I found my Number Two. I know, I said I’m not exclusively looking for parentless exceptions just like me, but I found just that in my Number Two. He lost his father when he was 13 years old, and he was parentless by the time he turned 32. Today he lives happily in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and dabbles in the performing and visual arts. He doesn’t know me, but I know him. It’s Gene Hackman. Gene Hackman is my Number Two.
Some may say that Hackman’s parentless tale is slightly more dramatic than my own. (His father abandoned him when he was 13 years old, and in 1962, his mother purportedly passed out after drinking, accidentally starting a fire with a lit cigarette that ultimately killed her.) And I would say in response, for sure. Hackman has had some serious parentless surprises. I feel for you, (Hack)man.
I learned of Hackman’s past when I came across an interview with him in a magazine this past weekend. What the interview did not cover in great detail was his young adult parentless life, so I did some digging. Turns out that Hackman’s struggling career really took off shortly after his mother died. He says that his mother always wanted to see him on TV one day. Unfortunately, Lyda Hackman never did.
It’s unclear how close Hackman was with his mother; however, he refers to her several times in the interview. He avoids talking about the events surrounding her death (understandably), and he focuses more on his childhood and the ways in which his mother raised him.
The interview was too short and left me with more questions than answers about his parentless life. I wonder how he handles the hardship of knowing that his mother will never see his milestones. Did those feelings get easier as he got older? More specifically, I wonder what happened immediately following his mother’s death – Did he leave his struggling actor pals, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Duvall, to return to Danville, Illinois? Did he settle his mother’s estate and clean out her house? Did he have any parental figures to lean on? Did anyone ever compare his parentless situation to the recent death of a pet ferret?
Unless Gene Hackman is as stoic and insensitive as Royal Tenenbaum, his Golden Globe winning character in Wes Anderson’s 2001 dramedy, I assume he has struggled with some pretty raw parentless emotions. Having no easy way to obtain answers to the above questions, I audited his professional career to draw some, admittedly weak, inferences.
For example, in the late 1960s, Hackman turned down the role of Mike Brady in the upcoming TV series, The Brady Bunch. Perhaps the opportunity to be head of an intact household didn’t interest him. Around the same time, he joined Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde, and he starred in the aforementioned film, Royal Tenenbaums, a story about an extraordinarily dysfunctional family, decades later. (I’m leaving out several films from his past for the sake of brevity, of course.)
Anyway, I’d like to think that Hackman’s Hollywood decisions shed some light on his feelings regarding his parentless existence. He has opted for more complex, unconventional family make-ups, finding comfort or interest in a makeshift crime gang and a dysfunctional unit of too-successful-for-their-own-good Tenenbaums. (He also nailed the role of Senator Kevin Keeley, the ultraconservative patriarch in The Birdcage, poking fun at the opposite of chaotic family structures.)
So, Gene Hackman is my Number Two. And as his literary career takes off – his first solely authored novel came out last week – I wish him well. I think we have a couple things in common, Gene, and I look forward to reading. I’ll close with my favorite quote from the interview with my Number Two:
“They tell you not to write about your mom in books, but I don’t know how you keep from doing that.”
So true, Gene. So true.