A good actor is one who is able to instill a variety of emotions in those who see his work. Simon Oakland definitely fits that description; he brought to life so many characters that evoked adoration, anger, shock, laughter, and tears.
A good tear-jerking role can be a wonderful catharsis for the viewer, and I have been moved to tears by some of Simon’s roles. I mentioned in an earlier entry about Adam Howard, from “The Secret” episode of The Big Valley. It was Adam’s heartfelt and heartbreaking speech where he lamented about his dream of having a son being all a lie—as he was certain that the son he had been raising wasn’t his—that made me feel for him and cry for him, despite whatever cruelties he was doing. The interaction with the child in question was also very tear-jerking; Adam genuinely cares for the child, even despite all of his doubts that he is not the boy’s real father. Adam himself seems torn up about it, too, his voice cracking up when the boy presents him with a hand-made wallet.
Two more of Simon’s tear-jerking roles can be found in two separate episodes of Hawaii Five-O: “Strangers in Our Own Land” and “The Reunion.” In the former, Simon’s character, Benny Kalua, seems absolutely broken and devastated upon hearing about the death of a friend with whom he had a love-hate relationship. Though we find out later that he has things to hide, one cannot help but feel for him initially. And one can’t help but feel even more for his character in “The Reunion,” Frank Epstein. Frank is a veteran of the Second World War, who had been interred in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp with two other companions. Tortured by the cruel and calculating commandant, Frank eventually lost his leg before it was all over. Bitter and vengeful after all of these years, Frank is shocked and enraged to see the very same commandant in Hawaii, though the man insists he is mistaken. Eventually, though, it’s revealed that Frank was right, and that the commandant—still as cruel and calculating as ever—has led him right into a trap. Thankfully, he’s able to hold his own against the commandant until Steve and Danny arrive, but the commandant taunts Frank, hoping to get him to kill him while Steve is desperately trying to convince him not to. As the commandant cruelly reminds Frank of all he had inflicted upon him, poor Frank can do little more than stare into his worst enemy’s face and blink back tears of rage—and the viewers can do little more than wish they could help him. Alas, the version of this episode I saw cuts off before we see what Frank’s final decision was (and if anyone reading this happens to know what that is, by all means, please tell me!).
But, by far, my favorite of Simon’s tear-jerking roles was the Wagon Train episode, “The Donna Fuller Story.” Simon plays what must be one of the most adorable roles of his career: Alonzo Galezio, a cheerful and animated winemaker from Sicily, looking to make a fresh start in the United States, bringing barrels of his best wine and grape plants. He falls head-over-heels for Donna Fuller, a prim and proper widow, who happens to be the head of a group of ladies determined to see the consumption of alcohol eradicated. Initially, Alonzo is unaware of her stance on this, and she is unaware of his career, and she is initially attracted to him. However, once she finds out that he is a winemaker, she drops him cold, and you can see the poor man’s heart just shattering to pieces, unable to fathom why she does this. Even after she reveals her reasons, he desperately tries to get her to see that he is a good man, even if he does make wine, but she will hear none of it. And then, it gets worse; in her group’s crusade to eradicate all alcohol on the wagon train, they end up getting to and destroying all of the barrels of wine that Alonzo had brought, and a good number of the grape plants. Simon plays the role with such believability as Alonzo breaks down and narrates his tale of how being terrorized by the mafia had forced him to flee to America, and now he finds himself ruined again at the hands of a mob, his dreams all but shattered. By the end of it, you just want to hug him and tell him that it’ll somehow be okay (and, thankfully, it is).
It’s just another testament to how powerful an actor Simon was—that a young lady such as myself can cry for an angry and bitter man or an adorable winemaker whose world has been turned upside-down. But they are good tears, most definitely, each one an appreciation of an actor who was the master of his craft.