It’s been four years since we enshrined anyone into our exclusive little club. For those that need a quick refresher the Hall of Influence was created in 2009 to honor those entities that have had a positive impact on me and my life. Excluded from this élite society are my personal friends & family because I can’t imagine that citizens of The Manoverse have much interest in me gushing about a bunch of people you’ve never heard of. In the past five years we have inducted the following individuals: Jesus Christ, The Rooney Family (owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers), author Mark Twain, entertainers Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & his most famous creation Sherlock Holmes, and talk radio icon Rush Limbaugh. Today we welcome five new members from the worlds of entertainment, music, & literature.
First up is a writer, producer, & director of some of my favorite films. In doing 80’s Movie Mania I have been reminded of the prolific genius of John Hughes. He was the driving force behind some of the most beloved movies we fondly recall from the early 1980’s on into the infancy of the 21st century: Mr. Mom, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, the Vacation series, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Uncle Buck, Some Kind of Wonderful, Planes Trains & Automobiles, the Home Alone series, Only the Lonely, Dutch, a charming Miracle on 34th Street remake, The Great Outdoors…just to name a few. A plethora of actors owe their success to Hughes, and an entire generation of moviegoers are thankful that he made their teens & 20’s so enjoyable. John Hughes made what I call comfort food films. He wasn’t into violence or sex or special effects. His stories are little pieces of slightly exaggerated Americana. He didn’t utilize “gross-out” visuals or profanity to satiate tawdry & immature humor palates. His comedy was more subtle and character based. You can (and should) watch the works of John Hughes with your children. He was a genius that we lost way too soon, yet I am so grateful that we have such an abundant filmography to always appreciate. There are lots of folks out there who have important jobs…doctors, teachers, law enforcement, scientists, firefighters, engineers…and we value them all. However, having a legacy like that of John Hughes, wherein he helped to create a wealth of entertainment that has provided countless hours of delight to millions of people and will continue to do so for many years to come, is an accomplishment also worthy of praise.
Our next honoree is a controversial figure and seems to enjoy every second of it. I first became a pro wrestling fan as a child in the early 1980’s, and the man most responsible for growing the business into the pop culture juggernaut that it became is the owner of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Vincent Kennedy McMahon Jr. VKM purchased the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) from his father in the early 80’s. Up until that point pro wrestling had been a business made up of a bunch of cooperative regional territories. VKM took pro wrestling national, eventually running all of his competitors out of business. He created characters like Hulk Hogan, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, & “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. He engaged the MTV Generation and made wrestling cool. For about a decade from the mid-80’s thru the early 90’s professional wrestling was an unabashed water cooler sensation, and while several people can take partial credit for the success there is no doubt that Vince McMahon was the lead dog. Everyone knows by now that wrestling is predetermined, choreographed entertainment and not an actual sport, but I don’t see that as an excuse for disparagement of its fans. The zombies on The Walking Dead aren’t real. Iron Man is fictional…not an actual superhero. Game of Thrones is pure fantasy. So why is it okay for people to go bonkers for those movies, books, & TV shows yet pro wrestling is belittled & disrespected?? Why is my chosen form or entertainment somehow less valid than yours?? At any rate, Vince McMahon and his creation have given me hours upon hours of guilty pleasure over the past few decades. He’s a little older and seemingly out of touch with what fans want these days, but I appreciate his past efforts and what he has built. Kudos.
Our third inductee today is one of the greatest authors in the history of literature. Charles Dickens was a towering figure of The Victorian Era, having risen from an impoverished son of less-than-supportive parents to the preeminent author of his generation. He produced a plethora of classic stories, including A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, & David Copperfield. He revived the celebration of Christmas with his novella A Christmas Carol. His works have been adapted into films hundreds of times. On the Mount Rushmore of Literature Shakespeare would have to be given the first spot, but I think Dickens would unanimously be awarded the next. His novels aren’t necessarily light & easy reading, as they are rife with social commentary, but neither are they difficult or oppressive. I am fortunate to have attended academic institutions in my youth that introduced to me to worlds that I otherwise may not have independently come to know & enjoy. Dickens deserves acclaim not because he produced one book or created a couple of characters that the masses loved. He had a long & distinguished career in which he achieved a consistent level of creativity and generated a long list of great books & memorable characters that people are still reading and learning about two centuries later. In a modern climate of short attention spans & disposable entertainment it is nice to know that once upon a time there were people so talented and mindful of the meaning of quality that they generated art that has stood the test of time. If you haven’t read Dickens since your high school English teacher forced you to decades ago I encourage you to give him another whirl. You just might be pleasantly surprised.
The next person to enter the hallowed Hall of Influence is the man that I consider to be the greatest actor of all time. James Stewart was a mainstay of mid-20th century cinema from the 1930’s thru the 70’s. He starred in everything from goofy comedies to westerns to dramatic thrillers. He was as equally talented under the direction of John Ford as he was with filmmaker Frank Capra or the “Master of Suspense” Alfred Hitchcock. Citizens of The Manoverse are well acquainted with my love of Christmas films and specifically my admiration for Stewart’s 1946 classic It’s A Wonderful Life. I am also very fond of Stewart classics like Harvey, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Vertigo, The Glenn Miller Story, & Rear Window. I have read a couple of Jimmy Stewart biographies, and there is every indication that he was a genuinely decent man with solid small town values and a quietly generous spirit. That gracious personality shines thru in his movie roles, even when the subject matter is a little heavy. There is a Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, PA about three hours up the road from me and I hope to make it there to visit someday.
The final inductee for this fourth class of the Hall of Influence is 70’s rock supergroup The Eagles. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I became a fan or what was the first song that caught my attention. It seems like The Eagles have always been a part of my life. An educated guess would probably zero in on their 1976 album Hotel California, with its titular hit single as well as songs like New Kid in Town and Life in the Fast Lane. That album was released when I was just four years old, but that is exactly when children soak things up like a sponge. I can envision 4 year old Me hearing those songs on the radio and deciding “Yeah…that’s cool. I like that.” The ensuing years saw the band take a lengthy hiatus beginning in 1980, but whereas most bands would just kind of fade away into the ether The Eagles actually became more popular after their demise. Demand for their music almost singlehandedly created the classic rock movement that is still a thing today. The Eagles reunited in the early 90’s, just in time for me to see them live in concert in Columbus, OH with some college friends. They came to Huntington, WV just a few miles from my college apartment a couple of years later, but the ticket prices were beyond my reach. At any rate, The Eagles are a difficult band to pigeonhole. They certainly aren’t hard rock and don’t appeal to headbangers, but neither are they really a country act. They are a singular hybrid, the product of a generation and the sum of various parts. The artists that have comprised the band over the years…Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, Timothy B. Schmit, Don Felder, Joe Walsh…all brought unique gifts and personalities to the table, and thankfully were able to meld together their talent to produce some of the greatest music ever written. If I were to create a soundtrack for my life there undoubtedly would be several Eagles songs on it.