Thursday, January 01, 2009


This post is non-political. I have decided to record a memory snippet. Why? Because last night's viewing of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly pushed this particular snippet to the forefront of my thoughts. Also, I've fallen out of the evil habit of daily writing, and recounting this anecdote should provide a quick way to re-establish the addiction.

Nearly thirty years ago, during my college years, I wrote for the UCLA Daily Bruin. One day, while my comrades and I indulged in our usual activities -- discussing philosophy, insulting each other, flinging paperclips at our hanging rubber bat, describing the grand and salvific works of art which we planned to create but never would -- an exceptionally cute brunette bounced into our cubicle. My former friend Colin (then an obnoxious pseudo-Marxist; later an obnoxious pseudo-neocon) instantly decided that she was that week's Most Gorgeous Woman of All Time. I concurred. It was the hair. She had rivers of the stuff, a dark and lustrous Niagara flowing out of a stylish French artist's beret.

She was the daughter of Eli Wallach, a great actor who -- despite a long and distinguished career -- will forever be known as Tuco in Sergio Leone's masterpiece, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. She was an actress herself, although she did not mention that fact. In a classic error, we did not make many inquiries about her life.

Naturally, Colin spent the next hour trying very hard to prove that he was cleverer and funnier than I was. Naturally, I returned the favor. He made a few cloddish attempts to convert her to Bolshevism, which was his way of saying "I love you." I managed to avoid bragging about my blog, probably because the internet did not yet exist. In those days, I possessed both copious hair and the gauntness of poverty. I hoped that she was still young enough to believe in all that romantic horseshit about starving artists.

Colin and I both tried very hard to present ourselves as wits and intellectuals. It was a battle of Der Shmartness: He quoted liberally from Engels and Dostoevsky and Derrida; I responded with choice gems from Shaw, Wilde and Stan Lee.

The object of our competition eventually excused herself for a visit to the little girl's room. We assumed that this was her way of making an escape. "That's the daughter of Ugly?" we shriek-whispered to each other. The fact astonished us (even though Eli Wallach was, in real life, not at all ugly). We were even more astonished when she returned. We were downright flabbergasted when she assented to our invite for coffee and dessert.

In nearby Westwood, the battle of wits continued, now fueled by caffeine. Colin and I spent the entire evening trying to one-up each other intellectually. Imagine the final gunfight in a Leone western. Now imagine how the scene might have played out if Clint Eastwood and and Lee Van Cleef were both pretentious weenies, firing polysyllables instead of bullets. The beauteous seed of Tuco put up with this silliness for an hour or two, then parted.

For some reason, we had the impression that she planned to stop by the office again -- and soon. On that occasion, Colin and I decided, one of us would ask her out. But which one?

Such was the problem confronting two young philosophers as they swilled coffee until daybreak.

"She seemed more interested in you, old chap." "Oh no. I think she liked you better." Whenever insecurity set in, Colin and I fell into the "Apres vous, Gaston" routine. And we suddenly felt very insecure -- for good reason. This lovely young thing was way out of our league. We thus both decided to give the other fellow First Shot on the glorious occasion of Ms. Wallach's return visit to our universe. The resultant displays of nobly hyperbolic mutual deference might have been quite amusing...

...had she not been wise enough to avoid that embarrassing scene. She did not set foot in the Bruin office again.

It occurred to us that we might have stood a better chance had we shown some interest in her life, instead of holding a geek-off. The smartest guys on campus had proven that they were actually the dumbest.

There are two kinds of men in this world, my friend -- and Colin and I belonged to the kind who don't date beautiful young actresses. I still think about that night every time I hear Ennio Morricone's classic score: Wa-WAAAH-wah. That's the sound of Fate's laughter. Eventually, one learns to laugh along.


Anonymous said...

Joe, if you've truly learned your lesson about showing an interest in a woman's life, couldn't you identify her as something more than "Eli Wallach's daughter"? She has a name of her own, which is either Katherine or Roberta (and her mother is the accomplished actress Anne Jackson).

(Then again, I went to USC at the same time you were at UCLA, and I was friendly with classmates whom I still refer to as "Walter Matthau's son" and "Cheryl Ladd's niece.")

Joseph Cannon said...

Joe, you caught me. Many years have passed, and I -- uh -- forget which one captured my heart that night. I THINK it was Katherine.

My memory for names is, however, notoriously poor. I once forgot my own middle name. So if Katherine/Roberta reads this, I hope she will forgive.

A Trojan, eh? Well, I never cared about the rivalry -- and I recall my hours in the Norris theater with great fondness.

Anonymous said...

IMDB lists Katherine as the younger, born in '58, like me.

I never cared much about the UCLA/USC rivalry either. I was/am from the Midwest, went to SoCal to study film and wrongly expected the campus to be filled with beatniks. I would have been better off at UCLA. But it did prep me to become a movie critic, which I am, for the daily in St. Louis, where I sneak in my political opinions as much as possible. Because I'm an Obama fence-sitter (and a JFK assassination obsessive), your site is one of my daily haunts. I expect to post comments more often, and I'll do so as "Trojan Joe." Cheers.

Rich said...

Took me a long bout of therapy to realize that other sentient creatures have narratives too. If it was Katherine, she had a resonant, if small role in the Gangs of New York, and is a jewelry designer these days. I saw the dad, in a another lifetime, in an off-Broadway, slam-dunk version of Death of a Salesman (used to profound effect by Charlie Kauffman in Synecdoche NY).

Anonymous said...


That was a heartbreakingly sweet story.

My college experience taught me never to choose between two friends. If they both showed interest, I had to make myself scarce. No way does a lady ever come between friends. She was wise and kind to choose as she did.

I love the image of the two of you going into your "Apres vous, gaston," routine.

Thanks for a story that truly took me back in time. Although I'd imagine young gentlemen still behave much the same.

Perry Logan said...

If this is a non-political post, why did you give it such an obviously political title? Answer me that, Mr. Cannon.

Twilight said...

That was a very good read! Thanks!
I'm fascinated to hear about people going to school/college with students who later became household names - or offspring/ siblings of same. Nothing as interesting ever happened in my small corner of the world in Yorkshire UK, where celebrities were thin on the ground - or more acurately non-existent.