If life gives you lemons, make lemonade out of them.
Many actors have succeeded in transforming an illness or injury into an unmistakable trademark that gave them a charm and recognizability that they would otherwise not have enjoyed. Five of them are considered here: three character actors whose faces you'd probably recognize even though you never knew their names – Victor Wong, Jack Elam, and Vincent Schiavelli, and two stars – Danny DeVito and Michael J. Fox.
All five turned the lemons they were treated with into lemonade – a saying that dates back to 1909 when it was first used in the Men's clothing Magazine: “In business, obstacles become convenience. When you get a lemon – make lemonade out of it. " Six years later it was used for the first time in the sense relevant to the present discussion when Elbert Hubbard wrote an obituary for Marshall Wilder (1859-1915), who was then a world-famous storyteller and a victim of dwarfism and kyphosis ("Hunchback") ”). In his 1915 Obit, Hubbard wrote of Wilder: “He has benefited from his disabilities. He took the lemons fate had sent him and started a lemonade stand. "
Victor Wong (1927-2001)
When Victor Wong was working as a broadcast journalist for KQED in San Francisco in 1974, he fell ill with Bell's palsy, which resulted in a squinted left eye. With an appearance that was no longer suitable for television news, Wong returned to acting, a former love. After a few years of theater work, he became interested in films and, at a relatively late age, landed supporting roles in pictures like The Year of the dragon (Cimino 1985), Big problem in Little China (Carpenter 1986), The golden child (Ritchie 1986), The last emperor (Bertolucci 1987) and Tremble (Underwood 1990) and the Ninja 90s movies.
The same facial anomaly that cost him his television news job became his big screen trademark, and he liked to say, "Hollywood casting directors liked him for his" one-sided "face." One commenter has suggested that Wong made the blinking left eye a "part of his shtick" and milked it for the unique look that sets it apart.
Jack Elam (1920-2003)
Jack Elam was stabbed in the left eye with a pencil at the age of twelve during a fight with another Boy Scout and had no control over the blinded, wandering eye of which he once said, "Do what the hell will." and which one "Always seemed to be trying to roll so it could look behind its head." With a face suitable for a wanted poster, Elam's trademark became a symbol of the manic evil that he embodied in Western classics Rawhide (Hathaway 1951), Shootout in the O.K. Corral (Sturges 1957) and Once Upon a Time in the West (Leone 1968). “His eyes conveyed rascality… one pointed at one and the other. It all seemed malicious. "One commenter suggests that the eye was shot around many times in Elam's early screen appearances, and it wasn't until later that he was told it might be his 'wage filth.'
His wandering eye cannot be seen in Wild Weed (Newfield 1949) and The Sundowners (Templeton 1950), which Elam had to fund to get a role. It seems that Elam got a role early in his career despite the injured eye, while it would soon be up to the eye that directors would want him in their films and that viewers would enjoy his screen appearances. This eye was described by Clint Walker as a lemon that Elam turned into lemonade.
Vincent Schiavelli (1948-2005)
Vincent Schiavelli's face showed traces of a genetic disorder called Marfan Syndrome – a long, narrow skull, deep set eyes that sloped downward, and a small sunken jaw – that made him perfect for playing strange-looking characters. His breakthrough in film was like a patient in One flew over the cuckoo's nest (Forman 1975), and his generally abnormal appearance was well suited to play a wide range of flashy roles, such as a dingy holographic gun seller in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1988), a ghost in ghost (Sugar
1990), the organ mill in Batman returns (Burton 1992) or a vampire in the ZZ Top music video Break away (1994). In a counterpoint to his creepy film personality, he promoted Sicilian food culture and stories in recipe books and television appearances.
Schiavelli was known in the Marfan community "for his generosity in reaching out to other Marfans, especially children, and giving them his time and attention.
Danny DeVito (born 1944)
Danny DeVito's tiny height – 4 feet 10 inches – is the result of a genetic bone growth disorder also known as Fairbank's disease multiple epiphyseal dysplasia (MED). Play a patient in One flew over the cuckoo's nest (Forman 1975) was his breakthrough, winning Golden Globe and Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Louie De Palma, the dispatcher on the TV series taxi (Brooks et al. 1978-1983), a role that ranked first in 1999 Television programList of 50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time. DeVito often stated that being short helped his career because it set him apart from the myriad of hopes auditioning for the same roles.
When he showed up for a casting call, he got an interested look because he said, "I wasn't that average" and, "No casting director will forget the 5-foot guy." DeVito jokingly recalled the lemon-and-lemonade adage, "I believe if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade … and try to find someone whose life gave you vodka and have a party."
Michael J. Fox (born 1961)
Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's disease in 1991 and had already made a name for himself through his role as Marty McFly in the three cases Back to the Future Films (Zemeckis 1985, 1989, 1990) and 172 episodes of Family ties (Goldberg 1982-1989) as Alex P. Keaton. Before he stopped working in 2000 when he could no longer cope with the challenges, he took on roles in feature films and starred in 103 episodes of Spin City (Goldberg & Lawrence (1996–2002) as Mike Flaherty. Fox described himself as an "incurable optimist" and was determined to use his disability as a source of new opportunities for self-knowledge and achievement of meaningful goals. A foundation for furthering research into the Parkinson's Disease. And he accepted guest roles on Scrubs, Boston Legal, and Rescue Me, but those roles weren't entirely satisfactory to him because, as an actor with Parkinson's Disease, he struggled to play characters who don't have Parkinson's.
That would all change if he accepted an invitation to The Good Wife, in which he played a lawyer with tardive dyskinesia – the involuntary, irregular body movements that he himself experiences from taking drugs for Parkinson's disease. This wasn't at all the concept originally suggested to him by the show's creators, Robert and Michelle King, who introduced him as a wheelchair-accessible character – something he had already done when he appeared in Denis Leary's Rescue Me Dwight in 2009 played. However, one aspect of that role was particularly pleasing to Fox, who described Dwight as
a misogynist, misanthropic, drug addict, sex addict, alcoholic, philanderer, drunk driver, bastard. I remember thinking I knew this guy. This is the guy I would have been if I had made different decisions based on my diagnosis and what happened in my life … It was a confirmation of when I could leave: well, I didn't! This is so damn great that I didn't and at the same time I was able to do that by playing the role.
On The good wifeFox wanted to play a character who, like Dwight, was his own opposite in terms of the choices made while displaying his own erratic body movements, and along with the show's writers, helped shape the role of Louis Canning – a lawyer who his illness shamelessly exploited to score points with his opponents in the courtroom, for example by playing for sympathy or distracting the jury at key moments of the testimony. In Fox's own words, Canning would use his illness “as an effective tool for him to get his job done as opposed to something that prevented him from doing his job…. I think he just wants to win, and whatever may be viewed as a deficit, he will turn into an asset in order to prevail. " What we then see is Louis Canning turning lemons into lemonade in one way, while Michael J. Fox, playing this character, turns his own lemons into lemonade in a completely different way – a one-two punch that critics and audiences loved and the Fox five further earned Emmy nominations and expansion to a series of 26 guest appearances from 2010 to 2016, which were originally intended as solo appearances.
Michael J. Fox, just human, has moments of discouragement just like everyone else. When he fell and shattered his humerus in August 2018, his mind was broken for a moment and he said: "I'm known as the guy who makes lemonade out of lemons, but I was out of the soda business." Fortunately, he soon reopened that lemonade stand and continued to play Louis Canning in the spin-off series in 2020. The good fight.
About Richard Raskin
Richard Raskin was born in Brooklyn in 1941 and currently lives in Denmark. His main interest was telling short films. For over 30 years he taught students at Aarhus University the art of making short films. He has served on juries and lectures at international film festivals, is the founding editor of Short Film Studies published in the UK, has written books and articles on short film, co-founded a school called Multiplatform Storytelling and Production, and wrote the screenplay for an award-winning short film, Seven Minutes in the Warsaw Ghetto.