26 July 2014
The Kevin Bacon Game
“It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to have to paint it.” Stephen Wright (American Actor and Writer b.1955)
Yesterday my daughter, Michelle, got married. We received many overseas guests particularly from Chile where my wife comes from. At a dinner party earlier in the week we were listening to music on our son’s iPad. A song by Edith Piaf came up and one of my wife’s oldest friends mentioned that she had met the famous French singer on a cruise ship in the 1950s. That got me thinking about the Kevin Bacon game. (See my blog Networking and the six degrees of separation 29th August 2009 tag Networking)
At University Michelle, played a game with her friends called the Kevin Bacon game. The trivia game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is based on a variation of the concept of the small world phenomenon and states that any actor can be linked, through their film roles, to actor Kevin Bacon. The game requires a group of players to try to connect any film actor in history to Kevin Bacon in as few links as possible. The game was played across various college campuses as early as the 1990s.
Kevin Bacon is not a particularly distinguished actor but he’s appeared in a lot of films with a lot of people and it is quite remarkable how few steps are needed to connect him with more established stars of a bygone era. For example, Humphrey Bogart has a Bacon number of 2. Humphrey Bogart was in The Wagons Roll at Night (1941) with Eddie Albert. Eddie Albert was in The Big Picture (1989) with Kevin Bacon. Cary Grant also has a Bacon number of 2. Cary Grant was in Charade (1963) with WalterMatthau. Walter Matthau was in JFK (1991) with Kevin Bacon. Lucille Ball has a Bacon number of 2. Lucille Ball was in Yours, Mine and Ours (1968) with Stuart Nisbet . Stuart Nisbet was in Murder in the First (1995) with Kevin Bacon.
Rudolph Valentino has a Bacon number of 3. Rudolph Valentino was in A Sainted Devil (1924) with Jean Del Val. Jean Del Val was in Seven Thieves (1960) with Eli Wallach. Eli Wallach was in Mystic River (2003) with Kevin Bacon. Charles Chaplin also has a Bacon number of 3. Charles Chaplin was in A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) with John Sterland . John Sterland was in Dark Corners (2006) with Michael J. Reynolds. Michael J. Reynolds was in Where the Truth Lies (2005) with Kevin Bacon . You get the idea.
I play a variation on the Kevin Bacon game connecting myself to random figures in recent history. Thus I can connect to Stalin in 3, Mao Tse-Tung in 3 and Hitler in just 2. At Sony I met Edward Heath who as a young man had visited Germany and met Hitler. Churchill met Stalin at Yalta, Tehran and Potsdam and I have met several people who knew Churchill (2). Among the closest connections was Henrietta Spenser-Churchill who went out with Farad Azima, my first Chairman at NXT plc. My wife Carmen had a close relationship with Renato Poblete, a distinguished priest in Chile who ran a famous charity, Hogar Del Cristo. He met Kissinger (2) a number of times and Kissinger, of course, brokered rapprochement with Mao before setting up the famous meeting with President Nixon.
Among the Royals I have never met the Queen although I have seen her many times, first at my school on the occasion of its 450th anniversary, then countless times at Royal Ascot, and across a crowded lawn at her garden party in Buckingham Palace. However, I have met all of her children a number of times. Of these I had the pleasure of working with HRH Prince Charles as a member of an advisory board to the Duchy of Cornwall, which led to the launch of Duchy Originals. Prince Charles, representing the Queen, will have met many of the world’s leaders, including famously Robert Mugabe (2), as well as many other famous celebrities, including equally famously The Three Degrees. But then I have also met Sheila Ferguson. Royal connections can be a little obtuse. For example, I have met Princess Anne whose Aunt, Princess Margaret knew Gore Vidal (3) who in turn knew Greta Garbo (4).
Eduardo Peña, a Spanish diplomat who befriended Carmen’s mother and helped Carmen when she lived in Spain has met King Carlos, and that puts me just 3 from Franco. A Chilean friend of ours, Juanita Subercaseaux, the daughter of a diplomat, remembers sitting next to the son of Benito Mussolini (3) at school.
I met General Pinochet when I lived in Chile and Carmen’s mother knew Salvador Allende who in turn knew Fidel Castro (3). Castro in turn had of course worked with Che Guevara (4). Tim Allan worked for Alistair Campbell at 10, Downing Street and then set up his own PR agency. He pitched for my business when I was at NXT and now includes President Putin (2) among his clients.
Of the more legitimate generals I can connect to Field Marshals Montgomery and Slim in just 2 and through them to most of the Second War generals in 3. At school a young but already ambitious Michael Wood, who was to go on to find fame as a TV historian, engaged in correspondence in The Times defending Viscount Montgomery’s version of events against the criticisms of Corelli Barnett. A delighted Monty (2) invited Mike down to have lunch at the House of Lords. Monty obviously worked with Eisenhower (3), Patton (3) and the rest. I have since got to know Monty’s son, the current Viscount Montgomery who is a stalwart of the Anglo-Chilean society of which my wife is Vice-Chairman. I once had lunch at the House of Lords and found myself sitting next to Viscount Slim whose father Bill Slim (2) had led the troops, including my father, in Burma. Slim later went to Australia as Governor General. His Prime Minister was the great Robert Menzies (3).
Continuing the political connections of recent Prime Ministers of Great Britain I have met Blair, Major and Heath. Brown (2) has chaired a committee supported by my sister Angela and, while I sadly never met Margaret Thatcher (2), I have met many who worked for her including my current MP, Peter Lilley. Thatcher of course knew Reagan (3) and Gorbachev (3) among others.
As a student in Minnesota I met Senator Charles Percy who knew Nixon (2) and from there if you like we can go to John F. Kennedy (3) and Marilyn Monroe (4). My banker in Chile, Jim Callahan, met Jimmy Carter (2). More recently I met Martin Gilbert, Churchill´s second official biographer who took over from Randolph (2). Randolph was married to Pamela Harriman who also married Averell Harriman.
A more exotic connection can be made through Lord Howard of Rising, with whom I had lunch, who as a young man was Private Secretary to Enoch Powell (2). Angelica Van Damm, the wife of a long term Chilean consul in London, had met Nelson Mandela (2) as, of course, did Desmond Tutu whom I met last year in London.
Sir Leon Brittan came to Sony’s HQ in Weybridge for tea one day. As European Commissioner he met Francois Mitterrand (2) who as a young politician had met General De Gaulle (3). Margaret Beckett also came to tea while in opposition. Later as Foreign Secretary (yes, really!) she met Kofi Annan (2) and everyone else in the diplomatic world. Mrs. Beckett also joined us for our 30th anniversary reception in Golden Square. Peter Mandelson and Peter Hain were also there. Peter Mandelson went on to become a European Commissioner meeting up with Romano Prodi (2) and all the other European leaders while Hain became Northern Island secretary thus connecting us to the political leadership of the IRA, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness (2)
Turning to the world of celebrities it is easy to cut corners here still playing within the rules of the game. If we have met one of the media interviewers who in turn has met everyone then the connexions will be short. For example, at Sony we sponsored the Radio Awards. Our compère for a number of years was Michael Aspel who in turn has met a huge number of people on his chat show or as host of “This is your life”. I have not met Michael Parkinson but I’ve met a few who have e.g. Jimmy Tarbuck entertained a Sony Dealer conference once. Thus we can connect through those two to Fred Astaire (3), James Stewart (3) et al and not long before he died at a private dinner in London I met David Frost who really has met everyone.
Similarly in sport Desmond Lynam was a guest at Sony Radio Awards once. He has interviewed many of the top sportsmen from Muhammad Ali (2) down. When I was playing football for New College our college porter Tony Padley had a connection with Oxford United. They had done well winning promotion from the old Southern League to the Second Division of the Football League in just a few seasons. Ron Atkinson was in that side whom I later met in Thailand but the manager was one Arthur Turner. Tony arranged for him to come along and coach us one evening. We were already in our kit but he just delivered a homily in a West Midlands monotone. “You start off with a draw” was one of his gems, and “You name them, I’ve played against them”. He would not have heard of the Kevin Bacon game but if he had I’m sure he could have helped me with Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, Tommy Lawton and the rest. Anyway, it will all be in the record books somewhere. I have had a beer with Bobby Charlton who played with Duncan Edwards; I have dined with Denis Law who played against Alfredo Di Stefano. Of that 1968 European Cup winning Manchester United side I have also met Brian Kidd and Alex Stepney who famously saved from Eusebio and I have enjoyed a drink with George Best who Pele said was the best. Pele played against Geoff Hurst whom I met at a sales conference; I worked with Alan Mullery who played against Franz Beckenbauer, Emlyn Hughes who played against Johan Cruyff, and Terry Butcher who failed to stop Diego Maradona from scoring that wonder goal.
In other sports I have met Roger Black, Ian Botham, Seb Coe, Frank Dick, and Nick Faldo. Those few will connect me to any number of other famous sportsmen. I worked with Chris Brasher of Brasher Boot fame. I was on his Board for a while. Chris paced the first 4-minute mile for Roger Bannister (2). I knew Chris Bonington, the Everest climber, who climbed with most of the famous climbers of the last 30 years and outlived most of them.
In the Arts I had a sherry with Ludovic Kennedy and stupidly said I had read his book. He politely asked, “Which one?” I think he has written around 20. Ludovic is married to Moira Shearer (2) who must have danced with all the greats of her era and was directed in “The Red Shoes“ by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (3) who directed David Niven (4) in “A Matter of Life and Death.” (That’s more like the Kevin Bacon Game). Norio Ohga, my Chairman at Sony, had studied under Herbert Von Karajan (2) as a young baritone. He was at his deathbed. Von Karajan again connects us with leading Nazis but more interestingly with most of the top musicians of the last half of the 20th century. For example he conducted David Oistrakh (3), Sviatoslav Richter (3) and Mstislav Rostropovich(3) on one recording of the Beethoven Triple Concerto.
In Jazz I am indebted to the Sony Radio Awards for sitting me next to Humphrey Lyttelton who knew Louis Armstrong (2). My wife and I were lucky enough to go back stage to meet Tony Bennett after a sensational concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Tony can connect us with Frank Sinatra (2), Ava Gardner (2) and the rest of the rat pack. Ned Sherrin was also a guest at Radio Awards and among many others Ned knew Noel Coward (2). Another boy at my school, he was a few years senior to me but we shared a form room, was Robert Powell. At school he did a creditable King Lear (Mike Wood later did Hamlet!) and of course became famous as Jesus of Nazareth. However he is less remembered for a bit part in The Italian Job. That connects me to Michael Caine (2) and, if you like, Lawrence Olivier (3) in Sleuth. Olivier was married to Vivien Leigh (4) who in turn starred with Clark Gable (5) in Gone with the Wind.
But I can get to Gable more cheaply. One of Michelle’s bridesmaids, Daisy, is related to Hedy Lamarr who played with Gable (3) in Comrade X. This kind of connection is more fun. How about Mrs Moes, the mother of Cristiaan who married Lucero, Carmen’s sister? We met her at the wedding in Holland. Mrs Moes had known Mrs Hepburn, the mother of Audrey (3).
Here’s an example of how the game is played. Another of Michelle’s bridesmaids, Johanna, set me the challenge of connecting to James Joyce. I was reading some books on holiday; one by John Simpson, the BBC reporter, mentioned a long standing relationship he had had with Martha Gellhorn, one of Ernest Hemingway’s wives. In the same book he mentioned Michael Brunson, a rival ITV reporter whom I had met at a Sony event. Then on the same holiday I was reading a book by Ernest Hemingway in which he referred to meeting James Joyce in Paris. So there we have it DCP-Michael Brunson-John Simpson-Martha Gellhorn-Ernest Hemingway-James Joyce (5).And not to leave her out Michelle’s third bridesmaid, Danielle has met Princess Diana, but so have I a number of times including the wretched day her separation from Prince Charles was announced.
And I am holding the following up my sleeve. As a student at Oxford I worked one summer as an administrative assistant helping to organise an academic conference for NATO. This was attended by military and diplomatic representatives from all NATO countries and there were a few invited observers. The Israeli representative Colonel Sion was the daughter of Moshe Dayan (2), victor of the Six Days war. But I was particularly pleased to befriend a charming German diplomat, Freiherr Von Richthofen. His uncle had been the Red Baron himself, Baron Von Richthofen (2); the famous German First World War Air Ace who would have had several medals pinned on his chest by Kaiser Wilhelm (3).
Copyright David C Pearson 2014 All rights reserved
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