Tag Archives: faith

Finding a way through loss

10 Jun

My parents at their 50th anniversary in 2015

by Patrick Novecosky

When my parents married in 1965, they had two significant goals: to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary together and to raise a large family. They succeeded on both counts – nine children and 16 grandchildren. Then in October 2015, they celebrated a half century of wedded bliss with a church service and a gathering of friends and family.

A couple months later, my dad woke up with a backache. He thought it was nothing, but it didn’t go away. He had it checked out after a few weeks. Doctors suspected cancer, which was confirmed in the spring. He died in July 2016.

Their 50th anniversary in October 2015 was a memorable event

When I was growing up, I rarely pondered what life would be like without my parents. Although my father passed away, my mother is still spry at 71 years old. But I realize that the day will come when I’ll dial the phone number I’ve known all my life and she won’t be there to answer. That thought doesn’t frighten me. It makes me appreciate the half century of life I’ve had with them.

One thing is certain: life is a journey, not a destination. And it’s the bumps along the road of life and the people we meet along the way that make it worth living. Happily for me, my parents set the template for how to travel that road. They loved passionately and they lived passionately. They set priorities of faith, family and work – without missing the opportunity to celebrate successes and victories big and small.

Mark Twain famously wrote that “20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

My parents with their nine children

That’s the philosophy I’ve tried to live by. Early in life, my father encouraged me with similar advice. He wanted me to do what I love and love what I do for a career. Dad also taught me that turning down opportunities to gain wisdom and experience comes at a cost, and that cost is regret. I’ve been blessed to visit 26 countries. Only 170 more to go! And if I get the chance to visit number 27, I’ll go. Each stop along the way has taught me something and enriched my life experience.

Dealing with Dad’s cancer and death was hard on the entire family, but he raised me to be a man of faith – and he modeled it for me and my siblings. He had wonderful hospice care at home – a visiting nurse who gave extraordinary care to him and advice to my mother. But there came a point where Mom was no longer able to take of his daily needs.

During Dad’s last few weeks of life spent in the hospital, he never lost his sense of humor. When a nurse came to his room announcing, ™Time to take your vitals,” he quipped right back: “Well, you might as well take them. Nobody else wants them!” Mark Twain would have been proud.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is the editor of this blog and the president of NovaMedia. This article appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Good Grief, a publication of Partners in Care Alliance.

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Jon Voight, Angelina Jolie, ISIS, a film called WOODLAWN, and me

14 Sep

Pursuit of happiness 2

by Patrick Novecosky

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. (Sept. 14, 2015) — Good movies get me pumped — especially guy movies. James Bond, Indiana Jones, Rocky Balboa, and Chris Gardner (deftly played by Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness). These are characters that make me want to get off the couch and save the world — or at least make it a better place.

For me, few sports films fit into that category. Exceptions: the first and last in the Rocky franchise (Creed, releasing in November looks promising), Rudy, Chariots of Fire, Miracle, and Field of Dreams. Despite the fact that most professional athletes are men of faith, there are relatively few faith-focused sports films. Recent years have given us When the Game Stands Tall (Jim Caviezel), Facing the Giants, and Soul Surfer.

woodlawn_xlgWoodlawn

Last night (Sunday), I finished a press screener for a film that should rank as the best sports faith film of all time — and perhaps challenge as one of the best sports films (secular or Christian) to ever hit the silver screen.

Woodlawn (Jon Voight, Sean Astin, Nic Bishop) tells the true story of Tony Nathan, a superbly talented running back in 1973 playing for the newly desegregated Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Ala. The future Alabama Crimson Tide all-star went on to play for the Miami Dolphins from 1979-1987.

As cross burnings and riots erupt in the city, Tandy Gerelds, the Woodlawn Colonels’ football coach, struggles to ease racial tensions between his players. It’s only when Gerelds allows Hank, a self-styled evangelist, to speak to his team that real change begins.

Hank (Sean Astin), who had a radical conversion to Christ during a Billy Graham event a year earlier, tells the players a “better way” is possible through following Jesus. More than 40 players, nearly the entire team, black and white, give their lives to Christ. A ripple effect challenges the entire team, school, community and opposing teams.

The film culminates in high school football history. An estimated 42,000 fans turned out to watch the No. 1-ranked Banks Jets defeat the No. 4 Woodlawn Colonels 18 – 7 at Legion Field in Birmingham on Nov. 8, 1974. Woodlawn featured running back Tony Nathan and Banks had Jeff Rutledge at quarterback. Woodlawn features some real footage of the historic game.

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If you’ve read this far, you have questions. Why is Jon Voight in the headline and why is the dateline Beverly Hills? In Woodlawn, Voight plays legendary University of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant. Although his is a relatively small role, he lends his sizable talent to a film that has few big-name stars. The other being Sean Astin.

Stay with me. Last year, a conference I was assisting with had booked Gary Sinise. At the 11th hour, Sinise and two other notable celebrities bailed. Left in a lurch, our team started making calls. One of the names that surfaced was Voight’s. After making a few calls to Hollywood friends, I got an e-mail address and agency contact info. I passed it on to our organizing committee. Nothing came of it because Voight was working on a film.

Voight2015This morning, still thinking about Woodlawn (which I finished watching the night before), I spotted Voight’s e-mail address in my contacts list. I shot him a quick two-sentence email:

Jon: I just saw a preview of WOODLAWN. Thanks for lending your talent to such an impressive and important film. You remain in my prayers,

And I included my full contact information. Almost exactly 90 minutes later, my cell phone rang. It came up as a 310 area code in Beverly Hills. I’ve been getting pre-recorded calls that are apparently from my “cell phone provider,” so I almost let it go to voicemail. I’m glad I didn’t.

“Hi. This is Jon Voight. Do we know each other?” he asked.

Yeah. I almost dropped the phone to the floor … right beside my jaw. It’s not often (NEVER) that a Hollywood legend rings me up, let alone an Academy Award-winning actor (he won Best Actor Oscar for his role in Coming Home, 1978).

I regained my composure and explained who I was and how I got his e-mail (which I expected would go right to his publicist). He asked where I saw the film, and I told him. I also mentioned that I had met Woodlawn writer/producers Jon and Andrew Irwin on the set of Moms’ Night Out a few years ago. We chatted about Woodlawn and the rise of recent faith films like War Room and 90 Minutes in Heaven.

ANGELINA JOLIE testifies before the House of Lords in London on Sept. 8, 2015

ANGELINA JOLIE testifies before the House of Lords in London on Sept. 8, 2015

Almost 10 minutes into the the call, he asks, “So, how’s your life. How are you?” Jon Voight was interviewing me now! Wow. I told him a few of my greatest blessings: My wife, five children, remarkable job.

Then I interjected and told him that I was quite impressed with his daughter. Yeah, he’s Angelina Jolie‘s dad. She testified before the House of Lords in London last week, blasting ISIS for its systematic rape of women in its reign of terror.

“The most important thing is to understand what it’s not: It’s not sexual. It’s a violent, brutal, terrorizing weapon and it is used, unfortunately, everywhere,” she said.

I told her father that he should continue to encourage her to bravely stand up for important issues like this. He assured me that he would. And I assured him that I’d keep him in my prayers.

Who knows, maybe we’ll bump into each other again sometime. After all, as I just learned, the world is a really a pretty small place.

WOODLAWN OPENS NATIONWIDE ON OCTOBER 16. See it. You won’t be disappointed.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is a speaker, Catholic journalist, editor of this blog, and the editor-in-chief of Legatus magazine.

 

Bob Newhart: A stand-up guy

22 Nov

NOVEMBER 22, 2013 — Bob Newhart didn’t need another award. The 84-year-old actor and comedian has enough trophies to fill a warehouse. But when he was nominated for a Primetime Emmy earlier this year, nobody thought he would win — including Newhart himself.

BigBang

Bob Newhart guest stars as Professor Proton on THE BIG BANG THEORY

“It was a pretty tough category,” he said from his home in Bel Air, Calif. “When they said my name and I walked up, they gave me a standing ovation. It was especially powerful because it was from my peers.”

Newhart was up against the likes of Justin Timberlake, Louis CK, and Nathan Lane at the 65th Prime Time Emmy Awards on Sept. 22. He picked up the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series award for his role as Arthur Jeffries/Professor Proton on the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory. It was his first Primetime Emmy.

Catholic upbringing

Born and raised on Chicago’s west side, Newhart was brought up Catholic and attended parochial schools, including St. Catherine of Siena grammar school in Oak Park and St. Ignatius College Prep (high school) where he graduated in 1947.

“I went to Loyola University in Chicago, which is a Jesuit school,” he said. “Ever since my success in comedy, I’ve always credited the Jesuits for the somewhat twisted way I have of looking at life.”

Two of his sisters still call the Midwest home. In fact, one of Newhart’s three sisters is a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. “She’s about two years older than I am,” he said. “She’s a computer whiz. She’s just a whiz at everything she does.”

11th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards

Bob Newhart poses with an Emmy in a promo shot for the 11th Emmy Awards, which aired on May 6, 1959

As a young, budding comedian, Newhart served a stint in the Army during the Korean War before scoring a recording contract with Warner Brothers Music in 1959. The only problem was that he had never played a comedy club. Newhart patterned his act on the deadpan style of popular comedy duo Bob and Ray. He and a friend had worked out a routine, but never took it beyond their circle of friends.

“I always had this bent toward comedy, but never really thought anything substantial would come of it,” he explained. When the record company heard his work, they offered him the contract and set him up at a comedy club in Houston.

bob-newhart-the-button-down-mind-strikes-back“I was absolutely terrified,” he said of his first performance. “You learn very quickly if you’re going to do stand-up comedy, you can’t show fear because it makes the audience nervous. They sense it. So with all the bravado I could muster, I tried to pretend I knew what the hell I was doing.”

Newhart’s debut comedy album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, topped Billboard’s album charts in 1960, sailing past Elvis Presley and The Sound of Music soundtrack. It was the first comedy album to ever hit No. 1 on Billboard. The album won the 1961 Grammy Award for Album of the Year and Newhart won Best New Artist.

Transition to television

With his career on the fast track, Newhart made the leap to television in 1961 with a 60-minute comedy variety show on NBC. While the show garnered several awards, it only lasted one season.

The transition from stand-up comedy to acting was a rough one for Newhart. “I was fine in the monologues, but I was very uncomfortable with the sketches,” he explained. “So when the show only lasted a year, I had to learn how to do that.”

“It was well-received,” he explained, but “we got an Emmy, a Peabody and a pink slip from NBC all in one year.”

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Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette starred in THE BOB NEWHART SHOW from 1972-1978

It would be another 12 years before the comedian stepped in front of the television cameras again when he launched his first sitcom, The Bob Newhart Show. He starred as dry psychologist Bob Hartley, with Suzanne Pleshette playing his wryly loving wife, Emily.

“I think I was the first male comic to transition from stand-up to a situation comedy,” he said.

Then in 1982, he starred in the CBS sitcom Newhart, playing Vermont innkeeper Dick Loudon. The show ran for eight seasons, two years longer than his first sitcom.

Since Newhart left the airwaves in 1990, the comedian has continued working as a stand-up comedian. He still does 20 shows per year. He makes regular guest appearances on television and takes small film roles — including his hilarious turn as Papa Elf in Will Farrell’s 2003 Christmas comedy Elf.

Then came The Big Bang Theory. As Newhart tells it, the show’s creator and producer, Chuck Lorre, calls him every year to offer him a role in one of his sitcoms. Newhart turned down every one — roles on Cybil, Roseanne, Two and a Half Men and Grace Under Fire.

In January of this year, Newhart said, Lorre called him saying, “‘OK. I’m ready for my annual turn-down.’ So I said, ‘I’ll tell you what. First of all, the show has to be done in front of a live audience because I don’t know how to do a show without an audience. And it has to be a recurring role on The Big Bang Theory because I think it’s really wonderfully written.’ He agreed, and that’s how it came about.”

Faith and family

Elf-Newhart

Bob Newhart as Papa Elf in the 2003 comedy ELF

Newhart admits that he and his wife Ginnie are somewhat of an anomaly in Hollywood because their marriage has lasted more than 50 years.

“Being Catholic has a lot to do with it,” he said. “You work a little harder. You don’t just have your first fight and walk out the door.”

Faith has sustained the octogenarian throughout his life, but never more so than when Ginnie was diagnosed with cancer.

“During the week, I’ll go to church twice a week,” Newhart said. “My wife had liver cancer. She had a liver transplant four years ago. She’s in the prime of health now. I kind of go and thank Him for that. That was a very emotional time.”

Catholicism has also shaped Newhart’s work, he said, especially when he was tempted to depart from clean, family-friendly comedy.

“There were times along the way over 50 years — mostly in the ’70s — when there was the temptation to maybe get a little bluer in my stand-up act,” he explained. “It just never felt comfortable. It was like a sweater that never felt right, you know. There was something wrong with the shoulder. I’ve talked with Jerry Seinfeld, who isn’t Catholic obviously. He’s Jewish. We talked about doing a clean show, the way we feel about it at the end of it, you feel good about it.”

If you see Newhart on stage these days, you can certainly anticipate a clean show, but you may also get a good dose of Catholic humor.

“Being a comedian, I have a lot of Jewish friends, and they always talk about the Jewish religion,” Newhart said. “I thought, one day, ‘You know it’s kind of funny growing up Catholic.’ So I do a whole thing on being Catholic and it’s been very well received — especially if you get a bunch of Catholics together.”

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Bob Newhart and his wife Ginnie attend the 2013 Emmy Awards

Unlike many of his fellow celebrities, Newhart acknowledges that his most important success has come away from the bright lights of Hollywood.

Asked what has brought him the most joy in his life, he didn’t hesitate. “My family, obviously. I have four kids and 10 grandchildren. We just had the latest — five months old, a girl. I’ve always said: I don’t care how successful you’ve been in this business, if you haven’t had a good family life, what have you really achieved? Not an awful lot. You can be the richest man in the world and look back at your marriages that were disasters and what have you really accomplished? That’s the way I look at life.”

Newhart’s take on life may be dry, but it’s always profound and often spiritual. “I think God has an incredible sense of humor,” he said. “All you have to do is look around the world. There’s no question that He has an incredible sense of humor.”

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is the editor of this blog.