I love to hear stories about people who work at jobs that they truly love. Too many people go to work day after dreary day, dreading everything about their occupations. Sometimes they feel trapped in professions that don’t suit them. Changing careers means making great financial sacrifices that they are not willing to endure. They simply remain miserable. Then there are those who risk everything to follow their dreams. Those are the people that I really admire.
At Mike’s fiftieth class reunion I finally had the opportunity of meeting someone of whom he had often spoken. The man was Ken Magee. It seems that Ken had gone out to Hollywood shortly after graduating to try his hand at acting. He never became famous enough that anyone would quickly recall his name but he did make enough of an impression on the powers that be in the movie industry that he earned a living doing small parts. Hollywood became his home and acting his lifetime career. In fact, he had hundreds of roles in movies and television over the years. His filmography is extensive and even impressive. He played in The Shawshank Redemption, Seabiscuit, Human Nature, The Majestic, E.R., Cold Case, and so many more. He portrayed everything from a scoutmaster to an intellectually deficient murder suspect. He possessed a somewhat forgetful, everyman kind of face that made him perfect for a variety of character roles. Over the years Mike had fun spotting him in different films. Mike liked to brag that he had known Ken before he was famous.
When I talked with Ken at the reunion dinner he was as down to earth as anyone that I have ever met. He didn’t think that he had done anything particularly special working alongside some of the great movies stars and directors in Hollywood. He quite humbly indicated that his was just a job like anything else, but I detected a kind of twinkle in his eye as he spoke of his favorite roles. He was especially proud of his cameo in The Shawshank Redemption, mostly because it had turned out to be such a movie classic. He laughed at the thought that his face was forever immortalized because of his work, even though he doubted that anybody would ever be familiar with his name.
I spoke with Ken about my granddaughter’s fascination with acting and he counseled me to caution her. He explained that acting was very hard work and that the odds of making it past the bit parts was incredibly slim. He spoke of many a young person who ultimately gave up and left for a more traditional career. Somehow he had been fortunate enough to find work over and over again, albeit far from the perks and notoriety of stardom. He lived a rather simple life in terms of financial gain but did just well enough to keep him going back for more parts again and again. He built quite a resume for himself and Googling his name will bring a large number of hits, including one article that calls him a movie star, a title that probably would have made him chuckle.
Mike and I were quite sad to learn that Ken Magee has died. Not long after the reunion he was diagnosed with cancer. Apparently the illness took him fairly quickly. We had few details about what had happened and were only able to hope that he had not suffered too intensely in his final days. He was honored with a memorial service in Hollywood. I’d like to think that perhaps one of the big starts with whom he worked may have come to show his or her respects but I suspect that it was mostly a quiet affair with family and some of his friends.
Ken Magee will never have a star on the Walk of Fame nor will he ever win an Oscar or an Emmy for his work. Instead he is one the thousands who labor in film studios to bring us the entertainment that we so enjoy without garnering a great deal of attention. He was a happy man with a generous smile and an honest interest in the people that he met. His classmates from St. Thomas High School loved him and were proud of his accomplishments. Right now they are all quite sad that he is gone from their ranks. I think they hoped to see him again in the future either in a new role or at one of their functions. Now he is gone far too early and none of them had the chance to properly say goodbye.
I don’t think that I will ever forget my brief conversation with Ken. He had certainly talked with far more important people than I in his Hollywood days and yet he was as interested in what I had to say as if I had been a dignitary of some sort. I was admittedly a bit in awe of his movie adventures and sensed that I was with someone who had interacted with some of the greats of film. None of that had gone to his head. He realized that they were all just working stiffs doing their best to earn enough to survive. He had enjoyed his career but didn’t seem to think that it was anything decidedly special. He was just glad that he had the opportunity to do what he loved.
The Oscars will be coming soon. There is a great deal of talk about boycotting them but Mike says he’ll be tuning in to see what happens. I think he imagines that just maybe Ken Magee’s colleagues will remember him when they list all of the people the movie industry has lost in the past year. I tend to doubt that his name will make the list but I would love to see it there. He certainly did what he did for the love of it. I suspect that he would have liked to have made it very big but was satisfied that he had made it as far as he did.
We’ve lost a lot of artistic talent in the past month, many of them around the same age as Ken. I like to think of what a grand reunion everyone is having in heaven. Ken Magee is most certainly there for he was a good and interesting man. Even if the rest of the world doesn’t readily remember him, those who knew him, even if only for one night, will hold his memory in their hearts. We’ll watch for his face in his films and marvel that he somehow managed to survive in Tinsel Town, a place well known for crushing all but the most hardy. God rest Ken Magee’s soul. He’s earned the ultimate prize, an eternal star in heaven.