Immortal football coach Vince Lombardi is often quoted as saying, "Winning isn't everything--it's the only thing." What he really said was, "Winning isn't everything--trying your best is the only thing."
That's according to actor-playwright John Pinero, who should know. He has spent three years researching and preparing "Vince," his solo tribute to Lombardi, together with his director and co-author, Richard Clayman.
It opens Friday night at Studio City's Two Roads Theatre, and for both of its creators, it has been a labor of love.
Pinero said that in some ways his life has paralleled Lombardi's. He was born in Brooklyn and raised by a father who was "kind of rough."
As a kid, Pinero wasn't very impressed with Lombardi. It drove him crazy that the coach's team, the Green Bay Packers, won so often. But now that he has gotten to know the Lombardi persona better, he has been impressed by the man's character and beliefs.
"Lombardi believed what I believe," Pinero said. "That if you really apply yourself to anything that you really want to do, you can do it. The only limitations are placed on you by yourself."
While researching the project, Pinero said he came across information from Lombardi's wife, Marie. She admitted that every time her husband found a talented ballplayer, she felt sorry for the kid. It was, figuratively speaking, as though he would open a hole in the boy's head and pour in his own wealth of knowledge, she said.
Lombardi was known to tell his young athletes, "Somewhere deep down inside of you, there's a burning desire to excel. If you don't believe that, then pack your bags and get out of here."
Pinero said: "There were many times when he would see an effort on the field and it would bring him to tears, to watch these men do what he demanded of them. It would make him feel so proud."
Director Clayman, who also has been imbued with the spirit of Lombardi, believes that combining hard work with character and decency were fundamental to Lombardi--the coach and the man.
"Lombardi believed--and I think it's essentially American and it's why he's an American hero--that if you put out a hard effort honestly, with dignity, with integrity and compassion, then that's the best you can do," Clayman said. "You win by putting out the right kind of effort. It plays into rugged individualism. You have to play fair."
Clayman believes Lombardi was one of our great leaders, and the fact that he was a sports figure doesn't trivialize that.
"The great leaders understand that to win outside the rules of character and honor is hollow victory," he said. "If you operate within that, even if you come out second in the score, you've won."
* "Vince," Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Indefinitely. $12.50-$14. (818) 766-9381.
Thawing Cold Hearts: Monday night, the American Renegade Theatre will hold a gala benefit for Theatre of Hope for Abused Women (THAW) at Glendale's Alex Theatre. The program includes a silent auction, a staged reading and a tribute ceremony honoring women who have made Los Angeles a better place to live.
The reading will be Leslie Ruchala's "Sallie and Joey: A Sweet Little Book About Domestic Violence," directed by Angela Wayne Randazzo, producer of the children's television show "The Adventures of J. Pierpont McPooch." The performance features, among others, Jenny Gago ("Dangerous Minds") and Lynn Hamilton (of TV's upcoming "The Waltons at Easter").
Among the recipients of the Woman of Distinction awards are actress Erin Grey, City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and activist Corina Alarcon. Marian Rees, who has received 36 Emmy nominations and 11 Emmy awards for the television movies she has produced, will oversee the ceremonies.
* THAW benefit, Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Monday, reception 6 p.m., show time 7:30. $15-$100. (800) 233-3123.
Just Plain Wilde: In celebration of the centenary of Oscar Wilde's writing of "The Ballad of Reading Gaol," the Celtic Arts Center is presenting a tribute to the author at North Hollywood's Raven Playhouse. The poem was written while Wilde was in prison following his 1895 sodomy trial. At the time, his plays "An Ideal Husband" and "The Importance of Being Earnest" were enjoying successful runs in London. Advertisements for the plays deleted the author's name.
Sean Walsh, director of the Celtic Arts group, said "Ballad" will be performed by actor Peter Dykstra, who will entertain questions from the audience about the poem and the writer after the reading. The second half of the program will consist of readings from Wilde's other works, including "Earnest" and "Lady Windemere's Fan."
"It's a potpourri of Wilde's wonderful wit," Walsh said. "There are a lot of 'Wildeophiles' out there. They could probably learn something or maybe they'll teach us."
* "A Tribute to Oscar Wilde," Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 8. $12. (213) 660-8587.