“Somebody came up to Arthur Miller after an opening and said ‘That was a nice play, but couldn’t you call it Life of a Salesman?’ But a play is not nice things happening to nice people. A play is about terrible things happening to people who are as nice or not nice as we are ourselves.”
Three Uses of a Knife
“Modern literature is devoted, in great measure, to a courageous, open-eyed observation of the sickeningly broken figurations that abound before us, around us, and within.”
The Hero with a Thousand Faces
“All Glory is Fleeting.”
Gen. George C. Patton told the story of how when Roman conquerors returned from war victorious they were greeted with great fanfare on their triumphant return. And as the leader waved to the large crowds from his passing chariot, a slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning that; “All glory is fleeting.”
And so as I wrap up seven days of talking about the great film Sunset Boulevard I think of Norma Desmond and how it would have been wise for her to have her servant Max whisper in her ear every now and then, “All glory is fleeting.”
And Max knew this first hand as that character was played by the great silent film director Erich von Stroheim (Greed) whose career sputtered with the advent of sound and who hadn’t directed a film in more than 17 years when Wilder cast him as the servant in Sunset Boulevard.
Truth is we’re all Norma Desmond’s and Joe Gillis’ in training. Most of us fall between struggling to make it (and dealing with compromise) and the residual effect of having already been to the top of the mountain and wondering, “What’s next?”
Nowhere is this greater seen than in the sporting world. And nowhere in the sporting world is this seen better than every couple years during the Olympics. An athlete trains for a lifetime in obscurity and if they are fortunate to win a gold medal one of the first questions reporters ask is, will you try again at the next Olympics? If they don’t then they are virtually considered has-beens in short time if not forgotten all together.
As I’ve said before, climbers that reach the peak of Mount Everest only get to enjoy the view at the top of the world for about five minutes before they have to head back down. It doesn’t last long.
For everyone who’s scored the winning touchdown, heard the applause of a packed house in a regional theater, or won a salesman of the year award has had a taste of what Norma Desmond struggled with. And they know what it’s like afterwards to not be on top of the mountain. To see read the articles again when the paper has faded and dust had gathered on the award.
Think back to the big name actors 5-10-15-20 years ago and you’ll see how quick the spotlight fades.
“All glory is fleeting.”
Even Sunset Boulevard director Billy Wilder became a little Norma-like in his later years.
It had been fifteen years since the great director had made a film when writer/director Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire) began interviewing Wilder for what became the book Conversations with Billy Wilder. Crowe wrote in 1999, “His life of the last ten years has often been about the dutiful collecting of awards and accolades, but the truth is even more Wilderesque. The very same industry icons honoring him could have better spent their time employing the great Wilder to direct new movies.”
Alan W. Livingston died a couple weeks ago at age 91. Does that name ring a bell? It didn’t to me. He was once married to Nancy Olson who played William Holden’s young writing partner and love interest in Sunset Boulevard. But that wasn’t his real claim to fame. That came as being the creator of Bozo the Clown.
Bozo the Clown —now that’s a name I remember from my childhood.. But Alan W. Livingston? I don’t recall ever hearing.
“All glory is fleeting.”
A couple days ago I saw where Aaron Spelling’s widowed wife was putting on the market her L.A. mansion for a mere $150 million. (Well, the interest rates are really low these days.)
What do you get for $150 million?
56,000 square feet on 4.6 acres
Over 100 rooms. “”There’s a lot. (The house) has evolved and I actually haven’t gone around and counted” Spelling told a reporter.
A bowling alley
A 17,000 sq. foot attic that includes a barber shop and beauty salon
16 car ports
Rooftop rose garden
I’ll have to double check, but I think for $150 million you can buy the entire state of Iowa. Mrs. Spelling has downsized to a $47 million condo, and apparently since Mr. Spelling is dead the mansion is of no use to him.
“All glory is fleeting.”
And lastly I’ve included a picture from my L.A. days when I was a 16mm cameraman and editor for a company in Burbank. This was taken on the Paramount Studios lot—the very lot where part of Sunset Boulevard was shot. You can’t really seen with this size shot but if you look back over my left shoulder that white line near the top of the mountain is actually the famed Hollywood sign.
“All glory is fleeting.” (Apparently so was all that hair I had.)
Movies like Sunset Boulevard and tragic figures like Norma Desmond offer what the Greek poets and Aristole called “katharsis”—a purification of sorts. (It’s where the English word “catharsis” comes from.)
There is no doubt that the ending of Sunset Boulevard is tragic all the way around. But it also provides the viewers a roadmap in their own life.
Certainly one of the themes of Sunset Boulevard is “All glory is fleeting.”
Another would be “What will it profit a man if he gains the world and forfeits his soul?”
Keep those things in mind as you reach for the stars.
copyright 2009 Scott W. Smith