restricted access 15: Versatility

From: Theo

University of Wisconsin Press colophon
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15 :Z::::-ROM TIME TO TIME PEOPLE WOULD ASK ME, "How come you do ,L everything so well?" My answer is invariably, "Simple. Whatever I don't do well, I don't do." The truth of the matter is that there are many things I don't do well at all. Some of them I am forced to do from time to time because of the demands of my profession. I am a clumsy and reluctant dancer but I do dance when the role asks for it. Get me to dance in social situations-forget it. I have spoiled the mood of quite a few dates and lost out on romantic postludes because of such refusals. Also, I have never been good at sports; the parting advice of the Austrian professor about staying away from football came to embrace all sports in my mind. I don't even watch sports other than the occasional tennis tournament. Once, when my boys were little, I took them to a baseball game at Yankee Stadium and disgraced myself by displaying my ignorance. I kept asking the boys what was happening on the field and why. As they answered, they kept looking around furtively to see if anyone had taken notice of what a stupid father they had. We have never gone to another game and I still don't know why people run when they run and stand still when they don't. They keep stealing bases without getting arrested for it; people applaud for no discernible reason and just as mysteriously yell, "You jerk!" When I die, if there should be a test to get into the place, I just hope it does not have any sports questions; I'll flunk it for sure. Among my other shortcomings is a tendency to go for facile solutions . Because my ear was quicker than my eye, I never properly 290 · THEO learned how to read music. I retained melody and harmony by listening to them and let it go at that. I tend to go for the end results by the shortest possible route, and there is a danger in this. Minutiae that could be uncovered only by painstaking work on detail can be overlooked to the detriment of the work. As an actor, other than in television where it is necessary to be both good and fast, one should not have too early a grasp of the full image of a role. Quick intelligence can be a detriment here. Thus, at times I have had to arrive at the detail only by retracing my steps. The more logical approach is not to be in too much of a hurry, to let things develop organically. For years I carried a slip of paper in my wallet that said: "Quidquid agis prudenter agas et respice finem" (Translated with an attempt to keep the hexameter : "Do what you do with prudence/with the goal kept firmly in mind"). I suppose I tend to pay more attention to the last part of the exhortation than to the first. That slip of paper inscribed in Latin almost got me into trouble. When I first arrived in England in 1946, the immigration officer was meticulously looking through everything I carried. The right-wing Irgun, Menachem Begin's people, had blown up the British headquarters at the King David Hotel, and young Jews arriving in London from Palestine were automatically viewed with suspicion. The immigration authorities had no way of knowing that no one could have been further from the ideology and practices of the Irgun than I. They looked at the Latin legend and also at the next one, which read "Anthropos politikon zo'on"(Man is a societal creature), in Greek script no less. I had a hell of a time convincing them that I was not carrying coded messages. I have an inclination to perceive the world not so much in terms of its physical motion but rather with my auditory senses. I am, for want of a better term, a word man. If this is a failing, then I guess it is one I have in common with my ancestors. You sit and study, you sit and discuss, you sit and eat. My people were known to sit a lot. No wonder Jews are more inclined toward hemorrhoids than other peoples . To my delight, my sons have also shown a proclivity for words even at an early age. One time, when Danny was about four years...