Early in his professional acting career, Gary Sandy said he specialized in portraying “troubled youth.”
“Those were the best roles to have,” the actor said, though he understands that fact may be difficult for casual fans of his former television series, WKRP in Cincinnati, to grasp. But it was because of his “All-American Boy” looks, combined with his considerable skills as an actor, that made him so effective in villain roles in “As The World Turns” and “Another World.” It will also serve him well on the Rohs Opera House stage in Cynthiana, Kentucky this Friday and Saturday night, Dec. 12-13, when Sandy takes on Ebenezer Scrooge for “A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play.”
Sandy is excited for a chance to put his spin on the Scrooge character. “I’ve been looking at what other people have done with the role and deciding what elements I’d like to steal,” Sandy joked during a phone interview last week.
But given his professional history, be prepared for some surprises. Sandy built his early career on people underestimating the character types that fit him as a performer. Right out of school at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York in 1970, Sandy was put in touch with an agent. “I told the agent, ‘you set me up for something acting-wise and I’ll get it,’ which was a pretty naive statement at the time, but I was young,” Sandy said. Nevertheless, he credits his hubris for his chance to read for the character “Thomas Hughes” on “As The World Turns.” On meeting Sandy, the soap’s casting director’s first impression was that he was too much of a nice guy for the role. “The character was just getting back from Vietnam and they wanted someone to play the role as ‘troubled.’ I convinced her to let me read the part. After the reading, she said, ‘In 30 years of casting, I’ve never been more wrong.’ “But I still didn’t get the part because then she said I was too ‘troubled’.”
“Even when we went to live tape, the shows were always just a day ahead of the broadcast. Writers were cranking out scripts like mad, so you can imagine the hokey lines that actors had to make convincing. That’s why I loved the bad guy roles so much. We got these great evil lines to say.”
But she also told Sandy to wait three months because there was a character for which Sandy would be perfect — the role of drug dealing Randy Buchanan. From this start, Sandy continued to play bad guy roles in soaps. His final daytime television role was in the short-lived series, “Somerset,” a spin off of the popular series “Another World.” Sandy’s evil character was last seen crying in a jail cell — the narrative thread was left unresolved, Sandy said.
“When I was in soaps, we were live. Even when we went to live tape, the shows were always just a day ahead of the broadcast. Writers were cranking out scripts like mad, so you can imagine the hokey lines that actors had to make convincing. That’s why I loved the bad guy roles so much. We got these great evil lines to say.
“Bad guys were just the better roles to play. They were the better roles!” he exclaimed.
After four seasons of playing Andy Travis on WKRP, where Sandy was ofttimes asked to play the straight man to the ensemble of comic characters, he earned guest spots in television and occasional movie roles. But the theater is where his career has flourished and where he has avoided being pigeon-holed in “Andy Travis”-like roles.
“The stage has given me the chance to take on all sorts of complex characters.” His most notable successes include a starring role on Broadway in “The Pirates of Penzance”; the lead in a production of “Billy Bishop Goes to War”; and a co-starring role with Ann-Margret in a national touring production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”
In the latter days of his career, Sandy has found a niche performing in live radio plays.
He was recently part of the cast for a well-reviewed performance of the live radio drama “The BBC Murders” by Agatha Christie in Florida. “These are very entertaining productions. They combine the experience of live theater with a look into how old-time radio dramas are produced,” Sandy said. The production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol: A Radio Play,” which will be revived at the Rohs Opera House in Cynthiana, Kentucky will feature radio sound effects and advertisements from radio’s golden age. “People are going to come out to the theater and they are going to have a ball with this play,” Sandy said. In addition to playing Scrooge, Sandy is also proud to offer his support to local theater in Cynthiana.
“My mother and a lot of my family live in the north central Kentucky area. There are a lot of good memories for me here,” Sandy said. It’s been a long time since those days – almost an entire professional career. But Sandy has always had a special place in his heart for this area of Kentucky and he feels honored to be a part of this holiday event.