians, and men in the Old West, each with an appropriate and well-done voice. I have also heard him disguise his natural Brooklyn tones and speak without any accent at all.

On Brenner, in the episode Small Take, Simon plays one of his earliest villains. And even then, Mike Dover is certainly not the same breed of slime as later wretches. He bribes a young cop and runs various rackets in his neighborhood, but he does not have a dangerous temper and does not decide to kill a policeman who is getting too close to the truth until it looks like the only possibility. And still, when one of his lackeys cackles psychotically at the thought of killing the man, Dover reacts in disturbed disgust. This is a world apart from men such as Vernon Kane on Laramie or Mel Barnes on Bonanza. Those killers would be the ones doing the delighted cackling.

It’s difficult to narrow down exactly if Simon had one character type that was more prominent than all the rest. Unlike some people, I do not believe Simon was typecast. He played just as many good guys as bad guys, if not more. It’s just that his villains are so memorable, perhaps sometimes viewers don’t recall or seek out his other roles. Also, regretfully, many of Simon’s roles, including a vast number of his protagonists, are not currently commercially available. But hopefully soon, with the continuing interest in shows of yesteryear, more rare golden oldies will make their way onto DVDs and television channels, and we will be able to explore many more facets of Simon’s incredible acting abilities.

~Lucky Ladybug

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Flaws of Fictional Characters, and Why We Love Them

Try as we might to attain perfection in everything we do, the truth of the matter is that we have our flaws.  Perhaps this is why when we see flaws in fictional characters, it can end up making us pity or even adore them.  Simon Oakland has played countless characters during his time as an actor; no single character, whether good or bad, is without flaws.  These flaws are essential to their characterization.

For Simon’s villain characters, the flaws are pretty easy to see: Mel Barnes’ general nastiness, William Poole’s madness, Seth Tabor’s greed, Bolivar Jagger’s ingratitude, Mandee’s treacherous nature, Nick’s scheming and so on.  Of course, these flaws don’t make these characters endearing in anyway, but Nick’s sheer misfortune in how spectacularly his plans fail make him a laughable villain, at best.

Then there are the characters who are not quite villains, but aren’t exactly getting along with the main characters, either.  It is these characters’ flaws who actually do allow them to earn some pity, despite their standing.  Sancho Fernandez and Frank Epstein are both bitter, vengeful men, yet after the viewer realizes that their bitterness is not unfounded, the viewer nonetheless ends up siding with them, or, at the very least, giving them their pity.  Vern St. Cloud, for all his boisterousness and loud mouth, one can’t help but pity how his insistence to act like a tough guy sometimes get him into trouble.  And Lt. Schrank, despite saying a great deal of nasty things, earns a bit of pity after one takes a step back and realizes how jaded he has become after years of trying—and failing—to get rival street gangs to stop their fighting.

And yes, even the characters who are good guys all around have their flaws.  Alonzo Galezio’s flaw may be that he’s just too nice for his own good; he still longs and hopes that Donna Fuller will somehow see past his winemaking occupation and accept him for what he is, despite being insulted and verbally brought down by her.  And even after her mob wrecks his personal property and, in doing so, his potential livelihood, he can’t bring himself to press charges and instead tries to pick up the pieces and move on.  General Moore, despite being the tough-but-fair commanding officer of the Marines at Esprito Marcos, is revealed to put his instincts as a father first when he makes a somewhat unprofessional—albeit understandable—attempt to transfer his Navy nurse daughter to a safer place (this attempt fails upon her reminding him that he is obligated not to do so).  And Tony Vincenzo is an interesting mix of a temper to be reckoned with plus a person too nice for his own good; while a good portion of his dialogues with Carl Kolchak are often at a considerably loud volume, the truth of the matter is that he would do anything to help his sometimes-unfortunate employee, even at the risk of his own job security (as The Night Strangler movie showed).  And all of those threats to fire Carl?  All talk, and nothing more.  And Carl knows it.

It is important for fictional characters to have believable flaws; it is these flaws that make them more real and easier to relate to, particularly regarding the non-villain characters.  It makes them more human (even the characters who aren’t human, such as the Empyrian, who acknowledges his own mistakes after the humans he shanghais prove his mindset wrong).  And it’s another way that Simon, as an actor, reached out to us to remind us of what makes us human ourselves: the fact that we’re not perfect… and how that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, as long as we’re inherently good people.

~Crystal Rose

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Captain Beechum and Lieutenant Schrank: Two Very Different Men

It never fails to amaze me, how Simon can slip so seemingly effortlessly into whatever character he portrays, both good guys and bad. I wonder exactly how he prepared for a role and how he determined the way he wanted to approach it.

I have divided his years of acting into several eras. In his early years on television and in the movies he played an incredible variety of characters, from innocents on the run to careworn policemen to military officials to horrid villains. Later on he took on many paternal and protective roles, mixed in with other villains.

A lot, but not all, of his younger characters have a certain impulsive nature about them. Even someone such as the cynical and bitter Lieutenant Schrank comes across as being younger than, say, Tony Vincenzo or General Moore. Schrank also seems younger in comparison with Lieutenant Tobin from Murder, Inc., whom Simon portrayed a year earlier.

That speech pattern likely has a lot to do with it. Schrank appears to be uncultured and blunt; he uses slang frequently and sometimes has terrible grammar. And there’s a definite sense that he couldn’t care less, even if he realizes he isn’t speaking proper English.

His frustration over the street gangs is another indication of some level of immaturity. Completely at his wit’s end after dealing with the gangs for so many years, and unable to stop their feuding, he blurts out whatever comes to him, including taunts and racial jeers. (Whether or not he is truly racist is a topic for another time, but I am still torn on it because of canon evidence that he is simply speaking in utter despair instead.) I suspect that at least part of the reason he repeatedly resorts to this behavior is because it’s the only way the gangs pay him any heed at all. It’s his method of fighting back when they completely disregard all of his warnings (since of course, despite his threats, he wouldn’t really beat up on teenage kids). Naturally, it only makes everything worse.

When he is able to control these outbursts he comes across, by contrast, as much more mature. The scene where he questions Maria is quite surprising in comparison to the confrontations with the Jets and the Sharks. He mutters a slightly odd (and amusing) rhetorical question when he comments, “Don’t you people keep aspirin around here?” But that is the strangest remark in the scene. Otherwise he displays a very levelheaded “just the facts” attitude. But, human as always, he says in response to Anita’s news that Maria isn’t feeling well, “Who is?” The inability to prevent more gang-related deaths has drained him.

Two years later Simon played Captain Beechum on The Twilight Zone, in a highly eerie and unsettling episode called The Thirty-Fathom Grave. Beechum particularly struck me in contrast to Lieutenant Schrank, due to the close chronological proximity in which Simon brought them each to life. He has a well-educated command of the English language and clearly shows his maturity and wisdom from his many years in the U.S. Navy. Of course, he is also not jaded, as poor Lieutenant Schrank is.

Beechum is stern, not wanting any foolish nonsense or lying down on the job taking place on his ship. But the instant he understands that the reason his chief boson is suddenly doing a terrible job is because of feeling unwell, his entire attitude changes. He shows sincere concern and wants to make sure that the man is receiving the proper care. Later, when it looks as though the boson is completely losing his mind, Beechum tries desperately to bring him back down to Earth.

He is bewildered by the odd hammering sound everyone on ship suddenly starts hearing and does all that he can to get to the bottom of the mystery. When it looks as though someone is alive in the submarine below, and has been for twenty years, he throws himself into the effort to try to rescue the poor soul. Eventually it becomes apparent that the truth is something more supernatural. Instead of dismissing that as utter nonsense, he instead tells the diver that he can tell that part of the story to his grandkids and pretend he made it up.

Like Schrank, Beechum has a store of sarcasm. We only see a small bit of it, but it’s gold. Upon first determining that what’s below them is likely a submarine, Beechum doesn’t feel that the information is good enough to explain the hammering. “Does it have two arms and a fist?” he exclaims.

He is deeply affected by the tragedies that unfold over the course of the episode. By the final scene he is standing alone, looking out at the ocean where Chief Bell ultimately jumped after Beechum failed to make him listen to reason. Beechum bids the tortured man to rest in peace, that it took him years to die after the horrors he suffered during World War II and that he deserves a peaceful end now.

I love both characters dearly. Lieutenant Schrank is one whom I’ve often written about and tried to show in a kind light. I’ve never written for Beechum, but he is outstanding as well. They have core differences in their personalities and their approaches, yet they do have something in common. At heart they’re both good men. And Simon played them both expertly, allowing the viewer to become lost in their adventures and see them as real.

~Lucky Ladybug

Friday, September 2, 2011

Into the West

It isn’t everyday that a movie/TV genre you previously thought was dull and boring eventually becomes a favorite.  I was never a fan of the Western genre for a number of reasons.  The whole “gunslinger” archetype made my eyes roll, someone always seemed to be feuding with someone else, and the landscape was noticeably lacking in greenery (guess I’m too used to seeing a carpet of grass around…).  I was convinced that nothing would ever change my mind.

Enter Simon Oakland.

Though, it did take a while for him to get me to change my mind.  I never counted his “Cowboy” role from Get Smart as a Western (the character had been on his way to a costume party), and my eyes were otherwise drawn to Tony Vincenzo and General Moore.  It was sometime afterwards that I found out about a character called Mel Barnes, from the Bonanza episode “Justice Deferred.”

Out of sheer curiosity, I took at look at “Justice Deferred.”  Surprising though it was to see Simon playing a character so cruel and malicious (and yet thrilling to see him break the fourth wall in the opening credits—in the most adorable way possible), it was even more surprising for me to realize that I liked the episode, despite its Western genre.  I quickly wrote this off as a one-time thing.  Sometime after that, I looked at another Bonanza episode: “Thunder Man.”  Once again, Simon played a character that was cruel and malicious… but, this time, the character (William Poole) was also a wonderful singer.  “Thunder Man” still remains the only time I’ve ever heard Simon sing, but that alone cemented this episode as a favorite for me.  Poole has intrigued me so much as a character, as well, from his mysterious backstory to whether or not he was once a decent man who was corrupted by madness.

I conceded that I was now a fan of Bonanza.  Even then, I considered it to be a fluke—the one Western that I would like.  And, once again, Simon would prove me wrong.  First The Virginian episode “Letter of the Law” and then “The Secret” episode of The Big Valley warmed me up to the genre slightly more.  I found that, thanks to Simon’s wonderful acting, I could look past the feuds and the lack of greenery and enjoy the story.

However, there was still one more hurdle to get me to get past my dismissal of the Western genre—the “gunslinger” archetype.  Looking back, it was a weird quirk of mine; I couldn’t stand watching an Old West gun duel, yet if people were dueling with tamed monsters or a card game, I was all for it.  But I stayed away from shows like Gunsmoke just to avoid the archetype.

And then came my first watching of the “Overland Express” episode of Gunsmoke, in which Simon’s character (Jim Nation) was, for once, not a cold and malicious character.  And I was enamored.  The archetype wasn’t as bad as I thought, and it was a thrill to see Simon play a good guy, for once (and it was also amusing to see him trying not to break character at one point; he was smiling in amusement when one of the other characters was talking about greasing a wagon wheel with cheese).  Seeing other episodes of Gunsmoke, even ones where Simon wasn’t even in, eventually followed.

Sometimes, all it takes is one person to get us to see things in a different light, with a more open mind.  And I am forever grateful to Simon for introducing me to a genre that was intriguing after all.

~Crystal Rose