A friend of mine died a few nights ago. We worked together at my old theater company in San Francisco. I met him the summer I spent reading Steinbeck and so I’ve always associated the two of them–perhaps because Scottie shared the great author’s sense of social justice, and perhaps because he lived on and worked a plot of land in northern California, and seemed like an ideal Steinbeck character: smarter, of course, and more self-aware than Lennie, but innocent and quiet, kind, innately intolerant of gossip, pettiness, and malice. His forearms were tattooed with bombs and other weaponry (which he jokingly or maybe not jokingly referred to as his “prison tatts”) and he spoke in a rough street dialect, but I only ever knew him as gentle and wise, with an astute and disinterested sense of what’s fair and what’s not, someone you could speak with safely. His great strength as an actor was that he was bold enough to be dull onstage–and was therefore riveting. I think what turns a lot of people off the theater is that so much of the time you can sense an actor’s anxiety about his own performance, in his perceptible over-eagerness to please, to provoke, to elicit sympathy, to convince, and worst, to entertain. At best, this is, in the revelation of the lack of self-trust at its base, unmoving or even embarrassing for the audience, and at worst, something that reads as pandering which the audience rightly rejects with disdain. You could always relax watching Scottie because you knew that he wouldn’t subject you to any “acting.” The limitations he placed on himself (he didn’t do accents or adjust his already singular physicality from role to role) were made up for by an unfussy realism that made much of what passes on the major stages of the theater world look like desperate showing-off.
I’m not a psychologist and wouldn’t presume to draw a link between Scottie’s talent as an actor and his best traits as a person, but I’d like to think that they are connected. I will miss him, onstage and off.