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?
9 thoughts on “Self Images”
All of those, as well. Though I imagine I took a slightly different mix.
You left out Charlie Bronson, Chato’s land particularly, John Wayne, and Clint.
But yes, Heinlein, Heinlein, Heinlein
I didn’t leave them out exactly, they were some of the many I didn’t specifically include. Though I found Bronson’s role in the Magnificent Seven more admirable personally. Had I listed every movie and every actor it would have taken days to read 🙂
:o) I wasn’t complaining, those three just made the biggest impression on me. And yes Bronson’s character was my favorite in almost every movie he was in. Particularly, the large casts where a direct comparison was possible. I’ll bet you like Kurosawa, too.
I would note that M*A*S*H is probably the show that did the most “retooling” over the years, both with new characters replacing the old ones (they were usually better), and reworking the old ones (sometimes better, sometimes not).
The “Klinger” rework after Gary Burghoff left (apparently to sighs of relief) certainly made that a more admirable character – although far less comedic, IMHO.
I’ll have to track down that Mickey Spillane. Talk about covers that definitely turn me off, though…
The cover is horrible, then again Dog Kelly wasn’t a truly nice man either
You should be able to click on the cover (there must be some inoffensive spot 😉 ) and it’s a link.
The pistol? About the only place that wouldn’t get me in trouble with the wife…
Gregory Peck in the film version of “To Kill a Mockingbird” totally scooped out and got inside my brain when I first saw it as a kid. He projected this quiet strength of doing what’s right, despite the cost, that clicked with me back then in a way the cowboy version never really did back then (when I was always turning the TV channel from old westerns to Star Trek repeats).
“Who influenced you?”
Quick answer: the women in my family.
My paternal grandmother raised four children on a railroad man’s wages. Not an easy life made harder by her husband being an alcoholic.
My maternal grandmother was working outside the house in an era when women didn’t work unless they had a good reason.
My mother who, was in a way, an early feminist. She was no bra burner, but she did believe that we should be judged by what we could do, not by our gender. She dreamed of being in law enforcement before women police officers were common. She became a police dispatcher instead. Despite her husband being old school she managed to teach me that I could stand on my own two feet. When I found out that the military handicapped the physical requirements, I took a pass. (If the men are in the field learning how to survive, hiking with full gear, required to do X, why should I be sitting in a class or only have to Q. ) I went into Law Enforcement. 😉
I don’t recall trying to emulate fictional women – at least not in that way. (role playing doesn’t count here.)
Which characters do I relate to?
Harder to answer. Friday would be at the top of the list. Hazel Stone. [Heck, half of RAH’s women would be on the list] The Red Lensman. Lessa of Benden Weyr. Col. Wilma Deering (from Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century, not the classic Rodgers), Lt. Sheba (classic BSG). Women who could stand on their own two feet, and yet were not ashamed of being a woman, or afraid to be feminine when the time was right. If I were to add more modern names, I’d add Lt. Cmd Susan Ivanova and Ambassador Delenn from Babylon 5.
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