originally came from Virginia where they were farmers. When the land
gave out they moved to Mississippi where they lost everything in the
Civil War. My great-great grandfather, William Corbin, moved his family
to Lampasas, Texas and they lived there up until the 20's when my
grandfather moved to Dawson County Texas. There are some Corbins in
Lampasas and more in West Texas."
On the 16th of October 1940, Leonard Barrie Corbin was born in Lamesa,
Texas. The eldest of three children (brother Blaine and sister Jane), born to Kilmer and Alma Corbin.
His father, Kilmer Blaine Corbin (1919-1993), was a successful lawyer
who graduated from Texas Tech University and the University of Texas Law
School. He represented 24 West Texas counties in the Senate from 1948 -
1956 and also served as a Dawson County judge and School principal.
"My father passed away in 1993. He had retired some years
before that but he practiced law in Lubbock. He was also the youngest
State Senator at the time he entered the Senate at 26. He was there for
2 two terms but was beat by Preston Smith and never ran again."
Barry's mother, Alma LaMerle (Scott) Corbin (1918-1994), was an
Barry's first public performance was delivered from behind a piano at
church at the age of six. By age seven, Barry
was organizing neighborhood plays. He told his parents he planned to be
an actor. He drew cartoons and learned
to play the guitar.
Like most 10-year-old-boys, Barry sat in the darkened Majestic Theater
in Lamesa for Saturday afternoon matinees. Dreams of exchanging places
with the larger-than-life heroes on the screen filled his head. He was
mesmerized by "B" Westerns and he idolized the Durango Kid,
but he realized the character actors had more fun.
"I originally wanted to be the hero, but then, by the time I turned
10, something changed, and I can't really explain it. I watched those
"B" movie Westerns and realized that Fuzzy Jones, Smiley
Burnett and Gabby Hayes had more fun than the heroes. I wanted to be
them. I wanted to be Walter Brennan and Ben Johnson. Those guys were my
Sunset Carson was also an early inspiration for Barry.
"Sunset Carson was about to hit a guy and he...did this: clenched
his jaw muscle (imitating Carson). I said 'That's acting, so from then
on, whenever I'll play cowboys I'm going on like this (clenching his jaw
muscle).' I realized...I just saw a Sunset Carson movie, recently, he
was not nearly as good an actor as I thought he was when I was eight.
But he was still not bad (chuckles)!"
Barry attended Monterey High School in Lubbock, where he appeared
regularly in school plays including musicals,
where he sang "not real well, but loud".
He became a member of the Future Farmers of America.
Aside from subjects such as literature and history, Barry hated school.
"I never have been much of a one to like regimentation, if I
couldn't see a practical application for something, I almost couldn't
learn it. Mathematics is very dramatic stuff, I found that out from
reading Bertrand Russell, but I didn't know that then".
He claims he has never learned the multiplication tables, and he
considers calculators "instruments of the devil.
Anything that was invented since about 1950, I won't touch."
His anti-technology bias emerged during his first experience with a
computer. "I killed a computer by stuffing program cards in when they weren't
supposed to be there."
While still in High School, Barry used to watch theatre rehearsals at
Texas Tech: "I just hung around thinking somebody'd say, 'well, we're looking
for somebody to play Macbeth. C'mere, kid'. Nobody did that, of
But it was only a matter of time. Barry studied theatre at Texas Tech
University between the late 50's and early 60's during the reign of professors
Clifford Ashby and the late Ronald Schulz and soon became a leading
actor. In his freshman year he played Falstaff,
"and I did a fairly good
job for a 19 year old skinny kid."
He took courses and acted in
plays without following a degree program, or indeed, any program except
"That's the downside of my personality, I just do what seems right
at the moment."
Barry recalls the funniest thing that happened to him at Texas Tech:
"There was a story that went around campus that I was living in a
dumpster, and that story was not strictly true. I did sleep in a
dumpster, but I didn't live in it. See, there used to be greenhouses by
the old library - not the library that is there now - and every day
they'd dump their flowers in there. And it smelled real nice. It wasn't
like I was nestling down in something that smelled like sour milk. It
was flowers. So I'd crawl in there and take a nap between classes. And
no one would have known except one day the truck came and picked up the
dumpster and emptied it while I was in there. So I got dumped into the
It was during this time that Barry met
G.W. Bailey, best known for his
role in the "Police Academy" saga. Bailey was going to study
political science. They developed a friendship that has lasted over the
years and distance.
"G.W. came to Tech when he was 17. He was exactly like he is now,
except his hair was black. I was 21. One day we sat down on the old
library steps and G.W. was talking about becoming a lawyer. I remember
telling him, 'But G.W., you can act. Not too many people can do that.'
Shoot, I guess I might be responsible for all those damn 'Police
Academy' movies he made."
Bailey said: "He became a friend and a mentor. And yes, he did tell
me to quit law. He said, 'Don't fool yourself.' The truth is, I think
I'd been waiting for someone to tell me that.... So there's no question
that Barry was a great influence on me in school. But then he left. I
had a hard time dealing with that."
When not enrolled full time at Texas Tech, Barry took roles in community
theatre, chopped cotton and worked on an oil rig. But, thanks to the job
at the oil rig, Barry had the opportunity to sharpen a talent most
people aren't aware he has:
He is a trained dancer who once played the Prince in "Swan
was an oil man, I don't remember his name, in Lubbock, who imported a
ballet master from Lithuania. A fellow by the name of Eugene Benzobesius.
He brought him to Lubbock because his daughter wanted to dance and he
brought the best he could hire, you know, and, uh...so (chuckles), so I
got all the good parts, you know. I wasn't a great dancer but I was
strong, and I could jump pretty high, you know...(chuckles). This ol'
ballet master had a heart trouble, and he'd scream 'NO MORE, NO, NO, NOT
LIKE THAT! LIKE THIS!' And he'd go out there and he'd do this enormous
leap to the air and his wife would say 'EUGENE NO!' (chuckles). So I
knew how to turn in a pirouette and do all this stuff. It was fun, I had
a good time doing it. And it also makes you pretty supple! And, uh, it's
not bad training for a fighter. Of course, if you studied ballet in
Lubbock, Texas, you're going to be a fighter. You had to be! (chuckles).
If you have to be publicly known I'd say 'Yeah, I studied ballet!'
(chuckling and hitting the air with his fist)."
At 21, Barry left
the university to join the Marine Corps on a hangover and a friend's
dare. "We went in together", says his brother Blaine. "I worried
about him. He wasn't the military type at all". Barry spent about
two years at Camp Pendleton in California, training South Vietnamese
With no plans
to abandon the Lone Star state, Barry joined the Marine Corps Reserve
in March 1962. He was initially attached to the 40th Rifle Company at
Lubbock, and he entered recruiting as a member of the 3d Recruit
Training Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. After
completing his training in June of that same year he was ordered to N
Company, 2d Battalion, 2d Infantry Training Regiment, Marine Corps
Base, Camp Pendleton. He stayed there until he was released from
active duty in September.
remained in the Marine Corps Reserve, rejoining the 40th Rifle Company
in Lubbock as an assistant Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) man.
discharged from the Reserves in August 1963.
maintains that although he never left California, much less saw any
action, his Marine Corps training has served him well in both his
public and private pursuits.
After his discharge, Barry returned to Texas to pursue his dreams and
started acting in regional theatres.
He worked the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder one summer, but
the next summer no job materialized.
"So I flipped a coin. Heads, I was going to go to California;
tails, I was going to go to New York".
Tails won and Barry headed East in his 1953 Ford "Woody".
But it took a few side trips before Barry got to the Big Apple...
He landed broke in Chicago and stayed nearly a year, working at odd jobs
during the day to support an acting habit at night.
"The hardest job I ever had was in Chicago. It was shoveling lead
at Poole Brothers Print Shop. I got laid off... and I was glad. God, I
Barry relocated to Boone, North Carolina, and soon sent his photo and
résumé around to straw-hat theatres. For one audition, he
"dressed up nice" and drove up to Madison, Wisconsin.
"The casting director put me at the bottom of a hill in the snow.
And he turns around and starts runnin' up this hill. He runs up about a
quarter of a mile away and screams: 'You can begin now!' So I just
screamed these speeches at him and he came trottin' down and hired me to
perform summer outdoor drama in North Carolina. I think the chief
criterion for getting the job was my voice."
Barry went on to do "Ibsen" at an aggie-college gym where
"nobody came except people from town." Then there was an
apprenticeship paying "$25 a week plus a room and two meals"
until he got his Actors' Equity card and promptly got a job at the
American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut.
In 1966, Barry arrived in New York and was hit smack in the face with
the realization that roles in off-Broadway plays paid $48 a week and
unemployment benefits amounted to $90 a week. In other words, it didn't
pay to work in New York theatre.
Barry had his own dreams when he was younger, the kind of dreams kids
from small towns have about escaping to the big city:
"I had a map on my wall that had a circle around Lubbock and then
giant arrows pointing toward New York City and Los Angeles. Written
across both arrows were the words 'Toward Civilization.'"
"Of course, by the time I got to New York, I realized there really
isn't any civilization."
Instead, Barry used New York as a home base and traveled the country to
perform in regional theatre, dinner theatre and with touring theatre
companies, as well as some TV work.
But his first experiences on TV weren't exactly what Barry expected.
even got to play a tree...
"or a fish in an aquarium...(imitating a fish) that kind of thing,
yeah. I was a tree for about, uh, I probably lasted 30 seconds as a
tree. And then I decided that's not the roles I'd choose to play. I
picked up my marbles and went home."
Through his 20s, Barry was still driving his old Ford wagon
sleepin' in the back of it half the time." His gypsy life seemed no
hardship: "I thought it was kind of fun, a bohemian
For the next decade, he starred in a string of stage productions. In
such roles as Jud in
"Oklahoma!", Henry II in "Beckett", Falstaff in
"The Merry Wives of Windsor",
and as Macbeth in "Macbeth". He also appeared in several musicals
including "Kiss Me Kate" and "My Fair Lady."
"Well, I don't know how much I've trained. I did a lot of classical
Barry did manage to stay in town long enough to appear in one Broadway
play in 1969 as Henry in "Henry V". He continued to travel
to wherever the roles were, appearing in locations such as the
American Shakespeare Festival at Stratford, Connecticut; the Actor's
Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky; and the Pheasant Run Theatre in
In 1972, the
six-foot, solid, brown-haired and -eyed Shakespearean performer was
playing his trade in Alabama. Barry returned to New York City in 1976, but then,
one year later,
Hollywood beckoned and he moved west...
Well versed in
the works of Shakespeare, Barry moved to Los Angeles and spent two
years writing plays for National Public Radio. He has written a number
of radio, film and stage scripts and one published play:
"Throckmorton, Texas 76083."
Many years ago,
Barry described writing as a hobby. He had rented a typewriter in 1974
so he could write a nasty letter and make it look official and, as he
I had to rent it for a whole week, I started writing a play... I do
enjoy writing first drafts. That's because even I don't know what's
going to happen. The drudgery comes in rewriting, in cleaning the
thing up so it makes sense. I don't enjoy that at all."
Barry is more
actor than writer to be sure. Even with the success of
"Throckmorton, Texas 76083".
really so different, writing and acting, but I'd have to say that I
prefer acting because I prefer the company of people. I'm a gregarious
guy and, while I enjoy writing, it's lonely work."
In May 1979,
Barry auditioned for the role of Uncle Bob in "Urban
Cowboy", the John Travolta film that made mechanical bulls,
Gilley's Honkytonk and Debra Winger famous. Writer Aaron Latham and
director James Bridges wanted to hire Barry, but they had misplaced
his photo and résumé. A week later, someone remembered his name and
Barry had his first movie break.
know I got the part until they gave me a pair of boots (laughs). But
it was great fun getting back to Texas again."
Most of Barry's
scenes were with Travolta, including the inspirational moment when
Bob, a former bull rider, advises Bud on what it takes to become a
gave me some pointers, which helped. Most of my career had been on the
stage at that point, so this was all new to me."
The film also
inaugurated one of Barry's career specialties - dying on screen.
seem to do that about every third movie I make."
was released in the summer of 1980, the year that Barry's
prolific film career began. Since then, he's appeared in more than 70
films and TV shows, but he still treasures the memory of his time at
was my first movie, and my son (Jim) was born just before we started
filming, so it will always be special. He still has the T-shirt we
bought him from Gilley's that says 'Uncle Bob's baby'."