On February 18, 2010 I am flying to Savannah, GA and driving an hour north to Beaufort, SC for the Beaufort International Film Festival. Pat Conroy, novelist and author of The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini, among many others, will receive the Excellence in Writing Award and Blythe Danner, the actress who appeared in both films of those novels, will receive the Excellence in Acting Award. I have the honor of presenting Blythe’s award.
Beaufort was the local for both films and little about the town has changed in the thirty years that have passed since we made The Great Santini there. (Oh, did I mention I was in the film and played Blythe’s son and Pat’s alter ego, “Ben Meecham?” Well, I did.) Beaufort is a beautiful town, spared the wrath of the civil war because it became a hospital for Union soldiers, some of its homes date back to the eighteenth century. The low country has no finer example of southern charm.
Blythe has the rare and odd distinction of playing Pat’s mother in Santini and his wife in The Prince of Tides. Draw your own conclusions.
What I want to draw your attention to are the bonds that form between actors and writers when their work succeeds.
I was in Beaufort last year to see Pat and Santini for the first time since we’d made the film. Pat’s new novel, South of Broad had just come out and he was signing copies at the Bay St. Trading Co. Book Store. The night before Santini was screened on the town green. I sat through it and in general thought it held up well, though I wasn’t all that impressed with my performance (another blog might suit to go into how actors watch themselves and what comes up when they do).
When I saw Pat the next day we settled easily into being with each other as if we were cousins fond of each other and eager to spend time together at events other than funerals.
Our lives have several points in common. We are both Irish Catholics, the oldest of seven kids, and the first sons of imposing, charismatic and arguably dangerous fathers. And we both found a way to transmute that upbringing into lives as artists. At that dinner I found the time to tell Pat that without his profound gifts as a novelist I wouldn’t have had a career as an actor.
At the awards ceremony in February I’ll be able to say it in public and to convey similar admiration for Blythe Danner. In the thirty odd years that have passed since we worked together I can count the hours I have spent with both of them on one hand. Yet, I am certain that when we see each other we will ease into an awareness that many years ago we did something that people still fondly recall.
There are so many things about show business that are sordid, unappealing and frankly, weird, that when films succeed those involved know how rare an occurrence that is. I owe more than I can say to both Pat and Blythe but come February I will try my best to make clear my love and admiration for them. If you happen to be in the area stop by. You won’t ever meet two nicer people.