Commentary: Egos

By Louis A. Zona

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Last week I found an old photo of myself taken probably 30 years ago.

I asked one of my younger colleagues, Liz, whom she thought was pictured in the photo.

She responded “Liberace?”

 Holy cow! I guess that I should not have felt bad about her guess since Liberace was not a bad looking dude. However, I look as much like Liberace as I do Gabby Hayes. (Remember Roy Roger’s crotchety sidekick?)

Oh, oh. A little of my ego is surfacing. Sorry. I generally am not that vain. I guess that all of us at one time or another want to be able to strut our stuff (if indeed we have any stuff to begin with).

Strangely, when Liz thought that I looked like Liberace, she could just as well have said Daffy Duck. That gives you an indication of my pride index.

Then again, she could also have suggested that I look like Curly of the Three Stooges. But enough of my confessing a certain degree of puffiness and I promise not to tease Liz anymore about me looking like Liberace, who after all was an enormously talented pianist and showman. Besides, I can’t see myself in silk shirts and satin pants.

One of my favorite actors was Jack Cassidy who starred in film, television and on Broadway. It was on the stage that Cassidy outdid himself playing an egotistical character with amazingly good looks in the show “Fade Out-Fade In.” In the show, he signs the song “My Fortune Is My Face.”

It was so hilarious that I can remember the lyrics to this day. Jack Cassidy with his amazingly good looks was perfect for the part of a self-absorbed, egomaniacal character.

A few lyrics that he sang include: “My fortune is my face, laughing, crying, smiling. Look upon this face so beguiling – left profile, right profile and full face – a cameraman’s delight!”

 I’m not sure if Jack Cassidy was at all like the vain character that he played so often in films and on stage. I’m sure, however, that Hollywood just may have the market cornered when it comes to egos.

The topic of vanity came full forward in a popular song Carly Simon wrote, “You’re So Vain.” The key line in the song was “You’re so vain. You probably think this song is about you.” She is said to have revealed the name of the vain person to one person, he being radio personality Howard Stern who promised to never disclose his identity. Some believe that she was singing about Mick Jagger.

Apparently, when the song appeared on the charts she received a phone call from Warren Beatty who claimed that he was positive that the song was about him. (I would have guessed him also.

Many, however, believe that Carly Simon created the song from a mix of the various lovers in her past. Whoever that person might be, it’s for sure that he has one very healthy ego.

If you remember the Broadway show “Camelot,” you recall that the role of Sir Lancelot (played originally by Robert Goulet) was portrayed as the greatest braggart in the world. Clearly, there was nothing at which Lancelot did not excel. He was the ultimate narcissist. The song “C’est Moi” says it all. A few of the song’s lyrics include:

I’ve never strayed from all I believe

I’m blessed with an iron will

Had I been made the partner of Eve, we’d be in Eden still

C’est moi, C’est moi

Here I stand, as pure as a prayer,

Exceptionally clean, with virtue to spare,

The godliest man I know …

C’est moi!

One does not need to experience narcissism on the Broadway stage or on the set of your favorite TV program. We all know folks who believe that bragging about themselves somehow makes them special.

Most psychologists would see excessive self-centered behavior as compensation for a lack of self-confidence. I once had a neighbor who loved to let you know that his new car was the finest in the neighborhood and that the price he paid was the steal of the decade. His fishing pole was somehow the best that money could buy and his grandson is destined for greatness. I love what a good friend of mine says about his grandchild, “I knew he’d be good looking but never would have guessed that he’d be brilliant also.”

For sure, all of us sport an ego of some size but others of us, like my niece Kathy, have been quite successful in burying theirs.

I think of the Impressionist Vincent Van Gogh (rest his soul). The poor man had nothing and depended on his younger brother to survive.

Today millions of dollars exchange hands for his art. Auction houses sell his work at record prices and a digital sight and sound extravaganza is traveling the country with ticket prices reaching $75 per visit.

Vincent never received recognition beyond the blessings of his loving brother. The one positive review that appeared in a French newspaper so bothered the artist that he wrote a note to the newspaper asking that it never again praise an artist.

On any ego index, Vincent would rate zero. If there were a more tortured soul on the earth, I would like to know about him.

Vincent struggled to find his place within a world that had no tolerance for misfits. Were it not for his brother’s kindness and a few good friends, we might not have his artistic genius.

Don Maclean, the folk singer who made his reputation in the decade of the 1960s, crafted a beautiful song dedicated to Van Gogh titled “Vincent.” The song is built around Vincent’s most famous painting, “Starry Night,” which is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Van Gogh, with no discernible ego, would have a rough time accepting the rock stardom he currently enjoys. And just imagine what he would have done with $75.