Written by Sanford Begley
I re-watched an old western last night. How old? It was released the year I was born. The movie was called Cowboy and was about a kid learning to be a man. Some of the things the movie thought represented manhood look silly today, and Jack Lemmon was too old to play the kid. It was still enjoyable for the nostalgia. For some reason that is one of the movies not readily available on Youtube etc so I was happy when my wife bought me a copy. Mostly because she remembered me talking about it and went to the trouble.
Why do I bring this movie up in a post about self image? No, I’m not in my dotage yet! I saw why this movie always had a special place in my heart, even though it wasn’t all that good. You see, Glenn Ford played the experienced cowboy teaching Jack Lemmon how to be a man. Now in many ways the character Ford played was an ass. He even learned some human feelings from Lemmon in the movie. Still the way Ford carried himself, the front the character portrayed to the world, became a part of the way I try to carry myself.
There were many others I saw and wanted to be like as a child, characters and actors I admired. The one I always recognized as such was David Niven, not a handsome man IMHO but one who was usually confident and carried himself as a gentleman. I never thought of myself as particularly good looking either so someone who could make up for a lack of looks with impeccable taste and good manners was impressive.
Another formative influence, though this was as a late teen was the Mickey Spillane character Dogeron Kelly. Rereading The Erection Set recently made me realize how well i had copied some of the mannerisms and attitudes of The Dog. I was really shocked by that reread, and I got some people who know me well to read it too, yes I did share much with him.
No Science Fiction fan from my era could miss Robert Heinlein and I am no exception. while I cannot point to a specific protagonist and say “That was the one” I did absorb into my system the idealized Competent Man. I wanted to be a man who could bake a cake and pilot a spaceship and win a battle. I hope I succeeded. Some side points go to Rufio from Glory Road. A man who passed himself off as less dangerous than he was, so he had a little extra surprise for the punks when things went sour. I got a little of him too.
Television added to my self image as well. I admired Captain James T. Kirk as a bold man willing to do what was necessary to win. A lot of people hate Kirk, and hate Shatner more. I’ve never qute understood why. Yes he was a stage hog, he was an actor, it went with the job description.
There were characters I saw as examples of what not to be as well, Gilligan, Klinger, Dr. Smith, Frank Burns, and a host of others that I saw as less than ideal. I’m sure I never wanted to be a Dr. Smith, cringing behind a poor quality robot and a little boy. Nor someone who was incompetent, something that most of the others on this list exemplify. Klinger was the only one on my list that qualifies as neither arrant coward nor incompetent. He was simply unwilling to face reality. I saw that as a bad thing.
I see that I have spoken of a smidgen of my childhood heroes and villains that I used to craft my self image, there were many others, including my Dad, a hard working man willing to sacrifice himself for his family. I can’t talk about all the influences that went into making my self image. I’m sure I don’t remember most of them. And there is only so much space I am willing to devote to a look at what made me into the man I became.
This post is not quite as narcissistic as it may look. I was pondering on the many things that go into making each of us what we become. We all are shaped by many influences, and probably do not realize it. Not at the time and, I’m willing to bet, not ever for most of us. Since the movie jarred my mind into a path down that memory lane I thought I’d share. Who influenced you?