Background Underscores Movie Career
BOSTON - The voice on the line
is calm, quiet, and that of SSgt. Kitsakos. "Want a
mission?" Somehow not to be resisted. Deliver famous
actor and former Marine Harvey Keitel a Marine Corps or
flag lapel pin and get an interview. Now. At his hotel
in Boston. On a Friday. During rush hour. Thirty miles
away. Mission accepted.
Enter Lt. Col. John Monahan.
Rendezvous for the pins: no problem. Problem. The
uniform shop has everything but. Buy everything they
have. Thanks, Colonel, for the military ID - and the
Chaos in Boston, as usual. Valet
is very accommodating, so is the desk clerk. "Go on up.
Room 423. He's been waiting for you." At the entrance to
a private hall of three suites waits twenty-something
Megan. She's waiting for his drinks - and running
Immediately Mr. Keitel pads out of
the furthest door, comfortably barefoot on the luxury
carpet. Under a brass chandelier he's smiling.
"Meriwether? CorpsStories? Welcome, I'll be just a few
more minutes. Go to the bar. Or hang out with Megan.
Great to see you." A typical Marine grip handshake and
Megan is keeping him on time for
the pre-premier party. In forty-five minutes he and
movie director Tim Blake Nelson will be on the second
floor meeting the press, an hour before The
Grey Zonepremieres at the Boston Film Festival.
Megan makes a call - only 80 seats left. Keitel rarely
gives interviews, but someone did something right
because the Metro West Daily News is wrapping up. Megan
politely interrupts. One reporter out, one in.
They're all waiting and smiling.
Feels like meeting with four-star General Pete Pace.
Nelson is very relaxed and happy.
He's in his thirties. Nelson and Keitel are both Jewish.
"I thing it's important we do this," Keitel says to
Nelson, possibly referring to working on the first night
of Rosh Hashanah.
Whatever crime against God is
surely forgiven by the work. The movie is a very unique
one - and the source of the phrase: truth is stranger
than fiction. It tells the story of the only armed
uprising at Auschwitz. To extend their lives a few
months, Jews worked the incinerators, killing their own.
One young girl miraculously survives the gassing and the
workers seek to see her survive.
Keitel is smiling, anxious, "did
you bring me something?!" Fishing the little gray bag
out of the briefcase. Keitel sits close on a loveseat,
like an old friend. He sorts out the items on the coffee
table. No Marine Corps lapel pin. Flag pin, flag and POW
flag pin, uniform insignia, and cufflinks, stickers.
He's disappointed. And trying to hide it. "I'll take
these things back with me. It's OK. It's OK."
Keitel confides he'd like to see
all serving and former Marines wear the pin when not in
He puts them in his bag and
returns to sitting inches away. He's so warm. And his
eyes are so gentle - and very focused. "Ask me that
question about the Marine Corps." Keitel served from
1956-59, and won a medal for his service as a fire team
leader in Lebanon in 1958.
"I learned one of my life lessons
in the Marine Corps. I was on a night combat course. You
couldn't see your hand in front of your face. I was
scared. The instructor was standing on a platform and
said, 'we're all afraid of the dark, but I'm going to
teach you to live in the nighttime.
"Anytime I felt anything
difficult, I felt darkness - and I could survive in it.
For me the Marine Corps was a spiritual journey. It's
not about war. It only because the spirit has been so
deeply manifested that Marines have been so successful.
"Our duty is to protect those who
do not have the means to protect themselves and that we
were there is the sum of doing what is right."
Keitel implies that he'd like more
time, but he knows he's prioritized his thoughts and
Time to get to the party. Megan
graciously insists on providing a seat at the premiere.
Pictures taken and briefcase packed; last reporter out.
A call from behind and another
warm Keitel smile. "Meriwether, Semper Fi. And tell the
Colonel, 'thank you'."
Editors Note: Special thanks
to SSgt. Alex Kitsakos (NYPD) and Lt. Col. Monahan for
their invaluable contributions to this story.