Friday, August 28, 2015

Happy 100th Birthday, Simon!

After a long battle with Google to be let back in to our account today, we can finally present our birthday tributes!

2015 is a significant year for Simon Oakland fans. This date, August 28th, would have been Simon’s 100th birthday. He brightened the lives of countless people during his lifetime and even now, 32 years after his death, his legacy lives on and new people are cheered by this man’s amazing talents and his special spirit. He was a great man as well as a great actor.

I’m thrilled that I was able to see several new things with Simon during the past year. Some, such as The Raiders and the pilot for Unsolved Mysteries, Crystal already saw long before, and I believe, has talked about them here. I definitely remember her wonderful words on Simon’s poignant character in The Raiders. Other roles, including his guest-spots on Lou Grant and Tightrope, I was the first of us to see. So I will discuss those.

The plot of Tightrope involves the adventures of an undercover policeman, played by Mike Connors in his first starring role. I have heard it’s based on the real-life adventures of actor Robert Philips, who was a police officer before he became an actor. The episode with Simon has him in the role of a mobster running an extortion racket. Mike’s character infiltrates the group and tries to break it up.

As always, Simon plays the role expertly and makes us believe in the character. He feels real. And while there’s no mistake that he’s the villain, Simon used his special tricks to give the character dimension and depth. He feels human, rather than just a cookie-cutter bad guy. I believe he survives the episode, although it isn’t expressly shown, and I was glad of it.

On Lou Grant, unless something was cut in the version I saw (which is always possible), they seriously underused Simon. He played a retired General who collects butterflies and clashes with one of the main characters, who’s upset that he’s after a very rare butterfly. It is certainly a unique part and character, but then, that certainly isn’t new to Simon. Even with only two scenes that I could find, he brought the character to life. He isn’t just a ornery guy who wants that butterfly; he’s a very three-dimensional character who isn’t trying to do anything wrong and doesn’t feel that he is.

Another thing I finally got to see is Simon’s guest-spot on Marcus Welby, M.D. I thought I talked about it here already, but I can’t find a record of that. It’s an episode from the seventh season entitled, How Do You Know What Hurts Me? Simon plays a gentle, kind man involved in a May-December romance with a younger girl who is very mysteriously ill. They have a lovely relationship and truly care about each other, and it’s one of the few times I’ve seen a May-December romance portrayed in a positive manner on classic television. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen Simon in and I was thrilled that it ended happy, with the girl’s problem discovered and corrected and her marriage stable.

I also saw Simon’s guest appearances on the police show CHiPs. He was excellent both times, but my favorite is the two-part episode from season 3, where he plays the manager of a female racecar driver. He acts gruff and growly and sometimes rude, but he honestly cares about her.

His other guest-spot is from season 5, where he plays a man who runs a car alarm company. He doesn’t want his young daughter joining the business, and she retaliates by disabling the alarms and driving the cars off so they appear to have been stolen! Her actions are truly outrageous and actually cost her father some important business and worse, his reputation. He was much too quick to forgive and put it aside under the circumstances; I really wanted to see him chew her out first. She really deserved it. But it was admittedly sweet to see him embrace her as a loving father.

It was so wonderful to be able to see so many things that I have wanted to see for years. And I was thrilled to see the Tightrope credit go up on, as I don’t think it was there before. Several other new items have been added as well, which I hope to track down before long. Hopefully someday, there will be a complete list of Simon’s works for us to pore over. Meanwhile, the hunt for new treasures and the celebration of ones already known is plenty exciting for Simon fans.

Happy 100th birthday, Simon. I know that wherever you are now, you’re bringing joy to still more people.


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