Thursday, August 30, 2012

In Memoriam: Wesley Lau

This is memorial post two of two for today. If you come for the first time and see this post at the top, please scroll down to also see the first one.

Ah, Wesley Lau. I find it intriguing how I’m always lukewarm about replacements but almost always end up loving them. Wesley and his Perry characters Amory Fallon and Lieutenant Anderson have touched me deeply over the past months. Wesley managed to become my second-favorite Perry actor, along with William Talman.

Both William and Wesley were highly talented and highly underrated. They played everything from cowboys to killers (as Wesley said about himself), and everything in between! I’ve delighted to view them in the various movies and television series in which they took part.

I first had an inkling of how multi-faceted Wesley was when I saw his portrayal of the agonized, stressed Amory Fallon, a character so different from Lieutenant Anderson and yet still possessing some of the same mannerisms and speech patterns (possibly because they’re Wesley’s own). As I began to view his various guest-spots on television shows, I became more and more aware of just how incredible an actor he was.

Just as an example, I viewed the first of two Peter Gunn episodes in which he takes part. He plays Joe Scully, a male nurse and assistant to an invalid woman. The woman is mysteriously shot and Joe flees, terrified that he will be implicated. When Peter finally tracks him down, he finds a frightened, guilt-stricken, timid man, domineered by his cold-hearted wife. Apparently Joe was part of a plot to con the woman out of her money. It had worked; she named him in her will. But he is a changed man. Although he originally became her nurse with those ulterior motives in mind, he came to honestly care about her. When he found out she was going to be shot and killed, he was horrified.

Overall it’s a rather depressing episode. The woman wasn’t killed when she was shot, but for some reason, they had it mentioned in the epilogue that she later died. Peter and Lieutenant Jacoby are talking and it’s mentioned that she was never told the truth about Joe.

I was left a little uncertain as to why they seemed to be painting Joe as such a horrid person. Even if he started work with ulterior motives, it’s a beautiful thing that his attitude changed. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the episode, but perhaps the thing was that he didn’t try to stop the shooting even though he knew it was planned? If so, that is definitely horrid. But I can’t remember if he did nothing at all or if he tried to stop it.

EDIT: I saw the episode again and most emphatically confirm that Joe knew nothing of the plan at all. He wanted to divorce his wife, who really was a wretch, and marry the woman he was taking care of. That was when his wife decided to kill her, not because of jealousy, but because she wanted the money from the inheritance, which she could still get if she framed Joe for the murder. Joe knew nothing about any of it until Louise, the woman, was shot.

And I decided I had to give him and Louise a happy ending, because the whole thing was just too depressing and horrible for them. I wrote a short follow-up to the episode.

In any case, Joe is a character worlds apart from honest, upright, serious Lieutenant Anderson.

And Emil Sande is worlds apart from both of them.

A mercenary merchant based in San Antonio, Emil is smooth-talking, snarky, and absolutely doesn’t get along with Davy Crockett’s easy-going manner in The Alamo. He’s also set his sights on the lovely young Graciela (whose complete name is really a mouthful) and wants to marry her, for reasons unknown. He already seems to own her family’s property, and he tries to convince her to marry him because he knows she wants to get it back and he tells that’s the only way she’ll manage to retrieve any of it. A very self-assured sort, he tells her that she’ll eventually say Yes, even if she deliberates over it for a while. It’s practical and logical and she’ll come to that conclusion.

He’s right about that. Graciela, despite not liking him, determines to go through with the marriage. She would have, if not for a chain of events that happens that same night.

Graciela supports the rebellion and the fight for Texas independence. She takes quite a shine to Davy (as he does to her) and ends up telling him about the weapons Emil had stashed for General Santa Anna under the church. When Davy and his rebel group go to get them, Emil is waiting. While trying to keep them from taking his stockpile, he’s killed by Davy throwing Jim Bowie’s knife.

Something about the character appealed to me. Naturally Wesley’s portrayal had a lot to do with that. And I just couldn’t feel that he deserved death. I felt very sorry for him when Davy had to kill him in self-defense. I mean, these people are coming in to take his stuff. What’s Emil going to do but fight back?

There’s also some very interesting things I discovered while reading between the lines. I wonder both if he was really as bad as all that and what the extent of the relationship was between him and Graciela. When Davy wonders if she would like him to throw Emil out of her house because she doesn’t seem to like his company, she tells him that she is in no danger. Emil is apparently close enough to her to call her by her first name (albeit not by the nickname her closest friends use). And when Davy tells Graciela that Emil is dead, she says his death isn’t worth tears and yet she cries anyway (although she attributes it to feeling overwhelmed by so many things happening to her lately).

Emil is a character. Davy has to press and press to get him to pay the boy who takes Graciela’s luggage up to her house. The scene is highly amusing. Davy keeps wanting to talk to him, and Emil keeps opening the door for two seconds, doing what he thinks Davy wants, and then shutting the door again. But he doesn’t stick around long enough, so Davy keeps knocking and the cycle repeats. Emil is finally so annoyed that he answers the door with his gun.

I was so fascinated by the character and determined to refuse to accept his death that I immediately started a project of connected scenes or vignettes, exploring the idea of what if he was not dead, but badly injured, and he survived. And what if he slowly began to have a change of heart as he was nursed back to health?

It’s a very interesting project. Mostly it consists of soliloquies and dialogues involving Emil and Graciela, with the occasional action-oriented scene. Emil is a lot of fun to write. His snarky and smooth speech patterns are unique and amusing. And without too many scenes in the movie to go on for other personality elements, I borrowed traits from some of Wesley’s other characters for other scenes. He is confused and frustrated over his changing attitudes and conflicted feelings, and any stressed scenes are based on Amory Fallon’s behavior. Whenever a bit of a long-buried kind side surfaces, that is also based on either Amory or Andy. Then, at other times, I gather all the various knowledge I have about any of Wesley’s characters that would fit and try to create something a little bit different and new. I definitely want Emil to sound like one of Wesley’s characters, as well he should.

I’d really like to mention his character Staff Meeker in the Law of the Plainsman episode Stella, but this post is getting quite long. Staff is quite adorable, though. He does participate in a bank robbery, but he doesn’t want to and he doesn’t hurt anyone. He seems very timid and shy and gentle. He only became involved in the robbery because his tough wife wanted to and she wanted the money. His wife, Stella, and her brothers were the ones calling the shots.

Gah, Stella treats him cruel. When they’re arguing about the robbery and the money and how reluctant he is to do anything about it (one brother says they had to force him just to strap on a gun), he finally exclaims, “Why did you marry me?!” Stella replies that she was lonely and he was there and asked her. And she says he’s nothing. Oh goodness, he looks so crushed. He says in despair, “I love you!”

Stella finally softens after talking with the show’s awesome main character, an Apache federal marshal. When the brothers come back after recovering the money which was hidden, they corner the marshal and are treating him cruel. Then they want Stella to shoot him. Staff protests, and between him and the marshal, Stella is finally convinced to side with them and not with her brothers. Staff is hurt in a fight with one of the brothers, but is alright. The marshal promises to testify in his and Stella’s behalf at their trial.

We never really do see if Stella treats Staff any better, though. I think I ought to write a little scene of them talking in jail.

I could go on for pages if I tried to discuss all of Wesley’s variously fascinating characters. I am also highly intrigued by his character Carl Armory from the Bonanza episode Her Brother’s Keeper. I’m writing a vignette series about him and his sister, too. And I even wrote a silly addendum to an equally silly episode of a show called The Law and Mr. Jones. I was most unsatisfied with the episode’s conclusion and I endeavored to “fix” it in a way that would please me.

I imagine it’s very unnatural to become so fascinated by minor and/or oneshot characters. And yet on the other hand, the production crew often has specific people in mind for the parts because they want them to attract the audience’s attention. I like to think it’s a tribute to them, the scriptwriters, and of course the actors, when a character is portrayed so well that someone is intrigued and wants there to be more of that character. That’s how some oneshot characters ended up recurring or even becoming cast regulars, after all.

I have been considering off and on making some websites for specific Perry actors as Crystal and I have done for Simon Oakland. I would like to start with Wesley, since I feel he sometimes is lost in the shuffle when he wasn’t one of the original Core Five cast members. Hardly anything is actually known about Wesley, either, and whether that’s because his family honestly wants it that way or because information has simply been lost to time, we have no idea. But if it’s the latter, then I say it’s high-time that information is found and Wesley is properly honored as one of the great character actors of the Golden Age of Television.

Wesley Albert Lau: Passed away August 30th, 1984. Still sorely missed and well-loved.

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