In 1997 I won a major role in Hallmark Hall of Fame’s OLD MAN, based on William Faulkner’s novelette. Adapted for television by Horton Foote, the period was during the 1927 great flood that ravaged the Mississippi River (affectionately known as the “Old Man”). The setting was Parchment Penitentiary in north Mississippi. The film starred Jeanne Tripplehorn and Arliss Howard and featured, besides myself, Leo Burmester and Ritchie Montgomery. Except for Tripplehorn and Howard, all the other roles were “nameless”, i.e. Cajun Man, Shanty Man, Singer on Boat, Boat Captain, Deputy and my role – The Warden.
The main “prop” required for this epic feature was “rain”. Most of my scenes were accompanied with rain that was produced by a rain-making machine. Because I was the warden, I and my deputy, Ritchie Mongomery, were naturally entitled to the use of rain gear. Inmates were not so fortunate. On one occasion, we were all dressed out and ready to shoot a scene when suddenly the skies opened up and the real stuff started coming down. Director John Kent Harrison said “Because of the rain we’re going to re-schedule this shoot” I said “Isn’t this scene suppose to be in rain?” John said “Yes, but it needs to be on our terms, not His” (indicating the Diety). Hmmm! OK.
I loved Jeanne Tripplehorn (of “Waterworld” fame). She was a classy lady, easy to work with and as sweet as she could be. But she had an awful vice … chain-smoking. Whenever the camera was not on her, she was puffing away. When the camera was rolling, she would ask an assistant to be her “ash tray” until a “cut” was heard, then she would quickly grab that butt and resume smoking. When not on camera, she was never without a cigarette. She agreed that this was a nasty habit, but just couldn’t make herself stop. Hopefully by now (15 years later) she has managed to rid herself of that unhealthy addiction.
OLD MAN went on to win an Emmy Award for “Outstanding writing for a Miniseries”, the Humanitas prize for a 90 minute category, the Golden Reel Award for outstanding sound editing, the Christopher Award for Best Film and an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Sound Editing for a Miniseries. Of the 50+ films I’ve been involved with since 1960, I have portrayed a “jerk” in 12 of them. Could this be type-casting? OLD MAN was no exception. My warden character was definitely one of my more stark “jerk” portrayals. I looked but couldn’t find an award for “Best Portrayal of a jerk”. Darn! I think I could have won that one hands down.