You might not know the name, but I am sure you know Victor Buono.
A fine actor who played a wide range of odd characters in film and television. physically he was a large man who let his personality grow to match. You look at a guy like that and you see things working. You see life with velocity and momentum. And you wonder…what is it that makes someone like Victor Buono tick.
Anyone raised in Minnesota learned a lesson that I think Victor Buono understood instinctively. In Minnesota you learn in your first winter driving season that even when things are just a little off, you can maintain control and get somewhere. People who try to brake too hard or steer too sharply generally end up spinning or sliding in directions that they don’t want to go. People who learn to relax when things slip and spin rather than fight it tend to avoid mishaps and recover better when they don’t.
You can apply this same lesson to life.
Victor Buono grew up in San Diego and didn’t have winter driving to teach him anything about the importance of easing back on your brakes and steering. He was raised in a professional class family and I expect that he likely had a very controlled life laid out before him. We often take the obvious route, the most travelled path, and for Victor Buono there were many paths like these for him to see.
Buono had been planning to pursue a medical career, in fact, when something happened — a visit by a crazy aunt, most likely (actually…I believe this IS indeed true) — and he found himself attracted to something different.
He discovered the joys of stagecraft, starting with a heavy emphasis on Shakespeare. But he also discovered that he had a very unique presence. His large and refined personality stood out when he tilted it a little. People thought he was a little off, a little odd, different. And rather than working to reign that in, he let it go and became successful and happy because of it.
Victor Buono, for example, played Edwin Flagg in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and won an Academy Award for this role at age 25. A couple years later he was playing King Tut on the original Batman television series.
Victor Buono had tremendous talent and people might think he wasted it on absurd roles and sold out to the 1960s television talk show circuit, but whenever I see Victor Buono I feel good. I feel like I am seeing a person who found his place. You want to be by people like this. They are self-infected by their own ease and success. Victor Buono might have been a little off kilter, but he knew well enough to affirm that uniqueness and in that way stay in control.
Recently I have been feeling more like Job than Victor Buono. In fact, I had a moment today when I fully expected to hear a voice from the clouds command: “Brace yourself like a man!” I have been certain that both God and the Devil are testing me.
Today, less than a week after the first car accident I have ever been in in my life, I slid though a stop sign and hit another car. I got out of the car and felt absolutely deflated. I cannot say I had any emotion one way or the other. I looked heavenward and felt like I was overdue for some explanation, when I had this crazy idea: The car didn’t stop because I tried to hard. And then I had this goofy Victor Buono flash in my mind.
I don’t have the advantage of Victor Buono’s instinct, but I have had a little more time to figure it out nonetheless. (Victor died when he was 43.) It may not be as easy to do as it might seem, but the parts are pretty simple. Follow your joy, your passion, and don’t let things that are a little off kilter cause you to over correct. Am I right or am I wrong? Maybe I just want to write about Victor Buono. I don’t know. But I am trying to explain how and why guys like Victor Buono can be a good role model.
The universe is a pretty simple place, after all. Things happen in patterns and cycles. You don’t have to know the patterns and cycles, you just need to accept that they exist. You have to trust that good feelings feel good for a reason. Some of us instinctively have this trust, most of us don’t. Victor Buono can’t defend himself against me — he’s playing campy roles in Paradise — but I’ll lay down a bet that he had the instinct, it worked for him, and he looks like a fun smart man. I’ll adopt the Victor Buono approach to things.
In a nutshell, if you see success, emulate success, but most importantly note that success might not be most enjoyed in the results but perhaps much more in how it is achieved.
The Tour Guide is going to sleep and hope for good dreams that will carry him into a more Buonian tomorrow.