So, it’s September in Los Angeles and the decorations in the stores remind me that Christmas is just around the corner. That most magical time of year; I love everything about it. Well, almost everything. I’ve always been troubled by one particular Christmas carol I first learned at age 4: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
You know the story, right? Young buck born with funny nose. Ostracized and bullied for it.
Naturally, extenuating circumstances (“one foggy Christmas eve”) conspire to suddenly show that the “handicap” is really a valued asset:
Santa came to say: “Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”
Even as a small child, I always felt that the next line would be Rudolph’s response to Santa. Instead we get:
“Then how the reindeer loved him…”
“Then how the reindeer loved him…”???
Now I grant you I was a very weird 4-year old (hell, I’ll grant you I’m a very weird adult), but when Miss Kelch was teaching us this song in kindergarten and we were instructed to blow kisses to act out that line, I wanted to stand up and raise my chubby little 4-year old hand and say: “But Miss Kelch! This makes no sense! All it took was a word from Santa to go from not letting Rudolph play in any reindeer games to blowing kisses at him? Why did the reindeer need permission to change their gestalt?”
I wanted to ask that. I really did. But I couldn’t.
I didn’t yet know the word “gestalt.”
Thirteen years later, I was the high school yearbook editor. I remember one particular late fall afternoon when the boys on the staff (I’m not sure where the girls were that day) were in the school library, sorting through the various senior pictures, making sure they were laid out correctly on the pages for publication. All of a sudden, I heard “Hey! Who is she?”
Such a question made our teenaged libidos over-carbonate and we knocked over library chairs in the rush to crowd around the picture: sandy blonde hair that cascaded to her shoulders, perfect cheekbones, and a smile that — even in black and white — seemed to say: “yes.”
No one had ever seen her before.
I flipped over the picture and looked at the info-carrying index card paper clipped to it. Her name didn’t ring a bell. I wasn’t even sure which clique she was in. And in high school that was more important.
Then someone — I’m not sure who, it might have been me — said: “God, is she beautiful!”
And she was. I might have even asked her out — assuming you can imagine I, at that awkward age, could ask out any girl, let alone a beautiful one — but best of luck with that plan. It was as if the spoken comment of her beauty punctured the chrysalis around her, once and forever. I’m fairly certain she never understood why there was a sudden blitz on her from half the boys in our class. It was just that in a single instant we understood that
this girl this goddess this precious slice of femininity, who deigned to come down to our humble suburban high school to say “yes”(!) to our collective boyish wonder — she — was no longer invisible. Or available.
Then how the reindeer loved her…
Vincent Van Gogh sold exactly one painting in his lifetime. Ears to a muted career! It was only after the extensive efforts of his sister-in-law, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger (who later patented the first Dutch water pipe), that his work saw the light of day.
Then how the reindeer loved him…
Guitarist extraordinaire Robert Johnson had a devil of a time: died in poverty and had to be dead for over 20 years before a re-issue of his (then) obscure records in 1961 allowed his playing and music to be celebrated (and ripped-off).
Then how the reindeer loved him…
Joe Pesci had precisely two film roles between 1961 and 1976. Really. Two. Both minor roles. What? You find that amusing? You think it’s funny Pesci effectively retired from acting? Well, retired until Robert DeNiro saw the 1976 film and begged Martin Scorsese to cast Pesci in Raging Bull.
Then how the reindeer loved him…
Matthew Weiner wrote the pilot of Mad Men as a spec script. Couldn’t sell it (should’ve used better pitch men, I guess). David Chase, the creator of the HBO series, The Sopranos, saw it, loved it, hired him. Weiner won a few Emmys for The Sopranos. So, when The Sopranos concluded, what did HBO — which had already benefited from Weiner’s work — do with the Mad Men spec script? Bada-bing: Pass. Fortunately, AMC didn’t.
Then how the reindeer loved it…
See the similarities? (Besides the repetition of a key lyric of the song, I mean. That’s just a writer’s trick to emphasize a point.)
In all cases, the talent that received public accolades was already there, fully formed. It was only that Santa hadn’t given us reindeer permission to recognize it.
Los Angeles is the country’s entertainment center. Just as Silicon Valley is the country’s tech center, New York is the country’s financial center, and Castroville is the country’s artichoke center, Los Angeles is the hub of the country’s entertainment business. As a result, Los Angeles attracts an awful lot of talented performing artists.
Know why it’s so damned hard for good actors in Los Angeles to find work?
Because there are so many damned good actors here.
For a while I, like your average Angeleno, was under the assumption that most professional LA Theater took place in the big named theaters with the big named actors. Call me ignorant (“you’re ignorant!”), call me stupid (“you’re stupid!”); but that was the case. It was only in the last few years, I discovered that LA is sprinkled all over — yes, including the Valley! — with many smaller venues hosting productions with actors of the same caliber as those you’d find in major motion pictures coming to a (major motion picture) theater near you.
Yes, actors of the same caliber. And sometimes, even better.
It’s just that these actors don’t have the “big names” you might recognize from film or television. They are still waiting for Santa’s blessing. On the other hand, Santa’s market inefficiencies are my gain. I can see nose-glowing talent while sitting just a few feet away from it. And at a price that wouldn’t support the “big name”‘s bottled water habit for even a single day.
All I have to do is to not act like a
Recent polls suggest that the average American past the age of 27 doesn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore. So why would we wait for Santa to tell us what’s special? We often hear of the bravery to get on stage and perform. And, indeed, it is brave. But it is equally brave to sit in the audience and recognize talent without have it pointed out by some guy in a suit — be it red or otherwise. It’s the exact same gumption required to step outside the reindeer groupthink and say aloud: “Cool! A red nose!”
There is an artistic joy in that moment of discovery.
So, it’s September in Los Angeles. It’s not foggy. It’s not yet Christmas eve. Santa Claus doesn’t exist. (Retroactive spoiler alert.) This is sunny LA; we don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Talent is everywhere. We can see it — and name it — ourselves.
Then how the reindeer will love us… (and, children, this is where you blow the kisses)…
If you didn’t like this column, you most certainly won’t enjoy my previous one: Where’s Your Digital Barbaric YAWP?
About the Author: Kevin Delin took a few writing courses (among other things) at MIT from playwright A.R. Gurney and author Frank Conroy. Unable to convince backers to turn his textbook, Foundations of Applied Superconductivity, into the Broadway spectacular it deserved to be, he let his id run amuck and wrote Heat & Hostility instead. With an immodest plot about immodest gender relations, the play was an immodest success: the police never raided the theater. The last mentionable thing he did in a theater (besides seeing a play) was participate in Hollywood Fringe 2012 as both a writer and director in Theatre Unleashed’s 24-Hour production. You can follow him on Twitter @KDelin.