The Road to Bali: McCourt Swims with Fishes

On occasion, as he goes about his business as a diving instructor in Bali, Indonesia, Malachy McCourt finds himself answering that question of questions: “Are you, er, Angela’s husband?”

This anecdote would seem to prove at least three theories: 1) Nearly everyone in the world, even neophyte scuba divers in Bali, has read Frank McCourt’s memoir, Angela’s Ashes ; 2) some readers have mistaken Frank McCourt’s memoir of Ireland in the 1940’s for an account of Ireland today, which leads to great confusion when they travel to Ireland only to discover that everybody under 30 has four college degrees, a garage filled with BMW’s and no relatives serving in the priesthood; and 3) there is no corner on earth where somebody named McCourt can be just another person with pink skin, blue eyes and a raffish manner.

Malachy McCourt, diving instructor and proprietor of the Scuba Duba Doo diving school in Bali, (www.DiveCenterBali.com), is the 39-year-old son of West Side storyteller Malachy McCourt. And Malachy the storyteller, of course, is Frank McCourt’s brother, and they are the sons of the Malachy McCourt who made several cameo appearances in Angela’s Ashes . Mr. McCourt the diver is the brother of Conor McCourt, a sergeant in the New York Police Department and producer of two documentary films, The McCourts of Limerick and The McCourts of New York .

“I left New York years ago, it was killing me, it was bad,” Mr. McCourt said via telephone in Bali, without elaborating (those familiar with the McCourt family saga are free to form their own theories). “I went to San Francisco and got a job as a bartender because it was the only trade I knew.” He was being overly modest, for the record shows that he was more talented than he let on. Before he left New York, he had worked as a painter … of parking-lot spaces.

Gregarious like his father, he became friendly with some customers who were dreaming of buying boats and running cruises from the West Coast to Tahiti. “I didn’t know anything about boats, but they hired me to work on the boat in the daytime and tend bar at night,” he said. Sure, they loved boats, all right, but none of them was very keen on maintenance. So guess who was told to dive in and scrape the barnacles off the hull? “I went down wearing a mask and jeans,” Mr. McCourt said. “I thought it was exciting. They thought it was funny.”

They weren’t laughing when the boat ran aground on the great barrier reef known as financial insolvency. Mr. McCourt, still determined to see the world and now the owner of a scuba-diving license, headed to Australia, where he put his enthusiasm for the deep blue sea to good work by opening a diving school. He waited for the Aussies to admit him as a legal resident but gave up after several years and, through friends, set up shop in Thailand. Finally he decided to return to New York, despite his bad memories. But the plane home stopped on Bali. And so did he. “The people,” he said, “were so warm.”

He has been there since the mid-1990’s, and so he missed out on all the McCourt hoopla in New York. This being the global age, however, word quickly spread to Bali of the work of his father, uncle and brother.

“I’m asked if I’m Frank’s brother, or if I wrote that book. I just tell them I’m Frank’s nephew,” he said.

Was he surprised to find himself a member of one of the world’s most famous families?

“Frank’s first book surprised me,” he said. “I read it three times. It was a great book.” Er, what about his father’s book? “It was hilarious, but I wasn’t surprised because even as a little kid, I knew his life would make a great book. My father was a wild man.”

That sound you hear is the voice of the elder Malachy saying: ” Is , my son, is .”

–Terry Golway

Smokin’ Bowles: Girl Next Door Gets Nasty on Broadway

Lea Thompson was slowly scratching a big red bug bite on her thigh with her left hand in a backstage dressing room at Studio 54. Her other hand held a plastic cup of Diet Coke, from which she periodically drew long, mighty sips through a straw. In two hours, Ms. Thompson was due to take the stage in the revival of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret as Sally Bowles, a hedonistic American cabaret singer in pre-World War II Berlin who escapes her troubles in booze, men and song. But as Ms. Thompson sat on a tiny couch wearing green short-shorts, a gray T-shirt and green nail polish, she reflected on a much earlier role: her turn as the younger version of Michael J. Fox’s mom in Back to the Future .

“That was a twisted part,” Ms. Thompson, 39, said of her role in the 1985 film. “The depth of it: Oedipus and replacing your father and your mother being in love with you–those themes are really strange. I understood the character very well, the horny little 50’s girl I was playing. It was just like a cat. I had images in my mind. I was cat, you know.”

Ms. Thompson purred.

“Cause I grew up with cats and when they were in heat, when I was growing up in Minnesota. You know, ‘Puuuurrrrr. Purrr. Purrrr.’ That’s basically the image I used.”

Remember, reader, Ms. Thompson’s lethal mixture of girl-next-doorness and subterranean sexual energy that drove everyone wild, oh, those 15 years ago? There were other great parts, too. She was the girlfriend in All the Right Moves , an early Tom Cruise vehicle. She was the high school princess in John Hughes’ Some Kind of Wonderful and C. Thomas Howell’s girlfriend in Red Dawn , one of the top films ever made about Midwestern high school students forming a militia to defend the United States from an invading Soviet army. Ms. Thompson even managed to spice up Space Camp . Whatever it was, she had it , and we just knew Ms. Thompson was going to entertain us for years to come.

But then something horrible happened. Caroline in the City happened. It was one of those pleasantly bland NBC sitcoms that’s bad, but somehow not bad enough to get booted off the air. We waited patiently for four years while Caroline went through its tortured cycle, waiting for the real Lea Thompson to return. Then Ms. Thompson began appearing in Chevrolet truck commercials, speaking the memorable line, “It’s the Chevy make-your-money-count year-end event: 2.9 percent A.P.R. financing on Chevy Malibu.”

“I don’t get many offers. I basically do what people give me,” Ms. Thompson said. “I auditioned for all those weird movies and no one would give them to me. They just gave me the normal stuff because I looked normal. It’s always about the new girl. It’s always about the new girl. They’re cheaper. Once you get your price up–and the parts aren’t usually that difficult–so they’re like, ‘Get the new girl, she’s cheaper.’ I used to be jealous and now I’m like, ‘Aw, you got a couple of more years.’ So you’ve got to do TV. You’ve got to do theater, you do TV movies, you do commercials.”

And what about those Chevy commercials?

“It’s not like I was sitting at home saying that I have this great truck,” she said. “I like the fact that I went up there and said, ‘Hey, buy a Chevy.’ There’s something really honest about it. I’m just selling. I didn’t have to lie. I didn’t have to say I only drive Chevy trucks. I didn’t even have to say ‘Hi, I’m Lea Thompson.’ I don’t know. I have had the weirdest career. I don’t even try and guess it anymore.”

Ms. Thompson was having a moment.

“I just do what they tell me to do. Whatever comes up. You have to. I have never been one to sculpt my career. I should have, obviously. But I never sculpted it.”

Now perhaps Ms. Thompson has found the perfect role in Sally Bowles.

“She’s not that bad of a girl,” Ms. Thompson said of her character in Cabaret . “She’s all about love and I have a lot of love in my heart. I have a big family. I have a big heart and I relate to her. She just gets a little misguided, that’s all. She’s in a bad place at a bad time. You’re supposed to be good, stay home, don’t get out of line and say ‘yes, sir’ to every man that tells you to do something, and she’s not like that. Any strong sexy woman always has a hard time in this world.”

–William Berlind