As I watched the concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial yesterday, I couldn’t help but wonder what Jackie Robinson would have thought and felt. Jackie, who died a young man in 1972, was frustrated and angry all his life at the slothful pace of the civil rights movement. Before he died he made a speech saying how happy he would be to see a black man managing a major league baseball team or even coaching at third base. None were. It’s been a scant 27 years since then, and in large part because of eight years of a disastrous presidency run by a Yalie drunk, know-nothing frat boy turned born again warrior, this country was in such bad shape economically, morally, and spiritually that beleaguered Americans had no choice but to vote for the smartest person in the room as its next president. That person just happened to be black. Under George W. Bush both of my Republican friends lost close to half the value of their hard-earned investments. Nevertheless, they find every reason to blame everyone but George W. Bush. (“He kept us safe.”) I hope they show their appreciation when Obama figures out a way to get us out of his mess and restores their fortunes.
Dr. Irving Kolin, a brilliant psychiatrist/friend who was so helpful in explaining George Steinbrenner’s behaviors for my upcoming biography, and I went to see the Orlando Magic basketball team on January 9. The Magic, led by Dwight Howard, JJ Ridick, and a fabulous kid I had never heard of by the name of Courtney Lee, scored 71 points in the first half in what appeared to be a near-perfect performance. At halftime I chatted with Pat Williams, founder and PR jockey extraordinaire for the Magic, who confirmed this is one of Orlando’s best teams since Shaq played for them a while back.
After the game Irving handed me Billy Crystal’s book, 700 Sundays, to read. The next morning I woke up around 6 and started. The book is a memoir that details his childhood. There was no more loving son. His descriptions of his cast of relatives is memorable, but most touching were his memories of mom and his dad who died suddenly at age 50 when he was fifteen years old, leaving a hole in his heart and a boulder to carry on his shoulders.
My dad passed away in November, and so I could feel his sadness. My dad lived to be 93, so the shock wasn’t nearly as great but final is final. Billy is extraordinary because he is so in touch with his feelings. I can’t even begin to access mine.
Billy has always played warm characters in such movies as When Harry Met Sally and City Slickers, and his movie 61, about Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, was hailed for its tribute to The M&M boys. 700 Sundays was not only moving, but it was a chuckle a page as well. Pick it up and read it. You’ll be glad you did.
Every once in a while a good book comes along, and the movie made from it is even better. In this case I’m talking about Stephen Pressfield’s Legend of Bagger Vance, which was on TV this afternoon. I’ve seen it before, but it’s one of those movies that when you start watching it, you can’t let go until the conclusion. It’s among the finest performances of both Matt Damon and Will Smith. In the movie Matt Damon’s character, last name Junuh, plays Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen in a golf tournament in Savannah, Georgia, set up to save his former girl friend’s country club from rapacious bankers. Junuh had been a golf prodigy who went into WWI and became a drunk after suffering shell shock. The match is his return to golf, and he plays terribly and falls way behind until he decides to listen to the advice of his caddy, Will Smith’s Bagger Vance. If you try Vance’s advice yourself, you’re still going to stink, because it’s a bunch of hokus pokus like “You have to see the field,” and “let the one perfect swing find you,” but no matter. Junuh magically regains his form, and of course he ends up winning the day. Before his final putt, a self-satisfied Bagger Vance walks off into the sunset. Then at the end Jack Lemmon, who during the match was a ten-year-old boy who caddied for Junuh, does too — forever as it would turn out. When you talk about the great sports movies, I put Bagger Vance right up there. It’s a perfect movie. Not a false note, except perhaps the part about seeing the field. A really great movie.
Ira Glasser, for many years the head of the ACLU, has written a powerful article about civil rights abuses forty years ago in today’s Huffington Post. I am reprinting it here. Ira, who is from Brooklyn, has been a battler for constitutional freedom his entire life. See the article below.