Frigyes Karinthy (1887-1938) is a name little known now except to students of Hungarian literature. But in a short story he wrote in 1929, he introduced a concept that he derived from studying the mathematics of probability, and which, for over a quarter-century, has been a staple of discussion wherever pop-culture junkies and bored college students assemble.
His story, “Chain Links,” pondered the idea that it was possible to pick any two people at random from the billion and a half then living on this planet, and find somebody who knew the first person, who knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone who knew the second person.
In a magazine article in the 1970s, psychologist Stanley Milgram cited data that tended to establish the truth of Kartinthy’s thesis. This helped made the idea a topic of dinner-table conversation around the country. In 1990, John Guare wrote a play inspired by the misdeeds of professional impostor David Hampton, and titled his work Six Degrees Of Separation. It was subsequently adapted into a film starring Will Smith, which brought the “six degrees” idea more prominence.
But even before then, late one evening at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, some students, after watching a videotape of Footloose starring Kevin Bacon, began to ponder the various movies Bacon had appeared in, and those with whom he had shared the screen. The students had come across the six-degrees concept in their textbooks, and applying it to the toothsome star, began to explore the ways in which he could be connected to just about any celebrity, or maybe even non-celebrity, in the known universe.
And this was long before Kevin Bacon began crisscrossing the country, performing in a musical duo with his brother. With all the club dates he’s done by now, probably every last American, and most Canadians, knows someone, or at least knows someone who knows someone, who has met him. Nonetheless, six degrees is the formulation still used with his name.
This brings me to a post at the Muckety.com site this week, which asked the question: what connection does Fred Grandy, the actor familiar to multitudes as Gopher on the TV series The Love Boat, have with Richard Nixon, thirty-seventh President?
It is not simply that both were Republican politicians (Grandy served four terms in the House of Representatives between 1987 and 1995). Nor is it that RN had, and Grandy has, thorough familiarity with the most complex foreign-policy and national security issues.
(I have the feeling some are thinking that part of this post is written six days late. Not so. Fred Grandy did play an amiably goofy and bumbling character – but just on TV. In real life, he is now a Senior Fellow at the respected Washington think-tank, the Center for Security Policy, even now pondering just what Kim Jong Un is up to.)
What Muckety.com was contemplating was the fact that Grandy, when a student at Phillips Exeter Academy, was the roommate of David Eisenhower – and, a few years later, was the best man, as this photo shows, at David’s wedding to Julie Nixon in 1968.
But the Muckety.com post set me to thinking: what would be Fred Grandy’s connection to the thespian most often discussed when one is looking for links between individuals? And would President Nixon figure in it?
Using the most helpful approach in this area – putting two names and “imdb” into Google’s search – one quickly learns that the answer to the last question is yes.
Fred Grandy played Watergate figure Donald Segretti in the 1978 TV miniseries Blind Ambition. The role of President Nixon in this series was played by that eminent actor Rip Torn. In 2002, Torn appeared on several episodes of the series Will & Grace. One of these episodes was “Bacon and Eggs,” which revolved around Jack McFarland, the character played by Sean Hayes, applying for a job working as the assistant of….Kevin Bacon, who was playing himself.
There is another way of drawing a line between Grandy and Bacon. Kevin Bacon is married to Kyra Sedgwick, a first cousin once removed of Sixties pop-culture icon, the late Edie Sedgwick. Edie, the book which made her story familiar to the general public, was co-written by the late Renaissance man George Plimpton, whose prep-school alma mater, like Grandy’s, was Phillips Exeter.
Anyway, that may be some information you may find useful in a college dormitory or a bar in the wee small hours.