Television's Renaissance Man

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

MICHAEL MORIARTY is a six-foot-two-inch imp - much too tall to be an imp, of course. And if you remember him mostly from his role as the icy SS officer Dorf in the TV mini-series ``Holocaust,'' it might be a credibility stretch to picture this imp at Fat Tuesday's jazz club here. Moriarty's fingers skipped across the piano keys, and he flashed a boyish grin at each twist and turn of his madcap muse, rising from the piano bench and falling to his knees to scat sing a plea to his audience. His phrases bou nced off the swinging and solid bass of Ron Carter and the drums of Terry Clarke. Moriarty, who just turned 50, is an original. And he's having serious fun, doing one of the many things he loves to do and does well.

He's an actor, of course, and that's all some people know about him: he was Henry Wiggen in the film ``Bang the Drum Slowly''; the Gentleman Caller in ``The Glass Menagerie, which won him his first Emmy Award; his roles in both the TV and theater film versions of ``Too Far to Go,'' and Clint Eastwood's ``Pale Rider''; the above-mentioned Dorf portrayal, for which he won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe award; and his current role as District Attorney Ben Stone on NBC's ``Law & Order,'' to men tion a few.

A man of varied talents

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There's a lot more to Michael Moriarty than acting. It's no clich'e to call him a renaissance man - he's not only a fine actor and a truly original jazz pianist, composer, and singer - he's also an accomplished composer and arranger of chamber music.

Since 1985, Moriarty has been composing for chamber orchestra, string quartet, piano, and solo violin. His ``Symphony for String Orchestra'' - a joyful, reverent neo-Baroque composition - was performed by the Kammergild Chamber Orchestra of St. Louis.

``I'm the happiest man I know,'' said Moriarty the next day over a big bowl of pasta.

The last thing he worries about are those two awful expressions: ``spreading himself too thin'' or ``jack of all trades and master of none.''

As far as Moriarty is concerned, Americans are far too obsessed with doing one thing only, and being the best at it, being No. 1. He calls the United States `` ... a nation of specialists. We're obsessive workaholics, addicted to one pursuit.''

Moriarty's credo is quite different:

``If I'm good at something I figure I can move on to another area,'' he said. ``I don't have to be the best there is. What does being No. 1 mean? The liabilities are as great as the assets. Just be you, that's how you measure the best. Be the you that God made.''

It's Moriarty's opinion that immigration had a lot to do with people in the US ending up as specialists.

``We're still a nation created by immigrants whose only belief is, `If I work hard I can create a new life and a new world.'''

In a society where individuals dedicate themselves to one pursuit, they do, says Moriarty, create a climate of high achievement. But there's also plenty of competition, not all of it healthy. When competition becomes too strong, he contends, we can sometimes fall into the trap of resenting the success of others - an attitude that is ultimately self-defeating.

``If you resent the success of others, you keep it from yourself,'' he said. ``It's amazing. The minute you have a bitter element in you about anyone, you postpone your own success.''

Moriarty's spiritual approach to his work and life have also made him a happy father and husband.

His son Matthew Christopher, may end up following in his father's footsteps. At age 18 he's already a he's a rock drummer with a his own band called the Blueprints (although Dad says, ``My body wants to swing ... it doesn't want to rock and roll!'').

His wife, Anne Martin, a social worker in psychiatry, is a voracious reader (``Mostly about sports,'' says Moriarty, ``but she doesn't play them.'') At his Fat Tuesday gig, Moriarty expressed his affection for Anne with the charmingly witty song, ``I Love My Wife.''

A compact disc release

So where does the renaissance man go from here? He's just come out with a new jazz compact disc, ``The Michael Moriarty Jazz Trio,'' on his own Evergrowth label, and his Fat Tuesday performance was recorded live for an upcoming CD.

He's also finishing up a symphony for a major-sized orchestra, looking forward to a new season of ``Law and Order'' in the fall (which he says is his heart's desire: ``It's in my own city, I love everybody I work with''), and writing a one-man show in which he will (are you ready for this?) - dance! A piece of cake for Michael Moriarty, who, with all his activities, has carved out one simple purpose for himself:

``It's to live my life as a psalm, as a hymn of praise, and if I keep reminding myself of that purpose, everything falls into place.''

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