A long, long time ago, when Kevin Bacon was still one of the guys in Animal House or someone you may have seen in Diner, I met Tina. Tina was my college roommate. Complete strangers when we first met on a hot August day, we soon discovered we both had a fondness for laughing until it hurt and that we found the same things amusing. We ended up rooming and laughing together for four years.
Tina is someone who could have written all the questions and answers for the "Silver Screen Edition" of Trivial Pursuit. This is a game I would never choose to play with her unless she were on my team. In all honesty, though, it’s a game I would never choose to play. I am a complete movie illiterate, the kind of person who’d never seen such film greats as West Side Story or The Graduate until I’d met Tina, and she started a somewhat hopeless period of educating Emily, taking me to see many, many classic films that were shown on the university grounds during our tenure there. Poor Tina. She was the Queen of Classic Movies stuck with a roommate who would announce something like “An Officer and a Gentleman is the most romantic movie I’ve ever seen.” I still remember her astonished response to that, “Oh, Emily! You haven’t even seen Casablanca?!” (A lapse that was fixed as soon as we were able, not an easy task in the days when VCRs were only just coming onto the market, and DVDs were just somebody's pipe dream.)
Tina is the one who invented what is now called "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." It wasn’t his idea. Don’t believe Wikipedia, which will tell you this game was first being played on college campuses in the early 1990s. I had long since graduated from college by then. This was Tina’s game, and I’m still upset that Kevin Bacon is getting all the credit, even more so because she played it in a more interesting way (not being egotistically focused on herself). As a matter of fact, I never actually played the game. What I did was watch her play it. We all did.
Tina’s goal was not to have six degrees of separation, but to make it fun, to make it long and complicated. She poohed-poohed stars who could be linked in less than six movies. She wanted stumpers, those that obviously required a PhD in film knowledge, and we all wanted to come up with one she couldn’t solve, to discover the only two actors or actresses who could not be linked through their movies and their co-stars. I’d try to stump her (the first-grader pitted against the PhD) by coming up with such winners as Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Most of my choices would elicit rolled eyes, and an “Oh, that’s so easy, Emily,” as within a minute, she’d have linked the stars with three movies.
Others (those who were at least at the twelfth-grade level) would give her really good, chewy near-stumpers. She’d think about them for a long time. She’d puzzle over them. She’d assure us she’d eventually get it. We’d all forget about it. We’d think she’d forgotten about it. Then suddenly, just as we were turning off the light to go to bed, she’d say, “I’ve got it,” and would proceed to reel off a list of ten movies, most of which I’d never heard of, that connected the stars. Of course, I was so ignorant, she could easily have just made up movies, but Tina’s not that kind of person.
Tina and I were talking the other day (I’m all excited because with this move to PA, I’m going to be within a very easy drive of where she lives instead of a six-hour-long drive), and we were reminiscing about her game. Well, we weren’t actually reminiscing so much as I was informing her how pissed I am that Mr. Bacon is getting all the credit for her game. She remembers that my boyfriend at the time almost did stump her once by throwing out Leonard Nimoy with someone, just the sort of obnoxious thing he would have done. Thank God she bested him, or we never would have heard the end of it.
I didn’t remember that near-stumper of his, but I was laughing (we still laugh!) about how I was always thinking I’d come up with some clever choices like Madonna and John Wayne, and she’d tell me they were way too easy. Well, wouldn’t you know, she’s still got it? We went on to discuss many, many other things, and just before we hung up the phone, she said to me,
“Oh, and I did this one quickly. Madonna was in Dick Tracy with Warren Beatty. Warren Beatty was in Splendor in the Grass with Natalie Wood. And Natalie Wood was in this old John Ford movie called The Searchers with John Wayne.” Eat your heart out, Kevin Bacon. I’m wondering, though, if by the time we’re 80, I’ll finally manage to come up with one that’s more than three “degrees.”
Aeschylus in a nutshell: made me wish so badly we had managed to salvage everything he wrote. If you haven’t read him since you were in school, I promise he’s worth re-reading, although very depressing to realize we human beings haven’t changed much in all these years. Also, I prefer the ones that aren’t so focused on war, like Prometheus Bound.