Tag Archives: John Travolta

Michael Jackson: a trip to the moon on gossamer wings

photo: Buda Fabio MoriBy MARTHA ULLMAN WEST

Michael Jackson was a great dancer. And a very American one, heavily influenced by John Travolta and touted as such by Fred Astaire, an even greater American dancer.

It was this part of his talent that made me mourn this sad man’s passing: The strength of my response to the news of his death surprised me, I must admit.

And so I’ve been reading the coverage in The Oregonian and looking for mention of the man’s incredible ability to move. Marty Hughley’s eloquent analysis told me much I did not know, as did that emerging dancer Peter Ames Carlin‘s. But no nod to the way the man moved.

Then, to my delight, there was an account in this morning’s Oregonian of the French, frequently a class act, celebrating Jackson by moonwalking around the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris: I hope someone filmed it.

Just now, I turned online to the New York Times and read Alastair Macauley’s tribute to Jackson’s dancing talent — who knew that the British-born critic with his eagle eye for the subtleties of classical dance from Petipa to Cunningham would go to the trouble to watch a whole slew of YouTube snippets of Jackson dancing and write so perceptively about him?

For my part, I will always associate Jackson with dancing, and not just his: when my daughter was in the second grade at Glencoe Elementary School, her teacher drilled the kids in aerobic dance for exercise and they put on a fabulous performance to Beat It for the parents.

Outstanding was a boy who was quite horizontally challenged, but, man, could he move to Jackson’s beat. Nearly as well as Jackson.

— Martha Ullman West


Hair today, gone tomorrow: Ugly on the face of it


When I was not quite 19 and in fall term of my sophomore year in college I returned home for Thanksgiving dinner, bringing a housemate with me. I’d been growing a beard since beginning of term, two months before.

At dinner (and beforehand, while bustling over the Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes in the kitchen) my mother kept staring at me oddly, as if something strange was going on and it just wasn’t quite computing. Finally I asked her what was wrong.

“You have a smudge on the side of your face,” she said.

She wasn’t kidding. I was crushed. So much for my hirsute abilities — and I heard that line repeated, with guffaws, for the rest of the school year from my turncoat housemate.

At last Monday’s Drammy Awards I ran into actor Todd Van Voris, who’d been playing Andrey Prozorov, the henpecked brother, in Tracy Letts’ adaptation of Three Sisters at Artists Repertory Theatre, and was sporting a suitably Chekhovian growth.

“How long until you get to shave?” I asked him.

“One more week!” he replied enthusiastically.

Then he added that it never fails: In the dead of winter he’s cast as someone clean-shaven and maybe even bald-pated; once the weather turns warm he’s cast as someone with facial hair in full sprout.

Apparently he can do full sprout.

In the movies, of course, you don’t have to grow ’em, although of course you can if you want. If you don’t, makeup will cheerfully slap a facial growth on you. That’s why I liked this post (the photo montage above is just a sneak peek) from The Daily Beast, of the worst movie facial-hair moments. You could adapt this to country-western singers and male perfume and underwear models, too — those guys who have the perfect two-day stubbles around their gorgeously dimpled chins no matter what. John Travolta is a double winner (or double loser) in the Daily Beast sweepstakes, but I’m quite fond of the Jack Black growth, too.

P.S.: I’ve been wearing a beard for most of the past 40 years. Every now and again someone looks at me and says, “When did you start growing a beard?” I refer them to my mother.