Happy birthday, Gene!

March 1, 2002

by Mark Hartley

On the date I write this, it's Gene Hackman's birthday. My compadre at Dental Economics, Dr. Joe Blaes, frequently writes his Editor's Notes while attending meetings hosted for dentists. His point is, I think, that these seminars in places like Tahiti offer wonderful opportunities for expanding the dental mind.

Yeah, right. A dentist on the beach signals a waiter, "Does this drink here on the menu come with one of those umbrellas in it? No? Well, I'll tell you something. You know that copy of 100 Sure-Fire Opening Lines To Use With Women that you keep in your bathroom? Throw it away. I'll tell you exactly what to tell your dentist the next time you see him, and he'll do some stuff in your mouth that'll make the women swoon over you when he's finished. All I want in exchange is one of those umbrellas. Deal?"

No, as I write this, it's cold and wet outside in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and it's Gene Hackman's birthday. The story behind recognizing this noteworthy date is that I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest long before it was made into a movie way back there in the 1970s. I thought Jack Nicholson did a terrific job with the lead role, but, as a fan of the book, I always envisioned Gene Hackman as the perfect actor for the role of Murphy.

Actually, the producers pursued James Caan before Nicholson. Actually, Kirk Douglas, who owned the movie rights to the book, wanted to play the role himself before growing too old for it.

Anyway, one day I grumbled about how Hackman was better suited for the role when the conversation turned to what actors are sexy, hunks, a sight for sore eyes — however the females of the late 1970s referred to heartthrobs. I piped up with the information that my wife had a soft spot for Gene Hackman.

Boy, did I push her button. So, for 20-something years, I mention her infatuation with Hackman every so often in public places and then watch her vehemently deny the accusation.

For Hackman's birthday, the editorial staff at Dental Economics and RDH paused for a few minutes in his honor. For the occasion, I even put a photo of Hackman up on my computer as a screen saver. After our celebration, I called my wife at her place of employment and pointed out our good deed. "Did ya'll do anything to celebrate Hackman's birthday?" I asked.
"Transfer me to Alan (her supervisor). Maybe he's unaware of what today is."
"You can just look up the number. Bye."

The magic of communication between spouses is a marvel to behold, isn't it?

Gene Hackman's appeal to my wife is not hard to understand, is it? After all, he played the role of the detective in The French Connection when he arrested a criminal and asked, "Ever pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?" He was the basketball coach in Hoosiers when he told a praying player, "Strap, God wants you on the court!" He was the villain Lex Luthor in Superman when he said, "Doesn't it give you a shudder of electricity through you to be in the same room with me?" He returned as Luthor in a Superman sequel and said, "Lenny, I've always considered you the Dutch Elm disease in my family tree." He played the cigar-smoking submarine captain in Crimson Tide when he remarked to a crew member objecting to the second-hand smoke, "I don't trust air I can't see." As the sheriff in Unforgiven, he pummeled the character played by Richard Harris and commented, "You think I'm kicking you. Well, I'm just talking to you."

Honestly, I don't know what you women look for in a man.

I wish I could say that we interviewed Gene Hackman's hygienist for this issue of RDH. She probably would have said something like, "Well, yeah, he's got a little bleeding and mobility. What do you want me to say? He's got this reputation of following instructions from the most temperamental directors in the movie business, but I can't get him to listen to me!"

Nah, it's just a dreary day, and I'm not in Tahiti. So I bid farewell to this issue of the magazine and headed home, where I'm writing this. After dinner, my wife produced a chocolate cake that she had hidden. On the top of the decorated cake, she had written with red frosting, "Happy birthday, Gene."

What did I tell you? The woman's crazy about Gene Hackman.

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