To the Editor:
Last winter, I went to the Sundance Film Festival. On my second day there, after many an espresso, I found myself with a ticket to the premiere to “The Man from Elysian Fields.” I knew nothing about the movie except that Mick Jagger was featured in a prominent role.
On the cold, crisp evening the main auditorium was filled with 1,200 warm bodies. The film passed by swiftly and boasted a supporting role from the late James Coburn. The screening ended with a warm round of applause and a question and answer period featuring, among others, Coburn, Andy Garcia and director George Hickenlooper.
The questions danced around the patiently waiting Coburn. Finally, a comment arrived from a man in the balcony: “Mr. Coburn, I thought you were dead.” The uncomfortable shrug and stillness of the crowd put an immediate damper on what so far had been a glorious evening.
Just then, I stood up from seat in the back of the auditorium and said pointedly, “Perhaps Mr. Coburn can tell us about his life-affirming and powerful performance we saw here tonight.” The crowd applauded and Coburn, flattered, strong and yet humble expressed himself in the manner of the intelligent and thoughtful artist that he was.
The next day in the crowded hall of the same theatre, I ran into Coburn in the lobby. His openess and willingness to engage me in conversation was more than enough to make the entire Sundance trip worthwhile. He laughed when heard of my role in the conversation the night before. He reached out and shook my hand.
Warmth, fortitude and conviction radiated from this man; it was all there in his hands, his voice, his smile.
Coburn will always be alive in my memory.