This man is beautiful

by Kevin Birnbaum

If you’ve watched any movies or TV in the last twenty years, you’ve probably seen Stephen Tobolowsky. He’s got hundreds of acting credits to his name, mostly small parts. He’s probably best known for the role of Ned Ryerson, the obnoxious insurance salesman in the movie Groundhog Day.

He is also the best storyteller I’ve ever heard.

Over the past three years, he’s recorded nearly sixty podcasts of autobiographical stories. “The Tobolowsky Files” are about “life, love, and the entertainment industry,” as the show’s tagline puts it. The podcasts average about forty-five minutes each, which means he’s told nearly two solid days’ worth of stories without running out of material. He’s led an exceptionally interesting life.

His stories are always entertaining, usually thought-provoking, and often downright beautiful.

I saw him perform live last night at The Moore Theatre in Seattle. He was captivating. One thing he said stuck out to me. He said it almost in passing as he discussed his seventh-grade romantic fantasies (each night he’d dream of proposing marriage to a different girl in his class). He said, “Innocence is important, because I think it’s the source of all inspiration.”

He didn’t really expand on it, and I’m not sure exactly what he meant or even if he’s right. But it reminded me of something G.K. Chesterton wrote, that

the chief assertion of religious morality is that white is a colour. Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel, or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen.

Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc. In a word, God paints in many colours; but He never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white. (“A Piece of Chalk,” 1909)

What do you think? What could it mean to say that innocence is the source of all inspiration?