Sunday, November 8, 2009

Salieri's Humble Origins in Underwear Sales

By Steve Evans

"Many of life's failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." ~ Thomas Edison.

The next time life gets you down and the brass ring seems just out of reach, think about F. Murray Abraham (below), the actor who played Mozart's nemesis Antonio Salieri in Best Picture winner Amadeus (1984). His performance is so note-perfect that Abraham's presence overshadows every other actor in the film. Here is a character drawn from history (Salieri's life spanned 1750-1825) whose jealous obsession with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ultimately defined his tortured life and eventual descent into madness. Abraham won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as a court composer in 18th century Venice whose desperate desire for success is undone by his own mediocrity and futile competition with Mozart, a man-child genius.

Not long before director MiloŇ° Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) cast the actor in the crucial role of Salieri, Abraham toiled in television advertising as a talking leaf in a series of Fruit of the Loom underwear commercials. Only a churlish malcontent unencumbered by deep thought could fail to see how these humble beginnings informed Abraham's flawless performance as a modestly talented musician whose principal misfortune was to be a contemporary of one of the greatest composers in the history of classical music. No matter how talented we may be, there will always be someone better. And even when we are at the top of our game, a virtuoso like Mozart will surpass our greatest efforts with ridiculous ease, laughing like a child all the while.

As a struggling actor, Abraham shilled underwear to pay the bills while he honed his craft. The Pittsburgh native also appeared in at least one commercial for Listerine mouthwash. His caustic performance was an early indication of the suppressed rage Abraham could muster in films such as Brian De Palma's Scarface (1983), as a foul-tempered drug dealer who is more than he appears to be.

Abraham never gave up in the pursuit of his dreams. Nor should we.

Copyright © 2009 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

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