Those Big, Reckless, Brilliant People

I love this quote from Jeanne Moreau –
“Tell me where the big people are, please. The big, reckless, brilliant people who believe passionately in doing something good and noble and inventive. I’ll rest in their shadow or I’ll help them balance their weight. I pray that they’ll hire me or teach me. I’m so tired of small people and small things. It doesn’t have to be a small world.” Jeanne Moreau/Interview with James Grissom, 1996/

You know who Jeanne Moreau was, right?  (“Jeanne Moreau , 23 January 1928 – 31 July 2017″) was a French actress, singer, screenwriter, director, and socialite. She made her theatrical debut in 1947, and established herself as one of the leading actresses of the Comédie-Française”

Her quote here is exactly how I have felt from time to time, but have never been able to put into words… especially these words. What a perfect sentiment, what a perfect observation! To personalize it, I have rubbed elbows with a few “large” people, people who can inspire one without even trying. There seems to be a magic about them, a power within them, something that we’re pretty sure we don’t have. Am I trying to say that there are levels of people? Some sort of hierarchy? Well yeah, I guess I am… a kind of hierarchy born out of relationship, and our perceived sense of importance to each other.

I’m not explaining this well, so let me give you an example. One of the most powerful and quietly stimulating people I ever met was Stephen J. Cannell.

Stephen Joseph Cannell ( February 5, 1941 – September 30, 2010) was an American television producer, writer, novelist, occasional actor, and founder of Cannell Entertainment (formerly Stephen J. Cannell Productions) and the Cannell Studios.

After starting his career as a television screenwriter, Cannell created or co-created several dozen successful TV series from the 1970s to the 1990s, often with his creative partner Frank Lupo. Cannell’s creations include The Rockford Files, The A-Team, Renegade, The Greatest American Hero, 21 Jump Street, and The Commish, It Takes a Thief, Ironside (1970–1971) Columbo (1973). and my personal favorite, Baa Baa Black Sheep (1976–1978). He also wrote novels, notably the Shane Scully mystery series.

Impressive, right? And Wikipedia says he struggled with writing dyslexia when he was young. I see him as a “Hemingway” of many fine tv series. Anyway, I met him in 1970 one evening in New York. A little background here – a fine singer, Jimmy Helms, and I were in the city for Jimmy’s audition for the lead in the road show of Golden Boy. Warren Myers, a well-known New York pianist and writer at the time, had taken us out on the town to celebrate what we felt was a very good audition earlier that day, though Jimmy told me recently that he felt his “reading got a thunderous round of indifference.” At any rate, Warren took us to the opening of the winter season of entertainment at The Waldorf, which featured Diahann Carroll, who was terrific, of course. We were also introduced to Diahann later on in the evening by Warren, which was quite a treat in itself.

Warren had invited a friend to join us for the evening… Stephen J. Cannell. As luck would have it, I was seated next to him for dinner and the show. I introduced myself and asked him about himself. I remember his telling me he was a friend of Warren’s. I thought he was a New Yorker, I’d never heard of him and had no idea that he lived and worked in L.A. I asked him what he did, he told me he “fooled around” with some production and writing, and that was it.

His demeanor of quiet confidence kept me from pressing for any further details. I had learned that it was better to let anyone in entertainment talk about their work as much, or in this case as little as they were comfortable with. And since Jimmy and I had been surrounded all day with New Yorkers who were important figures in the city’s entertainment circle, I was being especially careful. He knew Jimmy had auditioned on a Broadway stage earlier in the day, and seemed unimpressed by it. That in itself impressed me about him, as did his silence and careful observation of all the proceedings around him as the evening wore on.

Back to this hierarchy thing, okay? See, he immediately left when Carroll’s show ended, obviously having no desire to go for a night cap with us. I’m thinking there’s a good chance he ended up at another New York night spot with Diahann Carroll and her husband and manager or perhaps her conductor, Phil Moore, who was a fairly prominent figure himself at the time. And right there is my perceived “hierarchy” of certain folk. Perhaps it isn’t like they feel they’re better than the rest of us, but simply want to be with those who live life on their level, who they can relate to and who might understand them. Whatever… I couldn’t help but feel he wasn’t going to waste any of his obvious magnetism on me or Jimmy. And while it’s true that we really weren’t in his league, still I thought at the time that he might have been at least a little more indulgent.

Before I beat this thread totally to death, I have met other people like Cannell, people who you knew were powerful and different, simply by being in their company for a brief time. Burt Reynolds comes to mind here. And Henry Mancini, both of whom I’ve met and worked with briefly. They are more intelligent than many of us, sure, and more creative and energetic. They are good enough at what they do to raise the bar without shooting for it. And they give off this vibe, a vibe that one can feel regardless of the situation. It’s there in spades with all the special ones. Probably you have felt it, too, and known it when in the presence of one of these special folk.

To me they seem to be self-contained powerhouses who don’t need the rest of us… for anything. We have nothing to teach them, nothing to contribute, and they seem to instinctively know it. Isn’t that a hierarchy of a sort? I think so.

I always wanted to be one of that special breed… magnetic, powerful, yet otherwise normal. I hoped to be that person, to somehow become that person, but never did. And that’s a good thing, in case you’re wondering if I’m bemoaning the fact. Au contrare. “Normal” is a fantastic way to be, especially if you compare it to the lives of so many who aren’t normal. In that regard, I always think of people like Anthony Bourdain, Robin Williams, Ernest Hemingway, even Twitch, whose iconic status unfortunately revealed unhappy, sometimes tragic elements in their lives that many of us “normals” never had to deal with, and perhaps don’t even fully understand.

Because, you see, as our individual reality is nothing more than our perception of it, we, as normal folk, might easily be thought of as different, even magnetic and powerful, by some who are struggling with their perception of themselves, or see in us attributes that they know they lack. Such might very well be my case, that my perception of my heroes is simply an acknowledgement of my own shortcomings in the areas of power and magnetism. I freely admit that might be true, except that my attraction to the magnetic and powerful are shared by so many others. That and my endless desire to be close to them, to learn from them, to know what they know, to share their secrets of life, to own and hold what Jeanne Moreau so beautifully said, “that same passion and ability to do something good and noble and inventive.”

And in response to her statement of “Tell me where the big people are, please. The big, reckless, brilliant people…” God, I know where they are. I know where they are and I’m not there, nowhere near there. What I would rather know is where they are in their heads. Yeah, that would be great, but the truth is that most of these “big people” were that way to one degree or another from the very beginning of their life, and simply made the most of what they already had, what they already knew.

And as I said earlier, I’ve met some of them, talked to a few of them, tried so hard to learn from them, by words, deeds, even osmosis, and maybe I gleaned a tiny bit of what they have. But the truth is that they are still them, and I am still me. No jealousy, no resentment, just a bright and clear understanding of the invisible hierarchy of human kind, and an acknowledgement that Popeye’s famous “I yam what I yam” is terribly, wonderfully true. And I’m okay with that.

Steve Hulse

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