Friday, March 02, 2012

Life Imitating Art in The Paper Chase?

Sometimes you find two people who bear remarkable similarities to one another, even though they might come from different centuries and very different cultures. Here's an amusing example.

Then there are fictional characters who bear a remarkable resemblance to real people. We usually assume that those characters were modeled on real people, but sometimes the real person, due to the magic of long-running weekly television programs, can identify with or even model him or herself on a fictional character. Take the fictional character of Franklin Ford III, played by Tom Fitzsimmons, on The Paper Chase television series. Fitzsimmons, who seems to have left the acting business, was born in 1947, a year of birth that he shares with a person who has been appearing daily on television and the internet for the past couple of years.

You can see Fitzsimmons in character on the far right side of this picture (standing, wearing a sweater):



And you can see him in this promo for the DVD of the first season. Pay particular attention at the 13-second mark, the 18-second mark, and the 27-second mark.

The character of Franklin Ford III (known as "Ford" even by his sister) is a legacy at Harvard Law School. His father is a very prominent lawyer and an important financial supporter of the school. Ford's character is rather rigid, he feels superior to his classmates (except for those he knows in his heart of hearts are as capable a law student as he is). He has problems with connecting with his feelings, and his classmates (and his audience) have a certain empathy for him. The character of Ford is, in many ways, a "poor rich guy," because he can't seem to really understand what it means to be a "normal" person.

It is quite remarkable that Fitzsimmons, writers John Jay Osborn, Jr. (who graduated from Harvard Law School in 1970 and must have written the novel on which the movie and television series is based while he was still in school), James Bridges, and director Jack Bender managed to come up with this "cocktail" of a fictional character who turned out to be so similar, in profile (or perhaps the word should be pedigree), style, image, and substance to a person who is very real. On the other hand, there might have been some deep identification with the character of Ford on the part of the person in current public life I'm making reference to (you have figured out by now who he is) when he watched the television series, which ran from 1978-1986. And I imagine he watched it religiously. Perhaps Osborne and Bender followed the career of this public figure, and asked Fitzsimmons to study his mannerisms.

There is the Ford and General Motors coincidence, but that could be neither here nor there. I will say no more, except for the fact that the "heart of hearts" phrase in the above paragraph that describes Ford was a totally unintentional pun (but I'll take credit for it). The main character of the series, and the person who is Ford's main intellectual rival, is named James T. Hart.

5 comments:

Michael Leddy said...

Tom Firzsimmons really is a fine actor. His Ford does indeed inspire empathy.

Anonymous said...

Season 1 is simply excellent! It's so refreshing to see a series concerned with ideas, and acting is fine all around. Don't miss John Houseman the play (on DVD) in Six Characters in Search of an Author (Pirandello). I'm watching all the series, but think all those after Season 1 were pandering to a less rigorous and more sensational milieu.
--smstevens74

Elaine Fine said...

We particularly enjoyed the later part of the second season season. "My Dinner with Kingsfield" is a classic.

Anonymous said...

I so agree with you about Season Two and "My Dinner With Kingsfield"--a superior episode. I do wish that Seasons 3 and 4 would be released in this exceptional series. It's strange to think that Fitzsimmons went into the business world when he was such a fine actor--to me, his character was the voice of reason as he spoke to Hart.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for placing the Frank Sinatra video on your site; it's my favorite piece by him.