Sunday, February 04, 2007

lagniappe on John Schuck

John Schuck plays Oliver Warbucks in the touring version of *Annie* at the INB Center (Feb. 15-18). Bobo's got an article this Thursday on this veteran of *Macmillan & Wife* (with Rock Hudson), Altman movies like *MASH* and *McCabe and Mrs. Miller,* and even a recurring part in a couple of *Star Trek* movies as a Klingon ambassador.

Here, apropos of nothing, is some stuff that could be filed under Theater Trivia but which just didn't fit nohow, no way into the article. (The *MASH* anecdote is a classic.)

Asked for a final comment, Schuck came up with this:
"I always caution audiences: We’d love it when you bring your young children to *Annie,* and that’s terrific — but don’t bring your 3-year-old. We make no concession in this production to younger children — the first act is an hour and a half long, and the second act runs nearly 50 minutes. Some parents think it will be so cute to bring the little ones, but they don’t understand that their child is disturbing other. And it’s disruptive to the actors.”

Schuck says he bases his Oliver Warbucks (which he has played for 27 years, on and off) partly on the character of Gant in *Look Homeward, Angel* (which he played in college) and also, revealingly, on his maternal grandfather:
"Warbucks is closest to my grandmather on my mother's side — "Gramp Hamik," we called him. He's dead now. He was an attorney in Buffalo, New York, where I was raised. He was powerful of stature and of personality — and he was *cold.* When my mom wrote home from college, he would not answer her letter, but he would send them back red-penciled. But then near the end of his life, he realized that something was missing, and he turned into a human being. Finally, he realized, "Oh, no, my daughter has grown up." He's always going around saying 'pshaw.' I draw on him some emotionally, a) to feel what that must’ve been like, and b) on the other hand, how wonderful it was when he really changed."

Schuck got the part of Painless (the Polish dentist) in the movie version of *MASH* in a convoluted way. Director Robert Altman was looking at Michael Learned (the mother in "The Waltons") for Lt. Dish; Schuck happened to be in the same play as she was; Schuck was briefly considered for the role that was later offered to Burt Reynolds but which ultimately went to Tom Skerritt.
Anyway, somehow all this led to Schuck becoming the first actor ever to drop the F-Bomb in a major motion picture. His account:
"Bob had gone home for the day. All the second unit stuff was being filmed by Andy Sedaris, who came to us from ABC's " Wide World of Sports." [presumably called upon to film the football game sequences in the movie]
"We had no Steadicam in those days, so he was very clever -- he created a mount for the camera inside the ball, so you'd get these ball's-eye views.
"So they set up this one shot -- just taking individual shots one day, during the football game, and Andy says to me, "Just line up across from Ben and say something insulting to him."
"Ben" was Ben Davidson, who played for the Oakland Raiders at the time and who stood 6-foot-8 and weighed 272 pounds. (A four-time all-star in the old AFL and in the NFL, Davidson played pro ball from 1961-71 after attending the University of Washington.)

"And I’d never played football in my life — I was just a sissy little soccer player in high school. And he was huge!"
What Schuck said to Davidson, improvising, was, “All right, Bub, your fuckin’ head is coming right off.”

"Well, he just knocked me out. And as he’s helping me up, he says, "I'm sorry, I didn't know you were going to talk to me like that. It was reflex — reflex!"
"Well, Altman just loved the dailies, and he kept it in the final print."
It was 1970, and it was the first-ever use of the F-Bomb in a major-studio motion picture.


  1. Schuck, along with Marissa O'Donnell as Annie, and the show's dog trainer, and the show's dog (Lola, in the role of Sandie) is scheduled to appear on Bobo's next "Backstage to Broadway" (available to be downloaded as video from from approx. Feb. 17-March 28).

  2. John Schuck was also resident actor at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco in the sixties along with Peter Donat, Michael Learned, David Dukes and others...What a privelege it was for me as one of the ushers to be near these incredible actors and experience the plays they were in...We were in awe...Mr. Schuck was always friendly and kind, and I remember those times fondly as I now get to be in musical theater myself, albeit in the little town of Newport. Please send him my best...Lynnie(Lynne Carter, one of the singers/players in Howard's Follies-Bertha the Blues, currently running at CREATE in Newport, WA)