Laura came across this last night while sadly reading Facebook posts remembering the now late Robin Williams. She always loved “Dead Poets Society” and to read this inside account of filming the movie by someone she – we,the NewsRadio WTKS community - knew was especially moving for her. It’s written by Ben Crystal, my former cohost many years ago and now sometimes guest-host:
“In the fall of 1988, St. Andrew's School headmaster Jon O'Brien announced that our campus had been cast in the role of "WeltonAcademy" in a movie called "Dead Poet's Society," and that the star of the movie would be none other than Robin Williams.
Headmaster O'Brien might as well have set off a low-yield nuclear device in the dining hall. The production literally defined the year. Everyone was affected, often profoundly. While some students secured legitimate speaking parts (the skeptic-turned-believer "Hopkins" was played by SAS junior Matt Carey), and others made brief appearances (my star turn was limited to approximately 1/2 second onscreen), still others were forced into mild-to-major inconvenience (SAS is a coed school, but "Welton" was all boys. Our girls faced all sorts of rigamarole in order to get to class without stepping into frame).
Academia fought entertainment to a standstill that year, as students occasionally had to live according to shooting schedules; including night shoots on campus. We responded by:
1. Not sleeping.
2. Getting acquainted with Williams' co-stars. (Gale Hansen, who played "Charlie/Nwanda," was a particularly cool cat. I know some of my female classmates favored a then-youthful Ethan Hawke, thought some of my male classmates and I didn't care for him much. James Waterston, who played "Pitts," took one of my classmates to the prom. I didn't get to meet his old man, though.)
3. Gawking shamelessly whenever Williams stepped into view. The production company hired an SAS alum as location liaison. She sternly commanded us to behave. We ignored her.
The best part? Williams encouraged us. He wasn't present as often as the younger men were, but when he was, he was approachable, charming and every bit as funny as his onscreen persona.
One afternoon, they were shooting a scene in the driveway below our dorm (Hillier). My roomates and I set up on our balcony to watch the goings-on. The location liaison caught sight of us, and gave us her best "I thought we discussed this after the 'mirrors in the windows to ruin the night shoot' prank" look. Unbeknownst to her, Williams was behind her, doing a pantomime routine to beat the band. I honestly believe she left after the location shoot convinced that we were laughing in her face.
At the end of the production, Williams returned to campus for a private show for the students, faculty and staff. To this day, I've only laughed at one other standup as hard as I did that night.
I had been as much a fan as anyone was before that winter. I was an outright cheerleader for Williams afterwards. When he won the Oscar for Goodwill Hunting, I roared as loud as I did for the Giants when Eli threw that winner to Burress in Superbowl XLII. Robin Williams wasn't just a talented actor; he was a talented actor who'd shaken MY hand - on purpose! This was Mr. Keating, from WeltonAcademy. This was the guy who'd taken what would already have been an outstanding senior year of high school (SAS was - and is - one of the finest secondary schools in the Nation), and made it - well - "extraordinary." (Saints of the era will smile at that reference) He made no undue effort to keep us at arms' length; nor did he deliberately draw attention to himself (as if he had to). Robin Williams the star was also Robin Williams, the genuinely friendly cat. Robin Williams the comedian was also Robin Williams, the guy who looked you in the eye when he shook your hand even though he was Robin Williams and you were nobody significant.
I'm glad I got to meet him. I'm glad I got to know that not everyone in Hollywood is a simpering buffoon who's long on wind and short on wisdom. I'm glad I met someone who sincerely sought to bring laughter to so many for so long. And I'm terribly sorry that he's gone.
I'm only going to do this once, because it's grossly hackneyed. It's also the only thing worth saying:
"O Captain! My captain!"’
Ben Crystal - Contributing Editor Personal Liberty Digest, the top-ranked Libertarian website in the world. Columns appear Fridays, video columns Saturdays. www.personalliberty.com