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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Good Morning Revolution - 'Life Cycles' And The Career Of Robin Williams

I join with the millions of Robin Williams' fans in mourning his untimely passing. Such a 'larger than life' presence, with wit and warmth, that amused but never offended. This is my tribute to him.

Of all news items covering a reprise of his life that I saw, it was commenced by Robin delivering his famous one liner:- "Good morning Vietnam!" Mind you, it's a phrase you can't say blandly, you've got to use force and passion. You know, say it like this :- "Goooooood morning Vi-et-nam!!" It embodied Robin's spirit and defined his essence. Then, these same biographic short summaries would say things like :- "He first burst onto our screens with his breakthrough role in the movie Good Morning Vietnam and then reprise his major works like Dead Poets Society and Mrs. Doubtfire, through to his Oscar-winning performance in Good Will Hunting etc."

Of course, Robin was already established as a movie actor after Mork And Mindy wound up in 1982. He had the lead role in The World According To Garp in the same year. However, it received only luke-warm critiques and box office results and then....? Well, quite frankly very little for quite a few years. It wasn't that he wasn't trying, it's just that his big break was yet to happen. Or maybe not? There are no guarantees in life. Can you see where I'm going with all this? How the whole analysis came about under unforeseen circumstances? How I am being put to a blind test with 'Life Cycles' yet again?

Firstly I'd like to point out, that Robin's earlier adult career, consisted of beginning his standup act in early 1976. He was born July 21st, 1951. This would then have occurred during his first adult, age 24, 'Year of Revolution' (July 1975 to July 1976). It was to be his first career identity. He had previously won a scholarship to the famous Julliard School in New York (where he was one of only 20 students). He was advised to leave before finishing in 1976 as there was nothing more to teach him.

There followed a seven year journey, as standup took him on to Mork And Mindy and to alcohol and cocaine addiction. This 7 year journey in a forward direction from a 'Year of Revolution' to a 'Year of Broken Pathways' is absolutely central to 'Life Cycles; theory. OK, if that's the case, then what were the key events in his age 31 'Year of Broken Pathways' (ie. July 1982 to July 1983), that underpin this? Well the first was personal. It was the death of his close friend and fellow high-octane comedian, John Belushi. This was due to a cocaine and heroin overdose and it provided a stark 'wake-up call' to Williams. He is on record as stating it.

The second was career related. Mork and Mindy had simply run out of gas and lost it's way in the last season. Jonathan Winters was brought in as Willams' child, because Orkans were said to age backwards. It ended in 60th place in the ratings and was cancelled in mid-1982. Williams was left to find a new direction. He had hoped for an immediate film success with The World According To Garp. Based on John Irving's novel, it proved to be a faithful recreation of his quirky, but somewhat irritating, style and was rated and received as such.

Then followed a number of years in the wilderness. In 1983 he starred with Walter Matthau in The Survivors, which received an exceptionally low 9% rating on the benchmark Rotten Tomatoes review site. Apparently Williams and Matthau did not team well together. Worse was to follow. In 1986 Williams had the leading role in a star-studded ensemble cast for the Harold Ramis (you know, the Ghostbusters/ 'Stripes' guy) directed Club Paradise. The cast included Peter O'Toole, Twiggy, Rick Moranis and Eugene Levy in a comic 'Club Med gone wrong' plot line. How could it miss? Apparently Bill Murray was first choice and knocked it back. Must have sensed something. Even John Cleese passed on this one.

Anyway it bombed spectacularly costing Warner Bros. $15 mill. and grossing only $12 mill. with an 11% Rotten Tomatoes rating. It was generally felt Robin Williams was wasting his talents with these movies. They were all just too one-dimensional. What he needed was a comedy vehicle with some depth and sensitivity and maybe even an element of social commentary. It was obvious his ship had not yet come in. He was 35 and he wanted to make a statement and the answer to his prayers was just sitting right under his nose. Enter the two people, who were about to be in their respective 'Years of Revolution' (at 36/48) and who wanted to make statements of their own for quite different reasons. All three combined careers were going to rise 'phoenix-like' from the ashes. Now, you probably know nothing of these other two people, but they were pivotal to the making of the movie that would make their names :- Good Morning Vietnam.

First I want to introduce Adrian Cronauer. Adrian was a former Air Force sargeant and radio personality in Vietnam, who wrote about his experiences and this formed the basis for the movie. Robin played him. Adrian had been trying to get his idea launched for some time. In 1979 he pitched a sitcom to TV networks, who weren't interested even though MASH was highly popular at the time. His next move was to develop a TV 'movie of the week' script and he pitched it again to the networks. This time (around 1982 after Mork and Mindy), it got the attention of Robin Williams, who bought an option on it and then let it sit for four years, until one day he phoned Adrian out of the blue and said:- "Well, we want to take your project and go to production, but as a full-scale movie. Only we'll be throwing out your script." This would, most probably, have been in the latter part of 1986, after the disappointment of Club Paradise. However, what exactly caused this breakthrough moment is a little unclear.

Cronauer (born Sept. 8th, 1938) would have just entered his age 48 'Year of Revolution' when his dream was about to be realised. He was asked to meet Williams and his manager and tell his story. Various episodes were described and then they would decide on a completely different scenario. Cronauer laughs about this in an interview, but ended up agreeing with what they did.

The next step was to hire a screenwriter, who would turn the whole thing into a winning script, while still leaving space for Williams to use his famous improv-style comedy, at which he was a genius. Enter Mitch Markowitz, who up to that time had only been a TV scriptwriter and his credits included MASH and Van Dyke and Company. He was about to have his career-defining moment and he had just turned 36 in early October, 1986. This was to represent a phoenix-like moment for both Adrian (who went on to work for Defence in the area of MIA cases) and Mitch (who went on to write the movie Crazy People in 1990).

This leaves only Robin, who turned 36 on July, 21st 1987 and thus shared a small amount of 'Confluence' with both Adrian and Mitch. Good Morning Vietnam had begun shooting around April 1987 and so in this period of July/Sept- this 'whorl of Confluence' for all three men- the finishing touches would have been applied to their respective crowning glories. Good Morning Vietnam was released Dec 87/Jan 88.

At 36, in his major and career-defining 'Year of Revolution', Robin Willams at last had his hit movie. In 'Life Cycles' terms it was delivered to the letter and exactly on time. Williams had now "burst upon the scene", which you know is the phrase I use to describe events like this. From a budget of $13 mill. it made $124 mill. He received a Golden Globe Award for "Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical", and an American Comedy Award for "Funniest Actor in a Motion Picture (Leading Role)" and a "Best Actor" BAFTA Award. He was also nominated for a "Best Actor" Academy Award. No wonder all the biographic summaries begin with his iconic phrase :- "Goooooood morning Vi-et-nam!!" He had truly arrived.

Of course, I see it more as a chorus in 'Life Cycles' terms. I see Adrian Cronauer with his arms around Mitch Markowitz and Robin Willams and all three of them saying :- "Gooooood morning Rev-o-lution!!" You know, sitting here as a humble researcher, I am dumbfounded by the volume of scope of this evidence. Not just this story, but story after story after story. Of course, it could all be just mere luck and a very odd set of coincidences, but I somehow I don't think so. Do you? Till next month :- "may the cycles always bring you good fortune."