Williams’ best baseball line:
Sgt. Major Dickerson: [Pointing to his rank insignia] What does three up and three down mean to you, airman?
Adrian Cronauer: End of an inning?
I fervently wanted Robin Williams to play Casey Stengel.
A long time ago, I wrote a book about the Hall of Fame manager based upon what I believed to be the central conflict of his life: That he was a very funny man who also wanted to be taken seriously. I don’t mean that Stengel liked to take off his comedic mask the way Charlie Chaplin or Jerry Lewis did, walking into walls when in character and costume and then discoursing about the high seriousness of their art when off camera and in mufti. There was no mask. Stengel loved making people laugh too much to stop and yet was too smart not to need to be respected for his intelligence. Those instincts did not coexist well in the public perception of him, could not be rationalized by sportswriters and baseball executives of the time who were brought up to think that managers should be like John McGraw or Joe McCarthy—drunk and disorderly much of the time, sure, but also imperious Leaders of Men and publicly humorless.
As I wrote the book, I fantasized, as many authors do, about the film adaptation that might follow. From the very beginning, I imagined Williams playing Casey. He could inhabit that man as well as he inhabited Popeye (in a bizarre misfire of a Robert Altman film at once more true to Elzie Segar’s original strip than any cartoon adaptation, a live-action cartoon itself, and a runaway train of drug-addled writing, direction and performance—but Williams is very good in it), Parry the traumatized homeless savant in The Fisher King, the psychologist in Good Will Hunting, or even the villains in One Hour Photo and Insomnia. A large part of Williams’ public persona, particularly as a stand-up comic, was antic, and as brilliant as his stand-up material could be, some of his worst performances in films came when directors indulged his stage/talk show persona.
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