producer realizes a goal as he brings filmmaking experience to
By BILL VARBLE.
Mail Tribune. Article courtesy of Philip Shoffner.
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."
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
Actors William Windom, left, and Barry Corbin
pose for a photograph Friday with producer Sam
Baldoni on the set of “Yesterday’s Dreams” in
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.
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.
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
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
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
"The only fun part
is the meanies," he says. "Good guys are no fun."
"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
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.
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
Corbin as pastor
clenches his Bible and radiates righteousness.
Thomas calls for
quiet, and the camera rolls.
"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."
"What makes you a
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.
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
calls again. "Action."
Large flat screens
bounce diffused light onto the actors.
"What makes you a
"Life makes you
hard," Herb says.
confrontation between the two men sharpens, Windom’s eyes go
granite, and Corbin’s voice rises.
"He needs a
"And it ain’t
"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!"
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.
Smiles break out,
but not for long. The scene will be shot over and over. It’s
cold, and the afternoon is wearing on.
"What makes you a
the preacher asks.
Windom glares at
Corbin as if he’s never been asked the question.
says. "Life makes you hard."
Feb 4-10, 1989.
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."
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
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"
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
Then he grins. "So
if it one doesn't do anything, I guess the Western is
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."
moving to L.A. in 1977, his movie roles have included
Which Way You Can" and
received TV exposure as Sheriff Fenton Washburn on
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.
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."
sums up with the character actor's credo: "I'm
just workin' as much as I can until somebody finds out about
Western character actor and star of TV's Northern Exposure, is
the real McCoy.
Magazine, July/August 1998 - Human Interest. By Jack McQuarrie.
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.
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.
who is best known for his role as the crusty ex-astronaut Maurice
Minnifield on the discontinued CBS series
Exposure", is on hand to participate in a celebrity cutting horse
event held in Fort Worth in conjunction with the NCHA World
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?"
Corbin responds after a slight pause, "since
I live here and pay taxes, I'll probably stay here."
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
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
what prompted such a guy to take up acting in the first place? "I
he replies with a chuckle. "I
guess it's kind of like being a preacher. Either you got the
calling or you don't."
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.
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
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,"
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."
this, he heeded the advice that Ben Johnson once received from
the celebrated director John Ford: "Don't forget to stay
1977, Corbin moved to Los Angeles and found the next three years
a struggle to keep body and soul together."
But everything turned around in 1980, when he landed the part of
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."
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."
who regards himself as a "working
doesn't appear to be at imminent risk of going broke. For one
thing, he recently played New Orleans lawman
which aired on the USA Network. He has also made guest
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."
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
- 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).
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
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
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
don't bite the hand that feeds you."
Corbin, it seems, playing a good 'ol boy is just a second
American Quarter Horse Journal, "Bits & Pieces" -
- the pushy, opinionated, haughty ex-astronaut from the
television series "Northern
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
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
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.
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.
character actor Barry Corbin plays General
the reluctant button pusher.
who is this Barry Corbin, anyway?
may finally be his ticket to fame.
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
opens on screens across the nation, he is going to be known more
Hollywood's first enlightened
redneck military hero in recent memory.
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
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.
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.
that guy again," a lot of people will be murmuring when
they get their first look at General
Beringer. "Who is
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
Washburn character seen regularly on
patiently putting up with the imperial shenanigans of the Ewings.
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
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
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
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.
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.
conveyed by his approach has not been lost on audiences or
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
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
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?"
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
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.
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."
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."
now owns a house in Sun Valley, where he lives with his wife and their two small children.
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.
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.
hardest thing out here is getting the right agent. An agent who
knows anybody, who can get you in."
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."
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.
no difference really. You've got actors ranging from genius to incompetent
on both coasts."
a very intuitive actor. I'm not normally somebody that plans out
a lot of stuff."
film you necessarily have to be a little more calculating. You
have to plan a little more."
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.
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."
is still happy playing supporting roles, able to earn a good
living at last without wading through the deep waters of
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
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."
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
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
Daily Herald, Roundup Magazine, Sunday, November 10, 1991.
By Frank Lovece, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.
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
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.
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."
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.
say it's quirky and this and that, but I think it's something
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
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.
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.
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."
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,
was wearing pants," Corbin
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
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!' "
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.
Texas native Barry Corbin starred in the hit TV show Northern
He knows Hollywood and he knows horses: Both have a tendency to
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
in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome
Corbin is perhaps best known for his role as Maurice
on the Emmy Award-winning TV show Northern
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.
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
old boy was lining me up, trying to get the longhorns in the
Corbin continued. "He
had his back to the miniature horses and couldn’t see ’em
sneaking up behind him."
Corbin’s gift for story telling, I could see the horses close
in on the doomed photographer.
Good. Terrific smile. Lift your hat a little. There. Barry, it
almost looks like you’re laughing."
suddenly, confusion and torn denim. "AUGH! WHAT 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.
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."
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
said he wanted a sequel. In light of the photographer’s
experience, I’d characterize my first outing with Corbin as
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.
the help of his daughter Shannon, we’d scheduled a Barry
Corbin film festival, which I thought might include Urban
Ballad of Gregorio Cortez,
and perhaps Stir
with Richard Pryor. I especially wanted to watch a Northern
episode with him.
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.
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."
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.
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
not sure I can sit through a whole Northern
he tells me. "But
not?" I ask.
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
a couple of hours we watched clips from various film and TV
projects. Corbin has appeared in a dizzying array of both,
Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
Corbin was Sheriff
He’s recently appeared on The
Drew Carey Show,
of the Hill,
He also has several movies in production.
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
throws a party for the whole town, I asked Corbin what he saw
when he looked at the screen.
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
was a nice guy. We had some good conversations."
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
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
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.
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
or better put, how he almost didn’t get the opportunity to
audition for the role. Corbin was up for another Western.
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."
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,"
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.
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
agent went back and forth three times, but Corbin wouldn’t
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.
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
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
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."
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.