I was watching the (scary, excellent) Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House,” and it took four episodes to notice that the housekeeper was played by Annabeth Gish. She was not considered stellar enough to include in the opening credits, and her name slipped by quickly at the end. But it was good to see her name.
Annabeth Gish! She’s nearing 50 now, but back in 1988 she was a stunning teenager being groomed for can’t miss stardom. The Hollywood PR machine worked diligently to present her as can’t miss Hollywood royalty, the descendants of silent movie legends Dorothy and Lillian Gish, the latter actress being both alive and actively singing Annabeth’s praises. (In truth, they were unrelated, two random Gishes in the wind.) Annabeth was awarded top billing in a major studio coming-of-age comedy, “Mystic Pizza.” The movie was a critical and box office hit, too, but Gish’s career promise was slammed in the face by a two-by-four named Julia Roberts, who had the “it” factor in such abundance that Gish, despite a more prominent role and a competent performance, seemed palid and outmatched by comparison. She never got a starring role in a major film again, because, as was immediately apparent, Annabeth Gish wasn’t a star. She was just a smart, attractive, hard-working young actress, and that was all she would ever be until she became a a smart, attractive, hard-working middle-aged actress.
Most of us have to face the reality that our greatest aspirations and potential not only won’t be realized, but that we will never approach them. When that awful moment of enlightenment arrives, the ethical response is to just keep charging ahead, trying to get better, work harder, be a good co-worker, colleague, neighbor, friend, parent, spouse, family member, whatever it takes. That moment is disappointing, sure, but it need not be devastating, nor should it be seen as a brand of failure. We succeed in life, and become ethical human beings, not by becoming the best, most powerful, most famous, but by doing the best we can do. What levels of success others achieve is not our standard, except to recognize a fellow Earth occupant’s good work.
Annabeth Gish, like Moonlight Graham says in “Field of Dreams,” came “this close” to her dream and then watched it brush past her “like a stranger in a crowd.” I know what it feels like; you probably do too. I’ve had the proverbial brass ring this close to my grasp, only to have the Merry-Go-Round sweep past, and to see someone else take the prize. That’s just life—my father’s favorite expression. You win by going on, not looking back, not being poisoned by regret. self-recriminations or fury at the universe.
Annabelle Gish has won. She has almost hundred TV and movie credits, and is still a working actress: A new film, “The Rum of the World,” is in pre-production. She’s been happily married for 15 years—no easy accomplishment in her field—and has two sons. She does charity work, and can look at her life so far as being positive and productive, even if she isn’t among the elite of her profession, or any profession. If we are lucky, and learn the right lessons from life’s mistakes, traps and bad jokes, most of us are Annabeth Gish. You’re Annabeth Gish. I’m Annabeth Gish. Annabeth Gish is Annabeth Gish.
Good for her.