Monday, February 05, 2007

Father of the Year: The Ryan O'Neal Story

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[Look out! It's 3-D Ryan O'Neal! Don't get too close!]

One of the most indelible images of the 1980s for me was a picture of Griffin O'Neal grinning without his two front teeth.

Now, this was not a tow-headed little sprite but a grown man, who'd just had his teeth knocked out by his father, Ryan O'Neal. It was quite a story, though in those days the celebrity press was pretty much just "Entertainment Tonight" and "People Weekly". It could have spawned a discussion in society about the treatment of children by adults, but it didn't. The scandal passed after a couple of weeks without leaving too much of an impression, although it left one on me. Since this was more or less how my father behaved, I would follow such stories when they (too rarely) appeared.

It was 15 years later, in 2003, that I discovered "Paper Moon" on DVD, and a new, earlier chapter of the story came to light. Apparently Ryan campaigned Peter Bogdanovich to cast Tatum in the roll of Addie in "Paper Moon", but got jealous of the attention Tatum got for the role (which is, by the way, entirely deserved) once the movie was released. Throughout the film, as well, Ryan's character has a powerful antipathy towards Addie that could possibly be grounded in his own real-life insecurity.

Then, a couple of years ago, reading Tatum O'Neal's memoirs "A Paper Life", I felt a chill as she described her father's behaviour toward her the night she won an Oscar for "Paper Moon" and he didn't. She claims not to recall him punching her, yet right or wrong the story persists, probably because the truth has yet to come to light.

And so here the story comes to a third act. Ryan O'Neal has been arrested for pulling a gun on Griffin, and this time is off to the jailhouse. Since he and Tatum are long-estranged, maybe newly-in-remission longtime galpal Farrah Fawcett will be there for him in his moment of need, as I doubt Griffin will be.

Despite having given this post a very judgmental title, and an ambivalence for celebrities besides, it is my sincere wish that Ryan somehow comes to terms with his own rage and the damage it has done to his children, not to mention his life. As someone who struggles with rage issues, I know how easily anger can destroy lives, and I hope this is his wake-up call. I hope he gets the help he requires to make peace with the ones he's hurt (beginning with himself) before it's too late.

Even if it does turn out that Griffin was to blame for starting the altercation, pulling a gun on your own son? Who does Ryan O'Neal think he is, anyway, James Caan?

[The preceding was an anecdotal remembrance of a series of events. It may be unclear in places and contain inaccuracies; should you the reader note any, please don't hesitate to contact me so I can make the necessary corrections.)
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