I was raised by a group of fugitives. As a family, we have been on the run from the authorities since I was young enough to bring my Bette Midler records to preschool for show-and-tell. When I was around seven years old, we took a trip to Yosemite and shared one of those large tent cabins with other families . . . looking back on that experience now, we’re all a bit baffled by my parents’ decision to go against our “excuse me, you’re in my space” personalities. As it has been since the dawn of time and plumbing, the line for the men’s showers in Yosemite was much shorter than that for the women’s, and after a few days, a small group of female campers, my mother included, decided to get in the men’s line.
While I stood innocently in line with Mom, my fellow men, and five or six disobedient women in need of a shower, the good-hearted Yosemite security guards came rolling up, determined to kick these evil ladies out of line. Despite arguments from the equally good-hearted men who stood in line with us (none of them objected to the situation or its possibilities), eventually all of the women gave in and returned to wait in their assigned shower line . . . well, almost all of them. As the security guards strolled through the men’s showers, they belted out every few seconds, “Any women in here?” Deciding for once in my life to act like “one of the guys” and do what everybody else is doing, I looked one of those guards right in the face and answered with a firm, “No!” On other side of the stall door behind me, Mom quietly showered under the protection of her son and her fellow male campers. Not that she needed us.
A few years after Yosemite had given us a taste for crime and defying of authority, we spent a long summer afternoon at our favorite vacation spot in San Diego, just 20 minutes from our house. It was there that we waited . . . and waited . . . and waited for a lunch check that was never to arrive. In those days, when Dad got that look on his face and said, “That’s it,” it really was. He and my sister snuck out of the restaurant first, while Mom and I waited a few minutes before making our final dine-and-dash. The two of us were already experienced criminals, so the exit order made sense to all involved parties. Mom and I learned after the fact that my father and sister spotted a police car on their way out but left us to fend for ourselves. Not that we needed them.
It didn’t take long for us to graduate to movie-theatre-hopping on those scorching summer days before air conditioning. Under the large and anonymous cover of a chilled movie theatre, one could, oh, hypothetically, buy a ticket for one film and casually stroll into a second or third. Our mug shots could very well be taped up behind a couple of restaurant counters or shower stalls, and perhaps we haven’t always behaved as model citizens . . . but what family doesn’t have its ups and downs?
The Lion in Winter . . . saying enough is saying too much about this marvel of a film. I have given copies as birthday gifts; I have forced friends to stay in on their Saturday nights for wine and a viewing; I have recited quotes both in my head and aloud when I needed a boost of confidence . . . this one is not to be missed! James Goldman’s Academy Award-winning script based on his own play is the perfect tool for talents such as Katharine Hepburn and her king, played with relish by Peter O’Toole. As Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the two giants feed off of one another, both as characters and as actors. The story of a king in a fierce battle with his queen over which son will inherit the throne sets the stage for what I have crowned as my favorite Hepburn performance. In a rare tie with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl (1968), it is with this delectable role that Hepburn became the first and only woman (as of 2013) to win three Oscars for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
On Thanksgiving we convinced Mom to watch The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Although I can’t seem to find a written or digital record of it, I remember hearing that Anthony Hopkins considered his depiction of Hannibal Lecter to be a combination of Charles Manson and Katharine Hepburn. Even if I’m creating this fact entirely in my head, it is absolutely an accurate description of the man who beats the Wicked Witch of the West on those frivolous “All-Time Greatest Movie Villains” lists. Anthony Hopkins makes one of his first appearances in The Lion in Winter as the son for whom Hepburn’s character is determined to win the throne. Praising his skills, she informed him that he didn’t need to act; he could let the camera do all the work. “Leave the acting to me,” she said. “I act all over the place.” Years later when Hopkins walked up on to the stage and accepted an Academy Award for Lambs, somewhere there must have been a grateful little Lion in him.
“Henry, I have a confession . . . I don’t much like our children.” As alliances within the royal family change at the blink of a sly eye, The Lion in Winter reminds its audience that no one can press emotional buttons like the members of one’s family. While oftentimes they can love us in the ways we need to be loved, this also gives them the power of knowing precisely which sword can cause the greatest amount of pain. Henry’s fear of death is well known by his wife and three sons, providing Eleanor (to our delight) with numerous opportunities to slay her man. When he asks her for a little peace after all the years of brawling, Eleanor replies in the most Hepburn of voices, “A little? Why so modest? How about eternal peace . . . now there’s a thought.” When I first saw the beautiful mountains of Switzerland, I was so mesmerized, that I had to remind myself to breathe. The same is true for a climactic scene during which Henry and Eleanor, in mere seconds, dart back and forth between loving and despising one another. Switzerland and Hepburn . . . the two experiences for which I need an inhaler.
“Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history’s forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can’t we love one another just a little? That’s how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children. We could change the world.”
Academy Awards for The Lion in Winter (1969): Best Actress in a Leading Role (tied with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl), Best Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium), and Best Music (Original Score)