Orson Bean died recently at the age of 91. He had a long career on the Broadway stage, movies and lastly on TV, especially on the show To Tell The Truth.
Like many personalities his life was a search for meaning and love and like many, he looked in all the wrong places. Here’s his testimony.
“When I grew up, I did become famous: first as a stand-up comic on television, then as an actor on Broadway, then as a fine game show panelist: a modest skill, like being a virtuoso of the kazoo.
The fame made me happy. It got me laid and made me money and it was fun. I wanted more, so I graduated to drugs and booze. They worked, too, for a while (quite a long while, actually). But when they finally stopped working, when my wife left and the game shows stopped calling, I realized that it was time for a change. I enrolled in a twelve step program.
They kept talking about a Higher Power. It could be anything: a tree, the ocean, whatever. And you were supposed to turn your life over to it. It could be God, of course, but they didn’t want to make you nervous. As long as it wasn’t you, they said, it worked.
There were speakers at the meetings, former drunks who were supposed to explain it all. One guy impressed the hell out of me. I heard him a few times. Bobby was his name. That’s how he always introduced himself and we’d yell back, “Hi, Bobby.”
Bobby was one tough bugger. Scars and tattoos. He’d done time in the pen. Hard time. The last time he was arrested, he was taken off the roof of a building in downtown L.A. by a SWAT team: helicopters, the whole shebang. They sent him away for fifteen years for something pretty violent, I’m sure; he didn’t say. It was his third conviction but this was before three strikes so he didn’t get life.
Well, while he was up the river, he started going to meetings; to break up the monotony, I suppose. And somehow or other, he got the message and his whole life changed. While he was still there in the jug. He began helping other cons and staying out of trouble and they knocked some time off his sentence. By the time I ran across him, he was out, of course, working at a regular job and “sponsoring” a number of young guys. “My babies,” he called them.
I decided I would ask him for advice. He was standing on the sidewalk in front of the meeting where he’d spoken and some cute young thing was bending his ear. There were a few of us hanging around wanting to talk to him but of course we all understood that if a good looking girl was praising him, probably flirting with him, common sense and good manners dictated that we wait our turns.
The girl finished and started to leave, but before any of us could get a shot at him, something strange happened. An LAPD motorcycle cop sped by on his big, black Harley, spotted Bobby, jammed on the brakes, jumped off the bike, ran over and grabbed hold of him.
“Holy God,” we all thought, “He’s done something bad again and they’ve come to get him.” But instead of arresting him, the cop gave him a big hug. Then he got back on the Harley and blasted off. Bobby turned to the little group of us there on the sidewalk.
“One of my babies,” he explained, and started off down the street. I decided to be a pain in the neck and hustled on after him. I caught up and introduced myself. I told him about how I had a few months clean and sober and about my reluctance to think about my higher power as God. What advice did he have, I asked?
“Get down on your knees,” he told me, ” and thank God every morning. Then, do it again at night.”
“But I don’t think I believe in God.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Just do it.”
“Why do I have to get down on my knees?”
“He likes it,” said Bobby. And that’s all he said to me. He stood there looking at me for a minute and then I said OK and thanked him and he took off.
I was living, in those days, in a little joint in Venice with a Murphy bed. That night, when it was time for me to go to sleep, I got down on my knees beside the Murphy bed, feeling like a complete fool, and spoke out loud.
“If there’s anybody there,” I said, “thank you for the day.” I had finally decided, I suppose, that since all else had failed, I would follow the instructions. That night, I slept like a log and in the morning I got down on my knees again and said, “If there’s anybody there, thank you for my night’s sleep.”
I kept doing this, day after day, and without my even being aware of it, it stopped feeling foolish to me. It started to feel good, in fact. After a while, I began to sense that my prayers were being heard. I didn’t know by who or what, but it was a good feeling. Then, before I knew it, I felt as if there was Something or Someone there who knew me and cared about me. Actually loved me.
“Alright,” I told myself. “I’ll call it God. Thank you, God” And I really meant it. That’s how it began for me and my life has kept on getting better ever since. Truly better.”