There have been like 3 major actors who have died this week. Yesterday it was the legend Sid Caesar and tonight it is Ralph Waite. Most people, and understandably so, acquaint Waite with his role on the long-time TV show The Waltons. Some recall him on the current show NCIS as Gibbs’ father. However, since I never got into The Waltons and seldom have time for NCIS, it is another role I want to discuss and not so much for his performance -which was really good – but for the subject matter.
It is weird – but if you know me then you realize not uncommon – I was thinking of this role earlier this week. I can’t even name the movie but I do remember scenes from it. Waite played a professor who every summer assumed a different identity and took a regular working job he had never done before. He worked as a short-order cook in a diner for instance. The story was based on a real person. It was the professor’s way of learning what the real world was like so he could pass it on to his students. His way to keep from being buried by academia.
There are two roles I remember Waite for: this one as the professor and the truck driver in Cool Hand Luke. There is something to be said for the point the professor was trying to make. I love books. Everyone should read and you do learn a lot from them. But there is book smart and then there is street smart and the wise person tries to mesh the two.
We’ve been bombarded lately with billionaires telling working people that they’re poor because they’re lazy or that if they don’t like the economy maybe they should move to India or China. I often wonder if these guys shouldn’t take a page from this professor. How many of these CEO’s would survive as a short-order cook, or a janitor cleaning toilets, or working two jobs to keep food on the table? I suspect that many of them would fail miserably. And it is one thing to talk economics in the boardroom or classroom and quite another to live it. I could rattle off a list here but I suspect everyone reading this knows exactly what I am talking about. The best laid plans more often than not go astray. Life has a way of propelling us in directions we didn’t and couldn’t predict.
Waite was a good actor. His influence on The Waltons was a major one. Still, it is that one little forgotten role I will remember him for, probably because of the moral behind the story. R.I.P. Ralph Waite. You earned the respite.