Make Integrity A Mainstay

By Ron Ciancutti
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / diego_cervo

“Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard. Now here's Charlie. He's come to the crossroads. He has chosen a path. It's the right path. It's a path made of principle that leads to character. Let him continue on his journey. You hold this boy's future in your hands, committee. It's a valuable future. Believe me. Don't destroy it—protect it, embrace it. It's gonna make you proud one day, I promise you.”
-- Al Pacino as Lieutenant Colonel Slade, appealing to the Baird School Committee on behalf of his new, young friend Charlie Simms in Scent of a Woman.

I love to read biographies. If my wife and I ever become separated in a book store, she can always find me in the biography section. When I read about the decisions and events that went into making someone great or giving that person the momentum to become great, I find that fascinating, especially when I discover a nugget or two of something behind the scenes.


In one biography, I learned that the floppy hat Henry Fonda wore in On Golden Pond was given to him by Katharine Hepburn on the first day of rehearsal. It had belonged to her life partner, Spencer Tracy, and she thought it would give Fonda a sense of character and comfort since the two of them were the last of a legendary Hollywood breed. That was Fonda’s final film before he died; all that lore made the movie particularly meaningful.

I read about how difficult it was for some of the main characters of the television show M*A*S*H to decide to leave the show.

I learned that Burt Reynolds and Robert Redford were considered for the role of Rocky in the original film but never even got a screen test after powerful Hollywood types tried to buy the rights from the writer, Sylvester Stallone, who refused to sell because he insisted on starring in the movie.

I discovered that on the night Abraham Lincoln was shot he argued with his wife about going to the theater. He was tired and just wanted to stay home.

I read about what Frank Sinatra went through to get the role of Maggio in the movie From Here to Eternity, and how he knew that film would revive his sagging career.

I learned about the insecurities of Adolph Hitler, the stage fright of Charlie Daniels (which is why his big hat covers his eyes), the burdened relationship of Johnny Carson and his mother, and even the shortcomings of President Bill Clinton’s economics advisor, Robert Reich, who is always photographed behind a podium (being 4 feet 10 inches tall, he stands on boxes when making public statements).

The Fight Of Your Life
Through biographies I have learned many facts like these; my wife always questions why I am so interested in the subjects’ lives. I admitted that I was always interested in seeing what challenges those individuals overcame to achieve success.

What kind of fight did they put up, and more importantly, how they knew that that fight, that moment was the one they were supposed to take on. Did a bell sound in Jim Brown’s head that “Football is your thing”? Did Michael Jackson fall in love with the reaction of a live audience, or did he, too, hear a voice that said, “Mike—for you, it is all about the music”?

Billy Graham has spoken of the source for his life assignment, but was it always so clear to him? That’s my main curiosity in reading when delving through biographies. Then one day, while reading the biography of Sidney Poitier, the famous actor from Blackboard Jungle, To Sir with Love, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, I suddenly found what I was looking for. Poitier spoke of a significant moment in his life when working with another famous actor, John Cassavetes. One of the other actors in a scene they were sharing asked Poitier if he minded changing the scene to favor a speech the other actor was to give.

In short, he asked Poitier to stand in a different place, face a different way, and deliver the set-up line differently. Being always anxious to please, he said he would oblige—no problem.

After the scene was shot, Cassavetes took Poitier aside and told him never to do that again.

I found so much insight in Cassavetes’ reasoning. He reminded Poitier that he was the primary actor in the movie and that the elements should reflect what he was trying to portray as the character he was playing. While Poitier could be nice and accommodating in all other aspects of his life, Cassavetes encouraged him that when it came to his profession, his craft, he should be uncompromising in every way.

Methodical Brilliance
This is not an example of Cassavetes pushing Poitier to be selfish, but it is the mark of a true professional. Holding to one’s principles in any work situation is important.

If one is a well-respected tool-and-die maker and an apprentice suggests skipping a step or two in rendering a machined part, the former should not compromise his reputation.

If a realtor initially doesn’t tally the correct numbers for a house he or she has just sold, the numbers must be added until they are correct. There may be a temptation to hide the numbers in a mountain of paperwork, but the true professional will not compromise on principle.

A politician of integrity can be applauded for fighting for a bill that he or she knows will not get much support even from one’s own party.

“Uncompromising” may be seen by some as a term with a negative connotation, but it is an absolute asset to a man or woman of high reputation and standards. Integrity should be the mainstay of anyone’s life.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at