A long time ago, my mother told me a story about my grandmother. My memory of it is very incomplete, containing only the following three fragments:
1. The story begins When I was fourteen and in love with Ronald Colman . . .
2. The story involves the movie The Prisoner of Zenda (released in September of 1937--when my grandmother was indeed 14)
3. The story ends with enormous admiration for a character (played, I always assumed, by Ronald Colman) whose final appearance involves a pithy farewell right before jumping out a window.
A few nights ago, Mr. Philena and I finally watched this movie, which is really quite good.* It did star Ronald Colman** but the fellow who jumped out the window was not our Colmanic hero, but rather the villain, who jumps out the window to make a swashbuckling exit, escaping retribution for his evil plans. And, with that, I believe I can fill in the blanks of this half-remembered story. It was not a tale of teenage idol-worship. Rather, it describes the moment when my grandmother discovered the Magnificent Bastard, and as I've grown older, I've come to admire magnificent bastardy much more than I did as a child. As a seven-year-old, I could not understand why my mother liked Ursula in The Little Mermaid. Didn't she realize that Ursula was the bad guy? As a ten-year-old, I was much more attracted to the clean red-and-white colors of the Starfleet uniforms than to the barbaric rags worn by Khan's crew in The Wrath of Khan, which were of course preferred by my mother. As a thirteen-year-old, I considered Darth Vader simply the bad guy, and sat through his scenes patiently, waiting for the narrative to switch back to the heroes. I was much, much older than fourteen before I realized that villains can be awesome, and as a result of this ignorance, an enormously formative part of my childhood, I now realize, was incomplete. I refer, of course, to Star Trek.
*I mention in passing that it contains a very young David Niven, who has come to my adult notice by being pretty much the only good thing about the old film adaptation of Around the World in Eighty Days. In Prisoner of Zenda he was only 27, according to Wikipedia, and already he had those dramatic forehead creases.
**Who looks remarkably like Robert Downey Jr. I am not so great with faces so the resemblance might be carried entirely by the mustache. At any rate, I leave it to you to judge:
Ronald Colman (image from Wikipedia): Robert Downey Jr (image from IMDB):
***The episode Waltz is one of the finest things ever produced in the Star Trek franchise, but it doesn't really work unless you've watched everything else leading up to it. Its success depends on the shared frame of reference that has been built up throughout the previous episodes and seasons.
****They do clever things with clones