Sent by: Peter Knowles 12/02/06
For many years Ben
Stein has written a biweekly column called "Monday Night At Morton's." (Morton's is a famous chain of Steakhouses known to
be frequented by movie stars and famous people from around the globe.) Now, Ben is terminating the column to move on to other
things in his life. Reading his final column is worth a few minutes of your time.
Ben Stein's Last Column...
How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's World?
As I begin to write this, I "slug" it,
as we writers say, which means I put a heading on top of the document to identify it. This heading is "eonlineFINAL," and
it gives me a shiver to write it. I have been doing this column for so long that I cannot even recall when I started. I loved
writing this column so much for so long I came to believe it would never end.
It worked well for a long time, but
gradually, my changing as a person and the world's change have overtaken it. On a small scale, Morton's, while better than
ever, no longer attracts as many stars as it used to. It still brings in the rich people in droves and definitely some stars.
I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a few days ago, and we had a nice visit, and right before that, I saw and had a splendid talk
with Warren Beatty in an elevator, in which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass was a super movie But Morton's is not the
star galaxy it once was, though it probably will be again.
Beyond that, a bigger change has happened. I no longer
think Hollywood stars are terribly important . They are uniformly
pleasant, friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But a man or woman who makes a huge wage
for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star we should all look up to.
How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star in today's world,
if by a "star" we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model? Real stars are not riding around in the
backs of limousines or in Porsches or getting trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they have Vietnamese
girls do their nails.
They can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any longer. A real star
is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit,
Iraq. He could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets.
Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people of the world.
A real star
is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north
of Baghdad. He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed
A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl
playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her aside and threw
himself on it just as it exploded. He left a family desolate in California and a little girl
alive in Baghdad.
The stars who deserve media attention
are not the ones who have lavish weddings on TV but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul
even after two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis
We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our magazines. The noncoms and
officers who barely scrape by on military pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan
and Iraq and on ships and in submarines and near the Arctic
Circle are anonymous as they live and die.
I am no longer comfortable being a part of the system that
has such poor values, and I do not want to perpetuate those values by pretending that who is eating at Morton's is a big subject.
There are plenty of other stars in the American firmament...the policemen and women who go off on patrol in South
Central and have no idea if they will return alive; the orderlies and paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible
accidents and prepare them for surgery; the teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children;
the kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer wards
Think of each and every fireman who was running up
the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began to collapse. Now you have my idea of a real hero.
to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters. This is my highest and best use as a human. I can
put it another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin...or
Martin Mull or Fred Willard--or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely
close to any of them.
But I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son to
the parents who had done so much for me. This came to be my main task in life. I did it moderately well with my son, pretty
well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister's help). I cared for and paid attention to them in their
declining years. I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into a coma and then entered immortality
with my sister and me reading him the Psalms.
This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers
in Iraq or the firefighters in New
York. I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is
my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others He has placed in my path. This is my highest
and best use as a human.
Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will.
By Ben Stein