Your Commitment To Excellence
By Alan Gordon
“Ernest Borgnine, one of our most notable character actors, Marty, The Wild Bunch, Bad Day At Black Rock, The Poseidon Adventure al, was the consummate professional. After ten years in the Navy his mother encouraged him to take up acting. A profession she thought him well suited for because he enjoyed making a fool of himself (said with love). Following his time in the Navy he made his way to Robert Porterfield’s Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, where he spent the next four years honing his acting skills. During his tenure at Barter he landed a role in a Broadway play. While on stage he began to sweat profusely, had difficulty focusing, and was struggling to remember his lines. He realized that he wasn’t ready and that he needed more training. So he returned to the Barter Theatre determined to finish what he started.
Paul Newman started acting in grade school and High School. In 1946 after his discharge from the Navy serving as gunner’s mate he enrolled at Kenyon College. From there it was off to the Yale Drama School where he landed a role in a play that was beyond his emotional reach. With that in mind he journeyed to New York, where he gained admittance to The Actor’s Studio in the hope of improving his skills. The rest, as they say, is history. Somebody Up There Likes Me, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, The Verdict, The Sting, are just a few of the many films he has starred in. In 1959 he starred opposite Geraldine Page in Sweet Bird Of Youth, directed by Elia Kazan. As an elder statesman he returned to Broadway in a revival of Thornton Wilder’s, Our Town.
One of the things that impressed me most when I read about these two wonderful actors was their commitment to excellence. Rather than rest on their laurels, or in Newman’s case his looks, they acknowledged their limitations and dedicated themselves to building a strong foundation in their craft. While at the Actor’s Studio, Newman was a keen observer of the work of his peers. By his own admission he didn’t get up to bat all that much but he learned a great deal from watching others.
Sometimes it’s hard for us to get out of our own way. Our egos, hunger for attention, sensitivity, make it difficult to accept and process corrective criticism. The need for praise and recognition can be so all consuming that we don’t see ourselves as we really are. Neil Simon welcomed honest feedback from those people whose opinions he respected most. He understood that there was no value in surrounding himself with people that genuflected every time he entered a room.
It is a sign of strength, not weakness, to exercise an objective eye when it comes to self improvement. We cannot move forward in our art or in our selves without recognizing our humanity which is to accept and try to improve upon our imperfections. Acceptance and acknowledgement of our flaws is the road to enlightenment. Elenora Duse, arguably the greatest actor of her generation was known for a phrase she used throughout her life. “I must work. I must learn.” To be able to acknowledge that growth and humility go hand in hand is the sign of the true artist. To achieve greatness and maintain one’s humility is no small feat.
I read a quote several years ago that made an immediate and lasting impression on me. “There is no humanity without art. I think that the reverse is equally true. “There is no art without humanity.””