From “Troubled Youth” to Ebenezer Scrooge: An Interview with actor Gary Sandy

From “Troubled Youth” to Ebenezer Scrooge: An Interview with actor Gary Sandy

Early in his professional acting career, Gary Sandy said he specialized in portraying “troubled youth.”

c.Gary Sandy

“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.

Teenagers can be sooo … infuriatingly generic sometimes

On the subject of one-man shows, I had the privilege of covering the “Mr. Mojo” talk at Harrison County High School last Monday.

There was a lot to admire about the anti-bullying message and Travis Brown’s high energy “talk.” The kids weren’t bored. He also made clear that he didn’t expect miracles to happen after his speech. Teenager cliques weren’t suddenly going to stop persecuting the socially awkward, shy and different among them. But after four suicides in a year among the student body in a school of just over 1,500 kids, any message that not only warns kids about being cruel but also their culpability in that cruelty by standing silently on the curb saying nothing, is important.

But I’ll tell you what I loved most about this presentation?  Seeing schools do exactly what I think schools do best. They put every kid in the system into that auditorium to hear Mr. Mojo speak. The “MojoUp” message probably didn’t reach every student. A good portion of them probably thought it was a hokey message, like all “good for you” messages can be. But at the very least, they were required to be in the auditorium to hear that message.

I was reminded of an episode of The Simpsons from one of the earliest seasons – where Marge Simpson led a parental movement against the violence of Itchy and Scratchy only to have the tables turned on her when concerned parents got outraged about Michaelangelo’s David on display at the local art museum.

At the very end, Marge, an art lover, laments that few kids will get to see this special display of the statue. Homer ends the episode by reminding Marge that every Springfield kid will see Michaelangelo’s David. Why? Because of the school field trip.

“They’re forcing them!” Homer exclaims.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the teenage mind. However, from five consecutive years of hosting a different teenager in the EF foreign exchange program, the similarities between American and foreign teenagers amaze and infuriate me.

Teenagers are so … generic.

One thing my wife and I like to do for our exchange students during the year is take trips to places that make Kentucky unique. Every year there is usually weekend trip to Cave City, a day at the races at Keeneland or Churchill Downs — which also involves a visit to the Louisville Slugger museum.
Last week, I bought four tickets and took my hostdaughter Lea and two other exchange students to Meadowgreen Park in Clay City, Kentucky to see the Grascals play a traditional bluegrass show. We’ve also taken them camping at a state park. A major highlight of their year was coming to the heart of Cynthiana, Kentucky for the second largest car show, The Cynthiana Rod Run, last August.
But we understand that the kids want to see more than just the Bluegrass state, so in different years we have taken them on trips to major US cities like Las Vegas, New Orleans, Nashville, Chicago, Orlando and Washington D.C.

The two sides of every city
As adults, we all know that major cities the world over have two sides.
There are those things that make every city unique.

Chicago, for example, has Wrigley Field and the Cubs (sorry, White Sox. You’re just not the same.) It has the Bears, of course, and the ugliest football stadium in the NFL. (Seriously, what’s been done to Soldier Field borders on the criminal.)

I could spend hours wandering around Lincoln Park and there is a perfectly wonderful hole-in-the-wall bourbon bar in the center of town called Delilah’s (I do not take my teenagers to Delilah’s, but they will have sampled a good bourbon before they leave for Europe.) Then there’s the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, The Best Hot Dogs in the entire universe, especially at the Superdawg just south of Niles, and Chicago-style pizza … is okay, I guess. (To those of you who just gasped, I’m sorry. I’m not a deep dish pizza fan.)

Chicago is the birthplace of Second City improv comedy, the Blue Man Group and the Steppenwolf Theater and a whole bunch of other stuff that I don’t have the space to list.

But there is also the generic stuff: the national chains common to every metro area and none of them bearing anything at all distinctive of the city that hosts them, except at the bottom of their marketing signature, which might as well have a dotted line beneath it.

It is consistent with every teenager I have ever hosted. We arrive in New York or Washington DC or Chicago and where do they ask to go first? The FUCKING Hard Rock Cafe or, worse, The Cheesecake Factory that’s not even downtown. It’s out in the suburbs. Michigan Avenue shopping is choked with all these national chain stores whose interiors are exactly the same as when I see them at Kenwood Mall in Cincinnati. I’m sorry. I did not travel the entire, interminable length of Indiana to visit the Kenwood Mall.

But this is how the teenage mind works — it gravitates to the generic because it fears new experiences. It fears the “new,” which goes a long way toward explaining the bullying.

We’ve all experienced the frustration of just convincing a teen to try new foods.

“Can’t I just order chicken fingers?”

It was no different at that age. All I wanted to do is hang out where the big crowds gathered. It was safe and I associated the mass of humanity  — and the 45-minute wait times for a restaurant table — as somehow cool.

I’ve forgotten why. Thank goodness we get older and learn that the really good stuff is where the crowds are thinner. Not where there are no crowds at all, mind you. An empty city street usually means nothing’s there, or worse, you’ve wandered into a dangerous neighborhood.

But, as a hostparent, I sometimes see that my job is to do exactly like the schools do.

I buy tickets to the plays, tours, games and the restaurants and let them know that we’re going to do this stuff. I’ve learned that exposing kids to “this stuff” will not result in a sudden change in attitude. Or, in the case of your own kids, even gratitude. But that’s okay. After they reach their 20s, the brain releases chemicals that cause young people to become adults and the things they appreciate are the unique experiences they had growing up.

Teachers are frequent witnesses to this phenomena.

Let me suggest a good way to start. Get tickets to a local live show – doesn’t matter what – this weekend and tell your teenagers that “we’re all going to go.”

It doesn’t have to be all the time. But in the name of Homer and Marge Simpson, I suggest that once in frequent while you “force’em.”

Extra stuff

I was going to upload video of the Grascals playing at Meadowview at the show I took my hostdaughter to see, but I somehow managed to record video on my I-Phone without sound. So I’ll just link to a Grascals You Tube video that works.

Also, continuing with the theme from my last column, I am linking to “The Beer Poem” from the IndieFeed Performance Poetry podcast. What can be a better subject for a poem than BEER!