Today, a hard lesson in human creativity. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
A New York paper once tried
to hire Enrico Caruso as a regular cartoonist. The
greatest opera singer in history had a genius for
caricature. I used to think he was an isolated
Now I've found a book on Actors as Artists. It
shows the work of 78 famous actors -- 78! I thought
it would hold the stuff of street fairs. It did
A few, like Ralph Bellamy and Henry Fonda, do
standard still lifes -- gentle calming pieces. But
more typical is the work of Katherine Hepburn and
Gene Hackman. Their still lifes become complex and
Piper Laurie and Anthony Quinn are modern
sculptors. Each has a fine sense of free-floating
shape. My favorite among the artists is Peter Falk.
Detective Columbo, it seems, can catch the soul of
people in charcoal as well as in crime.
Actors like Zero Mostel and Johnathan Winters have
mounted serious exhibits. The artistic impulse is
far stronger -- far more purposeful -- among actors
than I realized.
Years ago I did a lot of theatre. The actors I knew
were quiet and internal people -- easily hurt. They
constantly risked hurt because they so craved to be
We underrate acting. Conceiving an imaginary
situation and bringing it to life is a rare and
complex ability. It's also just what a painter or
sculptor does. It's pure creative invention.
So Slim Pickens and Noah Beery cast Remington-like
bronzes of horse and rider. David Bowie does
abstract human faces. Each shows us a new dimension
of his film persona. Then I see. Oil and bronze are
means for dissecting what they do on screen.
Mary Woronov makes the point. She's lived her life
on the blue fringes of movie-making. She's made
B-movies. She's done supporting roles in big
box-office releases. She starred in the famous cult
movie, Eating Raoul.
Woronov studied art at Cornell. Then she met Andy
Warhol. Warhol steered her toward movies. But she
kept right on painting. Her powerful abstract
pictures of human intensity are shown all over the
country. She credits Warhol. She says,
Painting is a major form of expression for me. I
cannot stop doing it. ... when I started acting for
Warhol ... He had a tendency to destroy set ideas.
[And out] of destruction comes life.
Woronov speaks with tongue in cheek on
the screen. But she turns upon us, full face, in her
paintings. There she etches the age-old message of
human creativity. She tells us what these actors
know: Before we can build anything, we have to tear
down, rebuild, and finally come to know -- ourselves.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds