For many years Ben Stein has written a biweekly
column called "Monday Night At Morton's." (Morton's is a
famous chain of Steakhouses known to be frequented by movie stars
and famous people from around the globe.) Now, Ben is
terminating the column to move on to other things in his life.
Reading his final column is worth a few minutes of your
Ben Stein's Last Column...
How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane
Luxury Be a Star in Today's World?
As I begin to write
this, I "slug" it, as we writers say, which means I put a heading
on top of the document to identify it. This heading is
"eonline FINAL," and it gives me a shiver to write it. I
have been doing this column for so long that I cannot even recall
when I started. I loved writing this column so much for so
long I came to believe it would never end.
It worked well
for a long time, but gradually, my changing as a person and the
world's change have overtaken it. On a small scale,
Morton's, while better than ever, no longer attracts as many stars
as it used to. It still brings in the rich people in droves
and definitely some stars. I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a
few days ago, and we had a nice visit, and right before that, I
saw and had a splendid talk with Warren Beatty in an elevator, in
which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass was a super
movie. But Morton's is not the star galaxy it once was,
though it probably will be again.
Beyond that, a bigger
change has happened. I no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly
important. They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people, and
they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But a man
or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting
them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star
we should all look up to.
How can a man or woman who makes
an eight-figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star
in today's world, if by a "star" we mean someone bright and
powerful and attractive as a role model? Real stars are not
riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or getting
trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they
have Vietnamese girls do their nails.
They can be
interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any
longer. A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry
Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit,
Iraq. He could
have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets. Instead,
he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the
decent people of the world.
A real star is the
who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad. He approached it,
and the bomb went off and killed him.
A real star, the kind
who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad
who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance
on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed
her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He
left a family desolate in California and a little girl alive in
The stars who
deserve media attention are not the ones who have lavish weddings
on TV but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even
after two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered
and stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from
We put couples with incomes of $100 million a
year on the covers of our magazines. The noncoms and
officers who barely scrape by on military pay but stand on guard
and Iraq and on
ships and in submarines and near the Arctic
Circle are anonymous as they live and die.
no longer comfortable being a part of the system that has such
poor values, and I do not want to perpetuate those values by
pretending that who is eating at Morton's is a big
There are plenty of other stars in the American
firmament... the policemen and women who go off on patrol in South
Central and have no idea if they will return alive; the orderlies
and paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible
accidents and prepare them for surgery; the teachers and nurses
who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children;
the kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer
Think of each and every fireman who was running up
the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began
to collapse. Now you have my idea of a real hero.
came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one
that matters. This is my highest and best use as a
human. I can put it another way. Years ago, I realized
I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic
as Steve Martin... or Martin Mull or Fred Willard -- or as good an
economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as
Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of
But I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to
my wife and, above all, a good son to the parents who had done so
much for me. This came to be my main task in life. I
did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife and
well indeed with my parents (with my sister's help). I cared
for and paid attention to them in their declining years. I
stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then
into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me
reading him the Psalms.
This was the only point at which my
life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in
York. I came to realize that life
lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is
my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me,
to help others He has placed in my path. This is my highest
and best use as a human.
Faith is not believing that God
can. It is knowing that God will.
truly take a lot for granted.
Forget the Hollywood "stars" and the sports "heroes"...
and pass this on!