Tuesday 31 January 2017

Don't look now

I don't know if you caught this piece over the weekend, recounting a chance meeting over the weekend with a movie star whose surreptitious advice helps the honeymooning author to win a chess game against her husband.

According to her:
On one night, it was not looking good. Jason, who is much more of a strategist than me, had already claimed several of my pieces. Grinning at the prospect of another victory, he disappeared to the toilet while I considered my next move

At that moment, a shadow loomed over me, and a gravelly voice interrupted my glum thoughts of defeat. "You need to move that piece there," explained the voice. "And when you’ve done that, move this piece over here."
The gravelly voice turns out to belong to Donald Sutherland (The Dirty Dozen, Don't Look Now).

She continues:
the sight of Hawkeye Pierce from the film version of M*A*S*H giving me tips on how to win at chess rendered me practically speechless.
Now personally I think it would terrify the shit out of me, but that's because I've seen Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers.

Anyway it all ends happily
When Jason reappeared I casually moved my pieces as suggested, and within a few minutes victory was mine
which is unusual for a Donald Sutherland production.

Well, I wasn't there, and maybe everything happened just as described. Still, some of us are a little over-familiar with celebrities-who-play-chess stories. So when we're told a movie star apparently spotted, while kibitzing, a miraculous win in an apparently lost position several pieces down, and they weren't Humphrey Bogart or anybody with some actual recorded history of interest in chess, we, ah, rub our chins. We squint a bit. We're just a little sceptical.

Now as it happens there is (or was) a Don Sutherland who played chess to a good level - he won the 1965 California State Championship. He also won the 1973 Colorado Championship - and the Armed Forces State Championship, since he was an Air Force Sergeant. Our Donald Sutherland was a tank platoon commander, but not in Colorado.

So has Sutherland ever played a recorded game of chess, or even confessed to a passing interest in the game? He does appear in front of a chessboard in Joanna (1968)

which I haven't seen but which appears to be something of a period piece. Regrettably there is no chess from the film available on YouTube, unless we convince ourselves that that's a chess motif on the curtain at the start.

So how did Sutherland suddenly morph into a chess magician in the presence of a former show business journalist?

Who can say. Maybe he got lucky. Maybe we all just get lucky once in a while.


Anonymous said...

I understand that at one point he was a chess instructor for the Chess'n Math Association in Toronto, Canada.

Mike said...

Interesting reference in this interview with Paul (Blake's 7) Darrow: