Mandy Patinkin, Dr. Geiger and Success

20 07 2013

Homeland Season 2In 1994, I moved our family back to Michigan where I was raised.  Our girls were quite small at the time.  For five years we were able to stay close with my family.  While there were the usual difficulties and challenges that attend such a move, it was a special time for us.

Our move coincided with the premiere of a new weekly television drama, Chicago Hope.  My larger family has quite a few medical professionals in it, so a medical TV drama was right up our alley.  Our favorite character on Chicago Hope was Dr. Jeffrey Geiger, played by Mandy Patinkin.  We would go to my mother and stepfather’s home, have dinner and watch Jeopardy and Chicago Hope.

Dr. Geiger was a brilliant cardio-thoracic surgeon, rated top in the country.  He was also a curious mixture of insecurity, prickliness and medical distinction.  Within the larger story line, his wife had been institutionalized with schizophrenia after she drowned their son, Joey.  So this pain came out in interesting ways in Geiger’s interactions.  Mandy Patinkin played him in an outstanding fashion, which won him an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a drama series in 1995.

Like my late stepfather, of blessed memory, (himself a brilliant physician), Geiger was Jewish.  If you know and work with Jewish people, you’ll probably have noticed that they are almost temperamentally incapable of mincing words.  To the point.  Dugriut.  This is not a criticism at all; just a fact. Geiger said once to a fellow doctor in the operating room, “That’s the thing about bluntness.  It intimidates the weak, engages the strong.”  Great line.

I’ve recently begun watching reruns of the series, now eighteen years old.  Again, I’ve been drawn to the character of Dr. Geiger.  Not that his arrogance is to be emulated.  He needed to work on his bedside manner.  But his directness and competence are refreshing.  Patinkin is a great actor.

I’d forgotten that Patinkin left regular participation in the show after the second season.  This bummed me out because I looked forward to seeing the story of Jeffrey Geiger unfold.  He made a number of appearances over the years and rejoined the cast for the final season.

What impressed me more than anything was Patinkin’s reason for leaving the show.  Poor writing? No.  Inability to get along with colleagues? Nope.  Wanted more money? Wrong, again.

He left to devote more time with his family.  They lived out east and the show filmed in Chicago—incidently, the town of Patinkin’s birth.  So he’d spent prodigious amounts of time away from them.  He was unwilling to do this for years.

Remember, this is a brilliant actor and singer who had won an Emmy.  His future was set, so to speak.  But he chose his wife and children over continued fame.  Incredible.

He’s done a lot over the years—Criminal Minds (a show he left because the content was too violent for his conscience), recording and public concerts, the stage.  But it impressed me that he looked “success” in the eye and chose, at least in his appraisal, true success.

A winner.

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