Friday, May 11, 2012

Ralph Waite

The Internet Movie Database (Imdb) credits me with having been in “Unknown episodes” of the MISSISSIPPI series starring Ralph Waite. Everyone else in this series can be identified with specific episodes, but mine are “unknown”. Easy to get paranoid! I was cast in 1982 in a recurring role as the District Attorney (Mr. Sacks) opposite Ralph Waite in this series.

Sean Penn’s father, Leo Penn, had cast me as a police officer in an earlier episode and was so impressed with my performance (his assessment, not mine) that he brought me back several episodes later as Mr. Sacks, the District Attorney. I said “Won’t I be recognized as having been a cop in an earlier episode?” Penn said “Won’t matter. You could have been attending law school while on your beat.” OK, I’ll buy that rationale. I then proceeded to adjust to my new role.

In one particular episode, I am engaging in a pressing discussion with Waite. I am trying to convince him of a young teen’s involvement in a murder attempt. Waite, in the character of retired criminal attorney, Ben Walker, staunchly refuses to be convinced.

In one block of the dialog Leo wanted a tight close-up of Waite and me. To accomplish this, he asked that I crouch down even with Waite. You’ll notice in the upper left picture of this post I am standing about a foot above Waite, who is seated on a stool. For the close-up (bottom left) you’ll notice that I am almost even with him (an editing miss-match, but who cares! That’s film production license). Leo said “keep crouching, Jerry, until I stop you.” When he finally stopped me, I was in a god-awful contortion. He also wanted me dead-still during this vital segment. I said “Leo, could you possibly let me kneel or sit on some apple boxes? This position is awful.” Then, before he could respond, Waite chimes in with “Aw, hell, Jerry, you can handle it.” To which I replied “Easy for you. You’re not having to do the crouching.” Waite said no more, then Leo, thank heavens, attended to my need.

The series garnered several awards including an Emmy nomination for Leo Penn’s direction and two nominations for the “young artist” category. No, I was not one of the young artists. And there was no “old artist” category. Drat! Maybe that was because the voting members could not decide if I was a cop or an attorney. Ahah! There’s the answer to the “unknown episodes”. I feel better now…. or at least I’ve convinced myself to feel better.

Nine years later (Déjà vu) almost the same thing happened again. I had been cast as a police captain (I guess I got promoted) in a series called DANGEROUS CURVES, part of a CBS late night line-up labeled CRIME TIME AFTER PRIME TIME. The director, David Paulsen, had pulled my head-shot from a submission
some 5 years earlier. He had been the main director of the famous DALLAS series and had asked if I would like to be Clayton Farlow’s field foreman in that series. Farlow was played by Howard Keel. Wow! Hell yes! I was nearly out the door when my Texas agent called back and said “Jerry, David forgot to ask ‘how tall are you?’” My heart fell and I said “How tall do you want me to be?” She chuckled and then said “You need to be at least nose to nose with Howard Keel.” Another DRAT! I’m 5-10 and Keel was 6-4. My loss (or was it their loss?).

But David didn’t forget me. In 1991 he had me playing a Police Captain in the first episode of DANGEROUS CURVES (top right images), and then 5 episodes later he brought me back in a guest lead role as a wealthy business man. In the opening credits I even got an "Also Starring JERRY LEGGIO as David Larkin"…. a little embarrassing to get a stand-out credit when NOBODY KNOWS YOU, but OK, I'll live with it. A wig was fashioned for me and I became David Larkin, a racist, rich, bullying asshole…. In other words – a jerk of the first order, a character type I had become quite comfortable with over my previous 40+ years. No ‘drat’ here. For the bucks, if I have to be a jerk, then let me be a jerk. I have played a jerk 12 times to date. “Can jerk, will jerk.”

The following film clips should be no problem UNLESS you are an Apple or Mac user.  I hope to correct that little shortcoming soon: 

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