GLOBAL PROVINCE - Home - About This Site - Agile Companies - Annual Reports - Best of Class - Best of the
- Big Ideas - Brain Stem - Dunk's Dictums - Global Wit & Worldly Wisdom - Gods, Heroes, & Legends -
Infinite Bookstore  - Investor Digest - Other Global Sites - Poetry & BusinessScenes from the Global Province
A Stitch in Time - Two Rivers


Return to the Index of Letters from the Global Province

GP5Mar03:  My Favorite Year

Best of Week.  Every so often, against our better judgment, we sample modern technology.  Backing into the future, we purchased a DVD player, which is the only thing that’s worse than a VCR to operate.  The poor design of these machines is only exceeded by the dismal, confused writing in their operating manuals, which we think are all composed by an engineer in Katmandu under the influence of exotic opiates.  These babble-books violate all the rules of good expository prose.   

The good part was the rental DVD we plucked off the metallic shelves of the video store, a discovery that took a lot of looking.  We found My Favorite Year, a film roughly based on Sid Caesar’s wonderful Your Show of Shows, and parodying  Errol Flynn, the Hollywood swordsman who had paid a visit as a guest star, probably far into his cups.  Flynn, the swashbuckler from Tasmania, sybarite, womanizer, possible traitor, provided ample fodder for comic imaginations.  The movie, needless to say, is a belly laugh from end to end. 

Somewhere in it, somebody remarks, “Death is easy; comedy is hard.”  While comedy seems to come easily here, the philosophy may be right.  It’s often a task to keep spirits high and the body in motion.  Banality triumphs over originality when you are just coasting.   

At any rate, 1982, when My Favorite Year came out, probably was a pretty good year.  The Reagan Revolution, with its several pluses and considerable minuses, was just beginning to get some traction, making Hollywood figures into political icons and rewriting international and domestic politics.  Many of us shucked old careers and old lives and got on to new adventures.  A good year is when you launch something new and send history in another direction.   

Your Shows of ShowsMy Favorite Year was an antic success, not because it sprang full blown from the head of a goddess, but because it drew on 30 years of post-World War II entertainment.  Your Show of Shows, on which it was based, was outrageously funny.  Running from 1950 to 1954 on NBC, it overflowed with talent.  Produced by Max Liebman, it starred Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, and Carl Reiner.  The string of writers included Mel Brooks (whose company produced My Favorite Year), Woody Allen, Neil Simon, and Larry Gelbart (the man behind M*A*S*H).  Some say Saturday Night Live is its descendant, yet Your Show of Shows is simultaneously less labored and more hilariously explosive. 

Peter O’Toole.  The movie is much more than a remembrance of Show of Shows.  Without the star Peter O’Toole, it would have been nothing.  In it he plays a washed up, drunken movie star (i.e. Errol Flynn), and many think he played himself, since he has a taste for drink and manic adventure.  But O’Toole, whatever his abusive habits, whatever the ravages of time, never is through, and always has another movie or play in him.  He is one of those transplant Irishmen (there are several) who always bring a dash of life to phlegmatic English society.  We recommend to you a chapter about him in Gay Talese’s book Fame and Obscurity as well as in an article about him in Entertainment Weekly.  (See http://realitymouse.com/otoole/articles/ewinterview01.html  and                             http://www.realitymouse.com/otoole/articles/talese.html.)  For certain, a smart independent producer will do a movie about O’Toole one of these days, his life and comrades at least as interesting as several of the real and fictional characters he has played. 

The Story Behind the Story.  What all this proves is that behind every good story is a truly great story.  My Favorite Year is a fine bottle of 82, because Your Shows of Shows and Peter O’Toole already had set the stage and prepared the ground.  Good vintages beget good vintages.   

We were reminded of this recently when we read a fine article in the Wall Street Journal (which we’ll cite on Global Province later this month) about the startling success the Finns have had in controlling hard disease, due to the public health efforts of Dr. Pekka Puska.  But this was only half the story.  We have since learned of the Seven Countries Study.  Ancel Keys, a brilliant researcher at the University of Minnesota, had put before the global cardiology community in the 1950s his belief that diet and environmental factors had much to do with the epidemic rise in heart disease.  Stung by their scornful  reaction, he pulled together a study that included seven nations that surveyed men from 40 to 59 between 1958 and 1970 and that rather conclusively sustained his suspicions.  That study lies behind Finland’s success, Puska’s brilliant and still unfolding career, and the current realization throughout the developed world that altered habits can do more to curb heart disease than all the drugs and stents we insert into tired hearts these days.  The study, it seems, has been on the shelf:  with the exception of the Finns, we have just not paid enough attention to it.  This is immensely relevant in the present time where we are learning that appropriate care outside the hospital is the key to saving the health and preserving the pocketbook of our society.  We just need to pay attention to Keys and the public health pioneers who have said it all before.     

The Purpose of History.  You have heard that a lot of academics at MIT and elsewhere, sundry consulting firms, and a clutch of corporations have put together knowledge management systems to ensure that they can pick the correct needle out of the haystack when they need it in order to better run companies, governments, systems, etc.  As it turns out, the arts of history and of storytelling are simpler and more effective in transmitting knowledge to where it is needed most.  History is the greatest knowledge-management system ever built:  it is the best medium for disseminating accumulated knowledge.  Diligent historians of all sorts can find out why a movie is great or heart disease is plummeting in Finland.  All we have to do is look for the story behind the story. 

No History. This  suggests that great enterprises, happenings, institutions, etc. invariably have an interesting history behind them.  That’s how they make use of what has come before.  And the inverse is just as true.  If you look around the United States at regions that have never lived up to their promise, you may find that history runs thin there and that there’s not that much of a past to talk about.  All their capital, financial and intellectual, is imported and is too quickly dissipated. 

This was equally true of all the dotcom companies that evaporated.  They had no history and they had no future.  Or of many large companies that are failing now because they have turned away from their history.  Don’t try a revolution unless you are astute enough to draw on the past.  It’s fair to say that companies that have come from nowhere probably are headed that way.

Back to Top of Page

Return to the Index of Letters from the Global Province

Home - About This Site - Contact Us

Copyright 2004 GlobalProvince.com