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Michael O'Keefe
At Large, USA
Not what I appear to be nor am I otherwise.
Recent Activity
As always, Winch hits the mark. Seamus Heaney once said, "We're all just working with what Kavanagh started." Merry Christmas poetry lovers. Night, night. M. O'K.
Thanks, Jerry. Sadly, it's the way of the business for most actors these days. But that's another story.
Thanks, Saul. And give your daughters my best wishes.
That's right, Terence. Not to mention the fee I recieve from BAP for each comment made. Keep 'em coming. Or you can contribute directly to the O'Keefe Relief Fund. Call 1-800-SUMMERHOMEINTHEHAMPTONS for more info on my dire state.
Last night I was fortunate enough to see a production of an adaptation of John Fowles’ novel, The Collector at the Ruskin Theater Group in Santa Monica, CA. (In the interest of full disclosure I should note that the director, Edward Edwards and I have been friends for over thirty-five years.) The two young actors in the show, Jaimi Page and Dane Zinter do wonderful things conveying the horrifying experience a beautiful young woman endures after being kidnapped by a deranged lottery winner who is obsessed with her. As I said to Eddie afterwards, “Even though I’ve been acting for forty years I have to ask myself how those two did what they did. It was amazing.” Ms. Paige conveys all the terror and desperation of her ordeal while maintaining her dignity and deploying intellectual superiority over her captor for minimal gains in her basement prison. Mr. Zinter’s deluded butterfly collector is both disturbing and oddly endearing. While abhorring his actions one feels a kind of pity for him not unlike that of his victim, who professes a desire to defend him should she escape and he stand trial. At a small reception afterward I did my best to convey to each of them how impressed I was by their work and how I hoped they both found success in “the business,” as we call it. Upon deeper reflection this morning over coffee I wondered whether I should have also told them that even breaking into show business and garnering roles worthy of their talent might still leave them in need of a day job to make ends meet. The unfortunate truth for young actors is that they are entering a world where fees are diminishing as the marketplace offers fewer venues for fiction on film. The break down of what we called, “the quote system” in show business, a dollar amount an actor could reasonably demand for his time, the reduction of “top of show” fees for a guest actor on a series by over fifty percent in most cases, and the amount of competition they will face are daunting elements for aspiring actors. Fees for actors in independent film are always quite low and Internet shows are rarely providing that much, if anything at all. On a personal note let me put it to you this way. I landed a role opposite George Clooney in Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton. It was the fifth largest role in the film. Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson and Sydney Pollack had the leading roles. I was paid scale and hired as a local actor, which meant that even though I was living in Los Angeles at the time I would have to find my own bed and board while in NY. In another era, one in the not so distant past, I would have been paid a high five-figure perhaps even six-figure salary, given a hotel room, and a per diem. Those days are gone. Unless young actors break in as stars,... Continue reading
Posted Jan 30, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
I’m on a Pegasus descending from the heavens to earth where a friend is waiting by a fire. He had advised me telepathically to land the horse. As I do, it’s breathing words out its nose. Pegasus and I descend rapidly but gracefully to earth at a steep angle towards my friend. We land and are now facing the opposite direction of our descent as Pegasus breathes more words out its nose. I had the above dream about a month ago. Upon relating it to my shrink, a Jungian, his eyes grew wide and he replied, “You were riding Pegasus. Wow.” He went on to explain how Pegasus was the mount of the muses in Greek Mythology. The story goes that Bellerophon was commanded by King Iobates to kill the Chimera, a hellish creature with a lion’s head, dragon’s tail, and goat’s body. For inspiration Bellerophon sleeps in the temple of Athena and in his dream she gives him a golden bridle. Upon awaking, the bridle from his dream by his side, Bellerophon finds Pegasus, who submits to his bridle and off they go to fight the Chimera. The Chimera’s fire breathing initially proves too much for Bellerophon but after mounting a large block of lead on his spear he manages to lodge it in the Chimera’s throat, which melts, cutting of its air passage, and killing the beast. Bellerophon had many more journeys with Pegasus but upon attempting to reach the gods was struck down by a gadfly under Zeus’s command who bites Pegasus thereupon shaking Bellerophon off the winged horse. Pegasus was then stabled with Zeus’s other horses and in relation to that we have a constellation named Pegasus. So, what, if anything can be made of all that? To some dreams are not much more than the brain’s attempt to organize stimuli that occur while sleeping. To others they are a key to individual and collective unconscious. And to still others, they are no different from what we usually to refer to as ‘the real world.’ That is to say, reality is no more real than dreams therefore dreams are real. Here’s what I make of it: I write. And my writing has taken on a deeper meaning in my life. With it I can aspire to great things, even accomplish some, like the elimination of hellish fantasies that plague me. But reach too far, aim too high, and I’m sure to fall with dire consequences. Humility is not my strong suit. But I have been beaten into a state of surrender by circumstances, which is not a bad thing. Funnily enough, I dreamed of a former love of mine last night. We were desperate to escape a prison camp by a river. At first searching the shore for a boat I finally stole a car and away we went. As I was writing this she called me and I related the dream to her. She was happy we escaped by whatever means. I told her I... Continue reading
Posted Jan 29, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Home After Three Months Away by Robert Lowell Gone now the baby's nurse, a lioness who ruled the roost and made the Mother cry. She used to tie gobbets of porkrind in bowknots of gauze-- three months they hung like soggy toast on our eight foot magnolia tree, and helped the English sparrows weather a Boston winter. Three months, three months! Is Richard now himself again? Dimpled with exaltation, my daughter holds her levee in the tub. Our noses rub, each of us pats a stringy lock of hair-- they tell me nothing's gone. Though I am forty-one, not forty now, the time I put away was child's play. After thirteen weeks my child still dabs her cheeks to start me shaving. When we dress her in her sky-blue corduroy, she changes to a boy, and floats my shaving brush and washcloth in the flush. . . . Dearest I cannot loiter here in lather like a polar bear. Recuperating, I neither spin nor toil. Three stories down below, a choreman tends our coffin's length of soil, and seven horizontal tulips blow. Just twelve months ago, these flowers were pedigreed imported Dutchmen; now no one need distinguish them from weed. Bushed by the late spring snow, they cannot meet another year's snowballing enervation. I keep no rank nor station. Cured, I am frizzled, stale and small. Robert Lowell was one of the great American poets of the Twentieth Century, or any century and any country for that matter. “For the Union Dead” alone would suffice to get his name into the mix on that discussion. But I want to draw your attention to, “Home After Three Months Away.” To really appreciate this poem you should hear Lowell reading it with his sonorous, depressed and oddly mixed New England accent with the Louisiana lilt that some say he acquired as a student at LSU. It’s available in Sourcebooks, Poetry Speaks. His mournful sound drones like the last bit of air being squeezed from a Celtic bagpipe, though his people descended from the Boston Brahman and Mayflower immigrants. The opening image of his daughter’s nurse, “Gone now…” hanging, “gobbets of porkrind in bowknots of gauze” to help, “…the English sparrows weather a Boston winter,” is deployed to establish his upper class status (note his command of Middle English.) It is juxtaposed against the nurse’s capacity to rule the roost and “make the Mother cry.” How odd the use of the article “the” before “Mother.” That one word possibly reveals the distance between Lowell and his wife, Elizabeth Hardwick, who he would leave eleven years after the writing of this poem. (For a good heartbreak consider that he died in a cab on his way to reunite with Hardwick after seven years with English author Lady Caroline Blackwood. Arriving at Hardwick’s Manhattan apartment building the cab driver turned around to find Lowell in the backseat dead from a heart attack). After his lament, “Three months, three months! / Is Richard now himself again?”... Continue reading
Posted Jan 28, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
I'm not surprised to hear about Pat's connection with David's mom regarding her survivor story. He's gracious with each and every person who approaches him. And to answer your question about how actors deal with the inevitable loss of daily contact with our colleagues when we return to our daily lives, we stay in touch with those we can and miss those we no longer see daily. But when we reunite it's like it was and we love each other for it.
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,... Continue reading
Posted Jan 27, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks for your comment, Ed. If you want to e-mail me about model/interventions I am: [email protected]. Yrs, M. O'K.
In May of 2009 my ten-year old friend Seamus Morrison was diagnosed with a medulla blastoma on his cerebellum. They are a poorly differentiated malignant neoplasm composed of tightly packed cells of spongioblastic and neuroblastic lineage. Or to put it another way: they are not good. To be clear, I’m really a friend of Seamus’ father James Morrison. An actor and yogi, neither of which are terms I toss around lightly, James called me after Seamus’ diagnosis and into the world of pain, surgery, chemo and prayer we went. Seamus had complained of blurry vision, which resulted in a visit to an ophthalmologist. Upon noting the pressure on his optic nerve Seamus was sent to a neurologist. Before his parents had him home they received a call in their car that Seamus had cancer and would require surgery the next day. “Pack a bag,” the doctor said. “And get back here tomorrow morning.” Perhaps you have friends that have endured this journey of steep learning curves and hairpin turns requiring decisions about surgery and treatment that result in the end of one era and the beginning of another. After one visit to Seamus’ hospital bed when the worst had passed and Seamus was on the road to recovery I noted James’ fatigue and said something to him about it. He replied, “We’re mourning the loss of our son. Because even if he survives he’s not the kid we had when we came in here a few weeks ago.” If you don’t have friends who have been through this it shouldn’t be too hard to imagine their waves of grief pounding against your door on a daily basis. James and his wife, Riad went through hell witnessing Seamus’ pain after surgery. It manifested in a flood of screams until painkillers subdued them complicated by their son’s inability to speak, walk or even see clearly. They lived in his hospital room for almost two months, going home only to shower and change clothes. There’s a Zen koan that goes, “What do you when a wagon full of demons comes at you from hell?” Koans are meditations. They are not riddles, not to be solved and not for the faint of heart. To experience the koan one must live it. The Morrisons were doing just that. Aside from stopping by the hospital, bringing over Pinkberry desserts and finding ways to make Seamus laugh (his favorite was my impersonation of physicist Stephen Hawking commenting on cancer) there was little else I could do but pray. Each of us, or those of us who pray, do it in our own way. Praying that Seamus would get better or that his pain would subside is one way to go about it. How could you not wish for that? But prayer is not a wish. And in Zen we do not pray to God. For the Zen practitioner there is nothing outside of us, no one to pray to, and Seamus and I are just different sides... Continue reading
Posted Jan 26, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Hi Eric: The poem is from Jason's last chapbook called, Arrow Breaking Apart from Arrowsmith Books.
Thanks, Laura. Any friend of Jason's is a friend of mine. M. O'K.
photo by Bill Hayward Jason Shinder (left) died on April 25, 2008 after a prolonged period of living with cancer and leukemia. Those of us who knew him valued his humor, buoyancy and dedication to poetry. He edited several anthologies and I had the privilege of working on his last, The Poem I Turn To, a collection of favorite poems from people in show business. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary Louise Parker and a slew of others contributed two poems, commentary and then read the poems onto a CD. What impressed me most about Jason was his ability to live the conviction that Wallace Stevens posited about poetry’s capacity to serve the same function as religion. As William Carlos Williams said, “While it is difficult to get the news from poetry men die miserable deaths everyday from lack of what is found in its pages.” Jason Shinder’s death, as tragic as it may have been, was not miserable. Until the day he died he worked tirelessly on the anthology. I learned as much from him as disciples learned from Jesus. When Death slapped him around he turned the other cheek and recited a poem like this one: Rescue When the doctor inserts his two fingers into my mother’s rectum, the pupils of her eyes move like blue-fish under the ice in a bucket before they are carried away. I am climbing out of a well and offering her some water. I am picking up her body which weighs less than her clothes, when the doctor rubs his fingers against the swollen tissue of her small intestine like the torn blouse of a lover. Already the air on her lips is like bread crumbs. Already the white bones of her skull soften. Already the moon is sticking out of her left eye. I am hiding in the right ear of my mother. I am running like a criminal through the streets of her body trying to return everything I ever stole. What I love about this poem, besides its transparency and sentiment, is Jason’s ability to enter into his mother’s body in an effort to convey his love for her. “I am hiding in the right ear of my mother…trying to return everything I ever stole.” He honors two commandments in one poem. He honors his parents and returns the goods he stole from them, another example of the efficacy of poetry to serve as religion. Four years ago today my father passed away. He was a great man, larger than I’ll ever be even though he stood four inches shorter than me. It was Jason’s poem that inspired me to write the poems in my book, Swimming From Under My Father. And so today, I was reflecting on them both and wondering when they’d visit my dreams again as they often do. When they do I pray I’ll have the wherewithal to enter their dream bodies, return the things I stole and share a line or two of poetry. I owe... Continue reading
Posted Jan 25, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
That bit is genius. Thanks, M. O'K.
Amy, you are clearly a woman of discerning taste. Thanks, M. O'K.
In a narcissistic slight of hand actor Michael O’Keefe interviews himself about his poems, Christmas and other matters significant to him and him alone. Q.: Michael, nice to have you here. A.: Pleasure to be had and here. Q.: You’ve published a book of poems recently. A.: You’re quite right about that. Q.: But enough about poetry tell me about the meaning of life. A.: Hey, let’s get back to poetry, Interlocutor. Unemployed actors know very little about the meaning of life. They can’t even hold a job in the real world. That’s why they became actors in the first place. Q.: How did you become an actor? A.: I was dropped as a child. Q: And why publish a book of poems? A.: I thought you’d never ask. Q.: Oh, I wouldn’t leave you hanging. A.: No, but you sure can’t interrupt a guy who’s trying his best to say something about poetry. Q.: Sorry. I’m all ears. Tell us about your poems. A.: The book is called “Swimming From Under My Father,” and… Q.: Why not just “Swimming Under,” or “Swimming From?” Why “Swimming From Under…?” A.: Oh for Christ’s sake. Can’t you keep quiet? Q.: I hardly think using Christ’s name in vain on Christmas Eve is an appropriate way to celebrate the holiday. A.: And I don’t badgering me with interruptions is the way to interview me about my writing. Q.: I’ll be the judge of that. Your first blog for BAP was about Christmas and Barbara Stanwyck. Do you think the reason you’re single at your advanced age has anything to do with an inability to connect with someone in the real world? And isn’t that why you hold Ms. Stanwyck in such high esteem? She is, after all, only an illusory presence for you. A.: Advanced age? Have you ever been knocked cold by an interviewee? Because, Brother, I am about to sock you in the jaw. Q.: Whatsa matter? Did that hit close to the bone? A significant pause ensues as Mr. O’Keefe waits for Mr. O’Keefe to collect his thoughts and regain his composure. A.: William Carlos Williams once said that while it is difficult to get the news from poetry men die miserable deaths every day from lack of what is found in its pages. Q.: (In an Irish brogue) Did he now? A.: When you did become Irish? Q.: (Continuing the Irish brogue through out the rest) Ach, get away. Sure, I’ve been this way all along. A.: Look, I only have so much time. Can we please just settle into a conversation about my poems? Q.: I’ll not be badgered by ye, ye unemployed actor with yer high falutin’ book a poems. Poems is it? What’s next? Philosophy? From an actor yet. Bollocks! A.: God, you’re a nuisance. What does “Bollocks” mean anyway? I hear Irish and English people use it frequently but no one’s ever made clear what it means. Q.: It means, “testicles” ya ignorant git. A.:... Continue reading
Posted Dec 24, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
For some A Christmas Carol, (Alistair Sim’s version please) is the definitive Christmas film. For others It’s A Wonderful Life holds the honor of best film to watch during the holidays. “Marry Christmas Bedford Falls! Marry Christmas, Mr. Potter!” James Stewart bellows returning from a parallel, yet horrible, reality to face charges for bank fraud in “the real world,” whatever the hell that is. Both have the Christmas spirit for sure. But for me the films to watch at Christmas all star Barbara Stanwyck. First there is the not very well known Remember the Night (left). Fred MacMurray and Stanwyck star in Preston Sturges’ screenplay. (No, they don’t plot the murder of her husband, though Stanwyck does play a shoplifter.) In the interest of transparency I should mention it’s a romance, the protagonists meet cute, overcome obstacles, fall in love, observe traditional male and female roles (and I mean traditional for 1940) and live in an America that may have only existed in the mind of Preston Sturges and his contemporaries in Black and White Hollywood, USA. Oh yeah, transparency. I should reveal that in the singular nature of my love life, I'm not extraordinary nor remarkable. I’m single and stand alone. And my proclivity to indulge in sentimental notions around Christmas makes my opinion not only biased but most likely hooey, as they used to say in 1940. As hokey as some of the sentiment is, and as obvious as the plot line of a shoplifter bailed out and brought home to Wabash, Indiana by a prosecutor for a heartwarming Christmas is, the film knocks me for a loop every time. The key and the heart of the film is Stanwyck. MacMurray’s family is seen through her eyes, and their homespun values melt her cynicism in moments that pierce what passes for my veneer of sophistication. Perhaps the fact that I’m approaching the age of fifty-five and have little to show from my love life but a collection of snapshots, cards and memories that linger but do not nourish should disqualify me in the holiday movie round up. Or could it be that that same status should make me Chairman of the Christmas movie board? For the purposes of this blog let’s hope it’s the latter. The two other films to look for are Christmas in Connecticut and Meet John Doe. Though the latter is not set at Christmas its climax takes place on Christmas Eve and that’s close enough for me. In Christmas in Connecticut (right) Stanwyck plays a columnist that has created a fantasy world of a farm in the country, a loving husband and a handle on domestic details that surpasses anything Martha Stewart ever cooked up. When asked to take in a wounded Vet for Christmas by her publisher she attempts to con them both but ends up falling for the Vet, played by Dennis Morgan. The look in her eyes as she gives herself over to her longing is spectacular. But her speech at... Continue reading
Posted Dec 21, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
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Dec 20, 2009