I don’t like admitting that recently I made the choice to watch the 1970 film Love Story. But if I am to go forward with what I want to say, there’s no getting around it and I better just come clean now. If you haven’t seen it, it’s the one where a rich Harvard guy, played by Ryan O’Neal, falls in love with an inappropriate free-spirited woman, played by Ali MacGraw much to the chagrin of Ryan O’Neal’s stuffy Father. Ryan O’Neal marries her and spoiler alert, she dies tragically. I don’t think I’m ruining much by telling you this.
In one scene where Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw are having an intense conversation, I happened to notice this chair in the back of the room. I had to go back a few times to make sure of what I saw. The chair, as you can see here, appears to be smiling in this scene. I replayed this scene several times and I decided it was my favorite actor in the movie. It’s performance had me sitting on the edge of my seat. While O’Neal and MacGraw chewed up the scenery, the scenery seemed to have its own thing going on.
It might not seem correct that chair would smile during such an emotional moment, but I decided that as an actor, it had its own motivation. Maybe it was happy to see them fight, wanting a little more chair time with Ryan. Maybe it was planted there by the Father, happy to mock them with its fixed grin. Whatever the case, it got me thinking about some of the other stellar performances by chairs. As inanimate objects they may be limited as actors, unable to move about and lacking basic humanity. But now and then, there is a stand out performance that is worth mentioning.
I think the 1970′s must have been a good decade for chairs in entertainment. Not only is there The Love Story Chair but one other chair took its role to great heights and acclaim. Archie Bunker’s chair was such an icon that upon retirement from the business was moved to the Smithsonian, where it stays to this day. It set such a high standard for all other chairs in the business but it was not an easy road for Archie Bunker’s chair. There were rumors of furniture polish abuse and a long-standing feud with co-star Sally Struthers. Archie Bunker’s chair became so despondent and insecure that it often threatened re-upholstering itself, which would have been tragic for the show and its career. History shows what can happen when you just decide to act professionally.
The 1980′s brought us lovable Chairy in Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Chairy was a trail blazer in the industry as the first chair given a speaking role and a gender. However, in order to be equipped with a mouth and given the gift of speech, Chairy had to undergo massive surgery. While Chairy was grateful for everything she accomplished in her career, she always longed for meatier roles and do more hard-hitting drama and less comedy. Given the chance, she was sure she could play the throne in Hamlet, a role she felt designed for. But, it was not to be. She was eventually sold to a collector on eBay.
I hesitate to mention this last chair since there was so much controversy about it at the time. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the Frasier chair because it did make such a contribution to its field. There was much speculation about how it had basically stolen the performance of Archie Bunker’s chair and there was a lot of commentary about how it landed the role. In Frasier’s chair’s defense, it had often said it wasn’t a stolen performance but yet an homage to a classic. Archie Bunker’s chair took offense to that remark and de-friended Frasier’s chair from Facebook.
It was felt that Archie Bunker’s chair was too old for the role and past its prime. Archie Bunker’s chair was even willing to get an overhaul and come out of retirement and leave the Smithsonian for the role. But the producers had found a younger chair who was willing to undergo an old age process for the part. Co-star John Mahoney had made a special appeal on the chair’s behalf and there were many rumors circulating about the casting couch practices of the producers.
I’m not at all sure why the industry has mostly recognized living room armchairs for their performance capabilities. Many other types of chairs have been unfairly overlooked. There was the case of the lawn chair featured in Danny Deckchair, highly praised for doing its own stunts and commitment to the role and now the throne in The Game of Thrones. Both chairs are title characters in their respective shows and by all accounts should have top billing. But there is not any mention of them in the credits. While great strides are still being made for chair performers, we still have so far to go. One day, perhaps we’ll see a chair run for President of the United States.
If you see a struggling folding chair or corporate desk chair trying to make it in the harsh world of entertainment let them know they have your support. Tell that rocking chair it rocks! Support that bean bag chair even though it doesn’t support you. But whatever you do, never tell a stool it’s a piece of shit.