Thursday, January 13, 2011
Remember Woody Harrelson?
As I was driving in to work this morning, I was listening to the continuing coverage of the Tucson shooting on NPR. A reporter was talking to an anchor and referenced a previous shooting in which a judge was also killed, carried out in 1979 by a man named Charles Harrelson.
Charles Harrelson, as you may know, was Woody Harrelson's father (he died in 2007). In order to introduce this fact, the reporter asked the anchor "Remember Woody Harrelson, the bartender from Cheers?"
"Oh sure," returned the anchor.
At least he said "oh sure."
I find there to be a couple things wrong with the question "Remember Woody Harrelson, the bartender from Cheers?"
1) There's no need to "remember" Woody Harrelson. He's going strong. But more on that in a moment.
2) I'm sure Woody Harrelson would be disappointed to know that after a long and fruitful career, he's still known as "the bartender from Cheers."
Sure, Harrelson did not have a real busy 2010, appearing only in the little-seen superhero movie Defendor. But just look at his 2009. He appeared in one of the higher grossing films of the year (2012) and the highest grossing zombie movie of all time (Zombieland). Oh, and did we mention the little detail that he was also nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor, for the superlative feature The Messenger? In fact, because I was a better-than-average fan of 2012, all three of his films were in my top 30 for the year. He also appeared in the film that won best picture in 2007, No Country for Old Men.
I just think "remember" was a bad choice of words.
And because he's prominent enough, I don't think you need to say "the bartender from Cheers." Maybe there's no role more widely associated with him, since he hasn't tended to be in movies with sequels -- in fact, Zombieland 2 will be his first sequel ever -- but Cheers ended nearly 20 years ago now, and he's been a feature film actor a lot longer than he was a TV actor. There's a whole generation of NPR listeners who may never have even seen an episode of Cheers.
If you weren't sure it would be enough to say that "Charles Harrelson was the father of Woody Harrelson," you could hedge your bets a little by saying "Charles Harrelson was the father of actor Woody Harrelson." If Harrelson isn't enough of a household name just to call him by his name without any further clarification -- and I think he might be -- then "actor Woody Harrelson" should certainly cover it.
It may seem overly particular to harp on the spontaneous phrasing chosen by a reporter on live air, but that's just what we do around here.
And to get even more particular for a moment, the anchor did him no favors with his "oh sure" response. On the one hand, it indicates that Harrelson is easy enough to remember. On the other, however, there's something about it that suggests that a light bulb was going off in his head. Like "Oh yeah, I hadn't thought about that guy in years, but I do remember him." "Of course" might have been a better response.
Woody, you do good work. I'm just looking out for you.