The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Saturday, May 12, 2007


LET ME TELL YOU A FUNNY STORY … © Duncan Graham 2007

For several months every year a Hollywood stage and screen actor lives comfortably in the wilds of Kalimantan, where he was found by Duncan Graham:

Like many of his countryfolk, Irish-born knockabout Redmond Gleeson migrated to America in search of the promised land. He particularly wanted to be a professional actor so inevitably headed for Hollywood – one more hopeful in the queue of thousands.

Getting among the stars requires a certain amount of truth bending. So when an agent offered a part for an experienced horseman the ambitious silver-tongue rapidly glossed over his inadequacies.

"I'd never ridden before in my life," Redmond confessed, "but I wasn't going to let on. Once on the set a nasty wrangler spotted my uncertainty and whacked the huge horse as soon as I mounted. It went galloping over a hill towards the camera while I hung on for dear life – totally terrified.

"The director said I was riding badly and the shot was unusable. I told him that I was playing an Irish character and that was the way the Irish rode. He accepted that and I got to keep the part."

Now 72 Redmond is still busy with theatre, television and films for character roles have no age limits. His latest, a goreflick called The Tripper where he plays the father of an axe murderer who wears a Ronald Reagan mask should be hemorrhaging in Indonesian cinemas later this year.

When he's not on the stage or the set Redmond is in the heart of Central Kalimantan, the province known as Kalteng. Here he rests between engagements in a neat timber house with his wife Mardiah – mother of the couple's ten children.

They live at the Subud community (see sidebar) in the rain forest, 36 kilometers outside the provincial capital Palangkaraya and close to the wide brown Rungan River.

However as you read this he'll be back in Los Angeles rehearsing for his 23rd performance, production and direction of Bloomsday on 16 June. This is a celebration of James Joyce's Ulysses featuring a day in the life of the everyman hero Leopold Bloom.

Regarded by many literary critics as the most important novelist of the early 20th century, Joyce invented the 'stream of consciousness' style that revolutionized English prose.

How the Irish flag, sodden with rain, limp in the Gleeson garden just two degrees below the equator got to be in Indonesia is a long yarn with many sidetracks. Most are prefaced with the evergreen Gaelic line: "Let me tell you a funny story …"

Redmond's background is no rerun of Frank McCourt's, the teacher who was born on the wrong side of the tracks, went to the US and told all in the Pulitzer Prize-winner Angela's Ashes. Martin Gleeson (as he was before film-fame) came from an educated and professional family in Dublin.

He migrated to Australia and was only rescued from a life of playing rugby and drinking beer (his words) by a scholarship to a university in Ohio where he studied theatre arts.

After graduating Redmond worked on the ski fields of Aspen in Colorado that became a haven for alternative lifestylers and where he met Mardiah, an artist. He acted with the High Country Players, dishwashing and doing whatever made a buck. A self-confessed ski-bum.

As a kid in Dublin he'd been inspired by two icons - the wonder of James Joyce's language, and American cinema. He clearly recalls watching his hero, burly Burt Lancaster canter across the silver screen. "If only … ," the little fellow dreamed while slumped in the stalls.

Once in Hollywood, using his magic mix of blarney, talent and determination, plus hard work and creating his own opportunities, Redmond eventually found himself acting alongside Lancaster and teaching him Irish accents.

"I was lucky. Burt, God rest him, (he died in 1994) liked the Irish - and at that time being Irish didn't hurt a bit," Redmond said. "Yes - it's an 'Only in America' story. The US has been good to me, but I still keep my Irish citizenship.

"Of course the entertainment industry is littered with burn-outs and drop-outs. Staying the distance requires an ability to control the rat in the skull and having no fear of rejection. You have to be a hustler."

It also requires serious talent in many disciplines – acting, singing, dancing, writing, producing and directing. Doing nothing while waiting for a call from a casting agent can be a sure way to drown in the Johnnie Walker lake for all but the most wanted and adaptable.

"You have to do everything, particularly if you want to avoid being typecast," he said. "I was a Beatnik and a Hippy. In the 1960s we drove a Kombi van from Switzerland to India.

"Along the way we discovered Subud. Mardiah and I first came to Indonesian in 1971 (for a Subud convention), but we didn't decide to buy a house here till three years ago. It's a lovely place to relax and enjoy life.

"It took me eight years to break through in Hollywood. I was groping around trying to figure out where the path was to the big time. Connections are everything."

Film is fun and pays well, but the real magic can be found only in theatre where Redmond has won two awards. He formed a company, Ray of Light Productions and co-wrote an adaptation of Bloomsday with poet Tom Kerrigan. What started as a labor love has become popular beyond the dreams of any Paddywhacker.

It's not just a hit with the maudlin masses who embrace shamrockery, crying into their black Guinness, but also the new generations of arts students who wouldn't otherwise know a limerick from Limerick, but find Joyce on their syllabi.

So if you happen to be in LA next month, make a brisk beeline to Molly Malone's Irish Pub where for around US $15 (Rp 150,000) you'll get a feed of cockles and mussels and hear some fine Joyce readings including the most famous line of all – Molly Bloom's absolute submission - 'yes I said yes I will Yes'.

Just say you're also a long way from the Emerald Isles (the ones in the Southern Hemisphere) and you'll get a warm welcome. To be sure, to be sure.



Subud was started in the 1920 by a Javanese Muslim seer, Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo. It claims to be an awakening of the inner self, a spiritual movement and not a religion.

People of all religions and no religions are said to be followers. The principal spiritual exercise is called latihan, an Indonesian word for training.

The name Subud has been distilled from the Sanskrit words Susila (morality) Budhi (reason) and Dharma (duty). Subud followers define the name as 'the possibility for human beings to follow the right way of living'.

In the 1950s and 60s Subud became popular in the West, particularly among intellectuals. However there are said to be less than 15,000 followers worldwide.

In most cities supporters live in their own homes and get together at a center. But in Kalteng they've built a community on leased land and are involved in several local activities.

Many homes are palatial, reflecting the affluence of Subud followers who are professionals and business people. However not all are permanently occupied and are used only for short periods by their overseas owners.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 12 May 07)



yvonne said...

I want to thank the two brothers for the poetry on the strand.

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Kyle Grando said...

Hello!!! I have been here reading for about an hour. I am a newbie and your success is very much an inspiration for me. Thanks for sharing all this here.

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Unknown said...

Redmond was my first boss in Hollywood....He was co owner of eagle eye film company and the only sane one working their... Great memories :)