Friday, August 31, 2007

Law, Order and Politics

August 31, 2007

They say that Tennessee actor/politician is going to make the announcement of his run for the Presidential nomination of the Republican Party next week. Republicans, once jubilant at the prospect of another actor in the White House, seem to have cooled on this particular thespian, and I can see why.

Like most Americans, I have devoted quite a bit of time to watching the tv series Law and Order over the past 15 years or so. I watched the stage actress S. Epatha Merkeson play a police supervisor all this time; I watched when Michael Moriarty had the Sam Waterston role; when Jerry Ohrbach so convincingly played the troubled recovering alcoholic police detective Lenny Briscoe; when a trail of beauties from Angie Harmon to Carey Lowell worked in the D.A.'s office.

I still lament the exit of the best District Attorney New York ever had, the complex yet avuncular Steven Hill. Hill was one of those solid New York actors seldom seen on the screen, a founder of the Actors' Studio and an early proponent of Method Acting. His own personality melted into the characters he played, and his mental acuity and intensity permeated his every performance. In Law and Order, the character he played was based on real life New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, whom he is said to have captured perfectly in his nuanced and elegant style. His Adam Schiff was a man you respected without question, a man of integrity and wisdom, and, although a bit jaded by his job, a man with a big heart. He was detached without being bloodless.

The actor was one of the most interesting men ever to work in television. Born Solomon Krakovski, he was appearing as Sigmund Freud in A Far Country on Broadway when he confronted his own heritage. A character screamed the line "You are a Jew!" to him in the play and the experience sent him right back to his roots. Hill realized the impact of his Jewishness and embraced it by becoming strict Orthodox -- he began observing a kosher diet, wearing specially lined clothing,and strictly observing the Sabbath. This made Hill unavailable for Friday night or Saturday matinee performances and effectively ended his stage career and closed many roles to him in the movies most notably The Sand Pebbles.

Nevertheless, Steven Hill has had a good career without ever becoming a household word. He felt that artists needed to take breaks from their work for years at a time to refresh and he practiced what he preached.

He had undergone one of those long breaks before taking on the role in Law and Order, and it served him well. His work on that show was a seamless as a bolt of fine fabric. He was as real as an actor can be. If you missed the show under his reign, try to find a re-run that old. He was just wonderful.

Law and Order replaced him with Dianne Weist, an excellent actress who never seemed at home in the role. It was a rare misstep for both the show and Weist, who just didn't have much gravitas and was somehow unconvincing as the boss of the heavy, knowledgeable Jack McCoy as played by Waterston. Of course, her biggest problem was that she was being set up as a replacement for a man who had owned the show for some ten years.

In comes stolid Fred Thompson to replace Weist. Here is an actor with so little range, so little charisma, so little energy that he seems to have gotten the role just based on the fact that he looks likes everybody else. That is, there is nothing about him that looks actorish (like, say, Ronald Reagan), or nothing about him that seems wise (like Steven Hill) or even anything that looks complicated, like Dianne Weist.

I await his political announcement. I would love to hear something original from him, something that would put a spark in the upcoming Presidential race. Unfortunately, I don't think it's coming. Even his credentials as an actor are in question. The charm that usually goes with that territory is decidedly missing. If the election were to be held tomorrow, I'd probably write in Steven Hill.


Nagarjuna said...

I agree that Steven Hill was wonderful in the role, and I've missed him ever since. I also agree with your take on Thompson. There just doesn't seem to be much there either as an actor or as a would-be president. And what IS there as the latter scares me. He may be smarter than Bush. At least I hope he is. But he seems to embrace the same ideology. We need more and better than that at such a crucial time in our history.

Anonymous said...

My comment has nothing to do with your post, but wanted to say I am "from" Fairhope too, indirectly at least, and was wistfully thinking of her tonight so I began a search on "old Fairhope". My grandparents live there and have for years and years, most of my life (almost 40 now);and my grandmother, actually step, but I think of her as a grand; has lived there all her life and recently celebrated her 50th high school reunion. I adore the old Fairhope, the "girl" I knew as a girl when my grandparents lived within walking distance of the bay and we'd spend 4th of July there, swimming in their pool, and then walking down to the bay for fireworks. Even those years were possibly not the best for the "old girl", but I remember them FONDLY. We drove through just this morning down scenic 98 and still got that delicious feeling that I always get when I get my first glimpse of the bay, but felt sad at all the "new and improved" housing that has replaced some of the quaint cottages. My husband and I wish we had bought that house in the "colony" for $15,000 back then in the late 80's and stuck around. We left for greener pastures and found weeds, LOL. Actually, we are happy where we are but fondly remember our Fairhope that we spent our first year of marriage living in. I wish I could buy your "little cottage" without the Wolf range or master bedroom. (big, deep sigh) Who needs those anyway, when you can walk to the bay?

Finding Fair Hope said...

anon: Me too.