The Netflix movie de la nuit on Thursday was All the President’s Men. It’s hard to believe a crusty old newspaper person like myself has never seen it, although in my defense I have read the book about the Watergate scandal on which it was based, by ace reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. (Obligatory parenthetical aside: If I had a nickel for every movie I could say that about, I’d be a rich, rich woman indeed.)
It’s a very good movie, and I’m glad I finally saw it. I was worried that the nostalgia would make me all weepy for those long-lost golden days of yore, when newspapers were guardians of the public interest and hewed closely to Finley Peter Dunne’s admonition to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” instead of Wall Street’s relentless earnings per share drumbeat. I’m not sure why it didn’t. Maybe it’s because at the time of Watergate (1972-74) I was still in elementary school. By the time I landed my first newspaper job in 1983 (sports stringer for the Daily Review Atlas) there were computers on the newsroom desks, not electric typewriters, and no one was meeting anonymous sources in badly lit underground parking garages (not least because there were no parking garages, underground or otherwise, in Monmouth, Ill., pop. 9,900. Heck, there were only two elevators in the whole town, not counting the grain elevator).
But I digress. Early on in the movie, there’s a scene in which Bob Woodward (played by Robert Redford) goes to the courthouse where the Watergate burglars are being arraigned. He gets his first real hint that a big story is afoot when he finds out the burglars, supposed low-lifes from Miami, have lawyered up with some high-priced legal talent. One of those attorneys looked sort of familiar, and definitely sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place him. (I don’t know about you, but this happens to me all the time.) He was only in the one scene, so there was no chance for his name to sneak up on me when I wasn’t paying attention. I checked the end credits for a familiar name, but didn’t see anything that clicked.
Tonight I surfed over to the Internet Movie Database, where I knew that if the name I sought was known to anyone in the world, it would be listed there. And sure enough, with the help of a tiny head shot, I found the name I sought: Nicolas Coster. Yeah, it didn’t ring much of a bell with me, either. So I clicked through to his list of credits, which is … extensive, to say the least. Was it possible, I wondered as I scrolled, that his familiarity was the cumulative effect of his many guest appearances in apparently every TV series ever filmed? I had just about decided that it was, when I saw this:
Yes, Nicolas Coster played Lionel Lockridge in 257 episodes of Santa Barbara, a particularly frothy soap opera of the 1980s that had none of the camp or kitsch of Days of Our Lives (which I also watched) or All My Children (which I didn’t). I don’t know exactly how many of those 257 episodes I actually saw, but it pains me to say I think it was most of them up to about 1987. Still living at home with a soap-mad mother, working mostly mornings and nights at the Review Atlas, what else was there to do in the afternoon? The lamest excuse ever: We didn’t have cable TV.
I’d like to think I remember ole Nicolas from some other part of his oeuvre, perhaps his no-doubt riveting portrayal of Chester Gaddis in the seminal two-part Matlock episode “The Trial.” Or perhaps his five-episode run on The Facts of Life. Or his one-off appearances in Hart to Hart or Quincy M.E. or even, God help us, T.J. Hooker. (All of which I watched regularly. Shut up.) But, no. I think Santa Barbara is where our paths crossed most memorably. Thinking back, I can hardly remember who that girl was, or what she thought she was doing wasting all that time on garbage television. I want to travel back in time and shake her by the shoulders and say, “Wake up! Life is shorter than you think! Go do something important! Or at least interesting!” Or something you won’t be chagrined to write about on the Internet in 25 years. Sheesh.