TERRE HAUTE —
As our conversation began, Elliott Gould was in the midst of learning. He was reading a book.
It was appropriate. In that 50-minute talk by telephone from California to Terre Haute, Gould uttered in a gentle baritone voice the words “learning,” “education” or “teaching” 20 times. Right up front, he emphasized that he “wasn’t so well educated, and still am not that well educated.” Yet, in addition to his high school diploma, the 74-year-old actor also has an Oscar nomination, and a resume of acting credits that millions of Americans connect to their generations. It stretches from the 1960s and ’70s — “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” “M*A*S*H” and stints as guest host of classic “Saturday Night Live” episodes — to the ’90s and 21st century — a recurring role in TV’s “Friends” and “Ocean’s 11” (plus 12 and 13).
Through it all, new lessons keep coming, and old ones keep coming back.
“Meaning is something that we continue to acquire as we continue to live and evolve and learn,” he said.
He recalled delivering an opening monologue in the first season of “SNL.” Accompanied by future David Letterman band leader Paul Shaffer on piano, Gould did two song-and-dance numbers, “Let Yourself Go” and “Crazy Rhythm.” In a hilarious skit later in the show, Gould played a psychiatrist in a group therapy session with an absurd patient duo — Don Coreleone (John Belushi) and Valley Girl (Laraine Newman). Episode 9 earned an Emmy for the show.
Gould perfectly fit the variety entertainment format.
“This possibly had to do with my tap dancing, as far as learning routines, and that’s rhythmical,” he said. “It’s like being a drummer, you know? The beat goes on. It’s like your heart.”
He’d studied tap dancing and ballet as a youngster, an attempt by his parents to break Elliott out of an emotional shell. One of his teachers, Billy Quinn, “was an incorrigible, transient, black Irishman” who refused to let the boy remain withdrawn. “He would pound me, in terms of telling me to learn what time was, in relation to timing, and what timing is, in relation to time,” Gould remembered in vivid detail. “And when I wept — and believe me, I wept — he didn’t treat me like a baby, and he got through to me. So the timing is perfect; it’s always ‘now.’”
“Now” came up as often as the past, as we spoke. Gould stays busy. “I don’t think old,” he said. “I think like a baby, taking his first steps, and I just turned 74.” He fills supporting roles in two upcoming cable TV series, “Ray Donovan” (a drama for Showtime) and “I’m Not Dead Yet” (a comedy for TV Land), and a leading-man role alongside Jacqueline Bisset in the film “The Second Time Around.” In the latter, Gould sings its namesake ballad.
Lessons from past
Presently, he is reading a book by Holocaust survivor Eva Kor, founder of the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute. Gould will serve as featured guest of museum’s seventh annual fall fundraiser reception Oct. 13 at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College. As with a film, he’s preparing and reading Kor’s book, “Surviving the Angel of Death,” her account of being subjected to sadistic medical experiments at the hand of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Kor and her twin sister, Miriam, survived. Her parents and two older sisters died in the gas chambers.
Inside its pages, Gould found a bookmark, bearing poignant words that caught his attention. He recited Kor’s list of “Lessons of the Holocaust.” The first, “Never give up,” led him to recall when famed screenwriter Arthur Laurents asked how Gould had “been able to stay this good after everything you’ve been through.” Divorced three times (once to Barbra Streisand), Gould grew up with “dysfunction” as the only child in a Jewish family in Brooklyn, N.Y., before pursuing an acclaimed yet tumultuous theatrical career spanning a half-century. To Laurents’ question, Gould answered, “I don’t think that way, but thank you. It’s a compliment, but my response to you would be, my mother never gave up.”
Then Gould read the other lessons Kor cited. Second, prevent prejudice by judging people only on their actions and content of their character. “And, number 3,” Gould said, adding, “which is difficult, the most difficult for me,” forgive your worst enemy. It will heal your soul and set you free. Fourth, give your parents a hug and kiss for us children who had no parents. Gould’s voice wavered slightly. Five, each of us has an important part to play in repairing our world. Kor’s conclusion includes a Hebrew phrase: May tikkun olan (repair the world) begin with me.
“It has such deep meaning,” he said, “and to be able to come across and participate and say hello [at the reception in Terre Haute] is a great blessing.”
I asked Gould when he first learned of the Holocaust, the systematic persecution and murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators in the 1930s and ’40s. Born in 1938, Gould was a boy during World War II. His first knowledge of the atrocities came, ironically, on the silver screen. “Newsreels in movie theaters,” he said. “It was hard to believe, really horrifying to behold, and knowing that it was simply a newsreel of it — I didn’t even know what anti-Semitism or prejudice would be. I didn’t understand hate.
“One of the things I’ve been able to reflect and project, based on all of the teachings and all of the life and living, is that we’re at war with ignorance, desperation and fear,” Gould continued. “And I couldn’t have imagined or believed that one like me — Elliott Goldstein from 6801 Bay Parkway, Brooklyn, 4, New York, PS 247, Seth Low Junior High, and the Professional Children’s School — could get to the front to participate and contribute, and I’m there. And being at war with ignorance, desperation and fear, if my body is blown away and my heart is beating and my mind is working, I’m never gonna call for help. It’s taken me forever to get here, and I want to know I’m giving everything.”
A son’s quest
His thoughts steered occasionally into metaphysical ponderings concerning the human condition. He reflected on his own “deep Jewish identity.” Each turn in his conversation, though, led back to learning.
That quest led him to attain his late father’s high school diploma, 71 years after Bernard Goldstein left the school to earn money for his family. Gould was unaware of that detail until his father’s younger brother told him. Gould felt defensive and confused as to why his uncle shared that information long after his father had passed away. But Gould traveled back to New York, took the subway to New Utrecht High School, and got his father’s records from administrators there. With research, Gould discovered that World War II veterans, such as his father, could be granted their diplomas if they were honorably discharged. Even though his parents eventually divorced, Gould’s mother found those honorable discharge papers for her son. His father was posthumously granted a diploma.
Last week, Gould told that story to a longtime friend, Hawk Koch, president of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “I said, ‘Being able to get my father his diploma was far more important to me than any Academy Award could be,” Gould said.
Later in our talk, Gould said he became a friend of John Wooden’s in the last three years of the legendary coach’s life. Wooden taught him something.
“When Coach and I met, I didn’t know that he had been an English teacher in Indiana,” Gould said. “And he said to me, ‘The most important word in the English language is love. And the second most important word’ — and I thought, I didn’t know there was another word — is balance.’”
The road to balance is 74 years long now, for Gould. His relationships with his two sons, a daughter and his grandchildren put greater spark in his voice than revisits of movies, co-stars and fame. In a chat with his 13-year-old grandson, Henry, Gould told the boy they weren’t merely grandfather and grandson, “as precious and meaningful as that is. We’re friends. And Henry said, ‘I know. I feel comfortable with you.’ That’s great.”
On the streets, people recognize Gould for his various roles, depending on their age. The notoriety is fleeting, he stressed.
“The most popular thing I did is ‘M*A*S*H’ [as Trapper John], but in terms of generational, I mean there’s ‘Friends.’ People know me as Mr. Geller from ‘Friends.’ People know me as Reuben Tishkoff from the ‘Oceans’ movies,” Gould said. “Identity is all passing. It’s all a circle, and I do believe that we all — whether we want to or not, whether we like it or not — end up where we began.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE —
As our conversation began, Elliott Gould was in the midst of learning. He was reading a book.
- Opinion Columns
RONN MOTT: Radio now a long lost love
I fell in love with radio when I was 16, just a few short weeks before my 17th birthday. The man who did the deed and hired me was Adlai Ferguson.
RONN MOTT: Knicks
The big noise in the NBA is whether Carmelo Anthony will stay with the New York Knicks or go elsewhere.
If my memory serves, and it doesn’t always, Carmelo left the Denver Nuggets, the team that drafted him, to play in the bright lights of the Big Apple. It was loudly proclaimed at the time that Carmelo wanted to play for a championship team. The Knicks’ ownership bought a bunch of players and spent a whole bunch of money to aid Carmelo in helping the Knicks to get to a championship.
RONN MOTT: Abraham Lincoln and George Washington
I remember when by edict the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were lumped into a single celebration called “Presidents Day.” I thought it was stupid then, and I still do.
LIZ CIANCONE: Antiques show better than any modern programs
I’m not a big fan of television.
KELLY HAWES: It’s time to take politics out of redistricting
A bill to form a bipartisan redistricting commission apparently died in the Indiana Senate last week.
MARK BENNETT: People spaces
Demolition machinery chipped away at the buildings on the 500 block of Wabash Avenue. I stood and watched awhile, last week. By July 2015, a new $18.7-million structure will replace those relics.
THOMAS L. STEIGER: Creativity requires freedom from the risks of failure
Last week I wrote about the themes that emerged from the panel discussion by five Wabash Valley members of the “creative class.”
Flashpoint: Everyone would benefit from responsibly expanding health coverage for Hoosiers
A medical epidemic is one of the worst scenarios a hospital can face — when a significant portion of the population is suddenly struck with a life-threatening illness.
RONN MOTT: Independent thinking in a rapidly changing world
I am a rather independent person. Oh, I don’t belong to any radical, political organization.
RONN MOTT: Ukraine
It’s quiet in Ukraine as I write this but, trust me, it won’t be quiet very long.
RONN MOTT: The Olympics
In the medal count in the Olympics, we ended in second place. In times past, without infusion of money, training, etc., second place might have been OK. For this sports-crazy nation, it is not OK.
LIZ CIANCONE: Preference wins over etiquette every time
It’s a source of amusement to me when I read about the trivia which concerns some folks.
THOMAS L. STEIGER: Fostering creativity prime mission in teaching
As part of ISU’s College of Arts and Science’s Community Semester program, I organized a panel discussion on creativity by a panel of what some would call members of the Wabash Valley’s “creative class.”
MARK BENNETT: Blessings of a long, cold, snowy winter
As spring, summer arrive, Hoosiers will appreciate icy months (well, maybe a little)
RONN MOTT: Shirley Temple was sweet as you can be
The year I was born, Shirley Temple was the richest actress in America and, certainly, the most beloved of actresses as well.
RONN MOTT: The Olympics
I have to say these Olympics are doing well. Especially since it’s the Winter Olympics and they seem to be doing it without snow! It isn’t the first Olympics to manufacture snow for ski slopes and such, and the way the weather is going, it may not be the last.
RONN MOTT: Another death
Michael Dunn was attending his son’s wedding. With him, his fiance, or girlfriend, and he had driven her to a nearby convenience store, pulled up beside an SUV that was blaring its music loud enough to hear on the moon, and it made Dunn angry. An argument about the music ensued and it did not get quieter. Dunn said something to his lady friend about really hating this thug music. There was movement inside the SUV and Dunn said he saw the barrel of a shotgun and decided to defend himself. He shot up the SUV and killed a teenage boy.
LIZ CIANCONE: Valentine’s more fun when we were young
I, for one, am glad that it’s over and I have a year before I’m asked to buy a goodie for my valentine.
KIEL MAJEWSKI: Can’t we all just embrace the common good?
Note: After HJR-3 failed to pass the Indiana Senate, state Sen. Mike Delph of Carmel took to Twitter to air his views in a prolonged, frank series of tweets that drew much attention on Thursday and Friday. Delph supported HJR-3. This is my open letter to Senator Delph.
MARK BENNETT: Healing Indiana’s Achilles’ heel
Illinois served as the easy target.
At that moment.
RONN MOTT: Woody Allen
Woody Allen — writer, comedian, film maker, actor, director — has recently been accused of sexually molesting one of the adopted children of Mia Farrow. I don’t believe it.
MARK BENNETT: Quest for the perfect Valentine’s Day gesture may not involve gifts
You’ll need a broom, a pickup truck, trash bins, shop hooks and aspirin.
Filming a “Sanford and Son” remake? Preparing for the apocalypse?
RONN MOTT: Pete Seeger
I was saddened to learn that Pete Seeger had passed away. He died in his home along the Hudson River in upstate New York. You think of folk songs and you think of the hill country of the Appalachians, and perhaps the dusty plains of the American southwest. But Pete Seeger was born in New York City. He was born to musical parents and his father was studying folk music and going where it was played. Young Pete went with his dad.
LIZ CIANCONE: Why do we bother that rodent on a cold day?
I have a bone to pick with Punxsutawney Phil. I may have to get in line or take a number, but I am willing to wait it out.
MARK BENNETT: Yeah, yeah, yeah... For some grownups, first impression not so fab
We’re pretty smart here in middle America.
Our DNA carries the common-sense chromosome. From birth, Midwestern culture begins honing us into the most rational and perceptive of human beings. Sure, our prisons are full, but generally, we mean well. And we’re wise.
RONN MOTT: Is Mother Nature color-blind?
It would appear Mother Nature does not like the grays and browns of the winter season. The snow and ice barely gets off the ground by melting and, whop, we have another snow.
RONN MOTT: Illness
I suppose because it is in the mountains, the kids of Denver have missed some school because of snow days. But I think a great many are going to be really ill because of the way the Denver Broncos played in the Super Bowl.
RONN MOTT: Super Bowl sick
No sporting event in the history of mankind, not even the great, classic machine of death, the Roman Colosseum games, had so much pre-publicity as has Super Bowl 48.
LIZ CIANCONE: Few can top the tale of 18 cats
I joined the other ladies at the round table at the Sports Center the other morning, and someone asked Frieda about her cats.
MARK BENNETT: Remembering the less glitzy days on Manning’s road to the Super Bowl
A blur of memories.
They’ll flicker fast and furious tonight, like a spinning Rolodex, when Peyton Manning runs onto the MetLife Stadium turf in Jersey City, as a Denver Bronco, playing for a Super Bowl ring against the Seattle Seahawks. Most Hauteans will experience flashbacks, too.
- More Opinion Columns Headlines
- RONN MOTT: Radio now a long lost love