Screw vanity. Readers, consider this: If you had to be quarantined for eight (or more) weeks and could choose one person – living or dead – to be quarantined with, who would you choose? (Family members and significant others excluded.)
My first choice would be Thomas Jefferson. Second choice: Steve Allen. Third choice: Orson Bean.
I’d want to be sequestered with Thomas Jefferson or Steve Allen because they were polymaths.
“Wait a minute,” you say. “Who the heck is Orson Bean?”
First, the polymaths:
A polymath is a person who is interested in an infinite range of topics and wants to learn more about everything. Leonardo Da Vinci was one.
Jefferson studied astronomy, mathematics, architecture, music, horticulture, paleontology (before the word was invented), anatomy, civil engineering, physics, botany, French cuisine and wine-making and more. He could read and write Greek, Latin, French, Spanish and Italian.
He invented things. He conceived a new kind of plow that could be used on hills. He invented the dumbwaiter, a calendar clock and a polygraph which could made copies of documents. He played the violin. He was one of the first farmers to practice crop rotation. He collected books and was up to 6,487 volumes by 1814, when The Library of Congress purchased the whole shebang.
He grew 330 different kinds of vegetables and 170 different species of fruit in his Monticello gardens. He was the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. He designed Monticello, his beloved home; the Virginia State capitol; and the University of Virginia’s rotunda.
Besides all these topics to talk about and learn about while sequestered with Thomas . . . from what I've seen of the portraits painted during his lifetime, I think he was a pretty handsome dude as well.
Steve Allen was also a polymath. Not only was he a well-known comedian, he was the pioneer of a new idea in television programming – the late-night talk show. He hosted The Tonight Show beginning in 1956. The concept caught on and is still going strong in a dozen variations more than six decades later.
He was known for off-the-cuff humorous banter with his guests and for recurring comedy skits. Remember the man-on-the-street interviews featuring Don Knotts and Louis Nye?
Allen played the piano and composed some 8,500 songs, including The Gravy Waltz, This Could be the Start of Something Big and the theme music from the movie Picnic.
He acted. He played Benny in The Benny Goodman Story. He wrote 50 books on topics ranging from politics, to who-done-it mysteries to a cookbook for cats. He also had a highly infectious laugh. I would like to be stuck in quarantine with Steve Allen for weeks and weeks and weeks.
I’d like to sequester in place with Orson Bean because he was witty and funny and interesting and was a terrific teller of stories.
Bean was a comedian, an actor on TV and the stage in the 60s, 70s. and 80s, a writer and producer, a game show participant and host, a raconteur, and probably the wittiest TV personality I can think of. Some may remember his long stint as a panelist on To Tell the Truth.
He was still working when he died last January at the age of 91. He appeared in the sixth season of Netflix’s popular show, Grace and Frankie. He played Bruno, the drummed up potential husband for Frankie’s friend Joan-Margaret, an illegal immigrant. Their marriage was supposed to prevent her from being deported.
Orson Bean had a witty answer, a humorous story, an original anecdote for just about any topic that came up. He was refreshing. Original. If I were stuck with him for six weeks, I’d have a constant cramp in my side from laughing.
Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, is still my favorite, however. John F. Kennedy once addressed a group of Nobel Laureates he was hosting.
“This is probably the greatest gathering of intellect here in the White House," Kennedy said, "since Thomas Jefferson dined here, alone.”