26 January 2003
This is Paul Wexler, a Hollywood actor who played in movies and TV from the 1950s into the 1970s. He died of cancer in 1979, I believe. The photo shows him as he appeared in the 1954 film Suddenly, starring Frank Sinatra and Sterling Hayden.
Paul Wexler is the father of Alan Wexler, who was initiated by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada as Anirdeshavapu dasa. When Anirdeshavapu dasa took sannyasa in the 1980s, he received the name Bhaktividya Purna Maharaja.
"Nice son, nice father," Srila Prabhupada said upon meeting the father of one of his disciples. He told the man that because his son was a devotee, 10 generations of his family in the past and 10 generations in the future would be delivered.
Plutarch wrote that character is simply habit long continued. Paul Wexler's life was replete with the kind of bad habits that screen actors are known to go in for. Nice son, nice father, but also habits bad, character bad.
He was a sports car enthusiast. But his zipping around Los Angeles in
a little British convertible resulted in a freak accident in which Wexler's
wife--Bhaktividya Purna Maharaja's mother--was killed when Maharaja was
small child. Thereafter Daddy Wexler took to womanizing. So as to unemcumber
gratification, he packed his young son off to Oregon to be raised by relatives. Paul Wexler was a big party-goer, a drinker and a smoker. And of course he liked his steak, the favorite dish of the '50s male. (Standard dinnertime conversation line of that time: "Nothing like a fine piece of meat. ")
Paul Wexler acted in films like The Ten Commandments (he was an Egyptian soldier), Khartoum, and The Way West (little Alan appeared in that one too). He was the voice for a dog in the feature-length Disney cartoon 101 Dalmations. He often played black-hat gunslinging bad guys in '50s TV Westerns like Gunsmoke and Have Gun, Will Travel ("brought to you by Twenty Mule Team Borax"). In the 1970s he had a starring role as the arch-villain Captain Seas in the Doc Savage movie called The Man of Bronze.
In real life he played the role of a bad guy too. When his son joined ISKCON, Paul Wexler was not happy. In fact he was so upset that he cut Alan (Anirdeshavapu) out of his will. Still, when he passed away, Anirdesh traveled all the way from India to LA to attend his father's funeral. He found out that his father's estate was in the hands of his second stepmother, a busty blonde bimbo who treated him like dirt.
This is not one of those happy end stories, like Mrs. Scharf finally finding satisfaction in the fact that her two sons, Bruce (Brahmananda) and Greg (Gargamuni), had given their lives to Srila Prabhupada; or Kartikeya's very unfavorable mother speaking Krsna's name as she passed away, her eyes fixed on her devotee son who sat by her deathbed (hearing about this, tears came to Srila Prabhupada's eyes; he told Kartikeya in a voice choked with emotion, "You have saved your mother!").
It seems to me that the only thing nice about Paul Wexler was that he had a son who took to Krsna consciousness seriously. "If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton," George Bernard Shaw is quoted, "you may as well make it dance. " That's all Paul Wexler was: a Hollywood prop, a skeleton on wires, moved here and there by the modes of nature. He was dead even though breathing.
But Prabhupada said 10 generations back, 10 generations forward, are delivered when a son becomes a pure devotee. Thus this particular skeleton was made to dance. I can't say where he is right now, but I'm confident old evil Captain Seas is dancing to the tune of the Hare Krsna mahamantra.
Nice son, nice father. It's the son whom Prabhupada mentioned first. So even if the father, stand-alone, is not nice, since the son is nice by having become a devotee, the father can't escape being nice.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In summer of 1997 I visited Los Angeles for about ten days. My Godbrother Yadubara Prabhu, as a treat I guess, took me to Paramount Studios. We were part of a tour group led around by a chatty studio guide.
The industry of illusion. You can't help but be impressed. Movie-making has in its short history evolved into an exact science. Hollywood attracts talent from all over the world--not just actors, but artists, musicians, writers, sculptors, audio-visual technicians, computer programmers, interior decorators, clothes designers. . . I could wrack my brains to make a list of all the skills needed to make movies and it would still be incomplete.
These people are motivated. They take risks. They work hard. They not only work hard, but they work together as a team. Making a movie is in some ways as complex and demanding as a military campaign.
ISKCON is supposed to be a spiritual version of just this type of operation. Prabhupada was expert in engaging talented personalities in stupendous productions. Actually he far surpassed any Hollywood producer or director in orchestrating a spectacular show, because his was a world-wide production that never stopped! Right now the director Peter Jackson is working on the last part of his Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's a three-year project of bringing each of author's J. R. R. Tolkien's three "Ring" epics to the screen. It's supposedly the most ambitious extravaganza in the history of film-making. But after three years have passed and the third and last film is playing in the cinemas, that's it. Everybody on the team goes home to count their earnings and enjoy their senses. ISKCON was Srila Prabhupada's production for bringing the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam and Caitanya-caritamrta not just to the silver screen, but to the senses, mind, intelligence and consciousness of every human on the planet. A total spiritual experience! Jackson's crew is on location in New Zealand; Prabhupada's crew expanded to more than a 108 locations world-wide. And Prabhupada's show just goes on and on, and not just on this planet.
Well, that's what Prabhupada wanted, at least. While walking through the sprawling Paramount Studios I asked myself, "I wonder if ISKCON will ever achieve this level of dedication, competence, and attention to detail?"
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Not long after I was initiated, I met Otto Preminger in Boston. The temple got an invitation from a local TV station to send a few devotees to a talk show. So Harer Nama Prabhu asked me to go along with him and Sumati dd (who took over pujari duties from Rukmini dd). Only Harer Nama and Sumati actually appeared on the show. I've forgotten why, but I ended up just watching from behind the cameras. Anyway, the show had a lady moderator, and her guests that day were--besides the two Hare Krishnas--a guitar-strumming Jesus freak, and famed Hollywood director Otto Preminger.
Among his many films, Preminger directed Laura, a romantic mystery starring Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews. It was a huge hit in the States and in Britain just after the Second World War. Laura was a favorite of my mother's, who was a seventeen-year-old English girl when it played in theaters in her country. The script dialogue had some brilliant lines. When Laura (played by Tierney) innocently interrupts Waldo Lydecker (played by Clifton Webb) at his dinner to ask him a favor, he icely replies, "Young woman, either you were raised in an incredibly rustic community, or you are suffering from the common feminine delusion that the mere fact of being a woman exempts you from civilized behavior--or perhaps both. "
On the TV show, Otto Preminger said very little. Unfortunately, he did not take the prasadam that Sumati and Harer Nama distributed. At least he saw the devotees and heard them say "Hare Krsna" repeatedly.
I wonder if he is dancing with Paul Wexler right now.