There are a lot of times I still think I'm Boo Boo Bear.
Okay, let me back up a little. We do a lot of role playing when we're small, trying on identities to decide who we might turn out to be (personally, I'm still working on that one, and I'll let you know when I figure it out). We start, most of us, by observing our parents or older siblings, and picking and choosing from the characteristics we see in them to try on for ourselves. We take a shot, keep what works, and throw the rest away.
But beyond family and friends, we see other possible role models. Most of these are in some form of entertainment. For many readers of this blog, I'm sure there was Nancy Drew or Encyclopedia Brown. I was always a reader (after I mastered my first book, the oddly memorable tome The Little Fish That Got Away), but the characters I saw and identified with, to be honest, were in movies and on TV. I was a pop culture kid, the popper the better.
And looking back, I realize that I was rarely the star of the show in my own mind.
Some early (and not-so-early) characters with whom I identified:
- Boo Boo Bear. Yogi was the brash one, the rule-breaker, always honing in on those pic-a-nic baskets and making Mr. Ranger's life miserable. Boo Boo (a friend? a cousin? They had the same last name...) was his loyal pal, always there for a "I don't think that's such a good idea, Yogi" but never refusing to be involved. Something about that was me; I named a stuffed bear my brother gave to me for my third birthday Boo Boo. He's going to turn 52 in a couple of weeks.
- Rocket J. Squirrel. Okay, technically Rocky was the star of the show, but let's face it, we all knew that Bullwinkle was the one everybody tuned in to see. And besides, Rocky had a high voice (I was devastated to learn he was played by a girl!) and was, after all, short. He was self-effacing and brave. One out of two ain't bad.
- Illya Kuryakin. Napoleon Solo was The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Illya was the quiet, self-effacing (do we sense a pattern?) guy who saw things through a wry prism but never failed to rescue his friend when he was (invariably) captured. Loyalty was big with me.
- Roger O. Thornhill. Definitely the star of the show, the main character of Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest was confident, glib, quick with a witty aside, and catnip to the ladies. I was glib. But Roger was also the most put-upon character in all of film, mistaken for a guy that didn't exist and chased around the country by virtually everybody. He talked his way out of situations because he knew he wasn't much good at fighting his way out. And he had the advantage of looking remarkably like Cary Grant, while I, you know, didn't.
- Harpo Marx. I admired Groucho's quick wit and complete disrespect for authority, but he would have torn me to shreds. Harpo, his silent brother, was no victim, but he had a sweetness about him that made his rebellion more that of a quick witted child than an angry adult. And what I wouldn't have given for that trenchcoat with anything you'd ever want hidden in the pockets!
- Hawkeye Pierce. Not the Donald Sutherland version, although he was good too. To be honest, I was not at all like Hawkeye. It wasn't until B.J. Hunnicut was introduced--perhaps the least interesting of the continuing characters on M*A*S*H--that there was someone like me. Hawkeye was who I wished I could be. Brash but feeling, quick with a quip but never mean, he was rarely at a loss for words and always knew what the right thing was to do, even if he didn't want to do it. I'd like to have been more Hawkeye. Did identify pretty seriously with Radar, though--couldn't get a date and was, what's the word? Short.
- Bugs Bunny. The king of all cartoon characters, bar none. Chuck Jones once said (probably more than once) that Bugs Bunny was who we wanted to be, and Daffy Duck was who we were. I believe in aspirations. I'd like to be Bugs Bunny.
- Benjy Stone. (My Favorite Year). The youngest (and shortest) writer in the room of a very Your Show of Shows type 1950s comedy program, Benjy is trying to make his name as a writer of funny material and having trouble getting noticed (Remind you of anyone?). He gets to shepherd around his idol, the movie star Alan Swann (Peter O'Toole, and he should have won the Oscar for this one) for a life-changing week. Jewish, a little put upon, unsure of himself (did I mention short?) and just wanting to be part of the gang, Benjy grows up in a week. But stays the same height. And the fact that he was modeled on my idol, Mel Brooks, was not lost upon me.
I'm leaving out a lot of influences, but those are the ones who leapt to mind. Characters who are well written leave a lasting, indelible impression that goes beyond emulation. They become part of us. The above are some of the ones I carry around with me.
Who did you want to be when you grew up? Did you manage it?