Medford-based producer realizes a goal as he brings filmmaking experience to valley. 

By BILL VARBLE. Mail Tribune. Article courtesy of Philip Shoffner.

William Windom sits on a ratty bench on the back porch of the old farmhouse in a scroungy undershirt and an old cotton bathrobe getting makeup dabbed on his worn icon of a face. It’s a face familiar from 100 movies from "To Kill a Mockingbird" to Clint Eastwood’s "True Crime."

Barry Corbin stands nearby clutching a Bible as they pull tags from his costume and knead the muscles of his neck. Like Windom’s, Corbin’s is a familiar face, mostly from westerns like "Urban Cowboy" and "Lonesome Dove."

Actors William Windom, left, and Barry Corbin pose for a photograph Friday with producer Sam Baldoni on the set of “Yesterday’s Dreams” in Ashland.

The veteran character actors have featured roles in "Yesterday’s Dreams," and principal photography is heading into the home stretch. Corbin, 64, and Windom, 81, are scheduled to fly back to Los Angeles in a few days, and producer Sam Baldoni and director Scott Thomas would like to wrap up the scene, which is being shot Friday in Ashland.

The picture is being made by Living the Dream Productions, headed by Baldoni, of Medford, and partners Mike Erwin and Max Kirishima, who have been producing independent films since 1989. It’s the first one they’ve made in Oregon.

For Baldoni it’s a realization of a longtime dream. After moving to Southern Oregon a decade ago from Southern California to raise his family here, he continued working in Los Angeles but never took his eye off a goal of producing feature films here.

"Oregon is a great place to make movies," he says off the set.

"Yesterday’s Dreams" is a drama about a 40-ish nebbish named Harvey finding somebody to love against all odds. The screenplay is by California writer Kevin Foster, who was inspired by "Marty," the 1955 movie written by Paddy Chayevsky for which Ernest Borgnine won an Academy Award for best actor.

Shooting began about three weeks ago and is scheduled to wrap up this week. Thomas and some crew members are from Los Angeles. Others are from Portland. In all, the movie people will spend about six weeks here. Some scenes were shot in Shady Cove. Thomas wanted to shoot in Jacksonville, but the details proved too difficult to work out.

Today’s scene is an exterior at an old ranch house overlooking the Bear Creek Valley just minutes from downtown Ashland. The camera and lights are set up near derelict car bodies and an old washing machine. Cables snake through the weeds. Far below, trucks drone by on Interstate 5.

The down-at-the-heels ambiance is perfect for the hardscrabble home of Windom’s character, Herb, Harvey’s manipulative father. Windom looks the part, sporting a four-day stubble, puffing on a cigar, pulling from what looks like a bottle of whiskey and exuding louche.

During a break, he says he started his acting career playing perhaps Shakespeare’s greatest villain, Richard III, and he has loved playing bad guys ever since.

"The only fun part is the meanies," he says. "Good guys are no fun."

What’s his character’s motivation?

"He wants to keep his son as a slave."

The whiskey he sips is actually tea.

When Foster, who also plays Harvey, brought the script to Baldoni, the producer thought it looked more like a novel, but something about it caught his eye. Thomas describes the story as "two lonely people looking for love." He doesn’t think it’s too corny for today’s audience.

After shooting wraps up, Thomas and film editors in L.A. will spend about four months on post-production. Baldoni plans to enter the picture on the festival circuit next year in hopes of a deal with a major distributor like MGM. He doesn’t talk budget except to say it’s smaller than a typical Hollywood picture and larger than a typical indie film.

In the scene being shot Friday, the pastor at Harvey’s church, a country preacher played by Corbin, has come to plead with the selfish Herb to see the light and let go of his son. Two dozen cast and crew members stand by as Corbin and Windom get concealed microphones stuffed into their costumes.

"I’m ready," Corbin declares.

He wears a new denim shirt and suspenders, cowboy boots and an old straw hat. He is a bigger man than he appears in the movies, and all the sportcoats from wardrobe are too small. It’s decided it doesn’t matter.

Corbin as pastor clenches his Bible and radiates righteousness.

Thomas calls for quiet, and the camera rolls.

"Action," Thomas says.

"He’s a lazy bum," Herb says, "and if it wasn’t for me he wouldn’t have a job or a place to live."

They argue.

"What makes you a hard man?" the pastor finally asks.

"Life. Life makes you hard," Windom as Herb says.

The men speak their lines naturally, focusing on and playing off each other.

Several times Windom has to ask for a line. This is OK, because the scene will be shot over and over.

It’s being filmed first in a long establishing shot from the front of the house with the camera on Corbin’s back as he approaches Windom, who is seated on the porch facing the camera. Thomas will shoot the scene over from a different angle, closer, and over and over with close-ups of both actors to cut to in the finished picture.

A TV camera embedded in the movie camera relays an image to Thomas, who watches what the camera is getting from a monitor under a nearby tree.

"Rolling," Thomas calls again. "Action."

Large flat screens bounce diffused light onto the actors.

"What makes you a hard man?" Pastor asks.

"Life makes you hard," Herb says.

As the confrontation between the two men sharpens, Windom’s eyes go granite, and Corbin’s voice rises.

"He needs a companion," Corbin yells. "And it ain’t you!"

"He’s a no-good bum and a loser!" Windom insists.

He accuses Pastor of turning his son against him, accuses Harvey of coming between him and his wife. Corbin wheels.

"Helen died of the diabetes while you was out whorin’ around!" he yells.

On a monitor, the frustrated preacher is framed stalking angrily around the side of the house and getting in his car.

"Watch out for them chickens!" Windom calls after him.

"Cut," Thomas says.

Smiles break out, but not for long. The scene will be shot over and over. It’s cold, and the afternoon is wearing on.

"Rolling," Thomas calls. "ACTION."

"What makes you a hard man?" the preacher asks.

Windom glares at Corbin as if he’s never been asked the question.

"Life," Windom says. "Life makes you hard."
 

TV-Guide. Feb 4-10, 1989.

Featured in this week's high-in-the-saddle miniseries "Lonesome Dove" is one of the hottest names on the character-acting scene, Barry Corbin. He's perhaps best known as John Travolta's kindly Uncle Bob Davis in 1980's "Urban Cowboy," or as Pete in 1983's "The Thorn Birds."

Last summer, while he was in town playing a psychopathic killer in October's NBC TV-movie "The People Across The Lake" (with Valerie Harper and Gerald McRaney), Corbin enthusiastically held forth on "Lonesome Dove." "It's the story of three retired Texas Rangers who decide Texas is not violent enough for 'em," he chuckles. "My story is one of the subplots, I play a deputy sheriff, Roscoe Brown, from Fort Smith, Ark., who's never been away from that town. He's got the sensibilities and the mental capacities of a 6-year-old child."

A devoted Western fan since childhood matinees featuring John Wayne and Gary Cooper set his mind on an acting career, Corbin thinks a lot hangs in the balance of "Lonesome Dove's" reception. "I think it might give the Western a fair shake," he says. "Everybody's been sayin' the Western's dead. Well, I think we haven't had a Western that was in the old mold in a long while. And this one is." Then he grins. "So if it one doesn't do anything, I guess the Western is dead."

Corbin originally studied acting at Texas Tech, then moved to New York for 14 years of stage work. "I was astonished wen I first got there," he recalls. "People were yellin' and screamin' and calling each other sons of bitches. By God, I couldn't fathom somebody doin' that where I came from; somebody'd kill ya."

After moving to L.A. in 1977, his movie roles have included "Urban Cowboy," "Stir Crazy," "Any Which Way You Can" and "Honkytonk Man."

He's received TV exposure as Sheriff Fenton Washburn on "Dallas" ("Whenever they need somebody to come out and arrest somebody out at Southfork, they hire me"), and on NBC's if-Elvis-Presley-was-a-Walton series "Boone" in the '83-84, season. Corbin played a Colonel Parker type who managed his rockabilly singer son's career with down-home horse sense.

Now 48, Corbin notes, "I'm kinda ruined for any kind of honest work." With a constant demand for his good ol' boy style, will he ever be a leading man? The question cracks him up. "Any actor who says he's in control of his destiny is lying or a fool. I've been lucky that I've been told to do some pretty good stuff. Instead of doing leading man stuff, I get to do good stuff. I never will be a leading man - unless it's some sort of an odd, quirky character. You get to be 45-50 years old, and you're a character actor - or you might as well go sell insurance. 'Cause no one wants to see a 50-year-old man kiss a woman. You know the folks that go to see movies now would be thunderstruck if they saw that."

He sums up with the character actor's credo: "I'm just workin' as much as I can until somebody finds out about me."

Barry Corbin, Western character actor and star of TV's Northern Exposure, is the real McCoy. 

Heartland USA Magazine, July/August 1998 - Human Interest. By Jack McQuarrie.

As they approach the Will Rogers Coliseum, most of the people are oblivious to the burly man who stands off to one side of the entryway, smoking a cigar and surveying the surrounding scene from under the wide brim of a black cowboy hat.

But then two women stop and stare. After a whispered exchange, one summons her courage and approaches the man. "Are you Barry Corbin?" she asks. Upon receiving an affirmative response, she squeals in delight and asks for an autograph. Soon several other people have joined the group, and the veteran actor chats amiably with his admirers, occasionally cracking one-liners that provoke gusts of laughter.

Corbin, who is best known for his role as the crusty ex-astronaut Maurice Minnifield on the discontinued CBS series "Northern Exposure", is on hand to participate in a celebrity cutting horse event held in Fort Worth in conjunction with the NCHA World Championship Futurity.

As Corbin rides his steed around the arena during the warmup session, you can't help noticing that, unlike some of the other celebrities, he looks like he belongs in the saddle. He's introduced to the crowd by a young woman who asks, "Are you going to be in Fort Worth for a while?"

"Well," Corbin responds after a slight pause, "since I live here and pay taxes, I'll probably stay here."

As laughter sweeps through the crowd, you can't help feeling a little sorry for the announcer, who is probably wishing she had done her homework. After all, you expect the stars of the stage and screen to live in Manhattan, Beverly Hills or Malibu - not Cowtown USA.

It's also a surprise to find the noted actor mingling so unpretentiously with the common folks, behaving like a regular, laid-back guy who reminds you of someone you know. The sort of guy, that is, who is most content on his 15-acre mini-ranch, enjoying his family and indulging his lifelong fascination with the cowboy life.

The livestock on the spread includes three cutting horses, six head of cattle, a young buffalo called Charlie, and "four or five dogs." The 58-year-old-actor's idea of a good time, he confesses with a broad grin, is "to feed horses and swamp out stalls." A good way, he infers, for someone in his profession to keep his head on straight, feet firmly planted on the ground.

Asked why he has chosen to settle in Fort Worth rather than on the East or West Coast, he responds "Well, I've lived on both coasts and I prefer it here." The remark is followed by a huge smile and a pregnant pause.

When pressed to elaborate, he obliges. "Your sense of reality gets skewed out there," he says. "A very strange thing happens. You tend to think the United States is New York and California. Most of the United States isn't New York and California."

"I do my best to stay out of Hollywood," he continues. "I've been there. There's nothing the matter with it. It just doesn't suit me. I can manage my acting career just as well from Fort Worth."

So what prompted such a guy to take up acting in the first place? "I don't know" he replies with a chuckle. "I guess it's kind of like being a preacher. Either you got the calling or you don't."

Corbin attended Texas Tech off and on for five years. "My degree, if I had one, would have been in theater, poker, pool and partyin', in that order," he says. Following his college years, he spent two years in the Marines and then performed in regional theaters around the country before deciding in 1965 that he needed to move to New York or California to advance his career.

Unable to decide between the two coasts, Corbin flipped a coin, literally, and found himself headed to New York, where he stayed for twelve years, starring on and off Broadway. Much of the work he did during those years was in Shakespearean productions, which seems strange given the dramatic persona the actor has today.

But Corbin isn't about to complain that he has been typecast. "I think that I was pretty much typecast as a Texas good 'ol boy at birth, but there's a lot of range within that limitation," he says.

As a young man in New York, however, Corbin struggled to retain his identity, resisting pressure to become something he wasn't. Urged to discard his Texas drawl, he refused, reasoning that "this is me, and the only thing I have to sell is me."

In this, he heeded the advice that Ben Johnson once received from the celebrated director John Ford: "Don't forget to stay real."

In 1977, Corbin moved to Los Angeles and found the next three years "just a struggle to keep body and soul together." But everything turned around in 1980, when he landed the part of John Travolta's Uncle Bob in "Urban Cowboy."

Since then, Corbin has found steady work as an actor, creating memorable roles in dozens of films and TV shows. Of all the productions he has appeared in, however, "Northern Exposure" - which remains popular in reruns -  was his favorite. "It was a lot of fun," he says. "The best thing was getting to spend time with good friends and get paid for it."

Is he selective in his choice of roles? "Well, I try to be," he says, "Sometimes, if I'm broke, I don't have too much choice in it."

Corbin, who regards himself as a "working actor," doesn't appear to be at imminent risk of going broke. For one thing, he recently played New Orleans lawman C.D. LeBlanc on "The Big Easy," which aired on the USA Network. He has also made guest appearances on "Columbo" and "Ink."

Of his projects in the last year or two, however, none was closer to his heart than "Charlie Goodnight's Last Night," a one-man play in which he portrayed the pioneer cattleman who was the inspiration for Captain Woodrow Call in Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove."

Not only did the stage production allow him to immerse himself in a role that dovetails with his ardent interest in the Wild West era, but it also represented a welcome challenge. "I'd wanted to do a one-man show for some time," Corbin says. As the legendary Goodnight - on the last night of his life, at the age of 93 - Corbin rendered a riveting performance that earned him a place alongside such luminaries of the one-character stage fraternity as Hal Holbrook (Mark Twain) and James Whitmore (Will Rogers and Harry Truman).

In real life, too, Corbin likes to act the part - though he has slacked off in cutting horse competitions since suffering a broken foot and ankle a few years ago, when he wound up underneath a horse. "My horse hit a patch of soft ground and just went down like he'd been shot," Corbin recalls.

He hasn't cut back when it comes to interacting with his fans, however. During an age when many stars studiously avoid their followers, Corbin seems to relish opportunities to mingle with them.

For example, after a showing of Corbin's play "Throckmorton, TX 76083," the actor stood outside the Main Street Theater in the small town of Mansfield, Texas, chatting with members of the audience for almost an hour. Standing off to one side, Corbin's daughter, Shannon Ross, regarded the crowd clustered around her father and chuckled. "He really likes people," she said. According to Ross, Corbin often expresses his opinion that "you don't bite the hand that feeds you."

For Corbin, it seems, playing a good 'ol boy is just a second nature.

The American Quarter Horse Journal, "Bits & Pieces" - July 2001.

Remember "Maurice Minnifield" - the pushy, opinionated, haughty ex-astronaut from the television series "Northern Exposure"? Well, turns out ol' Maurice is, in real life, a horseman and a cattleman, complete with a ranch in the Fort Worth, Texas, area. Folks there know him as Barry Corbin.

A former Marine, a Texas native and a Texas Tech graduate, Corbin has earned the right to wear his boots and hat, and he's true to his roots. His long résumé includes numerous acting roles of the cowboy type, like Uncle Bob in "Urban Cowboy." He's also had film roles in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," and played the part of Jud in "Oklahoma." Now, he performs a one-man traveling show which he co-wrote called "Charlie Goodnight's Last Night," about the celebrated Texas cowboy.

Corbin isn't shy in front of an audience, and he proved that last month when he delivered the keynote address at Equitana USA in Lexington, Kentucky - the largest trade show and equestrian gathering ever held in North America. More than 800 clinics, lectures, seminars and demonstrations were part of the all-breed, all-discipline event. Last year's Equitana USA attracted more than 55,000 people.

In "WarGames," character actor Barry Corbin plays General Beringer, the reluctant button pusher.

Just who is this Barry Corbin, anyway?
'
War Games' may finally be his ticket to fame.

Los Angeles Herald Examiner / Weekend Style / Cover Story, Friday, June 3, 1983.
By Sean Mitchell, Herald Staff Writer.

His real name is Barry Corbin, but after today, when the film "WarGames" opens on screens across the nation, he is going to be known more commonly as General Beringer, Hollywood's first enlightened redneck military hero in recent memory.

In the much-anticipated movie about a mischievous high-school computer whiz who accidentally pushes the world to the brink of World War III, Corbin plays a no-nonsense Air Force General who fears and resists the increasing computerization of the U.S. nuclear defense system.

Pitted against a computer advocate from the Defense Department (played by Dabney Coleman), Corbin's General Beringer is quite the opposite of the mad general played by Sterling Hayden in the 1963 version of Armageddon found in "Dr. Strangelove." Even as he barks orders inside the NORAD command center during a World War III alert, Beringer throws over the military stereotype, erring on the side of caution.

Although Corbin's face is familiar and his performance in "WarGames" a delight, you will not find him credited in the major advertisements for the film (which officially stars Coleman and Matthew Broderick). He stands among the throng of supporting actors in Hollywood whose skills are more readily identified than their names.

"There's that guy again," a lot of people will be murmuring when they get their first look at General Beringer. "Who is he?"

Some moviegoers will remember Uncle Bob, John Travolta's surrogate father in "Urban Cowboy." That was Corbin in his first film role, weighing in as the warm-hearted refinery worker who anchored the movie's domestic scenes. Others will recall Arnspringer, the con man who owed Clint Eastwood money in "Honkytonk Man." TV fans will recognize the Sheriff Washburn character seen regularly on "Dallas," patiently putting up with the imperial shenanigans of the Ewings.

"I'm usually on at the end of the season when they have to get somebody shot or killed, you know," says the paunchy 43-year-old actor. His stardom is not yet such that he gets bothered in public. On location recently in Houston for the new Burt Reynolds movie, "The Man Who Loved Women," Corbin thought a woman recognized him as he took a walk near his hotel. "But she turned out to be a hooker."

Just who is he really?

Since moving to Los Angeles from New York in 1977, Corbin has been seen in more than a dozen films and television shows, playing an assortment of good ol' boys, lawmen and jowly gentlemen close to the earth. He once lost 20 pounds, but put them right back on when he discovered that casting directors preferred the additional girth.

Though on stage he has played Falstaff and Mercutio, and the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas on screen, he has become associated with the characters who share a connection, real or implied, to Corbin's home state of Texas.

In the recent miniseries "The Thorn Birds," set in Australia, he played Beer Barrel Pete, the foreman of Drouhgeda. But even there, he figures, "I was an English Texan, which is what an Australian really is."

In the fall he will have a major role on the new NBC-TV series, "Boone," playing the father-turned-manager of a young country and western singer in Tennessee.

On camera Corbin is distinguished by a sober tight-lipped countenance dotted with brown eyes that narrow into fierce slits at the hint of trouble. His mouth is usually busy with a pipe, a cigar or a pinch of Redman, and seems willing to open only when diction makes it absolutely necessary. But when he does open his mouth, what comes out are taut, uncomplicated phrases that seem to take the shortest possible route between two points of dialogue.

The honesty conveyed by his approach has not been lost on audiences or directors.

And the chew is real. Pasted on the back of his late model Mercury station wagon is a bumper sticker that reads "Pass with care, driver chewing tobacco."

Corbin doesn't think of himself as "a Texas actor," though he realizes "a lot of other people do."

It's only been in recent years that his natural accent, nurtured in the Panhandle town of Lubbock, has been more help than hindrance to him.

"Well, it's certainly been a help in the last five years. But when I was working in Stratford, Conn., in the Shakespeare Festival up there, people kept saying, 'You don't have to talk like that. What the hell's the matter with you?"

"There was a time in New York when I almost lost it just because I was not around people from Texas too much. But I always thought there was some value to it, some value to not denying your roots."

During his early years in the East, when working at a variety of day jobs to pay his rent, Corbin found that people treated him "like a hillbilly" because of the way he talked. At one point he sought refugee in a disguise, pretending to be from England as he demonstrated a toy named Tricky Tommy Turtle in a department store in New York.

"I would go in character every morning and talk with an English accent all day because they wouldn't bully me. They'd bully me if I came in and talked like I'm talking now. But I discovered that if I went in with a supercilious English accent, they wouldn't bully me, they'd be afraid of me. It was a very odd, schizophrenic period in my life, I'd stay in character from nine in the morning to about six at night."

His serious acting efforts continued in the theater, mainly in supporting roles, in New York and around the country for 15 years. He appeared in "Henry V" at Stratford, Conn., in Preston Jones' "The Last Meeting Of The Knights Of The White Magnolia" at Actors Theater of Louisville, in the initial off-Broadway production of Marsha Norman's "Getting Out." "I never made any money," he says, "until three years ago."

He now owns a house in Sun Valley, where he lives with his wife and their two small children.

When he and his wife decided to make the move west, it was without jobs in hand. "I came out here when I was 37 and didn't work until I was 39," Corbin said over a Coors late one night this week. He was sitting in a booth at a downtown restaurant after finishing a performance in one of his one-act plays, "Throckmorton, TX. 76083," being produced at the Embassy Backstage Theater. An earlier production of the same play landed him his current agent.

"We came out to see the play to look at him as a writer," recalls Virginia Raymond, of the Writers and Artists Agency, "but we felt more strongly about his acting." Corbin began writing plays in New York ("because I wasn't working") and when he arrived in Los Angeles, supported himself by writing 15-minute radio scripts for the Pacifica Network, as he continued to shuttle back and forth to regional theaters. Hollywood did not throw its doors open.

"The hardest thing out here is getting the right agent. An agent who knows anybody, who can get you in."

"A lot of it is luck. I'd prefer to downplay the luck part and say it's all because of my pluck and ability - why I'm working. But it's not. It's because I happened to be somewhere at a time when they needed somebody like me."

From the time he began acting at Texas Tech University Lubbock and through his years in the theater, Corbin says he was a "snob about stage actors being superior to film actors." But he has changed his mind about that since moving to California.

"There's no difference really. You've got actors ranging from genius to incompetent on both coasts."

"I'm a very intuitive actor. I'm not normally somebody that plans out a lot of stuff."

"In film you necessarily have to be a little more calculating. You have to plan a little more."

Another factor that may have changed his views on screen acting are the wages. "They pay you a ridiculous amount of money for these things," he has noticed approvingly.

 The son of a cotton-farmer turned lawyer, Corbin avows he always wanted to be a character actor, even in college. One of the first Hollywood actors that he admired was Walter Brenan. Among today's players he singles out Robert Duvall as "one of my heroes - if you can have heroes at my age."

He is still happy playing supporting roles, able to earn a good living at last without wading through the deep waters of stardom.

Corbin came late to the filming of "WarGames," after John Badham took over as director. He considered the part of Beringer "a good opportunity to play a general officer who was not a fool and who was not a villain. I think General Beringer starts out with people assuming he's gonna be some kind of tobacco-chewin' redneck monster. By the end of the picture, hopefully, people will like him and decide that he's not such a bad guy after all."

In real life Corbin is not militarily-inclined, though he did serve in the Marine Corps after graduating from college. "I never got out of the country. I got asthma."

General Beringer would also have had a dim view of Corbin's plans in 1968 when Richard Nixon was elected president. Corbin remembers being so disheartened and fearful for the future of the nation that he was going to retreat with a group of actor-friends into the hills of New Hampshire until Nixon finished his term. "We were gonna hide out. I guess that was a paranoid period in everybody's life." But he didn't follow through with the plan. Instead, he stuck with acting, even when it seemed impossible.

"Oh, I had second thoughts when I was about 35, as anybody will when they're 35 and broke. But by that time, it was too late. I was already gone. The only thing I could do would be work for Avis or somethin' like that."

Ala-Arts. Alabama State Council On The Arts And Humanities. Vol. 4, no. 10. Fall, 1974.
By Barry Corbin.

Barry Corbin is playwright-in-residence at the University of South Alabama. "Suckerrod Smith and the Cisco Kid," a humorous adult western by Mr. Corbin, was performed April 4-10 at the historic Bethel Theatre on the campus of U.S.A. (Sponsored by the ASCAH and NEA).

Somebody asked me the other day, "Why does anybody write a play?" I don't remember what my answer was, but it was probably either inane or downright dumb. I probably said something like: "Artistic fulfillment," or "To make money." If I'm sane, neither of those answers make any sense. My working hypothesis always has been that I am not yet ready for a strait jacket. You might get some argument on that point from a few of my friends, but let them write their own arguments. At any rate, I'm going to attempt to answer the question now, but first I'd like to debunk the easy answers I probably gave the person that asked that question in the first place.

Artistic fulfillment as far as I can figure out, is what a person does to scratch the itch to do something creative. Some of us itch more than others and we all have different ways of scratching. Some of us refinish furniture, others work in the garden, some others become lion tamers (which is a helluva way to scratch an itch, but to each his own). I'm an actor by trade, which works like calamine lotion when I'm working, but there are periods of enforced idleness. During those periods, I work in leather, write, and generally try to keep body and soul together. The last keeps me scratching in more ways than one. Anyway, as you can see, artistic fulfillment is a secondary (maybe a thirdary) motive for me to write a play.

As to the second phony reason for writing a play; e.g. "To make money," I can only say: "Optimistic hogwash!" If you look at the number of plays that make money against the number of plays that end up in a turkey souffle, you'll realize a person would have better luck aspiring to the professional solitaire tiddlywinks championship than in getting a play in Broadway. Even if it does end up being a good play (a thing that can never be guaranteed when you start it) and somebody options it for a Broadway production, the odds are better than even it'll die a gruesome death through no fault of yours (bad management, bad publicity, lousy production, etc.) So there's gotta be a motive that overshadows money.

Now we're getting down to the nitty gritty. If you've stayed with me this far, I'm sure you're on tenterhooks (whatever they are) to know why would anybody would write a play. Because it was there! Don't get mad and stop reading the article, I'm telling the truth. When I was growing up in West Texas, I fell in love with a lot of characters. Some of them were relatives, some were friends, and some were acquaintances, but I loved them indiscriminately. When I grew up and moved to New York I took all those characters with me. They banged and clattered around in my head for years. Sometimes one or another of them crashed and clanged so hard to get out of my head that I'd have to let him out, but it was always on a leash; I'd tell a story about him at a party and he'd be satisfied for a while. Well, they lived in my head like that for years. Some of them got bigger and some smaller, but I still loved them. Finally, last spring, somebody gave me and old typewriter and I decided to let some of my beloved characters out into the air. So I stirred them and mixed them up and turned them out on paper and they wrote a pretty good play. I had a little trouble with them at times. Some of them wanted to go running off in all different directions, but on the whole they'd listen to reason. If occasionally they wouldn't listen to reason, they were usually right and I was usually wrong. So all the characters in this play are real people I knew and loved. Some of them are dead, some are alive, but they're all full of life, breath, blood, and bone to me. They've been polished to diamond brilliance and honed to razor sharpness in my memory. I love them and want to share them with you. That's why I wrote this play.

Killeen Daily Herald, Roundup Magazine, Sunday, November 10, 1991.
By Frank Lovece, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

Though it sounds like a contradiction, there are stars in the world of character actors, those supporting performers with a face, voice or manner that makes them perfect for certain types of roles: Peter Lorre was one. Walter Brennan was another. In recent times, Christopher Lloyd comes to mind. And in very recent times, it's Barry Corbin, a co-star of the hit CBS-TV series "Northern Exposure."

Whether as retired astronaut Maurice Minnifield on that Monday-night show, or as Uncle Bob in "Urban Cowboy" (1980), or Gen. Beringer in "WarGames" (1983), the Corbin persona is a tough but decent authority figure, plain-talking and a little bull-headed, but always ready to give you a fair listen. Is Corbin himself like that? Not particularly, he says.

"I guess the closest character to me was when I played (the Welsh poet) Dylan Thomas in a stage play," Corbin muses with the flat twang of his native West Texas. "He had a very romantic outlook." And like Thomas, too, he confesses, "I was drinking kinda heavily in those days."

Maurice, conversely, is less lyrical than hard-charging, with macho likes and dislikes as well as a short fuse. Yet, he's also refined and philosophical, a gourmet cook and a lover of show tunes. His grand dream is to turn smalltown Cicely, the setting of "Northern Exposure," into the hub of an "Alaskan Riviera," with mini-malls and yogurt stands. Of course, It'll never happen; Cicely is Brigadoon revisited, and the spirits of the elders don't take to mini-malls.

"People say it's quirky and this and that, but I think it's something else entirely," Corbin says of the show. "It reflects what's good about the American character: cooperation, genuine concern for other people's problems, In this idealized little place in the middle of nowhere, everybody's concerned for everybody else, but nobody condemns anybody. The closest is my character, and he usually comes to accept things because he's curious."

The series, nominated for three Emmys last year, is a whimsical gem. Although it initially focused on a young New York City doctor (Rob Morrow) repaying his med-school debt with a four-year stint in a remote Alaskan town, "Northern Exposure" has become a showcase for delightfully surreal ensemble tales.

Occasionally, that goes kablooey: One episode ended shades of Gary Shandling! with characters breaking the fourth wall and talking about how to end the scene. To many, it was an unwelcome jolt.

"They got a whole lot of mail on that one," Corbin declares. "That ending was universally disliked within the cast; we tried to talk (the writers) into doing it another way."

At least it didn't almost get them thrown out of Roslyn, Wash., where most of the series exteriors are shot. That was the episode where the men of Cicely, in an annual ritual, greet the spring thaw with a joyful, naked run through the streets. Initially, the cast-members and extras wore either pants or a flesh colored dancer's belt. But then, someone offered to pay the extras $25 more to run naked for authenticity's sake, and just then a town official and his wife stepped onto the street, and, well...

"I was wearing pants," Corbin recalls. "I took my shirt off, wore my shoes and trousers, and they were shooting from the stomach up. It was the last shot before lunch. Then we broke for lunch and all hell broke loose. I was over putting my shirt on and I heard someone screaming but didn't pay attention. Then when I had my tray for lunch, I saw the police there. I think there was one or two of the actors that ran naked," including Morrow, as it turned out. "Some of them thought, 'That's narrow minded, they wanna arrest us.' I said 'No, it's not: they woulda arrested us in Los Angeles just the same!' "

Corbin, 51, was born in Lamesa, Texas, and at 7 years old, he decided to become an actor. After studying at Texas Tech and spending two years in the Marines - which ironically shaped his strong pacifist views - he began a long, struggling, peripatetic stage career. His first big break was "Urban Cowboy," and it gradually lead to character-actor stardom.

D Magazine, January 2001

Urban Cowboy
Texas native Barry Corbin starred in the hit TV show
Northern Exposure.
He knows Hollywood and he knows horses: Both have a tendency to bite.

(By Jeff Bowden)

The day before I met Barry Corbin, a photographer from a national magazine had flown in to snap Corbin’s picture to promote an upcoming TV show. Corbin is a cowboy and an actor who, in the arc of a 40-year stage and film career, has played everything from King Henry in Shakespeare’s Henry V to Roscoe Brown in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. Corbin is perhaps best known for his role as Maurice Minnifield on the Emmy Award-winning TV show Northern Exposure, in which he played a retired astronaut and business tycoon in Cicely, Alaska. Corbin lives on a ranchette in Arlington, not far from I-30 and a few houses from novelist Sandra Brown. 

"The photographer wanted me down at the corral," Corbin said in his West Texas drawl as we made our way east on Division Street toward lunch. On 15 acres, Corbin keeps a cutting horse or two, a couple of longhorns (one of which came from Will Rogers’ herd), a buffalo, and several miniature horses. It would be a mistake to overlook the diminutive equines.

"The old boy was lining me up, trying to get the longhorns in the background," Corbin continued. "He had his back to the miniature horses and couldn’t see ’em sneaking up behind him."

Given Corbin’s gift for story telling, I could see the horses close in on the doomed photographer.

"Great. Good. Terrific smile. Lift your hat a little. There. Barry, it almost looks like you’re laughing."

Then, suddenly, confusion and torn denim. "AUGH! WHAT THE…?"

The photographer wheeled in pain only to discover horses the size of tall dogs. When he turned back to Corbin, the photographer’s pupils were narrowed by pain and betrayal. "I kinda thought they were just going to sniff him." Corbin says, leaning over to me. The way he was grinning, I’d say he thought nothing of the sort. But I’d say it wasn’t personal either: Cowboy laughs often have a scar attached.

Corbin was still grinning as we turned in at the red anchor of Catfish Sam’s, where they promise love at first bite. The photographer was probably back in New York, lying on his stomach, reliving the hellish flight home. "I bet he had a mark back there, all right," Corbin said. "Those little guys can bite."

That first visit, Corbin and I chatted in a booth near the back of the restaurant. A table filled with women took turns glancing over at him. As we were leaving, a man asked him about Lonesome Dove, said he wanted a sequel. In light of the photographer’s experience, I’d characterize my first outing with Corbin as pleasantly uneventful.

When I showed up for our second afternoon together, I thought about wearing a rearview mirror as a joke, but a long time had passed between meetings and I wasn’t sure Corbin would see the humor in an otherwise balky headpiece.

With the help of his daughter Shannon, we’d scheduled a Barry Corbin film festival, which I thought might include Urban Cowboy, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, and perhaps Stir Crazy with Richard Pryor. I especially wanted to watch a Northern Exposure episode with him.

Corbin met me at his front door wearing boots, jeans, and a Western shirt. He welcomed me into his living room where we caught up a bit before ducking into the screening room. Corbin’s house has the look of a high-end Western store complete with a cabinet full of cutting horse trophies. The screening room is used to review movies for the Academy Awards.

"They start sending the movies out around Thanksgiving," he said, pointing me to one of two swivel chairs. I asked what his favorite movie was last year. "Oh, I really liked The Straight Story with Richard Farnsworth. I was hoping he’d get the award."

Even with the lights on the room is dark. There’s a projection TV at one end and a couch at the other. Scattered on the walls are small movie posters, including Son of Frankenstein, The Wizard of Oz, and Cape Fear. There is a framed photo of Roy Rogers.

Two small problems arose. First, Corbin doesn’t usually watch himself. In fact, he said he never watches TV. Second, the barn out back needed cleaning. But I didn’t know that when we sat down. "I'm not sure I can sit through a whole Northern Exposure," he tells me. "But I'll try."

"Why not?" I ask.

"I don't know," he said. "Sometimes I can watch myself in a movie from a long time ago, especially if I’ve forgotten the plot points. I watched one just the other night."

For a couple of hours we watched clips from various film and TV projects. Corbin has appeared in a dizzying array of both, including Who’s Harry Crumb?, WarGames, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Corbin was Sheriff Fenton Washburn in Dallas. He’s recently appeared on The Drew Carey Show, Spin City, King of the Hill, and Walker, Texas Ranger. He also has several movies in production.

Corbin got through the first video all right, answering my questions with polite yes’s, and no’s. If I asked a particularly good question, I got an, "Uh-huh." Halfway through the episode of Northern Exposure where Maurice throws a party for the whole town, I asked Corbin what he saw when he looked at the screen.

"Oh," he said. "The background. I look for people that I've known. Or I remember something that was going on in my life at the time." Corbin pointed to a tall Indian in Northern Exposure. "He was a nice guy. We had some good conversations."

As soon as the show was over, Corbin flipped on the lights and said that he needed to shovel the barn. Two stalls needed cleaning. "You can come, if you like," he said. "We can keep talking." Given how the festival was going, it made sense to head outside. With him mucking one stall and me the next, we talked over the walls. We met to offload our shovels at the John Deere mini-dump truck.

At the other end of the barn, a radio blared. Corbin leaves it on for the horses. The radio is tuned to country music station KPLX-FM 99.5 "The Wolf." Corbin is the official voice of The Wolf, pre-recording every conceivable introduction and segue. In effect, by leaving the radio on, he talks to his horses all day and night, telling them what time it is and which station they’re listening to. I kept waiting to hear Corbin’s voice coming from both ends of the barn at once, but it never did. We got to the bottom of our stalls before a station break.

With a shovel in his hand and a wall between us, Corbin was almost chatty. We talked about Hollywood. About how he almost didn’t get the role of Maurice Minnifield, or better put, how he almost didn’t get the opportunity to audition for the role. Corbin was up for another Western.

"They were down to two actors to play the part," he said. "We were called in to read for the producer. I was told to be there at 10 a.m." Corbin was there, as were the other actor and the casting director. The producer was nowhere to be found. Everyone waited. An hour later the phone rang. The producer said, "I’m out looking at horses. Tell 'em to come back tomorrow."

From my own experiences, Corbin is punctual and professional, if a little lean on information on the whereabouts of his miniature horses. Corbin let the casting director know that he didn’t like being stood up but appeared the next day for another appointment. Again, he waited for an hour in front of the producer’s office. At 11 a.m., he got up, turned to the other actor, and said, "I guess it’s yours." At that moment, the producer opened his office door. He’d been there the whole time. When he came out, he was gooey with praise for the actors. He asked Corbin to read on the spot. "I was playing a bad guy," he told me. He held his hands together in front of him, as though he was holding an imaginary script. But he never lifted it up. "I already knew the lines," he said.

Corbin inched closer to me until the brim of his cap impeded his advance. He stared at me with wild eyes. I reminded myself that I hadn’t been late for anything, that he was acting. The producer wasn’t so sure. Corbin finished the reading, said goodbye to the casting director and the other actor. Then he flashed one last glare towards the producer.

Fully expecting to be turned down, Corbin got a call the next day from his agent. They wanted him for $2,500 for a single show. "I want $25,000," Corbin demanded.

The agent went back and forth three times, but Corbin wouldn’t budge. "If I was going to work for him," he said, as if to say "jackass," "I was going to get my top dollar." Corbin didn’t get the part. As a result, he was free a few weeks later to audition for the role as Maurice.

"In anything subjective," he told me, "you’re worth what someone will pay you. In Hollywood, if you start cutting your price, you'll find yourself working twice as much to make the same money. Word gets around." I considered, briefly, that I'd just helped clean Corbin's barn for free.

But he quickly turned his attention to role preparation. He was waiting on FedEx to deliver a script and about to head off to watch his grandkids in a school rehearsal. He's a doting grandfather.

"The work is all in the preparation," he said. "I break a script down into digestible bits. You have to really study the character because you film everything out of order. You wouldn’t want to do anything stupid."

You don’t survive in show business for as long as Barry Corbin has by making stupid moves. Like turning your back on a tiny horse.

 


 


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