In Spite of Myself

Take a look at this man.

He so fine.

Hunk o’clock, amirite? Second to Paul Newman, Christopher Plummer has aged fantastically well.

Like a fine wine.

As you might imagine, I’ve been a fan of this guy ever since Captain Von Trapp et al graced my screen back when I was in the single-digits age range. The Sound of Music is my favorite movie of all time, and so, naturally, I’ve been wanting to learn more about its stars. When I heard C.Plum had finally written a memoir, I located it at Powell’s Books (PDXWHATUP) after months of searching. And after more months of reading, I can say this: Sometimes it’s best not to learn more about your idols.

I don’t mean that in the worst way, necessarily. I learned a lot from this book. Christopher Plummer has led a fascinating life, and I’m glad to know more about it. It’s just that by “fascinating,” I mean privileged, charmed, and unrelatable. While I did appreciate his constant self-deprecatory remarks, they didn’t mask his ego. It’s huge; always has been, always will be. He spends a good deal of the book semi-apologizing for being a pompous ass, and another good deal of it describing how much fun it was to be said pompous ass. His writing style is thorough, but flowery and exhausting; many exclamation points, many Kipling and Shakespeare pull-quotes, many flourishes of French phrasing, many superlative descriptions, particularly of women and alcohol and food. Calling his existence “rich” would be like saying… the sun is bright.

While he was waxing poetic on his many sexual, theatrical, and culinary exploits, it was easy to see how erudite he had become over the years, but difficult to see how he had actually done it. Born into a well-off family, he had all the educational opportunities a kid could wish for, but it was unclear if he even attended college. I suppose I could look it up on Wikipedia right now, but I kind of want to make this point instead. Shouldn’t a memoir fill its audience in on details like this? And speaking of details, the way he met all three of his wives was sort of unclear, too. It was like they appeared suddenly, and then he was sleeping with them, and then they were married, and then they were divorced (well, except for Elaine, his current wife of 42 years, not bad, eh!). All one big gelatinous phase of uncertainty and partying and fun. It still doesn’t even seem like he’s settled down.

So, while I don’t necessarily covet his life of excess and luxury, I did unearth some admirable qualities of his embedded in the book. All those details of his personal life? They convey a certain honesty that you just don’t find with famous folks his age. A great many of them try to preserve their dignity by hiding their past transgressions, but Plummer was very up-front about how he cheated on his first two wives, how he wasn’t that great a father to Amanda Plummer (a.k.a. Honey Bunny and Rose, her two best roles as far as I’m concerned), and how he spent a lot of money on useless things. And all of those lavish descriptions and name-drops of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood? Unnecessary, yes, but it’s refreshing how genuinely appreciative he is of his peers, and sweet that he’s so in awe of Hollywood even though he’s a part of it. He’s never been one for Los Angeles, another plus, and sort of observes it from suburban New England (or even Old England), which gives him a fresh perspective all the time.

He’s made some interesting (kind word) choices in the last several years, and by that I mean I haven’t watched most of his recent films, but I was elated when he won the Oscar for Beginners. In Spite of Myself doesn’t span that far, but knowing that he reached this triumphant milestone so late in life, I kind of wish it had. Maybe he’ll write a sequel, and I’ll slog through all the adjectives anyway because I still love him. He is Captain Von Trapp.

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