Saturday, September 02, 2006

Being Dr. Lao

Dr. Lao: My specialty is wisdom. Do you know what wisdom is?
Mike: No sir.
Dr. Lao: Wise answer.
-7 faces of Dr. Lao

Dr. Lao: Mike, the whole world is a circus if you look at it the right way. Every time you pick up a handful of dust, and see not the dust, but a mystery, a marvel, there in your hand, every time you stop and think, "I'm alive, and being alive is fantastic!" Every time such a thing happens, Mike, you are part of the Circus of Dr. Lao.
-7 faces of Dr. Lao

When I was sixteen years old and still young enough to want to believe in magic, but old enough to publicly deny it, I saw the movie, 7 faces of Dr. Lao. It was a 1964 adaption of a 1935 fantasy novel written by Charles Finney about the effects of a magical circus on a small southwest town. The movie starred Tony Randall and Barbara Eden.

I loved that movie. I wrote about it in the journal I'd started keeping in junior high. It struck a chord in my angst ridden teen mind that was hanging on for dear life to that bucking bronco of puberty I'd just started riding. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy were in their dying throes in my life. The movie told me that it would always be okay for me to believe in magic.

In the movie, the seven faces of Dr. Lao are: Dr. Lao, Pan, Apollonius of Tyana (a Greek philosopher and teacher), Merlin, Medusa, the Abominal Snowman, and a goldfish that turns into a sea serpent. The make-up artist for the film won a honorary Academy Award for his work on the film. Tony Randall was pretty impressive playing the characters as well.

The movie is full of great quotes. When asked if he is an acrobat, Dr. Lao replies, "Only philosophically." Merlin, the magician, protests, "Tricks? Gadzooks, Madam, these are not tricks! I do magic. I — I create, I transpose, I transubstantiate, I break up, I recombine — but I never trick!" And Apollonius, the circus fortune teller provides his own disclaimer, "I only read futures, I don't evaluate them."

The most startling dialogue, especially for a movie filmed in 1964 also came from Apollonius when he was doing a reading for an airheaded woman from the town:

Apollonius: Tomorrow will be like today, and the day after tomorrow will be like the day before yesterday. I see your remaining days as a tedious collection of hours full of useless vanities. You will think no new thoughts. You will forget what little you have known. Older you will become, but not wiser. Stiffer, but not more dignified. Childless you are, and childless you will remain. Of that suppleness you once commanded in your youth, of that strange simplicity which once attracted men to you, neither endures, nor shall you recapture them.

Mrs. Cassin: You're a mean, ugly man!

Apollonius: Mirrors are often ugly and mean. When you die, you will be buried and forgotten, and that is all. And for all the good or evil, creation or destruction, your living might have accomplished, you might just as well never have lived at all.

My god -- Mirrors are often ugly and mean. This came from a 1964 movie starring Tony Randall! Years later, when I wrote a short story call "Reunion" I think I inadvertentally patterned the lead character (also a fortune teller) after Apollonius. That's how powerful an affect the movie had on me.

So what is my often elusive point? Whether it is real or not, it is, it is crucial, that you believe in some kind of magic. And above all, never miss an opportunity to run away to join a circus.
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