Witness the Republican presidential primary race so far.
This is a premise—that talent will always be recognized and acknowledged etc.—I have taken issue with before, including in the early days of this blog. And anyone who reads this blog now, or just stops in for a visit now and then, knows I often single out books or other works of art and their creators that don't get, or have never gotten, their due.
But I've been noticing that outside of the Republican primary race, this idea has been getting a lot of support lately in the usual places (i.e. publications from The NY Times to literary mags and blogs etc.) and it disappoints me that any experienced and intelligent person with their own strong standards and taste in culture and the arts would ever defend such a blatantly false belief.
Like any film lover, I'm always noticing the minor characters in movies and TV shows I pay any attention to (and even more so after being one of the actors playing those parts) and discovering performances that are as good as any on record.
Some of those actors go on to become stars eventually, but many do not. That isn't because they aren't good enough. Obviously, since in the roles I noticed they were exceptional. It's because of the usual suspects: timing, luck, trends in taste and style and subject matter and types and etc.
For instance, three of the greatest performances by male actors I witnessed on the New York stage in the 1980s showcased the talents of men who became friends of mine for a while back then, when I was beginning a career myself as a professional actor in films and TV.
One of them was James Russo, who went on to a small role in the opening scenes of the giant Eddie Murphy movie hit BEVERLY HILLS COP. And had an equally small role recently in the opening scenes of the not as successful PUBLIC ENEMIES.
I saw him play the lead and only male role in the play EXTREMITIES, and his performance left me in awe of his talent and theatrical charisma. No way, I thought, this guy isn't going to become a major motion picture star, even if it's just playing bad guys.
Another one of the three I remember was Richard Cox who was one of the tiny ensemble that did a supposedly bold rendition of RICHARD III (at least that's what my post-op-brain remembers it was) in which the actors were close to naked, just wearing skimpy loincloths and drew a lot of attention because the emerging star William Hurt was one of them.
Hurt seemed totally miscast (as he seemed to be as Byron in the play that began his road to stardom and I saw with a powerful female Hollywood agent who couldn't stop talking about him, despite what I found to be an unimpressive, even bad, performance, though he's done other work I admire) and was horrible in the play, mumbling his lines so that they were mostly inaudible and crouching in positions that seemed to be telegraphing his self-consciousness about his near nudity. Lindsay Crouse was the female lead in that production if I remember correctly and did a pretty good job and was allowed to not be as naked as the men.
But the best thing in the production was Richard Cox's performance. It was revelatory, brought out aspects of his character and the play I'd never noticed before, made it real, anchored the entire production and I heard every word he said and felt its truth.
He had a small role in the notorious film CRUISING, and like Russo has had a career as an actor, but nothing like his talent would seem to predict and call for.
The third was Kevin Kline who I discovered when I took my older brother the priest to a musical—he loved them, and so do I—based on the film ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, which we chose mainly because Imogene Cocoa was in the cast and were blown away by Kline's performance. The physical comedy was demanding and brilliantly done, but so was every other aspect of his performance.
Now, you can argue that Kline's talent was broader and he had the capacity to play a wider range of characters than either Russo or Cox, but so what? Think of all the actors whose talent is narrow and yet achieve stardom. Or you can bring up personal lives or physical quirks or anything else, and I can find someone whose career reached the heights despite similar issues.
I've acted in, and even starred or co-starred in, many films that never even got released! Some of them because they weren't very good (but think of all the films that do get released but aren't any good) yet others were fine. I can think of many movies I've seen at screenings or caught before they disappeared that worked perfectly for me and yet disappeared with hardly a trace.
Sometimes there are reasons. Like a film I recommended that was gone within a week of its release it seemed, WHITE IRISH DRINKERS. The performances are outstanding for my taste, and the story compelling, and the young actress lead (the older one is Karen Allen) an unknown who totally enchanted me I'd love to see more of but haven't. But you could argue that the misleading title probably put some people off (I had a play I wrote and directed run in clubs and later a theater in L.A. for several months and saw some of the dialogue ripped off and used in films that came out later but no one seemed interested in taking any further, and it may have been because the title was unprintable in most newspapers and advertisements and unspeakable on radio or TV)
And don't even get me started on books and music and poets and artists etc. Think of people whose work you love and admire who haven't gotten their due. There's of course too many to even number or name or maybe even comprehend. And yet, on TV news and entertainment shows, in magazines and newspapers and on the web, this idea that "cream always rises to the top" still often holds sway.
As a Catholic kid we had an All Saints Day, a day set aside to consider and be grateful for all the saints, not just the ones who had their own individual days and were the stars of sainthood. And we also had an All Souls Day, for the rest of us, or all of us. I like to make some part of every one of my days be about all the creators who put so much into their particular creative works and yet get little or no recognition for themselves or their work, and the same for those who don't create art but contribute to life nonetheless in other, sometimes much more important, ways.
I'll also keep writing about this and trying to bring attention not only to the better known folks making art and contributing to our own and the global culture, but to those you may not be aware of at all.