Dying the Ben Gazzara Way | Street Jazz

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dying the Ben Gazzara Way

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2009 at 10:58 AM

There is a moment in in the dark comedy The End, in which Burt Reynolds, suffering from a terminal illness, tells his doctor that he’d like to go out like Ali McGraw in Love Story, attractive _ and not actually very sick - until the very end.

I’ve been thinking about poor Burt lately, while flicking through the TV channels on the weekend, and coming upon what used to be one of my favorite shows shows when I was a kid, Run for your Life.

Basically, it’s the story of lawyer Paul Bryan (Ben Gazzara), who has been diagnosed with one of those “fatal” illnesses that TV and movie characters get. Being rich - really, really, rich - he decides to spend his last days traveling the globe and seeing what the world has to offer.

And what a world! Romance, adventure, fast cars, fist fights, and even more romance.

And not one day sick. No throwing up, no days when he says, “No fisticuffs today, boys, I’m just not up to it,” and no sleeping late because he has no energy.

As far as I can tell, this guy doesn’t even seem to spend too long in the bathroom. This guy has Ali McGraw beat all to hell.

Some people get very spiritual in the face of death. Ben Gazzara took the route of spirituality through sleeping with as many women and beating up as many guys as he could Well, who am I to judge?

The series was taken off the air in 1968 after three seasons, but with no actual death of the character shown. Make of that what you will.



Quote of the Day

There is no subtler way of flattering a retired official than to criticize his successor in office. - J.A. Spender


The Stone King

Super-heroes have been making a comeback; Spider-man, the X-Men, Incredible Hulk, and an animated  reworking of the Justice League of America, the group which forms the basis for this novel, The Stone King.

Writer Alan Grant is well-known to comics fans, having written for series as disparate as Lobo, Judge Dredd and Batman. Books about teams are difficult, in that each member needs special attention. This book, the first of a series about the Justice League, wisely chooses to focus on one character, the Batman. The plot itself, while interesting, is nothing new. A pyramid is discovered in Gotham City, and naturally, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. A university professor and students accidentally wake up a former shaman by the name of the Stone King. Chaos ensues, hearts are ripped from living chests, visions are received, and the dead walk - and they aren’t in a good mood.

The Stone King would like to destroy the world, hardly a novel concept in super-hero literature. But what sets this book apart is the characterization of the main chancier, Batman.

Superman (Smallville notwithstanding) is pretty much a one-note sort of guy. He’s strong. He can move mountains. Hell, he can do most anything he wants to do. He is almost too powerful, except for that pesky Green Kryptonite. Wonder Woman? The Flash? Green Lantern? The Martian Man hunter? They are all pretty much interchangeable, especially in The Stone King.

But the Batman stands alone from most other characters in this genre. 

Dark, foreboding, almost psychotic, he is literally a self-made man. 

After his parents are gunned down in a Gotham City alley, he pledges to avenge their deaths by fighting crime. And he spends the next ten years or so traveling the world (he has inherited a fortune, after all) learning from men and women who are masters of their various disciplines.

It is very apparel that he is also a snob where it comes to other heroes.

Without their powers, most of them would flounder, and probably fail. But Batman has no powers to lose; he is a force unto himself. 

He is very much the worst of the bad. If he were to lose his physical prowess today, he’d still have his mind - nothing the others don’t seem to rely on that much. Despite the fact that as Bruce Wayne he is a multi-millionaire (or is he a billionaire by now?), once he dons his cape and cowl, he demonstrates a working class snobbery, particularly regarding those he sees as elitist.

The scenes with Commissioner James Gordon (a character not served well by the films or the 1960s televison series) are also enjoyable. It helps that Grant knows so much about the character. There are references to several classic adventures, but are explained so that the casual reader will not be lost.

The book becomes less interesting when Batman works with the other members of the Justice League. He doesn’t seem to actually fit in well with them, and the reader may be as uncomfortable with those chapters as he seems to be.

The Stone King isn’t a bad book, but it isn’t an especially really good one, either.

Its only saving grace is the portrayal of Gotham’s protector, who has a lot more going for him than most other costumed heroes.




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