Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following interview with actor, former Congressman and radio host, FRED GRANDY
Most of the world knows actor Fred Grandy for his role as “Gopher” on the iconic Love Boat television series. But many people may not be aware that Fred was a four term Congressman, radio show host, and CEO and President of Goodwill Industries. Fred will be appearing in the Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) production of How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying.
We caught up with Fred and chatted over breakfast abiut CRT, How To Suceed in Business and just about everything else in the world!
PT: Fred, thank you so much for granting us this interview. So, we always like to start by finding out a bit about our interviewees. Can you tell us about your pre-acting background?
PT: Did you come from a show business family?
FG: Well, there was some connection in my family. My uncle was a screenwriter in Los Angeles and my mother – when she was a young woman – had dreamed of going to New York and of becoming Dorothy Parker. But after one year at Barnard she decided she wanted to go home and get married. So [as for me] you know when you have an obnoxious kid and people say he’s just being theatrical? Well that worked for me until I was about thirty-six.
PT: (laughs) Yes, that works!
FG: It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I was going to do this.
PT: So did you attend acting school?
FG: Yes. When I was in college at Harvard some other people and I formed a kind of satirical review which eventually morphed into an improvisational show like what The Second City or The Committee used to be. Our show became a huge hit in Boston and it featured people like Jane Curtain and Zero Mostel’s son, Josh. We took it down to New York and that’s kind of how I broke into the business. I did a number of Off-Broadway shows and I eventually came to the attention of Norman Lear. He hired me to be on this show Maude.
PT: Yes, we remember. A great show with Bea Arthur!
FG: Yes. After All in the Family, Maude was his next big hit. So I did that and that took me out to Hollywood. One thing led to another and I ended up on The Love Boat. I think, as it turned out based on the number of guest stars that came through our show, I was the only young guy in Hollywood who was offered the part of Gopher on The Love Boat who did not turn it down (laughs). I remember having this conversation with Billy Crystal. But that show was predicted by all the critics to be a huge flop.
PT: (Stephanie) Wow, you’d never have known. That was my favorite show!
FG: Well, the show was done, for the most part, as a concession to Aaron Spelling who was obviously the clean-up hitter for ABC at the time. ABC was known as Aaron’s Broadcasting Company because he had The Rookies, Charlie’s Angels, and a variety of other shows at the time. But he hadn’t done something like this.
FG: Yes. And so one thing led to another and he became the Executive Producer of the show and the show became a huge hit. And then it became an international hit. And then it became a third world power. And so that is what propelled me out into the world of show business. And that led to doing things like How to Succeed in Business… thirty-five years ago with Don Ameche; with him playing Biggley and me playing Finch. We did it on a summer circuit known as the Kenley Circuit which was pretty much based in Ohio but would always end up at the Muny Opera in St. Louis. [Missouri] which was done under the reigning hermaphrodite of the day. [He/she] was John Kenley in the summer and Joan Kenley in the winter and nobody questioned it. And nobody cared what bathroom [she/]he went to.
So, the great thing about doing television is that it allowed you to do these kinds of summer shows.
PT: That’s fantastic. What else did you do?
FG: A couple of years after I did How to Succeed… I did the Durang play at the Westport Playhouse, Beyond Therapy. I don’t know if you know that show—
PT: (Wayne) I love Chris Durang’s work. I met him a number of years ago.
FG: One of the things that I still think is true about the nexus between TV and summer theatre is that okay, maybe there is some reflective glory in exhuming old TV players like me to do these shows – but the other thing – and tell me if I am wrong about this – but we know how to work fast. In TV it’s got to be done today. And if you have the luxury of having a three-camera show and you have four days to rehearse, so much the better. But in most cases it’s, Hi, how are you? Let’s do the love scene.
PT: (laughs) That’s wild.
FG: So really, we have two weeks to put this show together. To me, that seems like a lifetime. When I did it with Don we had one week.
FG: I don’t know what I’d do with six weeks of rehearsal. I think I’d have to get another job (laughs).
PT: (Wayne) David McCallum did a documentary for me years ago and we were talking about The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Back then they did an incredible 36 episodes a season!
FG: Yes. That was the schedule back then. We did about twenty-five.
PT: (Wayne) David [McCallum] would say it was Boom, boom, boom. No fooling around. He said everyone was on their mark and got the shows in on time. It’s nothing like today with such short seasons.
FG: Well we did an hour show on a six-day schedule and that’s easily ten or eleven pages a day.
FG: You just get used to it. And this was before all the digital stuff. So you had to go and watch dallies to see if the stuff was any good or not.
PT: Didn’t The Love Boat originally start as one of those movie of the week they had back then?
FG: No. The Love Boat began as an idea from a book called Love Boats which was written by a cruise director named Jeraldine Saunders. She is still around and shows up for all the promotional things. The producer of the show was a guy named Doug Cramer who worked at Paramount and had done Love, American Style.
PT: (Wayne) I remember that show.
FG: So this [The Love Boat] was, to some degree, a variation on that theme. They made a pilot. I was not in the pilot and it crashed and burned. But somehow he got – and this was unusual – permission to do it again. And I was in that one. And that one crashed and burned. And so everybody said, That’s the end of this. It had two strikes and usually one strike and you were out. However, what Cramer did was take the project to Aaron Spelling who saw some value in it.
PT: How was it for you working for Spelling?
FG: Working for Spelling back in those days was like working for studios in the thirties. We all kind of did each other’s shows. Once you got in there, you were a member of the team. All you had to do was be a good soldier. So Aaron blesses this show and we make a third pilot just like that (snaps his fingers) and that’s when they brought in Gavin MacLeod and Lauren Tewes, the girl who played Julie, who then was a waitress on Sunset Boulevard.
PT: That’s wild. Three times!
FG: Yes. So the cast was there. We made the pilot. The network said, This is a terrible show – it’s a dog. But Aaron is a big player and so we are going to have to give him the courtesy of making this show. So what we’ll do is put it on Saturday night against the [Carol] Burnett show and this thing will be in the basement by the end of September. So we knocked the Burnett show off the air. And then they put Kojack against us. And we knocked him to another night. Pretty much by Christmas the show was an established hit and all the critics were proven wrong. Aaron, of course, had another huge trophy.
PT: What an incredible beginning!
FG: For sure. And then after about two or three years they said this is The Love Boat, so let’s start going places. So rather than going down to Mexico or up to Alaska which we had done in the past, we went to Australia, the Mediterranean, and places like that.
PT: (Wayne) I remember that The Love Boat was a Saturday night fixture – right before Fantasy Island. (Stephanie) It’s certainly different than now when people are watching shows they can DVR or kids are watching things on their phones and there are hundreds of channels.
FG: That’s a point I was making the other day in an interview. Most people watched the show in some kind of communal or family setting. Parents, brothers and sisters, sorority sisters, whatever. There was a woman I met while I was doing a play at the Surflight Theatre in New Jersey about three years ago. The woman was working in the office of the theatre. She said, You know you broke me up with my boyfriend. I said, No, that had to be somebody else (laughs). She said, No. He used to want to come over on Saturday night and I would sit in the lounge and say “We’re watching The Love Boat.” He said, But I got tickets to a show. And she said, But I’m watching The Love Boat. So he left me. She said, He was an asshole anyway.
PT: (Laughs) That is priceless!
FG: But here’s the important thing. Back then television was like a hearth. You gathered around it. And because you couldn’t watch it at any time you wanted to and because you couldn’t delete the commercials, you had to pretty much be dutiful to what the schedule was. And of course there were only three networks. So you didn’t have choices and by the way, when there was a huge blizzard in the Midwest our rating would go up twenty points (laughs). People huddled around the screen for warmth as well as entertainment.
PT: It is all so different today.
FG: Yes. That doesn’t happen now. People are so digitized into their isolated modes. I did The Mindy Project before I came out here. We were on location in El Segundo for a couple of days doing this softball sequence. When we made our show, as they normally do, they have all these folding chairs that the cast sits in and you would sit around and talk to people. Now you sit in the folding chairs and this is what you see (Fred picks up a cell phone and mimics using it).
PT: (Laughs) That’s so true!
FG: People just wind up with no communication whatsoever. Fortunately there’s a woman on the show named Beth Grant, a long time character actress who is of my era and we actually prefer talking to one another! People look at us like, Is your iPhone broken or what? (laughs).
PT: For sure (laughs)! So we know you have a family connection on The Mindy Project.
FG: (Laughs) How do you think I got in it?
PT: (Stephanie) It’s one of my daughter’s favorite shows, by the way. Tell us about it.
FG: My son Charlie is – has been – the Executive Producer – one of them. This is a kid who’s like – if you know the show How to Succeed… – Finch, of course, rises rapidly up through the corporate structure. That’s the way Charlie has risen up through the comedy structure. He was a member of the Harvard Lampoon. He went down to New York with a guy that he was writing sketches with just for fun. Two guys with really very few connections but managed to get an interview for this show that was going through a transition. They were losing a host and getting another one. That was the Daily Show. Craig Kilborn out – Jon Stewart in. Charlie and his partner come in and so they are on the ground floor of that show. They start writing that show for a couple of years. And then they get kicked out of the nest and Charlie went to Saturday Night Live and his friend went to Conan O’Brien. Charlie wound up doing mostly weekend updates meaning he was with Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Seth Myers, Amy Poehler. He knew all of them. After about five years of that, some of the distinguished alumni from that show were out in Hollywood and they said to Charlie, Hey we’re doing this show called The Office. Would you like to come out and work on that? He answered, Yes. So he goes out there and works on that show. There he meets Mindy Kaling who is also a writer on that show. And in the meantime, Jimmy Fallon came up with this idea for [the TV show] Guys with Kids and on that, Charlie became a writer and show runner, but it only lasted a season. He’s done a couple of pilots. He just finished a pilot with Amy Poehler which NBC passed on. There are a thousand reasons a network doesn’t buy a show, not many of them having to do with creativity. But this kid is so well connected.
PT: It seems there are so many more opportunities though for projects because of all the ways in which we watch television and movies, which leads into our next question. How do you think the advent of social media has impacted the industry?
FG: Let me put it this way – my point of view: Social media (Twitter, Instagram for example) are doing whatever they are doing to establish what we do in television the same way whatever Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are doing to establish politics. [They are] tearing it all apart and inviting someone else to put it back together again. Mindy, when her show was on Fox, never got very good ratings. But she had 5,000,000 followers on Twitter, [right]? She was on the cover of every magazine, publishing books, making movies, and she had clearly an enormous audience which the networks could not measure because they are still using the old Nielsen ratings model. In many cases, it’s like polling for political campaigns. How many people have landlines now? So what does that tell you? They are just beginning to say, Hey, this cell phone thing may cash in – maybe we should figure out a way to call them. It’s the same with digital media. People are watching their handheld devices and that’s where Mindy’s audience is. So when Fox pulled the plug, she went to Hulu the next day and that is essentially where I think most of television is going to wind up. Networks will do event programming and maybe sports? But your digital platforms will pretty much allow you to customize your TV or whatever that device is the way you program your music. So that’s what’s happening.
PT: That’s really a great analysis.
FG: The difference for the industry is that there is still an enormous amount of money to be made at the top, but not as much in the middle. So to some degree the whole evolution of television and the media is economically the same kind of thing that is happening to the middle class everywhere else. It is not as easy to make a living as an itineris actor in Hollywood the way it was when I was out there. And how people deal with that I don’t know. Fortunately I don’t have to worry about that anymore. But if I were young and I was just breaking in I’m sure I’d have to have two or three other jobs just to sustain what I wanted to do.
PT: This is a good segue to our next question. What advice do you give young performers? When your son wanted to go into the business, what did you tell him? Were you happy? Did you say, Get a day job? Good thing you went to Harvard?
FG: (Laughs) What credibility would I have had if I tried to do that? You know Charlie, it’s a tough business, you shouldn’t go into that. Let me talk to my friend who is an actuary over at Goldman Sachs. Maybe I can get you in there (laughs). I have two kids in the business. My daughter is a singer and actress. She did Les Mis[erables] for years in New York. She lives in Chicago but works in and out of New York. As a matter of fact she’s going to do How to Suceed… later this summer in Chicago.
PT: How to Succeed… is a family affair!
FG: (Laughs) So, no I didn’t push them into the business. I certainly didn’t encourage them as children. But my two older kids grew up in this exotic milieu of The Love Boat and locations and meeting people. So some of that stuck but it was very much a kind of soft sell – it wasn’t primping a kid for a cereal commercial. So they found their own way into the business and are now charting their own way. We have reverse nepotism in my family.
PT: (Laughs) That’s good!
FG: (Laughs) Most of the time it’s like the Harry Chapin song – he [Charlie] doesn’t return my calls. When the Mindy thing came up he said, Dad, we got this role on the show that you’d be perfect for. I said, That’s great! But he said, You have to audition. (Laughs)
PT: (Laughs) Really?
FG: He did! He said, Just put it on an iPhone or iPad and send it out to us – and we’ll get back in touch! (Laughs) How wonderful, I said, as I’m calling my lawyer to negotiate with my son (laughs).
PT: Is he the show runner?
FG: Well, Mindy is the show runner with somebody else, but he’s the Executive Producer. Nobody is called the writer anymore in television. They have supervising producers, executive producers, etc. But in his job as executive producer he essentially runs the writers’ room. Everybody who works on the scripts answers to him. That’s something that he kind of specializes in. Somebody comes up to him and says, I got this great idea – like Jimmy Fallon – Here’s an idea for a show – three guys with little kids – funny, huh? Okay, so then Charlie goes and writes the show. The same with Amy Poehler – Okay, here is my idea for a show – a Royal family in Sweden – funny, huh? Okay, so he goes and writes the show.
PT: (Laughs) We love these behind the scenes glimpses!
FG: So, anyway, that’s what he does. He is a very disciplined writer. He writes fast and funny which is what you have to do in TV and everybody loves him which is another thing you don’t see all the time. So I wouldn’t ever discourage him. My God, if I had known my kids were going to be this successful, I would have had more of them (laughs)!
PT: (Rolling on floor laughing) (Wayne) Many, many years ago at some awards show Michael Douglas presented his father, Kirk, with an award. And Kirk said if he had known Michael was going to be this successful, he would have been nicer to him. (Stephanie) It makes me think about when you were talking about reverse nepotism – we produced a couple of Off-Off-Broadway shows over the summer and we cast my father in one of them. Both my father and mother were dancers in the business, but they gave it up when they had children.
FG: So he actually did it?
PT: (Laughs) (Wayne) Yeah, we cast her dad as a dead man and he laid on the floor motionless throughout the play! On that note, what made you go into politics?
FG: Well, my first job out of college was a congressional aide to a guy who was a member of Congress for the district I eventually represented.
PT: Iowa, right?
FG: Yeah. And it wasn’t that I had an abiding interest in politics. I was a college graduate, I was married and had no prospects. I had just taken a bunch of law boards and had scores that weren’t even good bowling scores. It just wasn’t going to happen. So I said, Okay, I’ll see if I can do this. This was kind of nepotism once removed since this guy was an old family friend. So I go to work for him and it was okay. It propelled me into the business. I left that to do summer stock. But I got into it [politics] almost on a dare because an old family friend of mine who used to live up the street from me became, when he grew up, a political pollster and consultant working on a lot of Iowa campaigns. And we happened to be on the phone one day – we were just catching up. And he was talking about this guy that had been winning this congressional seat year after year after year. He couldn’t figure out why because the guy was the absolute antithesis of what most of the political sentiment was in the district. So he’s talking about it (laughs). And here I am, I’m a big deal because I’m on The Love Boat and people know me. So he’s talking about this guy, kvetching about this. And I’m saying, I could do this. And he said, You’re on. And we started talking. He said, Look, this is a crazy idea but the party is in shambles, everybody on the trail out there has some kind of baggage and they really don’t know how to work the territory. Nobody knows who they are. Everybody knows who you are. Maybe not everybody would like you, but they know who you are. So the next thing I know I’m on a plane out there and after that I’m in Aaron’s office saying I need to leave the show.
FG: I think the thing that kept me going – because I was so naïve, I knew so little about it that I couldn’t be deterred. If I had known how difficult politics really was and how brutal and unforgiving, I never would have done it. But it was an eighteen-month audition.
PT: But you did have four terms.
FG: Yeah, I did, but I had to win the first one to get the other three.
PT: But you must have liked it enough to continue.
FG: Oh, no, (laughs) I liked it when I was winning. That’s the best. So that was the role I played for years and then I gravitated to other things like running Goodwill Industries and having my radio show in Washington. I kind of keep politics at a safe distance now. You know, it’s like being a ballplayer. I was in the game. Now I do play-by-play.
PT: (Wayne) I started out in college in theatre and then got a scholarship to law school and did that for several years. When I returned to film and theatre, it was very tough at first to have people think of me as a filmmaker as opposed to a lawyer who dabbled in the arts. It actually took a couple of Emmy wins to do so. Was it tough for you to shed the “Gopher” image when you became a congressman? And how easy is it now for you to shed the image of being a former congressman?
FG: Well, first of all, the name recognition in my first campaign – this was 1986 when dollars traveled a little further – but it was easily worth $100 thousand. And once I was elected, having not been a lawyer and not having been a state legislator and having not been someone who came up through a state political system, but someone who was not just known in my district, but in everybody’s district, I became somebody who a lot of other members wanted to have out to their districts to help them raise money. They could always bring out some well-known senator, but if they had someone who came from my business it would really help. So I accumulated all these chits and asked for nothing until I wanted to get on the Ways and Means Committee. So, this is the “house that Gopher built” whether it was my house or the House of Representatives. And then oddly when I went to Goodwill the same thing happened. There were a lot of people who didn’t know about Goodwill, but knew about me so we could augment our ability to help people with disabilities and disadvantages.
PT: That’s really an interesting and effective way to go about things.
FG: Look, no one goes into this business to be anonymous and to eschew that when so many people never even get anybody to remember their name. It always astonished me that the number of people I met in Hollywood who were somehow petulant about their success. All of a sudden it wasn’t enough. Like, Oh, I’m on Happy Days, [but] I should be doing Shakespeare. Yeah, okay, so do that in the summer then.
PT: So you escaped typecasting?
FG: No. Was there typecasting? Sure. I guess so. But I can’t think of anything I missed and I can’t think of anything I haven’t gained because I was Gopher.
PT: But still, how easy was it moving back to acting after being a congressman? Were you typecast as a congressman?
FG: Well, there was some of that, but what I did after I finished up with Goodwill is I went back to school and got an MFA at the Washington Shakespeare Theatre [Company] which is the thing that Michael Kahn runs. That was because I had never done any classical work. I mean I thought, I‘ll go back in the business but at least I’d like to know what this is about. This was a very intense eleven-month, five-days-a-week, eight-hour-day program to get your degree.
PT: That’s great.
FG: So when that was over I kind of put my foot back in the business. It turns out as soon as soon as I’m done with How to Succeed… I’m going to race down to Wilmington to do a production of Measure for Measure down there. All of a sudden I have a couple of gigs right next to one another.
PT: You’ve stepped back in and are already solidly booked.
FG: It’s different now because I’m not struggling to get in the business. I mean, I watch the kids that are in our show [at CT Rep] and they are just right on that threshold of deciding whether they want to do this or they can do this or somebody will let them do this. And I don’t envy them because they have no idea of how difficult this can get. But I admire them and it’s kind of fun to be in a company with kids this young and that are this talented. You’ve met Riley Costello – the kid that’s playing Finch?
PT: No, not yet.
FG: Well, this kid sings like an angel.
PT: We know about the talent at CT Rep. We had seen Spamalot and the level of talent was just amazing.
FG: I think it’s considerably better than when I was taking shows out in the early eighties. I mean it was fun working with Don Ameche and we’d put our show together and there were talented people. But I’m just listening to these songs [from How to Succeed…] which I’ve heard my whole life and they sound wonderful. I used to think this was a show that was essentially funny. Now it’s a show that to me has a beautiful score and is almost timeless. That’s encouraging. I’m glad I’m not twenty-two and competing with these people.
PT: (Stephanie) We work with a lot of young actors. The story is the same, they wait tables, they work at Bloomingdale’s in the city. We see some incredible, incredible talent. The competition always has been out there, but it just seems like it’s more difficult today.
FG: Well, it is. But when you have facilities like the Connecticut Rep that can combine seasoned pros with kids that are beginning to take their first tentative steps into the business. That is a melding that is worth perpetuating.
PT: How did you become involved with Connecticut Rep?
FG: They called me up. The guy who was playing Biggley dropped out and they called me up.
PT: (Laughs) Were you on some kind of list?
FG: (Laughs) I don’t know. Usually the list I’m on means they don’t call you.
PT: (Laughs) It must have attracted you to become involved with CRT because of the whole structure of putting pros and young people together.
FG: Oh, sure. That’s very attractive. The problem was that I wasn’t sure I could do it because I was committed to do Escalus in Measure for Measure down in Wilmington. So I called the director who is an old colleague of mine from the Washington Shakespeare Theatre and I said, Look, I have this tremendous opportunity. And he said, You have to do that – that is a kickass job. And I said, That means I won’t get to you until two days before you open. And he said, Well, we’ll Skype (laughs).
PT: (Laughs) Skype Shakespeare?
FG: Yeah, I’m going to rehearse by Skype. Once we open the show [How to Succeed…] I’ll concentrate on that.
PT: We would love to see you in Measure for Measure. You’ll have to let us know the schedule.
FG: We close [How to Succeed…] on the 12th and it starts on the 16th. It runs for three weekends. It’s a modified Measure for Measure which is being mounted to protest the HB2 law, the North Carolina bathroom law. So this guy has taken the script and Duke Vincentio is now Governor Vincent and we’re not in Vienna, we’re in Raleigh.
PT: That’s wild!
FG: The guy that I play, Escalus, who’s kind of the old avuncular advisor to the duke, talks like this (mocks accent) because we’re in the south, Shakespearian but with a kind of languid quality. So that’s what it’s going to be. It’s actually going to be staged in a transgender bar.
PT: That is so cool!
FG: You’re not going to be able to get out going to this show. It runs for three weekends starting the 16th; three nights – Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. So unless we are closed down, it should be interesting. Wilmington is kind of different from the rest of North Carolina because it is a college town; it’s been a film town until recently. North Carolina just pulled all of its tax credits to film companies. It’s really about legislating morality – that’s what this show is about.
PT: We’ll definitely check it out! (Wayne) In another life I was a litigator. And there is definitely – for lack of a better word – a kind of symbiotic relationship between law, politics, and show business. Look at all the actors who went into politics – Sonny Bono, Ronald Reagan–
FG: I knew Sonny and Fred Thompson.
PT: That’s awesome. So tell us what do you think it is about the relationship between law and politics, acting and show business?
FG: First of all, I was elected in ‘86 and Reagan was still President. When I did get elected he sent me a note. I didn’t know Reagan but he knew who I was and his wife was a big fan of the show [The Love Boat]. And one of the things he said in this note was that most people don’t know what you and I know is that this business – show business – is great training for politics. And he was right. It was true for Sonny. And it was true for Fred and just about everybody else. The reverse is not true. Politics is terrible training for the theatre. That’s because theatre is based around ensemble, it’s based on listening and reacting. Caucuses are based around telling somebody else to shut up so you can talk. So you can learn a lot of bad habits when you go into politics.
PT: (Laughs) That’s really an interesting analysis.
FG: Because I started in improvisational theatre, once I started doing town meetings as a candidate and then as an incumbent, it was like working a crowd at the old Mercer Arts Center Off-Broadway where we used to do our show. I didn’t know what they were going to say – they didn’t know I was going to react and that’s where the theatre came in.
PT: (Laughs) Let’s talk a bit more about How To Succeed… What can we expect from the show?
FG: Well, here’s the interesting thing about How To Succeed… How to Succeed… is fifty years old. It started in the Kennedy Administration. It’s been revived twice. We did a read-through two days ago and I looked at Vincent Cardinal [Connecticut Rep’s artistic director] and I said, You know, this show is old, but it’s not dated. And he said, You’re right. The jokes still work. Of course, the music will always work. But the theme – that kind of hyper-aggressiveness – that rush to succeed – the crony capitalism, the perils of Wall Street and the corporate world – if that’s not true right now then how come Donald Trump is winning this nomination?
PT: (Laughs) We weren’t going to ask you where you stood.
FG: You can, but the point is [the show] is as current now as it was then. People are racing up the corporate ladder whether they’re hedge fund managers or whether they’re with World Wide Wickets. This was a dividend I didn’t realize until I started doing the show – how current this thing was. I thought, well this is a period piece and, of course, everybody is dressed as if they’re on Mad Men, but it’s surprising to me how modern and hip it is. Yeah, it’s got some of those old stock jokes that sound like a routine on the old Ed Sullivan Show or the Dick Van Dyke Show, but it’s still funny stuff.
PT: Was it updated it at all?
FG: No, no. We can’t touch this thing. The MetroCal jokes are still in there and we’re having lunch at Schrafft’s. So a lot of people may be saying, What’s that?, but it’s amazing how undated the show is. How everything still works. Even in this post-feminist world, you still have the disparity between men and women – it’s not as pronounced perhaps in real life as it is in the show but people will relate to that. It still clicks. It’s still funny. It’s still touching. If it’s done well, and I assume it will be whether I’m in it or not (laughs) it should not be cynical.
FG: Because a guy like Finch obviously can be, to some degree, a kind of cynical character – a guy who is almost like a What Makes Sammy Run” type of guy, climbing the corporate ladder, stepping on heads but this kid Riley [Costello as Finch] has such an inherent sweetness about him, you cannot not appreciate what he’s trying to do. It’s a show you can take kids to.
PT: (Stephanie) I saw it on Broadway with my two daughters when Nick Jonas was in it. They were about 12 and 16 at the time and they loved it – they absolutely loved it.
FG: Well, my daughter toured with me when I did How to Succeed… She was with me for a couple of weeks when I was in Columbus and then St. Louis. This has been on her bucket list forever. She is playing Smitty in the production in Chicago and it just happened that we are doing the same show at about the same time. This is like our family musical.
PT: What a great coincidence – the universe converging!
FG: This is not true of a lot of shows, but there are five or six really good parts – well-written character pieces. And everybody gets a joke, or a song, or a moment. So it’s constructed very well. And if you put all those pieces together – and of course that is what we are doing right now in this hyper two-week period – it should play. The most important thing about this show is the pace. It’s got to play as if you were putting a stopwatch to it. It can’t look rushed but it’s got to have that feel of people coming to work and going home, people coming to work and going home – like all these people just got off the train. That’s the feel.
PT: What’s your schedule for rehearsals?
FG: We go from ten to six, every day, six days a week – regular [Actors’] Equity schedule. I have pretty long blocks where I’m not in the show, but that’s time you spend learning your dance numbers. When I did the show before – I think I was 32- or 33-years-old and Don Ameche was, well, he had to be in his mid-seventies at that time – and this was before he came back in Trading Places. And his career had been in this 30-year twilight phase. But even though he was in pretty good shape, he wasn’t going to do a lot of dancing. There’s a number in the show called “Grand Old Ivy” in which Finch has cleverly learned the fight song to Biggley’s old school so he can develop this bogus relationship. Well, when we sang it, we just got up and sang it and there wasn’t much movement. This thing [at Connecticut Rep] has an entire football game in it. A whole fantasy sequence that involves a lot of moving parts of which I am one of them.
PT: That sounds like so much fun! Have you had dance training in the past?
FG: Not formally, no. I’ve danced in shows. But my daughter is frequently the dance captain in shows. But no. Compared to what these kids are doing? I’ve never lifted my legs as high as these kids, not even going up stairs (laughs). These kids are trained as dancers.
PT: We felt the same way about the student actors when we saw Spamalot with Richard Kline – they are fabulous.
FG: I’ve known Richard forever. He did a show called By Jeeves which is an old Andrew Lloyd Webber show and I was doing a show in Washington at the time and we had lunch together. We connect from time to time.
PT: We interviewed Richard. He worked so well with the students. Musical comedies can be tough.
FG: Well, you know what Mark Twain said about comedy? He said comedy is like a frog. You can take it apart but it will probably die on you.
PT: (Laughs) (Wayne) That’s great. I’ll have to steal that one. (Stephanie) Yes, Wayne loves to say “amateurs borrow, professionals steal.”
FG: You have to get kind of an organic sense for comedy. Comedy can be learned, but it can’t be taught. But it has be kind of assimilated and that’s what a rehearsal process is about. You know there’s a joke there, but you can’t find it and sometimes it’s just a matter of taking one beat or two beats and that’s an instinctive, organic thing. You have to have a certain feel for it, but you can acquire an affinity for it if you’re around the people who know how to do it.
PT: Are the kids intimidated by you?
FG: I don’t think so. I hope not. One of the students came up to me yesterday, but she was interested in more political stuff.
PT: (Stephanie) Do the kids know you from The Mindy Project?
FG: Some of them do, I guess, I’m nowhere near on The Mindy Project as much as I was on The Love Boat. That’s more of a credential for them, The Love Boat.
PT: We talked about how you were with your own kids, but what would you tell other young performers who want to get into the business?
FG: You can only tell them, Just do it. Do it until there is a compelling reason not to do it, because if you don’t, you will regret it for the rest of your life. You don’t always get that when you’re twenty-one. Several years ago I was in a production of The Miracle Worker at the Arena Stage and we were doing a talk back at the end of one of the performances. There were a bunch of high school and young college kids in the audience. And this one girl got up and said, Can you talk a little bit about what the benefit package is for actors – health, dental, stuff like that? I said, Yeah, here is the benefit package – you just saw it. That’s the benefit package. If you expect anything more, go to motel management school.
PT: (Laughs) What a great answer!
FG: But most of these kids [at Connecticut Rep] are past that and are already in. It’s a question of how long they stay in. You don’t need to tell them how tough it is. If they haven’t figured that out already, they will. The problem is getting people to take that first step. Frequently they’re discouraged by their parents, or their peers, or they just wonder how they ever will make a living – or they think, Look at all of these talented dancers and they are all up for the same part. It’s intimidating. Actually going into the theatre to me is like going into politics. If you think too long about it, you’ll never do it.
PT: (Stephanie) Conversely, I think some kids look at all these kids on YouTube and the Internet with these tremendous followings and they think, This is easy. I can do this.
FG: Well, but that’s kind of the media hype. That’s the Kardashian phenomenon.
PT: (Laughs) For sure!
FG: But those people don’t survive. They’re up, they’re down. The people that survive are the people that develop their skills, develop their resiliency and actually do good work. So I don’t worry too much about that. There’s always been that phenomenon. Even back when we had only three networks, there were these one-night wonders that would show up – whether they were beautiful women or rugged young guys or comedians who had a couple of jokes. And the media would devour them and there’s a great talent maw that chews them up and spits them out and some people don’t. As far as I’m concerned, the Darwinian aspect of the business is fine. You don’t want everyone to be in this business. If YouTube makes you think you can be in this business, try auditioning for this show and see how well you do (mimics YouTube star). Didn’t you see my YouTube video? I was sitting in a chair the whole time.
PT: (Laughs) That’s hysterical!
FG: So I don’t worry about stuff like that.
PT: We look forward to seeing you in How to Succeed… And we are seriously going to look into Measure for Measure. What’s on your future agenda after North Carolina?
FG: I don’t know. I’m not in play obviously as much anymore. I don’t hustle the way my daughter does.
PT: So what do you do in your free time?
FG: Well, I do a variety of things. I still do a fair amount of political commentary. I write editorials. Right now I’m developing a course for a college in North Carolina about Politics and the Media which is essentially a course that shows – even going back to the formation of a republic – that we have always had Donald Trumps. We have always had Rush Limbaughs and one of the things about this particular form of democracy is the complete interdependency between government and the people who watch and report it. You know, there are always the loggerheads and they’re always complaining about unfairness, but they are totally interdependent on one another and they always have been.
PT: That sounds perfect for colleges, especially given today’s political environment.
FG: Well you take a look at guys like Andrew Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt – you know what Teddy Roosevelt did when he went to San Juan Hill? He took the press with him! He put them on a boat and shipped them over and said watch this!
PT: That’s fascinating! (Wayne) Stephanie teaches psychology and I teach communications and law and that would be a great course.
FG: A great book I’m reading right now is Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency which shows how this has been an integral part of our political system since we decided we wanted to be a republic. So that’s kind of the stuff I’m doing.
PT: That covers one of our standard questions, what books are on your night table?
FG: I’m usually reading two or three books at a time. I’m also reading the David McCullough, The Wright Brothers.
PT: (Wayne) He did a great job with Truman.
FG: And with John Adams.
PT: What was the best advice you were ever given?
FG: Best advice I was ever given? Well, he didn’t tell me this personally, but Satchel Paige once said, Don’t look back [because] something might be gaining on you. And that means more to me know than when I was thirty!
PT: (Laughs) That’s great. Do you remember the worst criticism you ever received? Politics or show biz?
FG: You probably know this. You know who Mark Russell is? He is a pianist and he writes funny songs. He’s been an entertainer for years. Well, when I first announced my candidacy, he wrote a piece in TV Guide that completely eviscerated me, made fun of me. It was funny but it was cutting. So I get elected and we wind up at a big dinner together in Washington and we are both on the dais. I got up and I knew he was there. And I essentially read his speech out loud. And he looks at me and says, You’re doing my speech! (laughs)
PT: (Laughs) That was great revenge! We just have one more question. In our continual quest to build our brand, we like to end every interview with the same question. If you had to sum up your life to date in one word, what would it be?
PT: (Laughs) I think Richard Kline said the same thing!
FG: We have the same publicist (laughs). He texted me.
PT: Fred, thank you so much! This was not an interview, but a great conversation. That’s how we like to do it! We’ll be seeing you in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and, hopefully, Measure for Measure!