What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of a blog-a-thon celebrating Ava Gardner. This is an event hosted by Maddy Loves Her Cllassic Films. I’ve participated in several blog-a-thons with her, and hopefully this won’t be the last.
For this episode, I need to start with a bit of housekeeping. For openers, this is the second straight episode of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies which features George Kennedy*. That isn’t nearly as important as the fact that as a child of the 1970s, I’m a sucker for the phenomena of that decade known as the “Big-Budget, All-Star Disaster Flick.” It’s not a coincidence this also isn’t the first film of that genre to get it’s own installment in this series.
When Maddy announced this blog-a-thon, I really wanted to write about “Earthquake” not just for the sake of my affinity for “Disaster” flicks, but because a bond exists inextricably between Lee Grant in “Airport ’77” and Ava Gardner in “Earthquake.” They both offer masterful performances portraying the neglected wife who replaced their inattentive husbands with John Barleycorn.
Be it Grant’s “Karen” or Gardner’s “Remy,” both actors put “the juice” into both characters. But if you pay careful attention to both, it’s hard not to notice that Grant borrows heavily from Gardner. You can’t fault Lee Grant for cribbing Gardner’s bit; if you’re going to borrow, do it from the best.
Think about it. Both “Karen” and “Remy” are married to men whose career success has become the glacier slowly crushing the Eskimo fishing villages that are their marriages. Both those marriages suffer infidelities. On top of all that, neither character survives their film.
Ironically, the difference comes in another similarity. Both Grant and Gardner have the ability to make you almost empathize with their characters, then they do something that makes you want to slap the piss out of them. As I said in my review of “Airport ’77”, when Lee Grant does this, it’s impressive because her character isn’t terribly important to the plot. That’s a common problem problem in this sort of film, but Gardner overcomes an even larger version of it. In many respects, Gardner’s “Remy” really only exists to illustrate what an asshole Charlton Heston’s character is, which really isn’t necessary since we get to see him playing “grab-ass” with a woman half his age and staying married to Gardner for the sole reason her father can make or break his career. In other words, she shines in a role which doesn’t really matter.
Not only is that not easy to do, it begs the question which sets up my sports analogy.
Ava Gardner was born in an out-of-the-way town in North Carolina; she certainly was not somebody who seemed destined for a meteoric rise. But that’s exactly what happened once a photo displayed in her brother-in-law’s studio of the small-town girl/exotic head-turner caught the attention of Barnard Duhan, a Loews Theaters legal clerk who often worked as a talent scout for MGM. In no time at all, Gardner was doing a screen test for studio head Louis B. Mayer, after which he supposedly commented: “She can’t act. She can’t talk. She’s terrific. Sign her!”
She earned an Academy Award nomination for “Mogambo.” She also received critical praise for films such “The Barefoot Contessa,” “Bhowani Junction,” “On the Beach,” and “The Night of the Iguana.” While she was at her career peak in 1953, she had enough “mojo” to resurrect her husband Frank Sinatra’s career by getting the role of “Maggio” in “From Here to Eternity.”
Given all that, the question is “Why doesn’t Ava Gardner rate higher than she does in terms of being Hollywood royalty?”
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
The answer lies in the tale of another native North Carolinian. Just like when Ava Gardner was discovered down on Tobacco Road by a talent scout for MGM, a flood of scouts washed over North Carolina in 1999. That was the year the Tampa Rays used the prized first pick of the 1999 Major League Baseball Draft to select Josh Hamilton.
The scout who came across Ava Gardner saw the rare kind of beauty that translated to a stunning screen presence even if Louis B. Mayer thought she couldn’t act. The scouts who discovered Josh Hamilton saw what in baseball is called a “five-tool player;” meaning he had speed, was a great fielder, could throw the ball, and could hit the ball for average AND power. In other words, Hamilton was the complete package.
Usually, guys with Hamilton’s talents don’t languish long in the minor leagues, but nobody could figure out why it took Hamilton a total of eight years to make it to the bigs. In that time, the Rays had given up on him and traded him to the Cincinnati Reds. When he finally debuted in the Queen City in 2007, he showed his potential by hitting .292 with 19 home runs and 47 runs batted in; and did all that in just under 300 at-bats. That’s about half a season’s worth of trips to the plate, so the first time Hamilton saw big-league pitching, he showed all the signs of being a 40 HR/100 RBI hitter. In baseball terms, that’s “Ava Gardner”-level sexy.
But for reason unknown to the average fan, Hamilton wore out his welcome in Cincinnati and the Reds shipped him to the Texas Rangers. To be fair, the Reds got their money’s worth in the deal, but career-wise, Hamilton has his “Mogambo” moment in Dallas. This is where he lives up to the potential of a “five-tool player;” Hamilton blossoms in to a five-time All-Star and was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2010.
Given those accolades, much like Gardner, the question becomes why wasn’t Hamilton one the great players of his era? Because much like Gardner, unbeknownst to the average fan, between his flashes of brilliance Hamilton had some hefty struggles in his personal life.
Gardner took being a “party girl” to the extreme; she loved her cocktails and her cigarettes, and her three tumultuous marriages to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra didn’t help. Not only were those detractions from her career, there were tales of her being a “diva.” In fact, there’s a tale that Charlton Heston did not want to work with her on “Earthquake” because she “behaved badly” during the making of “55 Days at Peking” in 1963. Heston is on record in his in his autobiography “In the Arena” stating that Gardner became such a pain in the ass during that shoot that her character was killed off to keep the producers and director from having to deal with her anymore.
However, Josh Hamilton took that all to the next level. Hamilton’s entire career was an exercise in yo-yo-ing between sobriety, substance addictions, struggles with rehabilitation. At the peaks, the slugger was able to take home an MVP award. At the troughs, Hamilton would be spotted hammered in bars and engaging in behavior team found so unpalatable he got the “55 Days at Peking” treatment.
The Moral of The Story:
Failing to control your personal demons will affect your professional life.
*P.S. George Kennedy also appears in “Airport ’77.” Just sayin’…
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