He performed one of my favorite movie lines, but it did not apply to him. Peter O’Toole, who died the other day, got to play a dissolute guest on an early television program in the 1982 film “My Favorite Year.” Through the haze, Alan Swann divines that he is about to appear live, a prospect that thoroughly terrifies him. As he is nudged onto the set, he protests: “I’m not an actor – I’m a movie star!”
The line speaks to the inner truth most of us know about ourselves: sometimes we are in over our heads.
O’Toole recently was seen in the 1987 Bertolucci film, “The Last Emperor,” in that wonderful series that New York’s Channel 13 runs all too infrequently on Saturday nights. As an English tutor brought into the Forbidden City, O’Toole proved my point. He was an actor.
Among my other favorites:
In the 1963 film “The Balcony,” Shelley Winters plays a madame whose office assistant, Lee Grant, is lobbying to change positions within the establishment. Winters keeps trying to put her off, and the writer, Genet, plants the madame’s line in our heads before it is actually uttered:
“The world is full of whores; what it really needs is a good bookkeeper.”
How many times have I used that line to advise people to stick with their chosen profession?
Then there is the Clint Eastwood film, “The Unforgiven.” (I love Clint, even though he now speaks to empty chairs.)
The movie has many good lines, including when the young man kills somebody for the first time and starts babbling.
Will Munny (Clint): It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.
The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvet): Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.
Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.
That’s pretty much the point of the movie. I love it when Clint calls somebody “kid.”
Then there’s the scene we all know is coming, when Clint doubles back to town to avenge the killing of his pal, Ned, played by Morgan Freeman.
Inside the bar, Clint asks: “Who’s the fellow owns this shithole?”
The poor dope named Skinny admits he does, and Clint commences to do what Clint does. I often revive that line when fate takes me to some miserable football stadium or over-priced restaurant where I emphatically do not want to be. Don’t we all have our inner Clint?
At the end, Clint rides off into the rainy night, his voice cutting through the empty street:
“You better bury Ned right!... Better not cut up, nor otherwise harm no whores... or I'll come back and kill every one of you sons of bitches.” (I think he also mentions their children, even their dogs, but it’s just an echo by then.)
I know there’s a whole universe of favorite-movie-lines out there. What’s yours?
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.