During the golden age of Hollywood, movie studios ‘owned’ various actors. The studios picked the vehicles for their stars guaranteeing that Mickey Rooney would no sooner be cast as the sophisticated man about town than Mae West would be as a nun. Even the stars’ personal lives were subject to manipulation with contrived romances covering up all sorts of behavior that was unacceptable to the public.
That system was long gone by the time West Side Story premiered in 1961. Yet the power of the medium still blurred and continues to blur the line between certain actors and their roles. Years later, when as a teenager I saw West Side Story (numerous times), Natalie Wood and Maria were one and the same to me. Beautiful, young, tragic and innocent were the words I associated with the actress as befit her character of Maria; I certainly didn’t think of drunkenness or domestic fighting.
Fast forward fifteen years to when my husband, parents, baby daughter and I anchored our sailboat in a cozy bay off Catalina Island. For sailors living in the Los Angeles area, Catalina is the default overnight destination. Like so many others we were regular devotees of the small island’s charm. We bicycled, watched taffy being pulled in the candy-store window, and regardless of what was playing, saw the movie being shown at the historic Avalon Casino. At night, the sailboat’s gentle rocking lulled us to sleep in a tranquil harbor. On this trip however, news of a night-time drowning disturbed the morning mood as murmurs about Natalie Wood’s death spread.
It felt strange this week to read about that night again as front page news. But it is a reminder that the face which people present in public does not always match the truth. At the moment we have a president whose image was protected and burnished by the media as carefully as the movie studios shielded their stars back in the days.
And that may well be Mitt Romney’s handicap. Had he been an actor in the 1940’s he might have been central casting’s choice as a politician. His good-looking and high-achieving family would have even provided the perfect backdrop. In today’s cynical times, those same features seem false. As he avoids controversy, standing to the side while other candidates self-destruct, he comes across like an actor playing a politician rather than a committed statesman. I watched several interviews with Mr. Romney yesterday and couldn’t help feeling that he was parroting lines. I could almost see the notes “sound emphatic” or “smile” on a paper in his mind. It wasn’t as bad as a certain president who uses a teleprompter even to speak to kindergarten students, but it lacked authenticity.
I have met people who have known Mitt Romney for decades, both as personal friends and business acquaintances. They believe in him as a person and as a candidate in a way that should induce trust. And it does – until he starts speaking and something is just…off.
Like so many others, I fear for our country if Barack Obama is re-elected. I have trouble with Mr. Romney’s record, but that is not an insurmountable barrier. For the overwhelming majority of my friends in the Evangelical community, I don’t think Mitt’s faith is the obstacle the media presents it as. I am coming to the conclusion that Mitt Romney’s real problem is a perception that he radiates insincerity. This may be far from the reality, but he is hiding behind a barrier which safeguards him from attack but simultaneously stops him from connecting with those whose votes he wants.
Natalie Wood was not Puerto Rican and gang members don’t perform ballet steps around the slums of New York. A beautifully executed movie is not reality. Can Mitt Romney step out of his script and reveal his true passions and core values? If he can’t, he should try for an Oscar, not the presidency.