Wallace S X 3
Shawn, Stegner, and Stevens
Wallace is not a common given name, yet there are three of them with a surname beginning with S who are or were prominent in the world of entertainment or the arts: Wallace Shawn, Wallace Stegner, and Wallace Stevens. The first is an actor, the second was an author, and the last was an insurance executive/poet.
Shawn (born 1943) portrayed Wally Shawn (himself, then) in My Dinner with Andre, whose sole scene is simply a conversation between two friends dining at a restaurant. Shawn’s facial expressions in response to the bizarre ideas propounded by his dinner companion are in and of themselves worth the time invested in watching it.
But Shawn is perhaps best known for his role as the irritable and haughty Vizzini in The Princess Bride, wherein his character boasts: “There are no words to contain all my wisdom” and “I have the keenest mind that has ever been turned to unlawful pursuits.”
Here he is in the “Iocane Powder/Sicilian with Death on the Line” scene from that movie, where pride comes before a fall:
In an almost inconceivable coincidence, both of those movies feature actors named Andre from France: André Gregory is Shawn’s counterpart in My Dinner with Andre, and André the Giant played Fezzik, Vizzini’s rent-a-goon, in The Princess Bride.
If Shawn’s voice seems familiar to you, it could be because he voiced Rex in Toy Story.
As was John Wayne (1907-1979), Stegner (1909-1993) was born in Iowa which, at the time of his birth, was considered to belong to the West (as it is west of the Mississippi). Stegner grew up in several other western States, including Montana and Utah; also in Saskatchewan, Canada, which he wrote about in the autobiographical Wolf Willow.
Stegner was often referred to as “The Dean of Western Writers.” He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972 for Angle of Repose and, at 68, won the National Book Award for Fiction (in 1977) for The Spectator Bird.
You might think that the given name of Stegner’s son was chosen as a result of the father’s profession, but Page was actually the maiden name of Wallace’s wife, Mary.
Part of Stegner’s career was spent teaching creative writing at Stanford University. Among his students were author/activist Wendell Berry, former associate Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, author/environmentalist Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire, The Monkey Wrench Gang), Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Sometimes a Great Notion), and Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show).
Stevens (1879-1955) was an interesting cat, something of an enigma; it was jarringly funny to me (in both senses of the word) when I found out that this wildly original poet was simultaneously an insurance executive. The gap between the two endeavors seemed to be a gulf so wide and vast that I had a difficult time reconciling this odd combination in my mind. It seems as if you’d have to undergo a personality transplant as you took off your managerial-statistical hat and put on your creative cap, and vice versa. It’s akin to a person being both a salesman and a hermit; a hockey player and a peace activist; a politician and a mobster. Oh, wait—strike the last pairing, as the contrast between those two professions is only akin to that of the (black) spots on a black panther.
This executive by day/poet by night arrangement reminds me a bit of the Indian (by “Indian,” I mean the kind who curry their horses, not their food) who had a Cadillac parked by his tipi, but still rode his trusty steed when traveling about. When asked why he didn’t drive the luxury automobile to get around, he replied, “Horse for Go, Car for Show.” In Stevens’ case, was it “office job for dough, poetry for the glow”?
Stevens was also a bit of a brawler. He argued (verbally) with fellow New England poet Robert Frost on multiple occasions, and once was involved in a fistfight (which he lost) with Ernest Hemingway. Such fracases also seem at odds with the button-down image of an insurance executive as well as the shy and reclusive persona of the stereotypical poet.
Stevens lived on Farmington Avenue in Hartford, Connecticut, the same street on which Mark Twain’s former home (now museum) is located in that city.
Included among Stevens’ most vivid and striking works of poetry are The Reader, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, and The Emperor of Ice-Cream. That evaluation is, of course, only my opinion. Others, with less discerning taste and less refined sensibilities, may differ with me as to that.
As an example of his style, this is my favorite, the last-mentioned:
THE EMPEROR OF ICE-CREAM
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
And let that be the finale of this.