I know a surprising number of people who no longer talk to their siblings: middle aged and beyond, they may have had major disagreements--often over financial issues-- or they simply grew distanced, resentment seething underneath. One sibling might believe the other was long favored by parents, and felt little brotherly support when he or she was mistreated. Do they want closure as they enter their final chapters? Apparently many don't.
The subject always intrigues me, perhaps because I really love my pair of older brothers, despite character flaws (all of ours) and major differences in lifestyles. No one says you have to love the brother or sister you were given. Then again, when parents begin to falter, it's awfully nice to not have to do it all alone. One thing is certain: we seem to never tire of great stories about sibling rivalry. From Cain and Abel to the Kennedys to the Wrights (a new book on the flyers tops the best seller list) to the recent Netflix series Bloodlines, there is something inherently and irresistibly dramatic about familial fault lines.
So I appreciate the happy tales, like that of Arnold and Stuart Margolin, ages 80 and 75, who are opening next week in a play called "Laughter on The 23rd Floor," at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre in Lewisburg, West Virginia. The show is based on the great Sid Caesar and his staff of writers. Stuart Margolin, best known as the Emmy winning actor who played Angel on The Rockford Files, is doing the Caesar role. His older brother Arnold---who gave up an early acting career to become, briefly, an agent, and then a successful television producer, is playing the head writer of what was considered the greatest comedic breeding ground in history.
The Margolin brothers have acted together only once, as Siamese twins on Love, American Style, the iconic TV series created by Arnold. He, in fact, never had much interest in performing, but somehow ended up on Broadway as the heroine's crush in The Diary of Anne Frank. He did a lot of stage managing, then turned to representing writers, including handling the exact scribe he is now portraying on stage. (You couldn't make this up) The brothers have not spent this much time together since 15 year old stage-struck Stuart came to bunk with his older brother in New York City.
"This is like a bucket list blessing," says Arnold, who claims the siblings were fortunately never competitive, since they were five years apart and both successful at an early age. They always stayed in touch, especially when their lives hit road bumps. Both had divorces, Arnold lost a second wife, and Stuart was temporarily felled by serious cancer. Now, he has recovered and is back to performing and directing on stage and in film, and Arnold is writing a musical and a memoir and remarried last year at the age of 79.
"We certainly haven't been this close, in every way, since 1956," says Arnold, "and I sometimes find it hard to separate the character he is playing from the guy I knew all my life. When he--as this character--gets angry, it momentarily pushes my buttons. But then, of course, I remember we are playing roles."
These are two very appealing men who prove several things: Even at their tender ages, they are highly capable of memorizing a lot of dialogue. "I was scared to death," admits Arnold, "only because I haven't performed in a long time." They are still having no trouble drawing female attention. This may have been hereditary, as their father was apparently a bit of a Lothario. Arnold recalls once being called to a retirement home in the middle of the night because the senior Margolin had been found on the floor with blood all over his face. "By the time I got there," he says, "my dad was fine and they had determined that it was lipstick."
Finally, they are inspiring because here are siblings who could have let a cruel and competitive business get in their way. They are not quite the attached twins they played on television the last time they performed together, but they are re-learning to love and laugh and appreciate one another on and off the stage. Those lucky enough to get a ticket (they are going fast) to The Greenbrier Valley Theatre will be in for a treat.
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