Monday, August 03, 2009

Martin Sheen is 69 Today

I have admired actor Martin Sheen's work for a long time.

I can't say for sure the first time I saw him perform in anything. His credits go back to 1961, and most of his work in the 1960s was on TV, but my family didn't have a TV until 1966 so, while he appeared in episodes of many popular series, like "Route 66," "The Outer Limits," "My Three Sons," "The Defenders," "Flipper," "Mission: Impossible" and "The Mod Squad," I can't honestly say that I remember seeing him on TV shows when I was a child.

His TV career continued into the 1970s, but he began to branch out into made–for–TV movies as well as theatrical release movies. My best guess is that I first saw him in the 1974 TV movie "The Execution of Private Slovik," which was based on the true story of Eddie Slovik, a World War II soldier who remains the only American to be executed for desertion since the Civil War.

I saw him in another TV movie that was made that year, but I didn't watch it when it first aired. Instead, I saw it a few years later, when one of my high school teachers showed it to us in class using the newest technology, the video cassette recorder. The movie was "The Missiles of October," a dramatization of the Cuban missile crisis. Sheen played Robert Kennedy in the film, a part for which I thought he was ideal.

In the years since then, I have seen him in many movies that I like — "Apocalypse Now," "Gandhi," "Wall Street," "Gettysburg." He was a narrator for Oliver Stone's "JFK." And, many years after it was released, I saw him in what he has often said is his best film, "Badlands," which was loosely based on Charles Starkweather's murder spree in the late 1950s. His co–star in that film was a young actress named Sissy Spacek, who became more familiar to audiences a few years later after appearing in the film adaptation of Stephen King's "Carrie" and winning an Oscar for her performance in "Coal Miner's Daughter."

And I am a great admirer of Sheen's performance in the TV series "The West Wing." It went off the air in 2006, but it explored many timely issues and often educated viewers in unexpected and entertaining ways.

Against his father's wishes, Sheen deliberately failed his college entrance exam in order to pursue an acting career. Sheen apparently was very close to his father, who died while Sheen was filming a TV movie based on John Dean's book, "Blind Ambition." Because of the filming schedule, Sheen wasn't able to attend the funeral so he grieved for his father while filming a scene in which Dean cried in his jail cell.

He has been politically active in his adult life and has participated in many protests, for which he has been arrested dozens of times, and he has been quoted as saying, "I love my country enough to suffer its wrath."

A devout Roman Catholic, Sheen has said, "I consider myself a liberal Democrat, but I'm against abortion." That is something to which I can relate. I consider myself a progressive Democrat, but I have become more of a centrist on many issues as I have grown older. I am not against abortion, but my positions on other issues have changed.

Happy birthday, sir. I hope to see you in many other projects in the years ahead.