The National Commission on Working Women is about to make its annual awards, and among those chosen for honors are actresses Marla Gibbs and Linda Kelsey -- the former for portraying a maid on The Jeffersons, the latter for playing a reporter on Lou Grant. It is in this spirit that I would like to nominate Gary Cooper to the Baseball Hall of Fame for his portrayal of Lou Gehrig in "Pride of the Yankees."
While I am at it, I think Cooper could also get the Congressional Medal of Honor for his portrayal of Sergeant York in the movie of the same name and Sally Field should go on welfare for playing a fired textile worker. A championship belt goes to Robert DeNiro for "Raging Bull" and Ralph Bellamy should get Secret Service protection for life for his portrayal of Franklin Roosevelt in the movie and play "Sunrise at Campobello."
Now for all I know, both Kelsey and Gibbs might deserve an award for being either actresses or working women. As actresses, they are both pretty good and as working women they might have overcome enormous difficulties and have a terrific story to tell -- maybe as compelling as the motel worker cited by the commission who has 10 kids and who takes home something like $85 a week. That woman deserves an award. I'm sure, though, that she'd settle for a raise. BB ut an award for "portraying" a B working woman is a different thing altogether. Here reality has been left far behind. Why should these two get an award? Why not the producer? Why not the writers? These are the people, after all, who created the roles and write the words that both Kelsey and Gibbs speak. With all due deference to the people involved, this is like the ASPCA giving an award to a dog.
It seems we can no longer distinguish between the role being played and the person playing the role. Kelsey gets an award for playing a reporter and her boss, Lou Grant (ne Ed Asner) uses the credibility he has established in playing a newspaper editor to become a spokesman for liberal causes. He even speaks before journalism groups. Maybe he explains why, despite a staff of what seems like hundreds, he uses the same two reporters for all stories.
Lest you think that playing make believe is something only the political left does, we only have to remember the late John Wayne who, as a person, was given a medal by Congress for the roles he played as an actor. How Congress neglected his horse is something I could never figure out. This was matched, if not exceeded, by President Nixon, who made the late Elvis Presley an honorary special agent of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs at the very moment Presley was sky high on everything but Drano. II n some weird way, this media society I of ours is much like the Middle Ages. In those times, people believed -- but really believed -- in spooks and witches, in strange and sinister forces. They could not distinguish between reality and unreality. They made critical decisions based on ignorance and myth. It has taken a couple of hundred years, but television has brought us full cycle.
Image has become paramount. To honor actresses for the roles they play is to honor them for a pretense. The award has nothing to do with their lives or with their ability to act. Would Kelsey have been chosen if she had played a hooker -- played it better than anyone had every played it? The answer, of course, is no. Wrong image, and image is paramount.
Maybe none of this matters when it comes to actors and television and awards that mean nothing. But it does mean something when it comes to politics. Ronald Reagan, for instance, would not be president had he had Vincent Price's movie roles. And having become president, it is still his image that to many people is most important. These are the people who tell pollsters that they like Reagan as a man but dislike his programs.
What will matter in the long run -- image or substance -- is yet to be seen. But it is certain already that we have become media saps, liking presidents for their image even as we might dislike their programs. We give awards to people who play television characters as if they really were the characters they depict. It all gives me a headache. I think I'll call Robert Young.
I need a doctor.