Monday, December 19, 2005

Leo Thomas McGarry, We Hardly Knew Ye

At 6:30 on Friday night I heard the devastating news: actor John Spencer had died of a heart attack at the young age of 58.

I didn't know John Spencer personally, nor would I ever attempt to eulogize the man as anything but an actor I felt like I knew. But the joy this man helped bring me every Wednesday night for several years was infinite. His curmudgeonly but lovable Chief of Staff character brought wit and charm and brilliance and rationality into my life on a weekly basis, and for that, I'm thankful.

My West Wing chops are well-honed. I've seen every episode of the Sorkin years -- the current show is all gravy, but the four Sorkin seasons are the goods -- as few as three and as many as nine times, and I can speak to the show's past greatness for hours on end (in fact, I have on this here rag as well).

It's in this vein I want to remember and honor the tremendous talent of John Spencer by posting my top five all-time favorite Leo moments. This list could be extended to a Top 50, but in the interest of time and space I'll leave out the following scenes:

His intensity-in-ten-cities fight with the Qumari ambassador over turning around a ship full of guns headed for Bahi rebels in Game On, his dancing with Jordan Kendall after the president wins re-election in Process Stories, his declaration of "That's what sons do for friends of their fathers" to get Josh up to Nashua to hear then-candidate Bartlet speak in Manchester, and his don't-f*ck-with-me attitude while giving testimony before Congress in Bartlet For America.

Without further (Freddy) ado, I give you the Leo Top Five (to regular WW fans, this is everyone else, you're on your own, and where the fuck were you from 1999-2003?):

5. From the show's Pilot, C.J. waits while Leo talks on the phone with the New York Times: "17 across. Yes, 17 across is wrong... You're spelling his name wrong... What's my name? My name doesn't matter. I am just an ordinary citizen who relies on the Times crossword for stimulation. And I'm telling you that I met the man twice. And I recommended a pre-emptive missile strike against his air force, so I think I know how..." They obviously hang up on him.

4. From the third season's H. Con 172, Leo responds to a Republican offer that the president take a censure and endorse it to ensure testimony about Leo's alcoholism and pill addiction don't come out in a Congressional hearing:

"Okay. Well, I'll just call the President and suggest to him that he allow a huge bipartisan vote on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives calling him a liar and that he welcome the result. Then, I'm going to flap my wings and fly to Neverland... You think I am so desperate to save my ass I'm going to roll over on Jed Bartlet? I take a bullet for the President. He doesn't take one for me."

3. From season three's We Killed Yamamoto, Leo gets in the president's face about taking out a terrorist who also doubles as the defense minister of a "friendly" Arab country: "He's killed innocent people. He'll kill more, so we have to end him. The village idiot comes to that conclusion before the Nobel Laureate."

The best part of Leo's incredibly well-written character was his ability to get in the president's grill and hammer a point home. After the quotation above, Leo continues to drub Bartlet and gets him to agree to take Shareef out of commission. He also does a great job of this in Let Bartlet Be Bartlet, when he screams at the president for driving him and his staff to the center and reeling in the masts, as well as in The Proportional Response and many more.

2. From the second season's Noel episode, Leo waits around for Josh to get out of his meeting with a post-traumatic stress counselor to comfort his protege and assure him his job is safe:

"This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, 'Father, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, Joe, it's me can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'"

Then Leo tells Josh, "Long as I got a job, you got a job." I've watched this scene more times than I can count (but I can only count to eight or so), and I've always come away with goose bumps the size of golf balls and my hair standing on end. I was tested for a rare blood disease, but I think it's just The West Wing messin' with me.

1. From season six's finale, 2162 Votes, Josh approaches Leo with his idea for perfect vice presidential running mate:

Leo: Do you want me to get the President to lean on him?
He told me that he'd kick the guy's ass all over the school yard, if it came to that.
Who is it?

I watched this episode with five or six people, and if there was a dry eye in the house I'd be shocked. This served as the culmination of so many things going on in the fictional west wing over the past six years, and seeing Matt Santos come out with Leo in tow on the ticket was wnough to push this reporter over the edge. Awesome.

Many people on the world wide web are speculating as to the future of the show, but I think the answer is easy: second heart attack, new VP, end of story. I'm not entirely sure why people are making this more complicated than it really should be.

Have any thoughts on where the show will go after Leo's death? Have any other great Leo moments you want to share? Do it.

Honorable mention in the quote category goes to this quote from The War at Home: I fought a jungle war. I'm not doing it again. If I could put myself anywhere in time, it would be the Cabinet room, on August 4, 1964. When our ships were attacked by North Vietnam in the Tonkin Gulf. I'd say, "Mr. President... don't do it. Don't consider authorizing a massive commitment of troops and throwing in our lot with torturers and panderers, leaders without principle and soldiers without conviction; no clear mission, and no end in sight." This war is at home. The casualties are in our prisons, and not our hospitals. The amount of money the American government is spending in Columbia is the exact same amount American consumers are spending buying drugs from Columbia, we're funding both sides of this war and we'll never win it that way.

But that's mainly because of this ridiculous story I just saw: Investigators say men used cave to grow marijuana


At 4:03 PM, Blogger ethan said...

i don't know squat about ww, but it sure seems like those cave dwellers deserve an award, not jail time.

At 4:27 PM, Blogger Trix said...

Jeez, and I thought I was a huge fan!

At 5:10 PM, Blogger Phiul said...

I don't think Santos will win anyway. I think they show will want to do an equal time thing with Alan Alda as the likeable Republican prez. Problem is that the premiere during the season had the old gang getting back together in a flash forward. We'll see how they fix that little problem.

God bless Leo McGarry though. Great actor, great guy. Would've made a great fictional vice president.

At 9:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said Ace, well said! I was a big Leo fan! I think that Santos will ask Josh to be his running mate but that prob is too simple. Who knows what they will do but I was looking forward to those two being in the White house.

Play it Leo, Play it Leo! Boy did he come to play everytime.


At 4:03 PM, Blogger The Brewer Patriot said...

Good work. I, too, get goosebumps when Leo tells Josh the "i've been down there before" story after he waited for Josh after he met with the pschiatrist. I watched those Bravo reruns about a million times.

At 10:53 PM, Blogger The Ambiguously Gay Uno said...

I realize i'm late on posting a comment here but:

Sam Seaborn for VP. You heard it here first...

At 9:53 PM, Anonymous price per head service said...

I do not know John Spencer personally neither, but I have heard good things about this guy, but we all are allowed to have different points of view, aren't we?


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