Good Time Charlie on the silver screen

For some reason this afternoon I got to thinking about Charlie Wilson. Who is Charlie Wilson you might ask? Well, Tom Hanks is set to show you when the film version of George Crile’s book “Charlie Wilson’s War” is released.

Charlie was a Democratic congressman from Lufkin, Texas, for more than 20 years. Before retiring to become a lobbyist in 1996, Wilson was less known for major legislation and best known for his love of carousing and skirt-chasing. “Good Time Charlie,” he was called. The book by former “60 Minutes” producer Crile — published last year — makes the case that Wilson almost single-handedly helped the Afghan Mujaheddin rebels defeat the Soviet Army by quietly funneling congressional money to the CIA for weapons. Crile’s book is a great read, full of as much intrigue as any spy thriller, and doesn’t hide the human frailties that make Wilson such a fascinating and complex character.

I guess Charlie was my congressman for most of my adult life. I didn’t really know him well. I talked to him a number of times as a journalist and I did accompany him along with others on a trip in his massive recreational vehicle one time. We went to check out a machine shop in my area for which Charlie had helped secure a defense contract. I remember the BS was pretty deep in the RV that afternoon, figuratively speaking, as Charlie entertained us with tales from his lively world.

Charlie had weathered more than a few scandals in office — drunk driving — cocaine investigation — flying a beauty queen on board a government jet to accompany him to Pakistan — the U.S. House check-kiting scandal. So representing in Congress a district in the East Texas pineywoods which puts the Bible in the Bible Belt, you would think the voters would throw this cad out on his ear. Ha! He kept getting elected and left Congress on his own terms.

What was so fascinating was seeing little old lady constituents of his who fawned over the tall, lanky Wilson. These paragons of East Texas virtue just loved old Charlie. I guess some of his virtuous constituents — both men and women — may have lived vicariously through him and his escapades. Charlie, who was notorious for hiring beautiful women, was also a master at providing services for his constituents. His campaign slogan was “Taking Care of the Home Folks” and I suspect that played no minor role in his serving 24 years in Congress.

Aaron Sorkin, creator of TV’s “The West Wing,” is adapting the book about Charlie to a screenplay in which Hanks will star as the former congressman. I’m really looking forward to the movie.

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