Friday, August 29, 2014

In Memoriam, 2014

Time and tide wait for no one, and, once again, the wheels of time have moved forward, bringing us 31 years since we lost an amazing and talented actor.  It’s sadly ironic that, two years ago, in 2012, I was composing a memorial post for Simon while still reeling from two additional celebrity deaths that year---Davy Jones and Richard Dawson, and now, in 2014, once again, two additional celebrity deaths are in my immediate consciousness.  Ladybug already spoke about James Garner, who Simon acted alongside in The Rockford Files; she’s already discussed that very eloquently.  The two recently passed I am referring to are Casey Kasem and Robin Williams, both of whom had prominent roles in my childhood---a sentiment which, I am sure, many others can relate to.  Both deaths led to a massive outpouring of love and support and tears from fans; everything from fanarts and fanfics of the characters they brought to life to just general appreciation posts filled the internet---exactly what Ladybug and I have been doing for Simon since we realized just how much he meant to both of us.

A celebrity’s passing can be jarring; if an actor’s role reaches you in a way that you never forget, of course, you’ll feel sad at losing them.  But what if they were gone before you even heard of them---before you were even born?  There’s no shock moment, save for the moment you check their biography and realize, “Oh… they’re gone.”

Ladybug and I had that moment with Simon of course, with each of us discovering this wonderful character actor, only to be followed with disappointment that he had passed before either of us had been born.  It is disappointing, no doubt about that---disappointing that we can’t send him fan mail to let him know that his “trick” (as he called it) of creating multifaceted characters worked, and that we can’t help but marvel at them all---from the despicable Mel Barnes, to the unearthly Empyrian, to the loveable Tony Vincenzo.

Those characters intrigued us, and made us feel things.  We wanted to see Mel Barnes get his comeuppance.  We wanted to believe Jim Nation was telling the truth, and we cheered when he proved his character.  And we wanted to see Tony’s reaction to Carl’s latest monster story.  And that certainly says something about an actor who is able to make people feel things even 31 years after his death.  I have no doubt in saying that Simon’s characters will continue to live on, just as Casey and Robin’s are sure to, as well.

That “Oh… they’re gone” feeling is a terrible one, no doubt.  But what helps in dealing with it is that while the actors are gone, their characters are not.  And when those characters live on---when they still find a way to reach us---it means that an actor has, in a sense, achieved immortality.  Even 31 years later, Simon’s trick of giving characters hidden depths is still working---Ladybug and I noticed, and it’s not even just us.  Just yesterday, TVLand aired “The Clarion” episode of Bonanza, the third of Simon’s guest appearances on that show (purely a coincidence that they happened to air it on Simon’s birthday, but a great coincidence, indeed), earlier this week, Encore Western aired the “Miguel’s Daughter” episode of Gunsmoke, and TCM always seems to have at least one of Simon’s movies listed in their “Upcoming Titles” if you go to his TCM profile---all of which serve as a testimony to the longevity of his many and varied characters.  They’re still relevant.  They still make us feel things.  And no matter how enamored I get with other fandoms and actors, and no matter how hard Patrick Troughton tries to run off with my heart, there’ll always be one heartstring that leads back to Simon’s hand, ready to give a little tug to remind me.

The wheels of time will continue to turn, but the name of Simon Oakland will never be forgotten.

~Crystal Rose

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Happy Birthday, Simon!

And so we now approach another end of August and another year of tribute to an amazing character actor. If Simon were alive today, he would be 99 years old. It’s so strange to think of how long ago it was that he came to this world, and so sad that he left it so soon.

It has been getting difficult to find available things with Simon that we haven’t seen before. So many of his performances are sadly scarce. But I have managed to turn up a few things: two of his Adventures in Paradise episodes and his Stoney Burke episode, Image of Glory.

The two Paradise episodes both feature him as the villain. In one, he does his usual trick of making the character seem human and not just an out-and-out evildoer. In the other, he plays the more rare cold-blooded killer. He has only played a handful of those, of which I’m glad, as I don’t like to see him play characters that terrible. On the other hand, however, I find those performances very impressive, just as I do all of his performances. Bonanza’s Mel Barnes, as repulsive as he is, remains a character whose episode I like to rewatch.

The Stoney Burke character, Sam Hagen, is a good guy, a father dreaming of his son being a rodeo star and unknowingly putting pressure on him to succeed. The son even tries to go into a rodeo event with a badly hurt leg because of not wanting to disappoint his father. Stoney Burke is aware of the leg problem due to encountering the son at the doctor’s office, and he tries to tell Sam what’s going on when it becomes obvious the boy is seriously endangering his health. Although at first Sam doesn’t believe it, he becomes horrified and panicked when he hears the boy going into the ring. He rushes to stop him. Unfortunately, it’s a bit too late and the boy is injured. We don’t know his final fate, but Stoney says that with his family rallying around him, he should be just fine.

Simon delivers a beautiful, heartfelt performance. The character is so believable and never over-the-top in his dreams of his son’s success and his sadness over his own failures. His love for his son shines through at all times and the climatic scene where he rushes to stop the boy is so poignant and powerful. He definitely ranks with my favorite of Simon’s characters.

I’ve also been reviewing some of my other favorite performances of his, most notably Frank Epstein from the Hawaii 5-O episode The Reunion. I remember Crystal spoke about that one at length, but I don’t recall if either of us came onboard to announce that we finally had learned that there was a bit more to the episode than what Netflix’s Streaming was willing to show us. (I really hope they fixed that preposterous error!) The Streaming episode cut off right when Epstein was gripping the gun and forced to make a choice between killing the man who had made him and his friends suffer 25 years ago and had devised a scheme to make them suffer anew in the present, or letting him live.

When the episode finally came on MeTV and I recorded it, I saw the minute or so that had been left out. Frank finally made the choice to let the man live. As Steve McGarrett put it, “He couldn’t break you 25 years ago. Are you going to let him break you now?” Frank lowered the gun and his wretched enemy said to him and Steve, “I have misjudged you. I have misjudged both of you.” Steve looked to Frank, who gave a nod, and turned to limp away on his prosthetic legs. It’s an extremely powerful scene and I am very upset that Netflix Streaming wasn’t showing it! It wasn’t just an error on my computer, since Crystal encountered the same thing when she watched it later.

While watching that episode with my mom the other night, she commented that Simon should have won an award for his performance in that episode. I thoroughly agree.

Sadly, as far as I know, Simon never did win an award for any performance. (If anyone knows otherwise, please let us know!) It is definitely a grave oversight for such an amazing, talented man. But considering Simon’s humility and how he often kept to himself, perhaps in some way it isn’t surprising. It would have been wonderful to see his talents recognized with an Oscar, Emmy, or Tony, but perhaps he was perfectly happy with his talents being recognized and appreciated just by the fans who watched him nearly every week.

As always, I am happy to count myself among those fans and look forward to experiencing more Simon performances, both ones I’ve seen and ones that are new to me.

And I am anxiously waiting for the premiere of Baa Baa Black Sheep on MeTV September 7th! It’s so exciting that on this, the 99th anniversary of Simon’s birth, one of the series featuring him in a starring role will be airing anew on television. And MeTV reaches such a high number of the homes across America that thousands of others will be able to experience this right along with me.

Also as always, the great Simon Oakland lives on, in his performances and in the hearts of those who love him.

Happy Birthday, Simon.

~Lucky Ladybug