Barry Gordon - Chair of the Board of Directors & Company Member of Parson's Nose
Barry began his career at the age of three, singing Johnny Ray’s Cry on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. At six, he recorded Nuttin’ for Christmas, one of the best-selling Christmas records of all time. He received a Tony nomination as Nick in Herb Gardner’s A Thousand Clowns, as well as starring in the film version. He continues a five decade long career in feature films and television, including series regular roles in The New Dick Van Dyke Show, Fish, and Archie Bunker’s Place. He recurred as Larry David’s Rabbi on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. His voice was heard for decades as the Nestle Quik Bunny and he originated the voice of Donatello on the television megahit, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For Parson’s Nose he has appeared as Badger in The Perilous Streets of Pasadena, and Smirnov in Chekov Farces: The Boor, and many Readers’ Theater presentations. Barry was the longest serving president of the Screen Actors Guild, and was the Democratic candidate for Congress in 1998. For two years he also hosted his own political talk radio show, broadcast throughout Southern California, Barry Gordon from Left Field. Q: Where are you from? What was your family like? A: I was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, but when I was around six months old, my family moved to Albany, NY. We lived in New York City for a few years, but I landed in LA at the age of seven, and I've been calling it home ever since. My dad was a radio announcer in Albany, but once I started pursuing my own career, he gave up his and worked in the Beverly Hills post office for the rest of his life. My mom worked in department stores and tried her hand at personal management in her later years. They were strong, loving people who sacrificed much so that I could follow my dream at a very young age. I think whatever talent I have I owe to my father, who was a great acting teacher without ever realizing it, because he always helped me get in touch with the truth of whatever role I was playing, even as a child.
Q: When did you begin acting and how did you get into it? What was your first role? A: I actually began my career as a singer at the age of three on a show called "The Ted Mack Amateur Hour" (think of a very primitive version of "American Idol" or "Star Search"). A year later, I was hired to do a weekly live show out of New York called "Startime," which was sort of a variety show featuring kids from four (me) to late teens (Connie Francis, among others). The show required me to perform in comedy sketches as well as sing, so I guess that was my first exposure to acting. A few years later, after some success as a child singer, I received my first real acting role on the sitcom "Make Room for Daddy" playing a bratty child prodigy.
Q: What are your favorite roles you've had a pleasure of playing and why? A: I guess my favorite role still has to be Nick in Herb Gardner's A Thousand Clowns, which I was blessed to play on Broadway when I was thirteen and in the film version three years later. (It's a good thing I remained short, or I might have lost the part). Working with brilliant actors like Jason Robards, Sandy Dennis, William Daniels and all the others night after night brought me a deeper understanding of what the acting profession truly was and could be. It also showed me that good work and fun could easily go together. I've had many enjoyable experiences since then and have worked with great people, but that became the turning point for me, as well as being only the second time I had appeared on live stage (the first was as Little Jake in a road tour of Annie Get Your Gun with Mary Martin and John Raitt - also an amazing time!).
Q: When you're not performing, how do you like to spend your time? If you weren't an actor, what other profession would you have liked to explore? A: I love to read and study, especially books of political non-fiction and economics. Reading became a habit on the set when I was working, and I've never been able to break it. Almost four years ago, my wife and I were blessed with a gorgeous granddaughter, Midge, so even though her family lives in Hawaii, spending time with her whenever I can is one of the most delightful experiences I've ever had. Over the last few months, she's displayed a love for musical theater by watching tapes of Cathy Rigby's Peter Pan and of the Wizard of Oz. So my next goal is to bring her to a Parson's Nose production on her next visit so that she can actually see a real "live" performance. As for another profession, I've actually tried a few. I practiced law for a few years, ran for public office, and had my own radio talk show. But lately, I have found a new love - teaching. I've been teaching acting for film and television for the MFA program at my alma mater, Cal State LA, and I love the feeling I get from mentoring a new generation of performers and sharing with them my love for the art.
Q: Share a story about "the joys of live theater". Either something ridiculous that happened during a show you were in, something you saw in another production, or any other anecdote about things that can only happen in live theater. A: So many insane things can happen on stage that it's hard to single out just one. Recently, I was going a show in which, shortly after my entrance in Act One, one of the characters (for no explainable reason) started doing the dialogue from Act Two and it took quite a bit of maneuvering for us to avoid cutting an hour out of the play. Then there are the technical snafus. My favorite was during the Broadway run of "Clowns". We had a turntable set, on one side of which was Murray's apartment and on the other side his brother Arnie's office. In the office scene, Murray is supposed to throw an apple to his brother just before the blackout, when the set would turn back to Murray's apartment. Then Jason (Murray) would enter and say to Sandy Dennis, "Let me tell you the wondrous tale of this sturdy lad's adventure in downtown Oz." But one night, Arnie didn't catch the apple, which rolled off the turntable and was still on the stage when the set changed. Without missing a beat, Jason entered, walked downstage, picked up the apple and said, "Let me tell you the wondrous tale of how Arnie's apple ended up in Murray's apartment." And the house came down.
Q: What's the most embarrassing thing that's happened to you personally during a performance? A: I've been wracking my brain to come up with an answer to this question. The truth is I've had a lot of embarrassing moments in my life (just ask my ex-wives), but never during a show. I guess the stage is the one place for me where you can't be embarrassed. Sure, there are bound to be missed cues, dropped props, laughs in the wrong places. We wear silly costumes and sometimes use ridiculous voices for a living. But there's no time to be embarrassed. You just keep plowing on and hope that no one will notice. I wish I had a funnier answer, and I'm frankly embarrassed that I can't come up with one.
Q: What have you been working on lately? Where can we see you now? A: Right now, I'm just planning for the new school quarter and waiting for the Parson's Nose season to start so that I can find out what I'll be playing. I hope you'll check out Parson's Nose this season and see me in action with a great troupe of performers. PNT has been a godsend for me, because it allows me to leave my comfort zone and have a true adventure every time I perform. And it lets me learn a repertoire of classical works that I only read about in school and bring them to life in a way that brings joy and laughter to every audience who sees them. What could be better than that?