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Klute, Alan J. Pakula’s 1971 neo-noir crime thriller, was not so much a murder mystery as a dark psychological journey inside the mind of a prostitute, played by Jane Fonda. According to Pakula’s biographer Jared Brown, things got so intense during rehearsals one day that Fonda finally told Pakula, “Alan, I can’t do it. I’m sorry. I think you should hire Faye Dunaway. I’m scared to death and I can’t do it.”
In response, Pakula just laughed. “I’m not going to let you out,” he told Fonda. “You’ll be fine.” Fonda’s performance in Klute subsequently won her the Academy Award for best actress.
Brushoff for General Motors
Pakula, who in the course of his career directed such film luminaries as Meryl Streep, Maggie Smith, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards, Warren Beatty, Harrison Ford, Robert Redford, Liza Minnelli, Albert Finney, and Kevin Kline—later said he knew Fonda was genuinely scared that day at rehearsal. “It wasn’t affectation,” he told Brown. “Some of the most gifted people in the world are the most scared—and some of the least gifted people have all the confidence in the world.”
That observation got me thinking about a certain overconfident occupant of the White House. You know—the fellow who claims to be a billionaire but whose companies have filed for bankruptcy protection six times. Who touts his skills as a negotiator but failed to close deals on immigration, trade, health care, security, gun control, Middle East peace, Iran, Syria, Russia—come to think of it, just about any issue that has crossed his desk. Who, following his summit meeting with Kim Jong-un last month, tweeted, “Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” Who just this past Sunday defiantly stood by his wacky tariffs, brushing off the anguished predictions of massive layoffs and economic recession from world leaders as well as iconic companies like General Motors, Harley-Davidson, and Polaris, declaring, “It’s going to all work out.”
Secret of success
Alan Pakula, who was my mother’s first cousin, suffered his share of struggles and disappointments in Hollywood before creating such masterpieces as All the President’s Men and Sophie’s Choice. His failures were key to his subsequent success: they endowed him with empathy for his actors and even for the characters they portrayed. He was killed in a freak auto accident in 1998. As far as I know, he never met Donald Trump. So how did he get Trump’s number?
“You’ll be fine,” Pakula assured Jane Fonda, and she was. “It’s going to all work out,” Trump assures us—and if his track record is any indicator, it won’t. Experience is a great teacher—but only if you’re able to acknowledge your mistakes.
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