By Louis A. Zona
One of my favorite Cole Porter songs Frank Sinatra made popular in 1957 was “At Long Last, Love.” One of the lines is, “Is that Granada I see? Or only Asbury Park?” That lyric spoke to me of the human desire to make something special from very little.
I have often made reference to my late father’s creative ability to express his Christmas spirit by decorating our house with décor made of carpet tubes, coffee cans, cardboard cutouts and figures cut out of plywood with his jig saw.
Whereas others might have thought that Dad was placing a lot of junk on our porch roof, particularly during the day. But at night Dad’s vision came through as the carpet rolls became celestial candles and the cardboard cutouts were adoring shepherds and kings carrying gifts that were once coffee cans.
Our family grew up in an area of New Castle in a home surrounded by Levine’s Junk Co., The Panella Co. that sold used rolling mill equipment and The Pennsylvania Engineering Co. that made enormous steel items for industry including gigantic steel buckets to make steel.
But when I was a kid, Mr. Levine’s scrapyard, when covered with snow, were the Alps, and in our imagination Mr. Panella’s large truck trailers became spaceships, submarines and B-25 bombers giving it to the Nazis!
But children are not the only ones who depend upon the magic of human imagination to see things that don’t exist but eventually will and alter life on our planet.
I often think of what it would have been like to be in Edison’s workshop as he tried just about everything that might act as a filament and give off light from his glass bulb. And how about his recording device, movie projector and other electronic creations that we enjoy to this day?
Let’s not forget his rival, Nicola Tesla, whose alternating current would greatly affect the world. How great that Elon Musk would honor Tesla by naming his company after him.
Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Charles Goodyear, Bill Gates and so many other imaginators saw needs where no solution had existed and created solutions. A much better world was envisioned and a better world was realized.
Just think about Microsoft, Ford’s assembly line production, hard rubber tires and of course, Apple Inc. All began as simple ideas but changed the world.
Marie Curie imagined a world free of various illnesses and developed solutions that still save lives.
When Michelangelo carved a gigantic block of marble from the mountains of Carrara and shipped it to his studio in the heart of Florence, it is said that crowds gathered around the big piece of marble and asked the master artist his intentions. “Why it’s Moses in there! Can’t you see him? There’s his head, shoulders and legs. He’s seated and his greatness is there for all to experience. You see, it’s the role of the sculptor to free him from his marble prison – to release him.” And free him he did!
I’ve always been a big fan of Jimmy Cagney. I got the biggest kick out of his swagger and the way he used his hands, even the way he talked, especially in his gangster films. One time I heard Cagney interviewed. When asked about the way he spoke, walked, or threatened anyone on the silver screen who challenged his authority, he replied that he carefully watched tough guys and bullies interacting with one another in the old neighborhood: “I copied their moves and the manner in which they spoke and the way that the characters would warn adversaries that they’d better check their behavior. All right you guys!”
While on the topic of creative energy and innovation in film, one has to look back at the remarkable characters Marlon Brando created. It’s hard to find a single film where he does not create and exaggerate one of his characters. His vision of Don Corleone in “The Godfather” was pure magic.
I have to believe that the author of The Godfather, Mario Puzo, did not have Brando’s interpretation of his lead character in mind when he wrote that novel. And I’m positive that Brando went onto the set without a preconceived idea as to how he would mold this gangster who cared so much for his family. The rest is history. Filling his jowls with cotton balls that accentuated his character’s age and position, he bounced his character’s personality off of the other character actors in the room.
When a fellow asks Corleone if he would kill the two thugs who raped his daughter, he responded, “That I cannot do. Your daughter still lives.” He excoriates the man for not calling him Godfather or ever inviting him to his house for a cup of coffee. It was method acting at its best. For me, the character of Don Corleone did not exist until Brando gave him life.
Fortunately the concept of creating that, which in reality does not currently exist, does not reside just in the purview of the arts. Fortunately, there are all types of scientists, engineers and innovators hard at work each day to discover new and exciting ways to improve our lives. With apologies to Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra, it definitely is Granada that they see and not Asbury Park.