Marty, 1953 (an episode of the Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse). Directed by Delbert Mann, written by Paddy Chayefsky. Starring Rod Steiger, Joe Mantell, Nancy Marchand, and Esther Minciotti

From the files of “street” critic Guy Fresno.

Did I ever tell you about my pal Alvin Fitzsimmons? A short, mealy little guy, nice guy, one of those squirts who does one thing really well and bumbles about in everything else. Actually, I take that back: Alvin did quite a few things well, really well. First of all, from a young age he showed a pretty God damn amazing talent at flower arranging. Seriously. Dude got himself a job at Roethke Flowers, well after the poet clan left it behind, and he was good. That’s all he did in short order–kid went from deliveries and pushing a broom to making bouquets for brides in just a few months. Too bad he thought it was “girly”. I’ll grant him that it didn’t pay anything, but he went and became an actuary.

So you see that Alv’s good at math, too. The man had these talents as well: he could accurately predict the Detroit Lions won-loss record in any given season; make a mean ham and bean soup; and if they ever made a trivia game about Princess Di, well, Alv would get every question right. Fuck, that son of a bitch beat Brits at Di Triv. Crazy.

But most of all Alv was lonely. And he didn’t know what to do about it. Let me add that old Alvy was born, for Christ’s sake, on Valentine’s Day. You know who talks about this little irony the most? God damn Alvin Fitzsimmons, that’s who. “Born on Valentine’s Day,” he’d moan after some lousy date. He once offered a ten thousand dollar reward for anyone who set him up with a bride.

Well, Alv’s problem wasn’t that he was the frog side of Prince Charming, it was that he was a dope. You ask him if he’s thought about joining some damn dating service, place an ad in a sex weekly, anything to meet a girl, and he’d grumble that he was at a hockey game the other night. Jesus Fucking Christ, a hockey game.

Plus, there’s that list. He has a list of “Attributes”. Can’t be divorced. Gotta be Catholic, like he is. Can’t be taller than his towering five foot seven. And so on and so on. That’s a recipe for loneliness, Alvin Fitzsimmons. I’ve told him that many a time.

Well, you know me, I got a house full of movies, and even though I hadn’t seen this wing-nut for a million years it seemed (the life of an Actuary and Red Wing/Lions/Tigers/Pistons season-ticket holder is one of limited free time), I managed to catch Alv nursing a beer and some hard feelings at the Jones Bar and Grill near the Prudential offices. Girl had broken his heart again.

“First date in six months,” he complained, and I was stunned it had only been six months ago. She was a fellow actuary, loved sports, good fit. But she bristled at his complaints about her divorce, and as we drank and he told me this story I couldn’t help but wonder if this guy wasn’t a loony. Who berates a girl for leaving a husband, and on a second date? “First date,” he corrected me. “I just asked her if she really tried to save her marriage. I just want someone of character.” “Tell me you didn’t say, ‘Someone of character’.” His silence was probably due to his foot being jammed deep into his own throat.

So I asked him then if he’d ever seen Marty, and he claimed that he had, that he loved Ernest Borgnine. My pals tell me you can almost hear me rolling my eyes when I get my dander up, and I guess that was the case. Well, I wasn’t talking Marty with Borgnine, that happy Marty with that insipid song. No, I’m talking the Rod Steiger Marty, the one that cuts you right across the heart. The TV version. Paddy Chayefsky’s little drama about that fat little man who may–or may not–have found love with a “dog”.

Now, I was really hoping Alv would get some life’s lessons from Marty. Like: look at people for who they are, look for that fucking beauty that you find in everything that’s a little bit ugly. Because Alv’s a bit ugly, just like I’m a bit ugly. Yeah, I know I’m not exactly the type who’s got a good relationship, but then I’m a mean bastard and I hate living with people especially since they usually try to reorganize my videos and books and music and shit. I know they gotta make room for their stuff, too, but I hate moving, and well, anyway this is about Alv.

Stop being unkind, man, is what I was trying to tell him. Start doing what Marty does: learns to love a girl no matter what her baggage or her damages. Didn’t work. Alv was drunk enough to watch the damn thing that night (I ran home and got the tape–I knew he still had his old VCR because he’s as cheap as I am). I guess he didn’t show up for work the next day, and when he finally did come in, three days later, his eyes were bloodshot. Marty was too much for him.

That’s what it’s like, man. It’s utterly killing. Most of that is Rod Steiger, playing Marty as if he’s been trampled by love his whole life. Look at that scene a the start, where he calls some dame he met at a movie theater weeks earlier. Marty didn’t even want to do it, but his pal kept insisting, and so he puts a dime in the phone and calls, even though he knew he was going to get murdered. Sure enough, it’s hell. All we see is Steiger’s side of the conversation, and when it ends, he stares at the receiver as if it were a gun he could use to finally blow his brains out.

In the television version, Marty is in pain, real pain. The music is somber, the dialogue charged. Men are warped by their longing, and turn sullen, and mean. It’s amazing, then, that Marty emerges with his soul intact. Unlike the movie, however, we don’t have a fucking clue whether the guy will find happiness. You tell me when the movies toned down a TV show? You can’t, that’s all there is to it.

Marty about loneliness, not the self-pitying loneliness, but the kind that destroys lives. Well, I think it destroyed Alv’s life. When I saw him later, back at the James Bar, he was in terrible shape. “I’m all devastated inside,” he said. He was never going to find a woman, and he knew that from watching Marty.

“You’re missing the point,” I told him. “Marty’ll teach you how to find a girl. Be a good guy. Go to places with girls. You know, ‘There’s lot’s a tomatoes.’” That’s a line from the movie. “Seems to me like you go to the Pistons games, Red Wings, and you’re running away, man. And stop being mean. Treat a girl right, man.” But that wouldn’t work. Alv seemed to see himself as the other guy, Marty’s pal and fellow lonelyheart, Angie, played by Joe Mantell, who was later the guy who pulled Jack Nicholson away from the carnage and says “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.” Well, Alv should have seen himself as Marty, as Rod Steiger, even if old Rod’s a bigger guy than Alv. But he never did.

He paid for my beer, said thanks, and walked out. Alv didn’t commit suicide, didn’t quit his job and end up a drunk. Worse: Alv didn’t change. He kept going to work, kept going to those damn sporting events where you don’t really meet anyone, kept hanging out with the guys and not doing a God damn thing about his heart. He turned sour. One of those cranks who rages at the newspaper, complains about the food in the commissary, never has anything good to say about people. Too much news, too much sports, too little poetry and music.

The few times I visited the man in his little townhouse, though, I kept noticing that he never put Marty away–it was right there, in easy reach. Sometimes I noticed the tape inside the box was gone, probably in the machine. After awhile, I stopped seeing him. Once I saw him walking, a shrunken man. He used to wear a boutonnière, a habit from his days as a florist, but now his lapels are as free of color as his life.

Alvin Fitzsimmons, born on Valentine’s Day, sits at home, sad, lonely. He walks the streets, eats his meals, engages in conversation, and those are sad and lonely, too. Every night he dies a little. The lessons were right in front of him, but he ignored them. Unlike Marty, but very much like Marty’s pals, he’s doomed.

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