six degrees

Almost anyone can get to Kevin Bacon in a few moves. But it takes a special circle of friends and family to find your way to Charlie Manson.

We don’t have a water cooler at Mt. Lebanon Magazine. We kind of cluster around paper, but one of the topics that often comes up is the Six Degrees of Separation Game. You know it—it’s the exercise where you try to link yourself with someone famous in six or fewer steps based on the John Guare play. The theory claims we all know someone who knows someone else, even though that will never get you free Steelers or Kennywood tickets, because pretty much no one has those.

When my son, Harrison, recently played violin onstage in a school concert with Mark Wood, who has played onstage with Paul McCartney, he got to his namesake, George Harrison, in three degrees. My mother was in a movie (Stage Struck) with Christopher Plummer so that gets me three degrees from George Clooney and Matt Damon (Syriana), Nicolas Cage and John Voight (National Treasure), Denzel Washington (Malcolm X) and also, via Julie Andrews (The Sound of Music), to Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries) and Mike Myers (Shrek). Mike Myers’ stints on Saturday Night Live and Austin Powers gets me to just about everyone I’d want at my cocktail party. (Hello, Beyoncé, Rob Lowe, John Travolta, Will Ferrell and Steve Martin!) Myers even gets my husband connected to Elizabeth Hurley and Gwyneth Paltrow and I haven’t heard him complain.

One of the game’s biggest offshoots was Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which proved nearly everyone in Hollywood is linked to the actor. I would argue that Christopher Walken is a better interconnector, but no one asked me.

The game always seems to be a contest as to who can connect to the most awesome person. What you never see is people competing to link to the worst person possible. In fact, it’s a lot harder to do. But if you subscribe to the play’s theory that everyone in the world is connected by those six degrees, we must all be connected to some seriously lousy lowlifes as well as Grammy winners, which in some cases, are one and the same.

My genealogy skills stink and both sides of my family were immigrants whose names were Anglicized and they brought few records with them so I can’t really try to connect with someone historically heinous like Genghis Khan, one of the Kardashians or Ivan the Terrible, although with the latter, since I am Russian, there are always possibilities. Still, most of my unsavory connections are somewhat more local.

My maternal grandmother once went to a fancy dinner in Chicago hosted by a very polite man named Albert, whom she realized years later, was Al Capone. When my husband was in college at Penn State, he had a class with Ted Bundy’s cousin, a person I met briefly while shooting my mouth off at one of the bars about what a crazy person Ted was and how the death penalty seemed kind of OK to me in his case. “Uh, he’s my cousin,” she said. That is a real conversation killer.

While I was at Penn State, I was pretty broke, so we Trick-or-Treated with the kiddos for fun (Full-size candy bars in College Heights!). One of the houses we visited was Joe Paterno’s, so I think that’s enough to get me to Jerry Sandusky in two degrees.

But follow this one: Mom to Christopher Plummer to Harrison Ford (Hanover Street) to Roman Polanski (Frantic) to Sharon Tate (married to Roman) to Charles Manson, who killed Sharon Tate. Holy Helter Skelter. Beat that.

If you insist on playing the old way, I can still get to Kevin Bacon in five steps: Mom to Christopher Plummer to Julie Andrews to Steve Carell (Despicable Me) to Kevin Bacon (Crazy Stupid Love). That leaves an extra degree to  somehow try to get to John Wayne Gacy.


Wanna try it yourself? Check out The Oracle of Bacon, a program and an app that can help you make the connections.