WHAT A BUNCH OF CHARACTERS! Famous Fictional Figures and How They Grew Up

by Tom McBride

The MINDSET LIST® proudly presents a new series on famed fictional characters. Here we treat them as real persons, offer a character sketch, and then unite them with famous people who died, or were born, the same year they were. We then present their personal Mindset Lists….


Here’s DONALD DUCK, and right after him you’ll find TONY SOPRANO. In future look for the likes of Jay Gatsby, Lucy Ricardo, Don Draper, Jerry Seinfeld, Captain Kirk, and more. Have fun…..


Donald Duck


Donald Duck has always been #2, or perhaps he is 1A. #1 has always been Mickey Mouse, likely the most recognized such rodent in the world. Donald is probably the most recognized duck, but given the existence of Daffy, we cannot even say that for sure. This is just one of the ambiguities that Donald has to put up with, but he is indefatigable, so it is improbable that such uncertainty and second fiddling will defeat him.



Donald was born in 1934 (in a short cartoon called The Wise Little Hen) and was named after an Australian cricket player named Donald Bradman, who was once “dismissed” for a “duck,” which in cricket means that he did not score a point (a “duck” is linked to a duck’s egg, which is linked to a zero) and so was “dismissed” from the game. This is a fancy way of saying, in baseball lingo, that Bradman was called “out.” But because he was a Donald and because he was “dismissed for a duck,” Donald was named after him. Such was the logic of nomenclature for Donald’s parents, the Disney Studios. But more ordinary parents have probably done worse.


There is no certain record as to how Mr. Bradman reacted to his being dismissed, but if he did so with equanimity, he would have been different from his namesake, who would have reacted with irascibility, accompanied by a phrase (for which he became famous) such as “What’s the big idea?” or “Aw, phooey.” Nor would such phrases have been easy to understand, for Donald has a duck’s way of articulating and pronouncing English. He quacks his words. In time, however, the average person can grasp what he is saying. Just as Donald often has trouble adjusting to the world, hearers may have a little trouble adjusting to his speech. But the hearers will have the easier time of it, for Donald is a slow-to-adjust duck who will always have trouble negotiating with the world as it is.


He is, though, a generally upbeat fellow—until something goes wrong. The English novelist Evelyn Waugh once said that before the First World War if one thing went wrong, it ruined the day; after the war, if one thing went right, it made the day. Donald is definitely pre-War. Just one thing wrong, and he is in a temperamental orbit. Always attired in what must be thought a finite wardrobe (sailor suit and red or black bowtie), anger is virtually his default mechanism. It is the emotional backdrop against which everything else is measured as we observe DD’s demeanor. This fury is his own worst foe, and this is saying a lot, because Donald has lots of really terrible foes, including (massive) kites, sharks, ghosts, impish chipmunks (named Chip n’Dale), opportunistic and grunting bears (including Humphrey), and a wolf sorcerer named Merlock, from whom Donald rescues his girlfriend Daisy. Donald’s temper often makes him overestimate his abilities in competition and against whatever Hell other people are visiting upon him.


Yet the sheer energy of his choleric nature serves him well. He once saved his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie by punching out a shark. (These are Donald’s nephews, by the way—they really are—and not Daisy’s sons by a previous marriage.) Unfortunately, even when Donald wins—which is frequently—he is only happy until something else makes him mad. Yet at his core he is a good fellow. He can be a bully and a tease, but he isn’t malicious. He feels regret when he goes too far. Once he thought one of his pranks had meant the death of his nephews and cried real tears upon seeing Huey above with angel wings. But then he lost even a semblance of control when he realized he’d been suckered. He does not like being on the receiving end of pranks. That has so far not cured him of fomenting his own.


He is also lazy—he likes hammocks altogether too much—but apparently the sheer adrenaline of his temper compensates for what must otherwise be a generally slipshod physical condition. Ostensibly, then, you don’t have to jog or lift weights if you have as many antagonists as our Donald does. They include, even, Mickey Mouse, a rival of whom Donald is jealous. When Mickey was kidnapped, DD was the chief suspect, though he later cleared his name. He wishes “The Mickey Mouse Club” had been “The Donald Duck Club,” but now, it is said, he cares less because no one much remembers the old club anyhow—no one but a bunch of seventy year olds. Back in the club’s heyday, there was a relatively faint echo: a couple of times, during the many iterations of “Mickey Mouse” in the theme song, one of the singing club members would also intone “Donald Duck!” as a sort of consolation prize for our favorite grouchy warbler. Donald no doubt would have muttered, “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy,” as though to ask, “Is that all I get?” Yet he is always devoted to Daisy—his #1 fan ever—and always addresses her with “Hiya, toots!” At least we think that’s what he’s saying.




For Donald, born 1934, the following have always been dead:


Madame Marie Curie. She was the quintessential brilliant—but humane and modest—scientist, who took her award money and gave it away to struggling researchers. In this sense she was the anti-Donald. Yet she also discovered the element radium, which allowed future scientists to develop atomic energy. This led to the atomic bomb, so by the time 1945 rolled around Donald, then eleven, and his many fans had yet one more thing to quack nervously about.


Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrows, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Pretty Boy Floyd. All these desperadoes, stars of America’s greatest crime spree, died the same year Donald was born. The came of age in hard times, when autos had gotten fast, guns deadly, and bank-robbing almost semi-respectable in some parts of the country, where Depression foreclosures were unpopular. But they were killers, all of them. Donald would have had an extremely tough time protecting Daisy from them, but then Donald specialized in big kites and sharks.


Ernst Rohm. He was a prominent Nazi ally of Hitler who fell victim to the Fuhrer’s treachery during the Night of the Long Knives, a ghastly series of assassinations that occurred during Donald’s birth year. Hitler and Rohm were at odds because Adolf wanted to make his army of thugs semi-respectable while Rohm insisted that they remain the extra-legal bullies they had always been. In time Hitler went from this victory to becoming the architect of World War II. In a movie filmed in London during the war’s last year (Brief Encounter), a character says that whatever the world’s coming to, there’s always the humor of Donald Duck. Hitler, cognizant of certain defeat, killed himself shortly thereafter; Donald is still with us.


Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She wrote one of America’s greatest short stories (“The Yellow Wallpaper”), about the madness of a woman confined by her husband to a “rest cure” that, instead of settling her nerves, drives her mad. The point is that women need independence and creativity, not benign imprisonment based on the premise that they are little girls. Donald is roughly parallel; he would wither away from indolence in his hammock where it not for his excess sensitivity to the slightest thing that goes wrong in his world. Donald, as a male, does not lack autonomy.




Among those born the same year as Donald and thus his contemporaries are the following:


Bart Starr and Hank Aaron. They grew up to become two of the greatest and coolest athletes in American sports history, as champion Green Bay Packers quarterback and Braves slugger. Later in his career Starr became the Packers’ coach and withstood fan dissatisfaction with calm and aplomb. While Aaron was chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record, he received many threatening letters, but he homered through them all. Donald has never achieved such grace under pressure.


Ralph Nader. He made his name as a consumer advocate and declared in the 1960s that American cars were “unsafe at any speed.” Later he ran for president and likely took enough votes away from Al Gore to make George W. Bush president. Who’d have blamed Gore if he’d said, with Donald, “Aw, Phooey”?


Willard Scott. He became famous as an early morning TV weatherman who also helped octogenarians celebrate their birthdays. Viewers criticized his corniness, but other watchers adored him. Before that, he was the first Ronald McDonald, another celebrated character so famous that he became even more recognized than Mickey Mouse and hence yet another figure, of whom Donald is jealous.


Gloria Steinem. She was an architect of the second wave of American feminism in the 1960s and 1970s and is credited with saying that a woman no more needs a woman than a fish needs a bike. Tell it to Daisy.


Dionne Quintuplets. They were five Canadian babies born to the same mother and become so famed that school children would impress their parents by memorizing their first names. Like Donald, a talking duck, they were freaks of nature.


Joan Didion. She became one of America’s greatest late twentieth century authors, specializing in the mordant and observant essay. One of hers, “On Morality,” dispenses with abstract moral codes and states that morality consists of actions that communities say you must do, however dreadful, such as diving to the bottom of a dangerously deep lake to recover a dead body. Donald’s morality, too, is rooted in rescues.




Here are some items on Donald Duck’s Personal Mindset List, based on the year of his birth, 1934:


•Another Huey—not Duck but Long—has always been the unofficial dictator of Louisiana and has a considerable following in the country for his idea of radical redistribution of wealth and one-party, tyrannical rule.


•In a sign of the times’ economic despair and cynicism, one wag has always said that if everyone has a chance to become president, he’ll sell his for a quarter. This seems especially apt during a period when a mere dime would get into one of Donald’s cartoons—which, unlike the presidency, is a sure thing.


•The same year Donald was born, there was the nation’s first Mother-in-Law Day in Amarillo, Texas, The idea has never caught on, and this may be a clue as to why Donald has never married Daisy.


•Franklin Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration—a cooperative of wage and price controls designed to cure the Depression—has always had a bird as its symbol. It looks like an eagle; no doubt Donald is furious it is not a duck.


•The only kind of new construction in those hard-pressed times has always been to build cocktail lounges where people can escape from being broke, but indeed for Donald and Daisy the very term “cocktail” would seem “birdist.”


•In a less birdist moment, the new species of Eskimo chickens and snow goosebirds have always been hatched and made their debuts in the eco-cycle.


•In a rescue from trouble worthy of Donald himself, Claudette Colbert has always hitched up her skirt in order to attract motorists so that she and co-star Clark Gable (It Happened One Night) could hitch a ride. Daisy never did anything like this. It’s not clear how sexy a feathered leg would be anyhow.


•Sears’s catalogue has always featured contraceptive devices, as no one has wanted any extra children during the Depression because they can’t afford them. There is no evidence that Huey, Dewey, and Louie were illegitimate.


•As Prohibition has ended, sales of Coke have always been dropping, but there is no indication that either Coke or whiskey would have soothed the temperamental Mr. Duck.


•The gangster John Dillinger has always escaped from an Indiana jail brandishing a wooden pistol colored by black shoe polish. This is the sort of thing that might happen in one of Donald’s cartoons, but this was real life!


•Another group of cartoonish, slapstick types—human, not duck—have always made their debut and been dubbed “The Three Stooges.”


•In a humorless decision antithetical to the loose antics of Donald, the government of Italy decrees that all schoolteachers must wear a military uniform in class. Even so, their wardrobe would have been more varied than Donald’s.


•The one and only arrest for the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh, Jr. has always been made in the year of Donald’s birth. Charles, Jr. would have been three years older than Donald and would have enjoyed growing up with and laughing at him. And Donald wouldn’t have minded a bit.


•The prudish Will Hays has always been head of Hollywood’s Picture Production Code, with its strict rules—which is why you never see Donald in the nude.


•The great actor Lionel Barrymore has always read Dickens’ Christmas Carol to children on the radio in December. Later, one of Donald’s most irascible uncles, Scrooge McDuck would emerge to take advantage of the story’s newly found popularity among kids. He enjoyed swimming in a pool of gold, which seemed absurd until McDonald’s in the 1980s enchanted children by placing a pool of plastic balls in their restaurants. The lads and lassies would “swim” all day, much to the chagrin of parents who wanted to get home. They could have blamed it all, maybe, on Donald’s stringy uncle.




 The last time we see Tony Soprano, the crime boss of New Jersey and street boss of the DiMeo family, he is forty-eight years old. He is sitting with his family—including wife Carmela and virtually grown children Meadow and A.J.—in a restaurant. They are sitting down to a meal. They may or may not be “hit” by one of Tony’s many enemies. Camera fades to black. No one has seen Tony since. For all we know, his family may have finished that meal and gone on to many more—or maybe not.



Tony was born on June 17, 1959 and attended high school in West Orange New Jersey (WOHS). His father was “Johnny Boy” Soprano, a hood, and his mother was Livia. Later Tony tells his psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, that Livia was a cold, merciless woman that wore his father down to a little bitty nub. Outside the house, however, Johnny Boy was someone to be wary of. His brother Corrado (later Tony’s “Uncle Junior”) was an up and comer in the DiMeo family; one of Tony’s more harrowing memories was watching his father and brother mutilate a local butcher by the name of Mr. Satriale. A typical day in young Tony’s life was going home and hearing from his mother that his father had been arrested. “Did he do anything?” Tony asks; and his mother says, “Of course not. The cops just like to pick on Italians.”


Tony’s grandfather came from Italy to New Jersey nearly a half-century before Tony was born. He became a stonemason and helped build a local church that Tony likes to show to his kids so that they will grasp, and take pride in, their heritage. Tony himself did not enter “the life” (of criminality) until he was in his early twenties. Before that he had attended Seton Hall University for a while. By the time he was twenty-three he had killed his first man. His father died four years later, but by this time Dad was a far lesser figure in the annals of New Jersey bad guys than was his Uncle Junior. Soon enough Tony was growing up in a world of rackets and “hits,” of prostitution and shakedowns. He ran with guys who had sobriquets such as “Walnuts” and “Big Pussy,” some of whom he’d known most of his life. Blessed with dominance and cunning, he gradually came up the ranks.


By the time he was in his late 30s the illness of the DiMeo head, Jackie April, Sr., led to a lot of internal squabbling, which only got worse when Jackie, Sr. died of gut cancer. Tony was pitted against none other than his own uncle for the keys to power. He cleverly settled the matter by giving Uncle Junior the big title and taking operational control for himself. This arrangement also benefited Tony because Uncle June drew the interest of the Feds while Tony hid behind his façade.


Tony Soprano is a fascinating guy because he is a bad man who tries to be as good as he can. If we take Tony’s career and translate it into non-Mafia terms we get the sorts of dilemmas that afflict other successful men. They do their jobs well and exert a lot of power. But then they also have to do unpleasant things, such as fire old friends or turn down the sons and daughters of relatives for jobs. They might have to juggle the books a little bit. They have to cut a corner or three. And this is hard on them, but then they not only have their own positions to think about. They must also think about the security of their own families and the well being of the organizations they run. And behind their front of confidence and authority, they are anxious, panicky, and depressed. But they cannot allow any of this to show. And then there are problems at home: they have wives who make demands of them and children who listen to them not. Any of this could apply to the head of a pizza manufacturing company or the dean of a large university.


And this is also Tony Soprano—who has all this on his plate—except for one thing: he doesn’t fire people; he kills them. He has to. And sometimes they had it coming, but at other times they don’t. Sometimes he has to kill them to keep them from a worse fate with another crime family. And sometimes he doesn’t want to kill them, but they’ve gone to the F.B.I., and Tony must worry about all his other “employees” and the effect on them if the syndicate is brought down. And sometimes it might be his own nephew, but the kid has a drug habit he can’t beat and he’s killing the organization.


Tony is in a rough business. His psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi, tells him that she has trouble with his act, which is murderous, and later she even learns that she might be helping Tony become an even better psychopathic manipulator. Tony tells her that he is ethical after all. He cites people like Hitler as really bad, because he killed innocent people. Tony doesn’t kill innocent people. His killings are “need only.” Tony says that his people are no different from other people who come from the Old Country: they want a little sliver of America.


Tony worries, though, about his own humanity, just as much as he worries that Carmela will find out about his serial adultery or that Meadow will discover his criminality (she does) or that A.J. lacks the nous to get on in life and might try to drown himself again. Tony is anxious about all this but also about himself. He likes animals, especially the ducks that land in his New Jersey suburban pool, and he delights in feeding them. Yet he also dreams that a duck stole his penis, and his psychiatrist says that the ducks are a symbol of his family, which he enjoys feeding and caring for even as he frets that they diminish his macho and freedom. Tony loves horses, and the one murder he does for which he has no regrets is revenge for starting a fire that kills his favorite racehorse.  He reads with great interest a book on dinosaurs, and when a black bear gets into his garbage, he approaches the subject more with interest than extermination in mind.


He dreads anyone in the crime family—especially Uncle June—knowing that he is confessing to a psychiatrist. It’s matter not only of losing face but also letting information out. But he is prone to panic attacks and depression, and the doctors tell him there’s nothing wrong with him physically—so he reluctantly sees a shrink and from time to time storms out of on him when she seems to be getting too close to his deepest fears and wounds. Tony hates his mother, but he also hates it that he hates his mother. At one point she and Uncle Junior actually plot his death. He despises Livia; he hauls around guilt because he does so, even if he knows goddamned well that she deserves it.


Tony wants his children to escape a life of crime. He doesn’t think A.J. has the stuff anyhow. He makes such a good living that it’s hard not to spoil his kids, but he still wants them to embrace old-fashioned values. When Meadow says that the household is like a time warp stuck in the 1950s, Tony unapologetically agrees. He senses the end of something. He imagines that there must have been a time when Mafia bosses didn’t suffer from despair; didn’t incur guilt; didn’t stew about ducks; and had a firm thumb on their offspring. He knows that he’s successful but downgrades himself against the standards of some Golden Age gone by.


Tony is a homicidal sociopath, and yet he isn’t. He’s vulnerable. He’s sensitive. He is a very mean man—cruel at times—yet you also sense that he’s up against those worse than he is. There is never any notion that he’d like to get out of the life. But he’d like to be as good as he possibly can while staying in it. And he knows that this is a losing contest. But what else can he do? As he says, when everyone tells him how terrible they feel about Livia’s death, “Yeah, well, whadda gonna do, huh?” He cries crocodile tears when he says that.


But it should be his epitaph.




Tony, having been born in 1959, grew up in a world in which the following have always been dead; he didn’t kill any of them, though.


Buddy Holly, along with Ritchie Havens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. The deaths of so many fledgling rock n’ roll stars heralded, in legend, “the day the music died.” Tony would grow up in a criminal world where such nicknames as “Big Bopper” would be standard, except perhaps a Mob “Big Bopper” would be a hit man who specialized in baseball bats. More significantly, the death of Holly signaled the end of a nicer form of rock, complete with boy-next-door horn-rimmed glasses. Something more wicked and demonic would succeed Buddy Holly and the Crickets. It would create a rebellious counterculture that the more traditional Tony would find still alive and kicking in his own children. He would hope to make his own home a redoubt of conservative values, even as he realized that he could not control his kids once they were out of the house. That the head of New Jersey crime lacked such power is part of his ironic poignancy.


Cecil B. De Mille was one of Hollywood’s most conservative and anti-Communist directors, but while he died the year Tony was being born, he and The Tone shared a productive cleverness. When Hollywood censorship in the early twentieth century began to restrict semi-nakedness on the screen, De Mille, knowing that such attractions were popular, adapted to the orders by featuring semi-semi-nakedness but placing it in the context of Biblical epics in which a righteous God punished the naughty girls. De Mille managed to have it both ways, just as Tony did when he posed as a waste management consultant while bossing a riot of illegal activities. And, as in De Mille’s films, Tony was both a traditionalist and a lawbreaker. He also feared punishment.


George Reeves, TV’s Superman, died under mysterious and still-unresolved circumstances. He was having an affair not with Lois Lane but with the wife of a Hollywood producer with Mob ties that Tony would have appreciated. They may have bumped him off; or his death by gunshot wound might have been accident or suicide. The news came as a shock to America’s youngsters, who had believed the legend over the man. This is somewhat akin to the façade of Tony as tough guy, beneath whom there are demons and vulnerabilities. The year Tony was born, both the music and Superman died. Was this a portent of how, as Tony took the reins, the Mob’s best years were also dead, already?


Frank Lloyd Wright, the notoriously brilliant architect, also passed away the year of Tony’s debut on Earth. Known for a style of architecture in which the inside seems continuous with the outside, Wright’s last great achievement was the twisting, learning, ostentatious Guggenheim Museum of Art, which is often thought to be the pinnacle of architectural discourtesy because it fits so ill with the uptown Manhattan buildings that surround it. Wright didn’t care. In a way the Guggenheim is like Tony’s Uncle Junior, who flamboyantly draws all the attention of law enforcement, while Tony, a more ordinary-seeming building, hides in plain sight.


Raymond Chandler, American-born, British-educated, drunk and depressed, also “bought it” the year Tony was born. In his novels he invented a bard-boiled detective named Philip Marlowe, who discovers—though it is hardly news to him—that violence and corruption are rife in 1930s and 40s L.A., from the top strata to the bottom rung, from the plutocrats to the pimps. Marlowe once said that, “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.” Tony, reflecting upon the shame of having had to kill his old buddy “Big Pussy” for squealing, might have responded that they both weigh the same, both are heavy, and that they come to the same thing in the end.


Charles Starkweather was executed by the state of Nebraska the year Tony came to live among us. He and his teenybopper girlfriend went on a killing spree in the Midwest that horrified the nation, which wondered what today’s young people were coming to. A punk with a leather jacket, a perpetual smirk, and a dangling cig, Starkweather would have been a terrible liability for Tony’s gang, which would have told Charlie that crime can pay—but not that way, kid.




In the same generation with Tony—and born the same year—were the following:


Lawrence Taylor. Taylor was one of the greatest linebackers to play pro football. Offensive schemes by rival teams were designed simply to neutralize him alone. Unusual for a defensive player, he won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award; with his mix of brutality and speed he also led the New York Giants, and its Big Blue Wrecking Crew, to two Super Bowl victories. Tony, who lived near the Meadowlands where the Giants played ball, has seen “L.T.” many times and has almost doubtlessly admired his prowess to inflict terror and pain.


Keith Olbermann. Olbermann began his career as a sports analyst but became a leading voice during the new millennium against the conservative outlook of Fox News. He was especially critical of President Bush and Vice President Cheney because of their “criminal” invasion of Iraq, once suggesting that the latter should leave this country because he is a liar and a traitor. Like Tony, Olbermann is mercurial and unpredictable—he has feuded with his bosses on two networks and quit both—but unlike Tony he is a free agent who does not have to worry about family or employees. One of his segments was “Today’s Worst Person in the World,” but these ogres were nearly always guilty of only ideological mendacity or stupidity, so he never named Tony. For years Olbermann feuded with his opposite number on Fox, the overbearing Bill O’Reilly, and once said that “Billy O” engaged in self-applause to drown out the sound of “his daddy’s hitting him.” O’Reilly said that even Tony Soprano wouldn’t bring a father into a fight. So there! These guys have a way to go before they become genuine Mob material.


Eliot Spitzer. He was a governor of New York who had ascended to office based on his prosecution, as state attorney general, of Wall Street chicanery. But his political flight was downed by his having visited a New York City prostitute—perhaps one of Tony’s. After Olbermann left his last network, Spitzer replaced him.


Nicole Brown Simpson. She and Ronald Goldman were notoriously murdered in Los Angeles in 1994. Her ex-husband, star football player and occasional Hollywood actor O.J. Simpson, stood trial but was acquitted. Now in jail on other charges in Florida, he says he is always looking for the real killer. What Tony and his guys would think of this whole thing is worth contemplating. When a hood killed a prostitute outside Tony’s strip joint the Bada Bing, one of his lieutenants (Paulie Walnuts) said it was OK to off a hooker but to do so on Bing property was disrespectful of the club. So perhaps Paulie might have thought that to ice an ex-wife is one thing, but to do it in her own front yard is quite another. Such are the vagaries of gangster ethics.




Here is Tony Soprano’s Personal Mindset List, based on the year of his birth, 1959.


•Fidel Castro has always been in control of Cuba, having ousted a dictator who was mob-friendly. For those in the Mafia, such as Tony, the rise of puritanical Castro has always been an unwelcome event; under his predecessor Cuba was a wide-open island for bets and strumpets. Had Castro not come to power, Little Tony might have grown up running numbers and whores in Havana rather than doing so in Newark.


•Xerox has always been making plain paper copier, thus increasing the number of paper documents in nearly every organization and creating, over time, more and more garbage: good for Tony’s phony business as “waste management consultant.”


•Herman Kahn, a scientist and mathematician, has always been raising hackles with his analysis of thermonuclear war. Kahn’s big idea was that instead of wringing our hands over nuclear weapons we must face up to them and figure out how to survive them in the event of a major exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. Kahn believed that such an event would hamper, but not end, humanity. He thought that the elderly could certainly eat contaminated food because they wouldn’t live much longer in any case. Kahn was like Tony, who also faced up to surviving the most dreaded of circumstances in his business; but no one would nominate either for Moralist of the Year.


•Rod Serling has always been writing and producing his Twilight Zone episodes about sudden suspensions of conventional time and space: the past is in the future, and the young man is the old man. The episodes are as surreal as Tony’s anxiety dreams, as when he douses himself with gasoline and self-immolates in order to forestall a doctor’s prediction of premature death.


•An acclaimed movie has always been The Nun’s Story, about a courageous sister who opposes Hitler, despite orders to be neutral, and who braves her life in order to provide medical care amid the dire conditions of the Congo. Audrey Hepburn plays Sister Luke; she is perhaps an archetype for the Madonna of Love that Livia was not, and that Tony never had: if only he could have been raised by Audrey Hepburn. He might have finished Seton Hall and become a real waste management consultant.


•TV networks have always been broadcasting The Wizard of Oz every year on television. They have learned that some movies never suffer from overexposure and are the gift that keeps on giving. This is also what Tony and his cohort have learned: that the key to big money is systematic profit, rather than one time profit. It’s the difference between John Dillinger, who robbed a bank and hoped he could rob another, and Tony Soprano, who ran big business, albeit illegal. It’s the difference between a good show and a brand.


•Another radical difference between Tony and other criminals also emerged the year he was born, for in western Kansas two ex-cons tried to rob a rich farm family, got nothing, but killed all four and got themselves hanged. Tony is less like them and more like Truman Capote, who grew wealthy writing a book about the whole thing (In Cold Blood), selling the rights to a major magazine, and collecting big bucks on a movie version.


•The Daytona 500 has always run each year in Florida 500 miles, 200 laps). It has developed into the most popular racecar event of them all and has become yet another excuse for gambling: good for Tony’s eventual business.


•The year Tony was born has always been a big year for jazz, especially the recording of a pioneering session known as Kind of Blue, featuring Miles Davis. The novelist Ralph Ellison wrote that jazz is like living in America: you can riff in your own way as long as you play more or less in tune with everyone else. This has always been a problem for Tony, for he is all-American (he is a determined striver) but also anti-American (he kills people, or scares them, and tempts them into lives of vice and ruin.) Tony too is kind of blue.


•The scientist Gregory Pincus has always been developing an oral contraceptive, thus making it easier for Tony (and millions of others) to cheat on their wives and get away with it sans biological consequences of a certain type. Carmella still finds out about his addictive adultery; there’s no pill to prevent that.


•Becoming independent of Mother Britain, Singapore has always been a self-governing colony: yet another sign of the break up of imperialism around the world. This trend will only grow. Rebellion against authority will peak in the next decade, the 1960s, as Tony grows up. Tony himself becomes a maverick against conventional values and laws, but he wants to be a imperialist at home—for the good of his children, whom he sometimes confuses with the colonized. Tony wants to be British Empire and Singapore all at once: no wonder he dreams of phallic theft by ducks and needs Dr. Melfi.


•Norman Mailer, the novelist, has always written his famous essay “The White Negro,” about the “wigger,” white guys (such as beatniks) who adopt urban African-American habits in music, violence, slang, dress, and the consumption of narcotics. Tony and his guys are not wiggers. They are not involved with dope or guns in order to make a statement, but in order to earn a living: a good one.


•The social scientist Ervin Goffman has always written his pioneering study The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, which observes how we are constantly “acting in scenes” in our routine interactions with others. The big idea is to smell out the scene and to act according to its unofficial rules. When Tony tells Dr. Melfi he is in love with her, she “saves” the scene by telling him that he isn’t really in love with her. Rather, he just feels better overall, and his falling in love is just a sign of that. Thus Dr. Melfi moves the scene back to a therapy session, which Tony, in his own presentation of self, had forgotten all about. Ervin Goffman would have been pleased with the good doctor, who is happy that Tony has transferred his affections to her—she gains authority as a therapist—but is reluctant to allow him to admit it.

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