Johnny Caps 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s, action, An Accidental Christmas, Arachnophobia, convention, Conventions, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Dinosaurs, Fatal Attraction, Free To Be...You And Me, Irreconcilable Differences, Life Stinks, Love At Stake, Not Necessarily The News, Scavenger Hunt, Shakespeare, Stuart Pankin, The Artist, The Hollywood Knights, Theatre 13
My first exposure to my newest interview subject’s work came from the late 80s to the early 90s. I saw Stuart Pankin on both HBO’s Not Necessarily The News, where he played anchorman Bob Charles and many other characters, and ABC’s Dinosaurs, where he provided the voice of Earl Sinclair. As I grew older, I would see Stuart Pankin in movies like Love At Stake and Arachnophobia, and find him to be a very funny talent. My friend and former interview subject Kim Hopkins, who worked with Stuart in The Hollywood Knights, suggested Mr. Pankin to me as a potential interview subject and helped to connect us on social media. I spoke to Stuart on Monday, July 27th, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know him.
Say hello to Stuart Pankin!
Stuart: Hi. There’s no one here to take your call, but if you leave a message, I’ll get back to you…No. It’s me.
Johnny: Hi, Mr. Pankin. How are you?
Stuart: Hey, Johnny. How ya doin’?
Johnny: I’m doing good. First of all, thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to talk to me.
Stuart: My pleasure.
Johnny: Alright. I have my questions ready to go…
Stuart: …And I have my answers.
Johnny: Alright. Starting at the beginning, or near to it, you’re credited on IMDB as playing the Man In The Maternity Ward in the classic 70s special Free To Be…You And Me. Is that credit correct, and if so, what are your favorite memories of working on that project?
Stuart: Well, that is correct. I did that years ago in New York. My favorite memories are that it was an early project and everything was kind of new to me, and what I would later know as the Muppets were there performing. They asked us to come up with a bit of business when we were looking at the babies in the maternity ward, and I remember coming up with something silly, and they liked that. I don’t remember if Marlo Thomas was there or not, but it was interesting because Mel Brooks did the voice of one of the babies, and you could hear his voice being piped over the speaker system while we were working. It was kind of nifty because I knew who he was, obviously, and I was a big fan, but it was a long time ago, Johnny, so I don’t remember a lot of details. I just remember sitting there, and I don’t even know if we were looking at babies. We might have been looking at chairs, but it was just exciting being in a studio for one of the first times in my life.
Johnny: Alright, cool. Moving along to later in the 70s, you played Duane in Scavenger Hunt. What was it like to be working with such a loaded cast of talents?
Stuart: Oh, it was great, working with all those people I had known and liked. It was a beautiful location. We were in Huntington Gardens in Pasadena. I used to say “it was the cast of Hollywood Squares”. Everybody was in it, including people like Robert Morley and Roddy McDowell, people you’d just seen and admired for a long time. An added bonus was that Steve Furst was in that movie, and we became very, very good friends for years up until he died, so it was great working with all those people. It was very exciting. You know the cast. It was an astounding bunch of movie and TV people. I got a chance to sit on top of Cloris Leachman and stuff food in her mouth. It was great.
Johnny: Fantastic. In 1980, you played Dudley Laywicker in The Hollywood Knights.
Stuart: I did.
Johnny: You’re the third cast member from that movie that I’ve interviewed, the first two being our mutual friend Kim Hopkins, and then Leigh French, and you’re the first of the Knights themselves that I’ve interviewed. What do you think has given that movie the staying power it has?
Stuart: The staying power? I don’t know. All I know is that you’re right. It has tremendous staying power. When I was recognized in the days when you used to be able to go out and about, people, if they recognized me, one of the top things they recognized me from is Hollywood Knights. I still get fan mail from people who like that movie. Why? You know, it’s a great question. I don’t know why. Floyd Mutrux directed it, and there was a great score to it as he was a music guy. It was all night shootings, which was very, very interesting and difficult. There was not a daytime shot in that movie. We were at this diner place in the Valley, and there were some great cars, but to answer your question, I don’t know why people seem to like it. A lot of people in uniform, like cops and mailmen, and blue-collar guys really seem to love that movie, and I don’t know why. There was some nudity and some dirty stuff, but it wasn’t like a prurient movie. I guess some people just found it funny.
Johnny: Alright. Where do you suppose Dudley would be nowadays?
Stuart: (Laughing) Well, I don’t remember the instrument he played. Let’s say it was the trombone. He’d probably be a backup musician in some small band in the suburbs of Los Angeles…Either that, or an accountant probably living at home, still trying to get laid (Johnny laughs).
Johnny: Moving into 1981, you played Nicky LaBelle in the Chuck Norris action film An Eye For An Eye, which also featured Christopher Lee. What stood out the most to you about that project, and do you have any stories about either Norris or Lee?
Stuart: Well, Christopher Lee, I didn’t work with at all. I worked with Chuck, and I worked with Mako in my scenes. I worked with Chuck twice, and he was a nice guy both times. I remember him being a little concerned about how short he was, and he told the girls, as I played a pimp in a house of ill repute, to take their shoes off so he wouldn’t appear to be short. For a guy who could break you in half, I’m not sure why he worried about how tall he was (laughing). I also remember that one of my shots was the last shot of the movie, and I remember them stringing up firecrackers on the light stands, which made me a little nervous. We did the scene, and the director said, “Okay, that’s a wrap”, and they lit the firecrackers. I remember that very well. With the power of video, I enjoyed watching the scenes, and I enjoyed working with Chuck Norris. That’s what I remember.
Stuart: It was also in San Francisco. I love San Francisco, and I got a chance to look around. My nephew came up and we took him out to dinner, so it was generally a nice experience.
Johnny: I’m glad of that. You played Ronnie in Irreconcilable Differences, who was an assistant on the ill-fated musical adaptation within the movie of Gone With The Wind. What are your favorite memories of that film?
Stuart: I don’t know if it was a 20 or 30 year reunion, but there was a screening of it in L.A. They invited me and Ryan O’Neal and Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer. We all saw the screening, and then we all went up on stage, and people asked us questions. Nancy was very nice. She mentioned some lines I made up and put in the movie. During the shoot, I remember that it was overcast for the two days I shot, and I ended up with the worst sunburn I’d ever had in my life. Even though it was overcast, it made me realize you should use sunscreen. The set was great with Sharon Stone and all the bodies during the musical parody called Atlanta. Again, these things are a long time ago, and I don’t remember specifics. I just have snatches of remembering moments, but as I’ve said, I’d seen it recently and most of my memory comes from watching it rather than remembering what happened on the set. Anything you ask me about, I’m going to give you positive feedback because nothing I’ve done that I can think of was ever unpleasant, so most, if not all, of the stuff I’d done in California for years was always pleasant. The memories are always good, and the projects were usually good. Sharon Stone was beautiful, I remember that, and that’s it.
Johnny: Okay. One of your most well-known roles on television was playing anchorman Bob Charles on the seminal HBO comedy series Not Necessarily The News.
Stuart: I remember.
Johnny: What made that project stand out for you?
Stuart: Well, first of all, when we did it, if you’ll forgive the expression, there was 29 percent penetration of cable in the country in the 80s. Despite that, of the relatively small amount of people that saw it, people loved that show. It was politically relevant. It was very funny. I worked with Eric Idle later, and he actually mentioned a skit that I did, I didn’t write it, but I did it, as one of the perfect comedy sketches, so people loved that show, and the cast got along so well. We still see each other and like each other. I hate this word, but the chemistry between the cast was good. The writing was good. It was exciting. When it started out, it was so low-budget that our first dressing room was the bathroom of a Shell station in Sylmar, California. They literally set up a chair and a makeup table in the mens’ room, and the producer said (laughing), “Try to buy gas from the station so they’ll let us stay”. It started out that way, and then it started to roll. It started to pick up momentum, and that’s when the National Cable Television Association was strong. People started to produce things and act in things on cable, and it became, I won’t say important, but popular to watch shows on cable and do shows on cable. It was a pretty exciting time with the nominations. Not Necessarily The News won probably every award it could, producing, acting, writing, and people to this day, when they talk to me, ask, “Why don’t they redo it? Why don’t you do another one?”. There’s a lot of reasons why it won’t be done, mainly we’re all old.
Johnny: That actually does lead me to ask: Has there ever been any talk of doing a Not Necessarily The News reunion on HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver?
Stuart: No, nobody’s ever talked to us about doing any kind of reunion or remake. The producers are scattered to the wind, as are the actors, and the virus out there would make it tough anyway. We kept asking in the not-so-old days, “Why don’t you do it again? Why don’t you rerun them?”, and there’s a lot of political and financial reasons why we can’t. A long answer to your short question, but no, I don’t think there’s any chance of a Not Necessarily The News reunion or remake.
Johnny: Well, from what I did see of it, as I can recall occasionally watching it when I was a small kid, it was pretty funny. It definitely was.
Stuart: Well, thank you. We were very happy. Of all the things I’ve done, I’m very proud of that show. One of the reasons, a small one, but one of them, was that on HBO you could say bad words and be nude, although we never did any of that stuff. We always kept to the cleverness of the writing and the politics of the day. We never overstepped our bounds or did anything untoward.
Johnny: Alright. Jumping back to the big screen, you played Jimmy in Fatal Attraction.
Stuart: I did.
Johnny: You’re the second talent from that movie that I’ve interviewed, the first being Ellen Foley. When you were working on Fatal Attraction, did you have any idea that it would become the classic that it did?
Stuart: No, not at all. A lot of people ask me that question. I knew that it was good, and I knew that Adrian Lyne had a terrific vision for the movie, but when we were filming it, I had no idea that it was going to be, forgive me, as iconic as it has become. I just thought it was a good yarn with terrific actors in it, but no, I never thought it would be this popular.
Johnny: Alright. Well, it certainly is a stone classic. To go to another big screen credit, you worked with Not Necessarily The News creator John Moffitt on the movie Love At Stake, where you played the character of Judge Samuel John. An underrated comedy from an underrated decade for filmmaking, was it as much fun to film as it was to watch?
Stuart: Oh, yeah. It was tremendously interesting. For me, my son had just been born. He was six weeks old and we all went up to Toronto, so that was a bit of a challenge, mostly for my wife, but it was great working with John and Ron Richards, who worked on Not Necessarily The News. To work with Dave Thomas and, God bless her, Kelly Preston and Patrick Cassidy was great.
Johnny: It’s funny how I discovered Love At Stake myself. I can recall, in 11th or 12th grade, in our literature class, we watched the Demi Moore version of The Scarlet Letter, and I just found it so laughable that I made a list of all the things it was missing, like a rap number and a cameo appearance by Dr. Joyce Brothers (Stuart laughs). I didn’t even know until a couple of years later that there was a movie about witch hunts that had all those things. That led me to Love At Stake, and I have to say it was definitely better than Demi Moore’s The Scarlet Letter.
Stuart: (Laughing) Did you actually write down, before you saw it, a rap number and an appearance by Dr. Joyce Brothers?
Johnny: I did.
Stuart: Wow, you’re a psychic. Yeah, Love At Stake was terrific. Toronto, nice people…Kelly just died, and she was the sweetest human being in the world, and funny and, of course, beautiful. The set was nice. It was designed by an award-winning designer, an old time Salem Town that was terrific. You’re right. I haven’t seen it in a long time, but I think there were a lot of positive, funny things in it that perhaps slipped by the critics, but I’m happy that you liked it.
Johnny: Oh, it was definitely a blast. I hope that one of the studios that currently has a deal with MGM will do a Special Edition Blu-Ray and DVD release of it someday. I know it got a DVD release in 2005, but it was pretty bare-bones, and I’d love to see a Special Edition of it.
Stuart: Oh, me too.
Johnny: Going into the 90s, in Arachnaphobia, you played Sheriff Parsons. You’re the second talent from that movie that I’ve interviewed, the first being stuntwoman Spice Williams-Crosby. Are you scared of spiders, and if so, was it difficult to work on that movie?
Stuart: Well, I’m not crazy about spiders, but the spiders that they used were New Zealand spiders that cost over $1000 a spider, so what they had us do early on was let the spiders walk all over us on our arms and hands and so on, so we would get used to them. In case we saw one at lunch, we wouldn’t go “AAAHHH!” and (making a crushing sound) $1100 down the drain, so we got used to it. As far as liking spiders, no, I don’t like spiders. It was interesting. They controlled them by hairdryers. When the spiders were out, off camera there were a bunch of hairdryers driving the spiders to where they wanted them to be. That’s my story about spiders. It was great fun doing the movie in Cambria, California, which is up the coast. It was gorgeous. It was nice to spend the five weeks or so we did up there, and again, the people were great. James Handy, Jeff Daniels, Brian McNamara, Harley Jane Kozak…They were all terrific people, and Frank Marshall was a terrific director. He was one of the nicest, most confident directors I ever worked with. He later put in Congo, and I’d like to say that we’re friends, although we haven’t seen each other in a long time. Again, it was a very positive experience. They were all positive experiences.
Johnny: Alright. Going to my next question, you played Pritchard in Life Stinks, which I find to be an underrated movie in Mel Brooks’ canon. As I asked Lesley Ann Warren when I interviewed her back in 2014, what interested you about that movie?
Stuart: It was a job, for one thing (laughing). I thought it was a funny movie, but in those days, if you got a job as an actor, that’s what interested me. I enjoyed the paycheck, and then when I got into it, Jeffrey Tambor and I became kind of friendly over the years. Again, you won’t get a lot of stories, but I loved working with Mel. It was one of the hottest spells in California, and Mel was the director, he was the producer, and he was the star. There was a lot of pressure on him, but he never showed that pressure, at least to me. Rudy De Luca was one of the writers, and I remember we had a scene together, and I rewrote some stuff for the scene, and Rudy said, “Yeah, let’s do it”. Mel said, “Yeah, film it my way and then film your way”. Rudy said, “Mel will never use it. He’s protective and proprietery of his work”. I said, “Fine. It will be fun to do”, and he ended up using the stuff that I wrote, so that was kind of fun and exciting. Like I said, I remember it being one of the hottest spells in California, and everyone was dripping, but again, nice people, it was great to have a job, and it was great working with Mel. He put me in The Vagrant after that, which was nice, and then we worked together again on Mad About You, so I’ve had a nice relationship with Mr. Brooks. In fact, I told him that The 2000 Year Old Man was the first thing I ever did on stage as a high school or junior high school kid. I memorized The 2000 Year Old Man and I performed it on the stage, so I owe him a great deal.
Johnny: Very cool, and Mel is definitely a great talent. To stay with you, though, my first exposure to your work came via Dinosaurs, where you, of course, voiced the character of Earl Sinclair. Although it only lasted a few seasons, it’s fondly remembered by those who viewed it when you were younger. I know you only did the voice of Earl while the puppeteering was done by one of the Barrettas, but did you ever try to do any puppeteering yourself, or was that a voice-only gig?
Stuart: Oh, it was a voice-over-only gig. The Henson people are very protective of their puppeteering. Usually the puppeteers of The Jim Henson Company do the voices to the characters they use, so it was a little out of the ordinary for other people to do the voices of their characters. I mean, I went on the set. I put the costume on and I put the head on, and I looked at the animatronics, which were astoundingly complicated and expensive, but I never did any puppeteering. It was just voice-over. We replaced the voices of the puppeteers in the studio after it was filmed. It’s a job, I always say, I loved having and was difficult to do because you had to match their voices, so artistically it was a little less satisfying because you kind of couldn’t do the rhythms that you wanted to, so I had to work carefully to put my mouth into their puppet movements. I never puppeteered, but the Henson people were just spectacular. I still keep in touch with Bill Barretta, who was inside Earl. He calls himself The Sweaty Third because there were three of us. The voice guy, me, the puppeteer guy, and Bill. He calls himself The Sweaty Third because it was not easy being in that costume, but Bill became, and still is, an important producer at the Henson company, so I’m very happy for him.
Johnny: Alright. The final episode of Dinosaurs, Changing Nature, was one of the darkest series finales of any show ever. Knowing how sad it was, did you have any difficulty in doing the voice work for that episode?
Stuart: Oh, no, not at all. My job was to do the voice, so I did the voice, but like you said, it was dark. People remember Dinosaurs. Of the thousands and thousands and thousands of requests I get for autographs…No, I’m just teasing, but when I get a request for an autograph, it usually comes with a picture of a dinosaur, and people want me to sign it and send it back. There’s always been talk like, “Are they going to remake it?”. It’s going to be released on Disney+ in the Fall, so everybody out there who’s reading this, get Disney+ and watch Dinosaurs. It’s a great show, and as far as the last episode, most people remember that. That’s the episode that they talk about because it was wonderfully dark, and apropo as far as that world of dinosaurs. As far as having trouble doing it? No. You do your job, you go home and you have dinner.
Johnny: Alright. Using Dinosaurs as a jumping-off point, it’s difficult for me to watch a lot of sitcoms because fathers are portrayed, almost invariably, as benign idiots at best and abusive monsters at worst. Maybe it’s because I lost my father when I was 12, but it’s difficult for me to watch fathers being portrayed so negatively in sitcoms. Why do you think that is?
Stuart: Boy, that’s a good question. I don’t know. I don’t watch a lot of sitcom TV nowadays. Is it still the same? Are fathers still dumb and abusive?
Johnny: It’s pretty much still like that, yeah, and it’s not something I fely comfortable with after my own dad passed away.
Stuart: Alright. Sorry. Well, I guess it’s where the writers think the comedy comes from. I mean, Gracie Allen was dumb and bumbling and adorable. The thing about Earl, and Jackie Gleason, and The Life Of Reilly, although that may be before your time…The positive thing about these characters when they do bumbling, silly, things is that they usually get their comeuppance. They’re not abusive as they don’t hit and scream and yell, but when they do something silly, like Earl often did, he’s usually brought up and shown the truth by his wife or his family. That’s a redeeming thing about the, I guess, the iconic bumbling father character, and I guess writers still find it funny. Father Knows Best didn’t have a bumbling character, and Andy Griffith, as I recall, wasn’t a bumbling father. He was very sweet and supportive, but if there is a bumbling character like Gleason, or maybe Earl, the scales drop from their eyes and they see the truth about things, and they’re usually led to the truth by their wife and their family, so that’s a little bit of a redeeming thing for the bumbling father character.
Johnny: Alright. I never really considered that before, but I’ll keep it in mind when I watch shows like that in the future. Jumping back to you, you played Alan Mordecai in Striptease. Had you read the novel the movie was based on, and if so, what do you think of how it translated to film?
Stuart: I didn’t read the novel. I just read the screenplay, so I can’t answer that.
Johnny: Okay. We’ll skip that and return to the voice-acting career, which really took off in the 90s. Going beyond Dinosaurs, you did voice work for both Warner Brothers, on shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Animaniacs, and Disney, on shows like Aladdin and Hercules. What was the biggest difference to you between Disney and Warner Brothers?
Stuart: I can’t remember any significant difference between the two studios. I know I’m grateful for Dinosaurs because it led, like you said, into the voice-over world, but the difference between the studios is either insignificant in my mind or none at all. What I often say is that Dinosaurs, which is replacing voices, is different than doing cartoons, where you actually create the character, and then they animate the character to your voice. As far as the differences in studios, I can’t think of any. I mean, you just go in, you do your work, you meet some nice people, and then you go home. It’s the same technique. Andrea Romano was a terrific director. Charlie Adler directed me. I got to meet some really interesting voice-over guys like Jim Cummings. On Dinosaurs, they tried to get celebrities. I tried to get them to hire friends, but they insisted on celebrities, which I guess is okay. It doesn’t affect the work.
Johnny: Alright. Well, to jump back to live action, and to move into the 00s, you played Ben Heinemann on several episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm. What was your favorite part of working on that show?
Stuart: Well, the best thing is that you don’t have to learn lines. That’s a great thing as it’s one of the hardest things for actors. You come in and Larry gives you the plot and the storyline, and then you go and do it. If you’re talking and some information needs to be introduced into the story, he’ll cut and say, “Now mention blah blah blah”, and you do that. That’s the way that show works, so it’s very easy. It was a very casual show because he was so comfortable with doing that format, and I’m pretty comfortable with talking off the top of my head, so that’s what I remember about that. They guarded the storylines of every show very carefully. They didn’t want it to get out, and they didn’t really want the actors to know too much until they got on the set so it could seem spontaneous, and believe me, it was spontaneous.
Johnny: Alright. Staying in the 00s and going into The New 10s, you’ve worked with Fred Olen Ray on several of his Christmas movies, including An Accidental Christmas and All I Want For Christmas. I’ve interviewed several talents who have worked with Fred Olen Ray, and they speak highly of him. What have you enjoyed about working with him?
Stuart: Well, he’s gentle. He’s a nice guy. He’s easy to work with on set. He’s put me in three movies, so I love him, of course. They were all nice projects, and he does a lot of these Christmas movies. He’s out of state now, I think, so I don’t have a chance to work with him anymore, but like I said, he knew what he was doing. There were no delays, no yelling, no screaming, and the projects were very sweet. I guess that’s the right word for it. They were sweet Christmas movies, or relationship movies, so he was a nice guy. He was an ex-wrestler, I think.
Johnny: If I ever have the chance to interview him, I’ll definitely have to ask him about that…
Johnny: …But staying with you: 15 years after appearing in Striptease, the winner of the Golden Raspberry Award For Worst Picture Of 1996…
Johnny: …You played a director in The Artist, the winner of the 2011 Academy Award For Best Picture. The movie was a Weinstein Company production, so knowing that Harvey Weinstein was an abusive scumbag even before the stories of his sexual assaults came out, did you ever cross paths with Harvey, or were you able to dodge that bullet?
Stuart: No, I never met him, and I didn’t know anything about the man. What year was Striptease?
Johnny: Striptease was 1996 and The Artist was 2011.
Stuart: 2011. Did a lot of that information about Weinstein come out?
Johnny: Well, there were always stories about Harvey, even before the sexual abuse allegations came out. I’ve related how he harrassed Sydney Pollack on his deathbed over the movie The Reader, and he also harrassed Anthony Minghella’s widow about The Reader. Harvey said it didn’t happen, but Scott Rudin, another producer on The Reader, had the receipts on it. When I read that, even before the stories about the abuse came out, I knew Harvey Weinstein was a really scummy guy.
Stuart: Yeah. Luckily, I never ran into him. He was never on the set, and I don’t think stories of his abuse, those other show business-y things and the sexual abuse, were known until later, after The Artist was gone and done, so the answer is no. (Laughing) Actually, in a short-lived television series called Action!, me and an actor named Harris Laskawy played two scummy producers…I mean, really disgusting producers. I’m not up on show business scandal, but other people said we were the Weinstein brothers, so if you ever want to dig into the archives and check out Action! and try to find that episode, we were disgusting producers who were trying to sleep with a woman. I’m kind of naive about that stuff, but afterwards I realized that, when people were discussing it with me, “Oh, yeah, you played the Weinstein brothers”, so that’s something you might be interested in checking out.
Johnny: Alright. Well, on a lighter topic, what has stage acting provided for you that screen acting has not?
Stuart: Well, my heart is always in the theater. I started in the theater. I got a Master’s Degree from Columbia University in Theater Arts. I met my wife doing theater. It’s where my heart is. I mean, the interaction with the actor and the audience, and the rehearsal process, which you don’t get in TV or film, of building the character and creating moments, and then doing it in front of an audience, and then changing it slightly or not so slightly based on their reactions…That’s where the money is for me. It’s great. You can make a good living in television and movies, but the old story in my mind is that when actors are in New York, they say, “How do you get to California? How do you get to Hollywood?”, and then when they get there and they work a few years, they say, “How do I get back to New York? How do I get to the theater?”. i was lucky enough from ’72 well into the 90s and 2000s, and even more, to be able to go back to the St. Vincent Theatre in Latrobe, PA. My wife went to school there, and for years we worked on plays. Years and years of doing wonderful theater, not just Summer Stock stuff, but really interesting plays. The theater is obviously shut down now because of the virus, but I’ve always been able to go back, luckily, and do plays. I’ve done plays here in Los Angeles. There’s nothing like working in front of an audience and getting their reaction, and letting them see you. It’s great, and you get other kinds of satisfaction. Working in film, you have to generate it for yourself. You just have to be happy with the work that you do, but the theater? There’s nothing like it.
Johnny: Alright. Of all the roles you’ve played on stage, which have been your favorites?
Stuart: Oh, my god. Well, we did A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg. I loved that. Talley’s Folly…Look, I’ve done close to 80 plays or more for years and years, and it would be easier, probably, to say which shows I didn’t like than which shows I did like, but those two especially. You know I do a lot of comedy; and when you get a chance to do something a little more serious and challenging, like Tartuffe, and The Imaginary Invalid, and other Moliere plays, or Born Yesterday or All The King’s Men or The Odd Couple…It’s hard to pick a favorite. I liked the ones I did with my wife in Pennsylvania at the St. Vincent Theatre, but my god, there’s very few that I didn’t like. I wouldn’t mind doing them again. They were all great.
Johnny: Alright. Have you ever done any Shakespeare?
Stuart: Yeah. I started in college. I did Touchstone in As You Like It, and then I spent two Summers with the Shakespeare Festival in New York. I literally carried a spear and played small parts and understudied bigger parts, and then you get to go on occasionally to rehearse. I’m trying to think of other Shakespeare I’ve done. There were really a lot of those, six plays, Henry The VIth and Richard III and Cymbelline…I did a bunch of Shakespeare, and I love it. I mean, even more recently, my hobby was memorizing sonnets and Shakespeare monologues and soliloquies, so I’m sort of attached to that guy.
Johnny: Well, that leads me to ask: Some have said that, once you parse through his prose, Shakespeare’s stuff is really just a bunch of sex jokes. Is that an exaggeration, or is there some truth to that?
Stuart: (Laughing) Well, there is truth to that. There are a lot of sexual references. Remember, he had to please the groundlings, and for most of Shakespeare’s Clowns, the comedy is almost unintelligible today unless you plug it into the history of the time. For instance, Jaques says, and this is a little lengthy, but the line is, “From hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, and then from hour to hour, we rot and rot”. The way it was pronounced in Shakespearean times, “From whore to whore, we ripe and ripe”, which is obviously a pun on “whore”, so there were a lot of sexual jokes and stuff there. I’ve understudied Feste and Apamantes, and I’ve done Touchstone and Autolycus at The Folger, and I’ve understudied Michael Dunn as Clowns in Shakespeare twice. It’s one of the toughest things to do because of the comedy references. Comedy is really relevant if you can hook it onto something that you know, and the language and references of Shakespeare’s Clowns, is arcane. You can’t hook it to anything, so that’s hard, but as far as sexual references, I’m sure Bill had a lot of sexual references in his plays to please the groundlings.
Johnny: Alright. Well, to go from one form of interaction with an audience to another, you’ve appeared at a few conventions, and you’re currently on the guest list for The Hollywood Show in October it it happens.
Stuart: Yeah, it ain’t gonna happen.
Johnny: What’s been the most rewarding part of attending conventions for you?
Stuart: Very little. I think it’s great there are some older actors who go out there and make a lot of money signing pictures, which is why you do it, I guess. I did two of them and I didn’t enjoy it at all. It’s like you’re sort of a piece of meat on display, and it was not that pleasant. I know people keep talking to me about coming to these shows, and I’m not sure I’m going to do another one. I don’t think the one in October is going to happen because of coronavirus, but they not one of my more pleasant things to do. I don’t think I’ll do that again, and I don’t think I have anything terribly positive to say about that experience.
Johnny: Fair enough. Well, even though you may not have had the best of experiences at conventions, as you have mentioned signing a lot of autographs through the mail, what’s been the most wonderful piece of memorabilia you’ve autographed that somebody’s sent to you?
Stuart: Well, they’re not memorabilia as they usually come in 8X10 envelopes. They’re pictures of Dinosaurs or some other shows that I’ve done. What I do is that if I see a picture I’m not familiar with, I’ll scan it in and save it, so that’s nice, but as far as memorabilia, no one’s sent me a jacket or a piece of valuable crystal or a watch (laughing) to autograph. They’re usually pictures, and it’s kind of the same stuff all the time, so there’s no memorable memorabilia.
Stuart: Did some other actors say they’ve gotten terrific stuff to autograph?
Johnny: When I’ve asked that of other actors, they’ve mentioned things like unique foreign posters or artwork of the characters they’ve played in movies and TV shows.
Stuart: Aaah, I see. No, I’ve never gotten any posters.
Johnny: Alright. Well, that does it for my questions. I thank you again for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me.
Stuart: My pleasure, Johnny.
Johnny: I go back a long way with your work, and you really are a great talent.
Stuart: Well, thank you, Johnny. I appreciate it.
Johnny: I thank Kim Hopkins for helping to connect us. She sends her love.
Stuart: Oh, good.
Johnny: And on that note, I hope you have a wonderful afternoon, and I’ll talk to you soon.
Stuart: Thank you. You, too. Talk to you soon.
Johnny: Alright. Have a good evening.
Stuart: You, too. Bye.
I would like to thank Stuart Pankin for taking the time out of his schedule to speak to me, and I would like to thank Kim Hopkins for helping to connect us.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview are conversations with Joanna Cassidy of Blade Runner and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Greta Blackburn, the actress/model/singer/health activist, and Alana Evans, the adult film star who has also done some great mainstream work involving things like video games and horror movies.