Category Archives: NJATVS Career Restrospective

Lord John Marbury: A Case Study Of Greatness

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

All West Wing fans in particular were saddened to hear the news of the passing of actor Roger Rees. A Welsh actor of both stage and screen died late last night of what has been only described as ‘died from a brief illness’. His television and movie acting credits reach into the 90’s and are widely considered secondary to his stage resume. Most recently seen performing in the Broadway musical “The Visit”, which a number of sources claim he was forced to leave mid run due to the illness that would take his life. Depending on your age and exposure, there are any number of roles you may be familiar with spanning the spectrum. From Cheers to The West Wing. Boston Common to Robin Hood: Men In Tights. He was a skilled actor whose mark on acting will be sorely missed for anyone who had the opportunity to witness it.

Today in reverence of his passing, we will focus on a few episodes of his short, but unforgettable run on what I believe to be the greatest television show ever produced. The West Wing. Amidst the very American portrayal of life, relationships and conflict resolution inside the offices of the United States White House, a story line develops that introduces us to the very layered character known as Lord John Marbury. His full title is Lord John Marbury, the hereditary Earl of Selborne, Earl of Croy, Marquess of Needham and Dolby, Baronet of Brycey and England’s Ambassador to the United States. That last part comes later. In the wake of a fictional ‘skirmish’ between India, China, and Pakistan over the controlling stake of Kashmir, President Bartlet extends an invitation to what he describes to his Chief of Staff as “an Indian expert”. His Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry knows almost immediately to whom he speaks. And is not in the slightest bit enthusiastic about such an invitation.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Upon his arrival, Lord John Marbury is visibly drunk and has no problem suggesting as much when he describes the flight over as “intoxicating”. This is the first sense of Lord John Marbury’s overall demeanor. It’s also the image the Leo keeps in the front of his mind whenever Lord Marbury’s name is mentioned. However, it is in no way the beginning and the end of this character. While Marbury seems to be at the very least a connoisseur of Scotch, he is also a very educated man with serious opinions about serious issues. The Indian conflict only being the very first one.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

During the concern over the Indian/Kashmir issue Marbury makes it abundantly clear that this is a conflict of religion and the United States government need only blame themselves (or Congress specifically) for being as uninformed of the nuances of the conflict as well as permitting these nations to move towards a nuclear standoff. In the West Wing, this is the first time an outsider is introduced into the President’s small circle of advisers. As if that were not contrasting enough, the character of Lord John Marbury is literally a walking and talking contrast to virtually every other character involved. This is a tightrope that only a well skilled thespian can deliver. And deliver, Roger Rees does.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

To suggest that Roger Rees effectively portrays the British Ambassador would vastly diminish his performances. Rees literally steals every single scene he’s in. Whether we are referencing his humorously condescending turned term of endearment, “GERALD” or delivering a very eloquent position on an issue of global importance, he always steals the scene. All the way down to something as simple as his response to “Can I call you John?” The West Wing has a cast absolutely saturated with top flight acting talent of the time. I still maintain that it is the only show in history that can boast over 100 cast members of note. Probably none of which except Roger Rees that could have pulled off the performance of Lord John Marbury.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

As a relative contrast from his first appearance in the aptly titled episode “Lord John Marbury” to the more adamant episode titled “Dead Irish Writers”, we begin to peel back the layers. As if it were a running gag in the writers room, Marbury repeats many many times, “Brendan McGann cannot visit the White House”. As the episode progresses we see the subtlety that few actors possess. The ability to slowly, snails crawl slowly, transition from forcefully committing to the statement as if it were his own strong conviction to the eventuality that his own actual opinion is quite the contrary. Now this transition almost literally spans the length of the episode. At the conclusion of which, Marbury makes it clear that the United States must invite Mr. McGann in an effort to resolve tension. Even if it is the English government’s firm stance to not associate with a man responsible for death and destruction brought through terrorist acts against England as well as Ireland.

Marbury: A terrorist is a terrorist even if he sings, Danny Boy. Brendan McGann cannot visit the White House.


Toby:Then what can we do but talk to him?

Marbury: Nothing. You must talk to him.

Toby: What?

Marbury: Toby, despite appearances, I do have lucid moments, and I know that England is… running out of turns in this particular… but as, uh, Ambassador to Her Majesty’s Government, I must tell you that…

Toby: Brendan McGann cannot come to the White House.

Marbury: Yes.

Toby: Understood, Mr. Ambassador.

During season 2 in an episode called, “The Drop In”, there is a very simple matter the ceremonious duty of naming Lord John Marbury to the post of England’s Ambassador to the United States. So simple that Marbury gets pushed back later in the day due to so many such ceremonies being performed in a single day. This opens the door for Chief of Staff Leo McGarry to try an solicit support for a missile defense shield program from his greatest adversary, the about to be newly commissioned British Ambassador John Marbury. Support McGarry will not get.
Leo: And you’re an expert in the field. And I hope I can count on your support.

Marbury: You may hope for it but you’ll not have it.

Leo: Why not?

Marbury: Because the NMD is an absurdly wasteful military boondoggle that will never produce a working missile. It violates any number of elements of the ABM treaty. And any argument you make in its defense will surely be moronic.

There are a number of characters throughout this series who display a desire to beat the other side for the sake of winning. Admitting up front and with no hesitation that the issue or legislation in question has nothing to do with what’s best for the American people. That the goal here is to win. Or more specifically beat the White House. This is not the case for Marbury. He is not out to beat Leo. However, his convictions, knowledge of the issue at hand, and overall understanding of how the world works puts him in a unique situation to battle with Leo and often effectively articulate his side of the debate. Often still, converting those around him to that side of the debate.

The character of Lord John Marbury is more specific and in need of being delivered in just the right way that not just anyone would be capable of delivering it successfully. While we have only looked at three different scenes found in the first half of the series, Roger Rees’ contributions to the series were almost immeasurable. The show in total is so completely magnificent that calling Lord John Marbury the flower amidst the desert would be disrespectful to the rest of the product. Like so many characters in this show, his contribution is impressive. To even suggest the concept of the show without his performance would downgrade the product overall. As it would the performances of John Spencer, Martin Sheen, Allison Janney and many more too numerous to mention.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The West Wing is a phenomenal production in television history for two very significant reasons. The first of which that never seems to go unnoticed is the level of writing that the fans of the show herald as the genius of Aaron Sorkin. The second is the contributions or the interpretation of said writing brought to life by the actors. I cannot speak to whether the character of Lord John Marbury was created from the beginning or if he was created along the way as the story line evolved. What is certain, is that Roger Rees brought Lord John Marbury to life. Each and every moment Rees is on scene, he brings that character to life. Arguably the most colorful and entertaining cast member of maybe the most decorated and lauded cast ever assembled.

It’s important to acknowledge that Rees’ contributions to art of acting by no way is limited to five episodes on an American television show. However, his work therein seems to exemplify the actor that he was. Whether you were introduced to him early or late, stage or screen, Roger Rees brought a certain commanding quality to his craft that not everyone brings. There is a difference between doing the job and excelling at the job. At this point, it goes without saying that Roger Rees excelled at the craft of acting. In today’s age of instant streaming, DVRs, and on-demand libraries, I would strongly recommend you look into the contributions of one “Roger Rees”. Personally, I would suggest starting with The West Wing, but clearly that would be biased on some level.

Roger Rees, who died doing what he loved, passing at the age of 71. He and his contributions will be genuinely missed.

Courtesy of Twitter
Courtesy of Twitter

Live Long And Prosper, Leonard Nimoy Passes At 83

Photo Courtesy Of Liane Hentscher/FOX
Photo Courtesy Of Liane Hentscher/FOX

There are celebrities, you enjoy as a child, but as you get older, for a variety of reasons, your admiration for that person, wears thin, or totally evaporates. Then there are celebrities, you enjoyed as a child and your admiration for that person, increases over the years. Leonard Nimoy was a charter member of that second group for me, an actor who like fine wine only got better with age. “The New York Times,” reported Friday, that Nimoy died at home on Friday morning, at the age of 83. The actor/director/author/recording artist, succumbed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a condition that he announced he had last year. Nimoy, blamed his cigarette smoking as a young man, as the cause of the disease, though he quit smoking at 53.

The Boston native, whose father’s business as a barber, radically increased as his son gained fame, broke into the public’s consciousness, in September of 1966, playing the iconic character Mr. Spock on the NBC series “Star Trek.” Spock was the First Officer and Science Officer for the USS Enterprise, he was also half human and half Vulcan, with his Vulcan unemotional and logical side, mainly dictating his behavior. He wore Beatles bangs and pointy-ears and in an earlier incarnation, looked far more Satanic, than the Spock we came to know and admire.

Although the original version of Star Trek’s now looked upon as a classic for fans of science fiction, the series ratings never were strong, as many people had troubles grasping the concept. Called by many at the time, “A western set in outer-space in the distant future,” series creator Gene Roddenberry, actually used his platform to discuss the issues of the day. The interstellar settings and future time period, allowed Roddenberry to talk issues that would have been far too taboo, to discuss in a series set in the mid-sixties.

Spock was the breakout character of the series, and the foil to the highly emotional ship’s physician, Dr. McCoy, he also augmented Captain William T. Kirk’s bravery and brawn with his logic and intelligence, making the whole greater than the sum of the two parts. However the USS Enterprise, never got to finish its five-year mission, as NBC cancelled the series after the third season.

While Nimoy went onto replace Martin Landau in the CBS series “Mission Impossible,” his former series went into syndication and captivated the nation. Almost every independent and UHF station, were airing the repeats, in some markets multiple-times a day. Long before the Internet, fans of the show found each other, calling themselves “Trekkies,” or “Trekkers,” forming clubs and holding conventions.

After more than a decade of syndicating the reruns, it finally dawned on Paramount, that perhaps fans would like to see further adventures of the Enterprise crew, leading to six-theatrical releases. (Nimoy directed two of the films.) Suddenly Star Trek became a cash-cow, as Roddenberry introduced a new series “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” on his own ad-hoc network. That would start a series of Star Trek series, including a prequel to the original, “Enterprise,” showing earthling’s first contact with other planets and cultures.

Star Trek underwent a reboot at the more than capable hands of J.J. Jacobs, with a new young cast taking over the iconic roles, including Zachary Quinto as Spock, who strongly resembled a young Nimoy. However, if for no other purpose, Jacobs set the reboot in a parallel universe, so that an elderly Spock, portrayed could be in the two films he helmed. One of the best moments takes place during the first movie, as Quinto’s Spock, sees Nimoy’s Spock from the back and calls him father. The elder Spock turns around and says I am not Our father.

Was Leonard Nimoy typecast as Spock? Probably, but it didn’t stop him from playing one of the most entertaining roles of his career, his reoccurring part as scientific-genius William Bell, Walter Bishop’s partner when both men were younger in the FOX series “Fringe.” We actually got two different versions of William Bell, due to some manipulation with the Space/Time Continuum, but both were expertly portrayed.

The first William Bell was a selfless soul, who sacrificed his life to save Walter, his son Peter and FBI Agent Olivia Dunham. The second version was a mad-genius, looking to implode all the parallel universes, killing billions, upon billions of people, to have just one universe with he as the only human inhabitant. Nimoy was strong enough in the role, that any thoughts of Spock never entered my mind.

Although Nimoy had virtually retired, the thought of this planet without him, immediately brought me back to my youth and all the pleasure he brought me over the years. Thanks Mr. Nimoy, Rest In Peace Sir.

A True Comic Genius, Robin Williams Gone Too Soon At Age 63

Photo By Jay Paul For The New York Times
Photo By Jay Paul For The New York Times

The word “Genius,” gets used far too often and far too lightly in our hyperbolic society, but in the case of comedian Robin Williams,  anybody who saw him at the top of his game realized that he indeed was the genuine article. “The “New York Times” reported that the comedian passed away Monday morning, in what the Marin County Sheriff’s Dept. has labeled a probable suicide due to asphyxiation. According to the report, a call came into 911 stating that a man inside the residence had stopped breathing, officers pronounced him dead at 12:02 pm PDT.

Williams was a cast-member of the Laugh-In reboot that NBC broadcast for one year in the mid-seventies, but the series didn’t last long due to anemic ratings. He would however strike comedy-gold in his next venture for the small-screen, portraying a visitor from another planet named Ork and his character’s name was Mork. It actually was a spinoff of the Gary Marshall hit comedy series “Happy Days,” as the alien visited Earth in the fifties before deciding to choose the seventies as the era he wanted to live in. The premise of the series was an attractive young woman named Mindy (Pam Dawber) from Boulder, Colorado saw him land on Earth and took him to her apartment and the two became roommates. The show entitled “Mork And Mindy,” became a huge hit for ABC and a perfect showcase for the manic Williams. The final season after the couple had married, Mork gave birth to a son, hatched from a giant egg and portrayed by his kindred spirit Jonathan Winters.

While the show was still airing first-run episodes, Williams ventured into films, the first two being rather underwhelming. He played the title character in the film version of the John Irving novel “The World According To Garp,” and his fans got excited when he got the role of Popeye in the Robert Altman film with the same name. The film did poorly at the box-office, as Altman most likely should not have been the director. The movie also concentrated on Thimble Town, the hometown of Olive Oyl, featured in the original comic strips that ran in newspapers, but were in none of the animated features.

His film career became far more successful as he starred in a series of quality movies, with characters that he could bring to life. One of his first big hits was a drama entitled “Moscow On The Hudson,” where Williams played a defector from the Soviet Union, who came to New York with the circus troupe he belonged to, but decided to stay when his troupe traveled to their next stop on the tour. It was basically a coming of age tale about a fish out of water and his performance delighted audiences.

Williams got nominated for an Academy Award Nomination in 1987, for his portrayal of US Army dee-jay Adrian Cronauer in the movie “Good Morning Vietnam” and though he didn’t win the award, it put him in the mix for some other great roles. One of the best performances he ever portrayed also received an  Oscar nomination in “Dead Poets Society,” as he played a teacher that any student would have killed for. He inspired his students with knowledge and each pupil addressed him as “Captain My Captain.”

He followed that up playing a homeless man bombarded by danger on all fronts who had to deal with the demons inside him called the “Fisher King” a sad story about a man, who forgot about all the joy of  life and suffered in adversity. He copped another nomination but once again fell short of grabbing his first Oscar. His next two -movies were smash hits and although Williams was incredible in both roles,  neither part earned him the Academy Award. One of them put Robin in drag, as a divorced father hired as the in-home nanny for his children as he portrayed the title character in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” The other one featured only his voice, so perhaps that’s the reason he did not receive a nomination, as he brought to life the GENIE in Disney’s “Aladdin.” He never seemed as at ease ad-libbing since his days with Mork and Mindy delighting audiences around the globe.

He would finally nail down an Oscar, although as a supporting actor in “Good Will Hunting,” The film made Ben Affleck and Matt Damon superstars and are still major players in Hollywood. Robin no longer receiving the roles he desired on the big screen,  decided to make the switch back to TV, starring in “The Crazy Ones.”  I actually watched the first episode and although it was a cute show, it didn’t give me enough of a reason to sample a second episode and apparently CBS felt the same way as the show got cancelled at the end of the regular season.

Williams was an incredible standup comic and my wife got to see him about 30-years ago, one of the most entertaining shows either of us had ever seen. They say there’s a fine line between Genius and Madness, perhaps all that creativity took too much of a toll on him and he decided the internal demons he fought were finally too much to withstand.

RIP Robin Williams, thanks for all the laughs along the way.