Character Actors: Ronny Cox

By SCOTT VOISIN

—Autograph May 2009

Ronny Cox as Luke in the Car

Ronny Cox might just be the most recognized actor in Hollywood… kind of. “Throughout my career, I’ve almost never been recognized as an actor,” he says. “People just think they know me. Someone will come up to me and say, ‘Aren’t you from Des Moines, Iowa?’ I’ll say, ‘No, I’m an actor,’ and they’ll say, ‘I’ve never seen you in the movies but there’s a guy that looks exactly like you in Des Moines.’ I’ve literally had that conversation a thousand times. It turns out there’s a guy that looks exactly like me in practically every town!”

Cox made his acting debut alongside Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight in the 1972 box-office hit Deliverance. Years of steady work followed, and in 1984, he appeared in his first blockbuster, Beverly Hills Cop, playing a by-the-book California police lieutenant who squares off against Eddie Murphy’s free-wheeling Detroit detective. “What was interesting about Beverly Hills Cop is that the big set-piece for my character at the end of the film was my first day of shooting,” Cox remembers. “As an actor, I had to be fully aware of the relationship Eddie and I had gone through; how we started as adversaries and went through this and this, even though we hadn’t filmed any of it yet. To get ready to do the last scene on my very first day took a tremendous amount of homework.”

After Cop’s huge success, Cox was approached to do the sequel. “I don’t like sequels much to begin with, and I had reservations about it,” he admits. “I ended up doing Cop II because my character was sort of the reason for the story, but I had some problems with it. Cop I was good for me; Cop II was not so good. The stuff they offered me in Cop III was dreadful, so I turned that down.”

Cox signed magazine cover

For 15 years after Deliverance, Cox made a living playing loving husbands and dedicated cops. In 1987, audiences finally got to see his dark side in RoboCop. “In many ways, RoboCop was as big a breakthrough for my career as Deliverance was because, for the first time, I got to play a bad guy,” he says. “I always think the bad guys are far and away the most interesting. Playing a good guy is pretty boring, and every decision he makes is absolutely predictable. I liken it to painting… If you’re the good guy, you get three colors: red, white and blue. But if you’re the bad guy, you get the whole palette. RoboCop was a huge boon to my career because after that, I was offered all kinds of roles.”

He took advantage of the opportunities, appearing in more than 100 movies and TV shows, but for the last several years, Cox has spent less time in front of the cameras and more time in the recording studio, singing, writing and playing a mix of folk, jazz and blues songs. With six CDs under his belt, he enjoys creating music and performing for an audience.

“I love acting, but I don’t love it as much as I love the music,” he explains. “With acting, there’s that imaginary fourth wall between you and the audience. With music, there’s the possibility of a profound, one-on-one sharing that takes place, especially with the kind of music I do. I tell stories… You get the set-up, you get the story and then you get the payoff in the song. Wherever I play, I like to have the house lights up because I want to be able to see the audience and connect with them.”

Cox as Chief Andrew Bogomil in Beverly Hills Cop ll

At this point in his life, Cox is still willing to play the Hollywood game, but only on his terms. “Acting is not the be-all and end-all for me that it is for a lot of other people,” he says. “I’ll go play music at the drop of a hat, but to get me in a movie or television show, it has to be something I really want to do. If I have music dates during the shooting schedule, I tell them to make room for those dates or else I won’t do the movie. That’s a hard concept for them to understand in Hollywood, but that’s how I feel about it.”

 
 
 
 

Autograph dropped a line to Ronny Cox and he responded, “I’m always grateful to the fans and appreciate their enthusiasm. It’s always amazing to me that even though I play villains and bad guys, the fans seem to separate those characters from my music. I have found the Stargate SG 1 fans to be some of the most ardent of my music fans. Go figure!”

Affordable History: Dr. Sam Sheppard

Dr. Sam Sheppard – The Trial of the Century

By JON ALLAN

Featured in Autograph January 2008

Endure and Conquer (1968), by Dr. Sam Sheppard, which tells his story, signed by the author.

The “Trial of the Century” is a phrase used to denote an important trial that gained widespread notice and publicity.  During the 20th Century there are a number of trials that legal experts consider fall into this category:  The Harry K. Thaw Murder Trial (1906), The Sacco-Vanzetti Trial (1920s), The Leopold-Loeb Case (1924), The Scopes Monkey Trial (1925), The Lindbergh Kidnapping (1932), The Gloria Vanderbilt Custody Trial (1934), The Nuremberg Trials (1945), The Manson Family Trial (1970-71) and The O. J. Simpson Trial (1995).  To a lesser degree was the trial of Dr. Sam Sheppard or “Dr. Sam,” the sobriquet he generally went by.

What makes Dr. Sam’s Trial unique from the others is that it ran from 1954-2002 and has never been satisfactorily concluded.  It began on July 3-4, 1954 when Dr. Sam found his wife Marilyn dead in their upstairs bedroom.  The Sheppards were an upper middle class couple that lived in an upscale home on Lake Eire in Bay View, Ohio, near Cleveland.  From the start of whole episode Sheppard told essentially the same story. After having a party Marilyn, went to bed and Sam fell asleep on the day-bed while watching a movie. He awoke up to what he thought was someone calling his name.  Running up to the bedroom he saw a shadowy figure that he grappled with until he was knocked out from behind.  When he came to he checked bloody scene and found his wife was dead.  Finding the back door open he saw a tall, middle aged “bushy haired man” running towards the lake.  He caught up with the man and in a second fight was again knocked unconscious.  From the time the first policeman arrived the circus began.  The house and lawn were soon filled with police, reporters, neighbors and the curious, wandering in and out of the murder scene. With no one in charge Dr. Samuel Gerber, the county coroner, arrived and took over. Gerber immediately believed Sheppard had been the killer. Newspapers, at first sympathetic, were soon pressing in bold headlines for his arrest.

Sam Sheppard

The ensuing trial began on October 18th and turned into what the New York Times described as a “Roman Circus” with a posturing judge, cover-ups and biased media coverage that convicted him in the press.  Sheppard was found guilty of second-degree murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Within a month his mother had committed suicide and his father had died of cancer. Sheppard’s lawyer, in hindsight had made serious mistakes but he kept appealing.

Sheppard with Ariane Tebbernjohaans, his second wife.

In 1961 a brash flamboyant young lawyer, F. Lee Bailey took on Sheppard’s case and instituted a number of motions, finally reaching the Supreme Court, which overturned the conviction 8-1. In 1968 he was re-tried and easily acquitted. Sheppard’s freedom was fleeting and depressive.  Three days after leaving prison he married Ariane Tebbernjohaans, a stunning blonde 33-year old German divorcee with whom he had been corresponding and become engaged. She also created a controversy when it became known that she was the half-sister of Magda Rictchel, the wife of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.  Sheppard and a ghost writer quickly wrote a book, Endure and Conquer, which told his side of the murder story and his 12-years of life in prison. Sam and Ariane went on the publicity circuit but were divorced less than two years later. Sheppard went back into medical practice but soon quit after the families of two dead patients sued him for malpractice. He found it hard to find work until he met George Strickland and began a brief career as a professional wrestler going by the name of “The Killer.”  Six months before his death he married Strickland’s 20 year old daughter.  On April 6, 1970 he died from the affects of alcoholism, having become a two fifth a day drinker plus having an addiction to pills. His son and others have spent years trying to regain Sheppard’s good name, but in a third civil trial he was found “not innocent,” leaving his guilt or innocense still undecided.  The last legal case, in 2002, seemingly ended his long trek through the legal system. Sheppard has been the subject of numerous books and articles, documentaries and his case became the basis for the highly popular TV series, The Fugitive (despite the creator’s denials) and several movies.

Sheppard's signature, worth more than $100

Sheppard’s autograph is worth well in excess of $100 but by checking booksellers I found several copies of his autobiography, jointly signed by he and Ariane, from their book tour.  One copy cost me $8.00.  This is a good reminder that hunting through bookstores or the internet can find you historic treasures for little or nothing.  In the past month my wife has found 6 signed books in Goodwill Stores, they cost $1-2 and none was worth less than $35.00.  Happy hunting.

Book Collector: Let’s Hear it for the Boys and Their Autographs

By JOHN E. SCHLIMM II

Featured in Autograph January 2008

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. signed this promotional postcard for his 2007 BCPAC lecture at the University of Pittsburgh.

Named after his famous father, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has carried on his family’s mission of helping the world to become a better place. This Kennedy’s particular crusade is saving the environment from destruction at the hands of greedy corporations and everyday citizens. As the country’s most prominent environmental attorney, RFK Jr. has also used his pen to further his activism, writing two books about the environment, Crimes Against Nature and The Riverkeepers (co-authored with John Cronin). In addition, he wrote a children’s book, St. Francis of Assisi (after whom he’s also named) and his first book, 1977’s Judge Frank M. Johnson: A Biography.

RFK Jr. inscribed and signed a page in his book, Crimes Against Nature

Last April, I had the pleasure of attending RFK Jr.’s lecture and signing at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. He spoke for nearly an hour and half, and never used a note! Naturally, for the signing afterwards, I went armed with his three most recent books, as well as the Playbill and promotional postcard for the event. Kennedy flew through the signing, appearing to be rushed and even distracted at times. My comment to him about me being named after St. John Evangelist, in relating to his own

saintly

namesake, St. Francis, was completely ignored. However, to his credit, he stayed until everything was signed.

(www.robertfkennedyjr.com)

Barack Obama

Obama's first book, Dreams of My Father, featuring what appears to be an autopen signature.

When Barack Obama burst onto the scene at the 2004 Democratic

National Convention, I, like millions of others, became enamored by his powerful aura. I immediately read his first book, Dreams from My Father, and I loved it. Then, after Obama became the new Senator from Illinois, I devoured his second book, The Audacity of Hope.

What, then, is a collector to do? Most certainly, send the two books off to be signed, especially when considering that, even at the time, it was clear Obama was going to make a run for the White House. In early 2007, I mailed the two books to his Capitol Hill office. Many weeks later, the books arrived back in my mailbox. My initial elation, however, was soon dampened, when upon close inspection, I noticed that both signatures were identical, except where one trailed off a little longer at the end. The culprit, I suspect, was a busy autopen machine employed by an even busier senator and presidential candidate. It looks as though he plays by the same through-the-mail autograph rules as Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Obama's second book, The Audacity of Hope, with a signature nearly identitcal to the one in Dreams from My Father.

As with any alleged autopen usage, I’ll let you, my book collecting friends, be the ultimate judge after you’ve examined the images yourself. In Obama’s defense, I have noticed him signing up a storm, in-person, on the campaign trail.

(www.obama.senate.gov)

Terry McAuliffe

Terry McAuliffe signed this bookplate in his book, What a Party! The title page is signed by his wife, Dorothy, and daughter, Sally.

Terry McAuliffe is a longtime political and fundraising mastermind who served as the energetic Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005 and then assumed the role of campaign chairman for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s historic 2008 bid for the presidency. I caught up with McAuliffe at his 2007 Washington, D.C. 50th birthday party/launch party for his book, What a Party! And what a party it was, with a who’s who of our capital’s social scene, including a star-studded appearance and remarks by Senator Clinton (she also led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to the author).

A true sign of style: Every one of the nearly 1,000 guests received a book with a signed bookplate (all were handsigned). Of course, I also sought out McAuliffe’s beautiful wife, Dorothy, to autograph my book. At the time, McAuliffe’s young daughter, Sally, was standing with her mother, so I asked her to ink the book as well.

(www.whataparty.us)

Anthony Hopkins

Served up Rare

by LAWRENCE GROBEL

Featured in Autograph January 2008

Photo by Lori Stoll

One of my favorite actors is Anthony Hopkins. Sir Anthony Hopkins. He has displayed extraordinary versatility in the range of roles he’s taken, from the decent, eccentric New Zealander whose dream it was to break a motorcycle speed limit on the Bonaventure flats in Nevada (The World’s Fastest Indian) to the repressed and reserved butler in The Remains of the Day to the representation of pure evil in his three Hannibal Lecter films (The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Red Dragon). Hopkins has given us performances that have chilled and thrilled and captivated us for all the years he has been acting. He’s played such controversial real-life characters as William Bligh in The Bounty, Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone’s Nixon, John Quincy Adams in Amistad, Yitzhak Rabin in Victory at Entebbe, Pablo Picasso in Surviving Picasso, Adolph Hitler in The Bunker and Richard Bruno Hauptman in The Lindbergh Kidnapping. More recently he appeared in The Human Stain, based on Philip Roth’s novel; Oliver Stone’s Alexander; Proof, based on the play by David Auburn; the remake of All the King’s Men; Emilio Estevez’s Bobby; and Fracture, costarring Ryan Gosling.

He’s been nominated for six Golden Globes, four Emmys, and four Academy Awards. He won two of the Emmys (for Hitler and Hauptman) and one Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs. Unlike some of his contentious peers like Marlon Brando and George C. Scott, who refused their Oscars on principles Hopkins never understood, Hopkins considered winning his Oscar as a greater achievement than being knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1993.

“Getting the Oscar was a great moment for me,” he has said. “It changed my life because it knocked a lot of myself down inside of me. Not crippling self-doubts, but doubts that I wanted to be rid of. I think praise is a very good thing to have in one’s life. It’s better than a kick in the ass.”

Hopkins was knighted in 1993 by Queen Elizabeth, shortly before this photo was taken at the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. I didn't know if I should address him as "Sir Anthony" or simply "Tony." He said the Oscar for Silence of the Lambs meant more to him than being knighted.

I got to know Hopkins just after he was knighted and presented with his Oscar for playing Lecter. His on-screen time in Silence of the Lambs was twenty-seven minutes, yet his presence was so pervasive that his award was for Best Actor, rather than Supporting Actor. I met him at hotels in Beverly Hills and in Santa Monica and we spent long hours discussing his personal and professional life. He was fascinating to talk to, full of energy and opinions. I must admit, having seen him as Hitler and as Hannibal the Cannibal, I approached him with some trepidation. I really didn’t know what to expect. He was friendly, but a bit wary at the time. He really wasn’t all that fond of being interrogated. It’s one thing to talk to a reporter about a current movie or art project, but quite another when that reporter wants to dig deeper, get more personal, and try to lift the lid to get beneath the often well-honed surface.  Hopkins surprised me with his candor about his childhood, which he was willing to discuss in heartbreaking detail.

“I was an idiot at school,” he said. “I didn’t know what time of day it was. We lived in the rural part of an industrial steel-working town. And when I first went to school, I was in a completely alien environment. I can remember the smell of stale milk, drinking straws and wet coats, and sitting there absolutely petrified. And that fear stayed with me all through my childhood. That gnawing anxiety that I was freaky, that I wasn’t really fitting in anywhere. I didn’t know what was expected of me. I couldn’t achieve anything, and I couldn’t accomplish anything. I wasn’t popular at all. I never played with any of the other kids, didn’t have any friends. I wanted to be left alone right through my school years.”

Just as surprising was what he had to say about actors and acting. “What’s so special about being an actor?” he said. “Actors are nothing. Actors are of no consequence. Most actors are pretty simple-minded people who just think they’re complicated.”

Is it irony or coincidence that Hitler and Hopkins share the same "AH" initials? Obviously Hopkins has thought about it, signing this copy of The Bunker the way he did.

But that was in the early nineties, before Hopkins had married for the third time and mellowed a bit. In 2004 I interviewed him again when he was promoting Proof. I asked if he was no longer restless. “No,” he answered.  “I’m happily married now, and I’ve changed a lot. I don’t want to sit in a trailer and work long hours anymore. I play the piano. Read. I’m painting with acrylics now. I have a small show of my work in San Antonio. Go to restaurants and let my wife do the ordering. I very much stay at home. Which is good.”

Hopkins signed as Stevens, the English butler in The Remains of the Day. So refreshing to see an Oscar-caliber actor willing to sign in such a memorable way. A collector's dream.

I wondered if he had read any books about mathematicians, to prepare for the role of a brilliant mathematician in Proof. “No,” Hopkins said, “but I’m a pianist, so I do have an attraction to math, even if I don’t understand it. I’m slightly obsessed with numbers and dates. I can work out, mathematically, certain dates. Today’s the 28th of June, a Tuesday. There’s also a 28th of June on a Tuesday in 1955, exactly fifty years ago. I can work out what dates fall on what days through the ages. I worked this out in Chicago. My wife was asking me, “Are you counting on your fingers?” I can remember dates of years throughout my whole life, and what day they fell out on, what I was doing. So I suppose I have locked in my brain somewhere a mathematical talent. I don’t use it because I don’t need it.”

What’s the most important date in your life that you can remember?” I wondered. Hopkins knew exactly. “September 30, 1955. It was the beginning of a whole change of life. I won a scholarship to a local acting school in South Wales [the Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff]. When I was in school I guess I was sort of ADD, I didn’t have any knowledge of anything. But I auditioned for this local college and won a scholarship and it was in the newspaper. It was a turning point in my life. And then on a Monday, October 3rd, I went to my first acting course. I was seventeen and got a taste of what this required. The years passed by and I went into the National Service, then came out, and went into this profession and here we are.”

This is my favorite of all actors' inscriptions. Hopkins writes as the devilish Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs, inviting me for dinner in London. I still hear the way he inhaled so chillingly when he spoke similar words to FBI agent Clarice (Jodie Foster) in the film.

When Hopkins was a boy, he once wrote to Humphrey Bogart, asking for an autograph. Bogart sent him a photograph. He once asked and received an autograph from his fellow Welshman, actor Richard Burton. The third actor he wrote to for an autograph was Charlie Chaplin, who sent one to him. “They were prized from the time I had them until I lost them,” Hopkins recalled. And he’s never forgotten what it feels like to want someone’s autograph.  “When people stand in line at a premiere,” he says, “I try to sign as many as I can.”

Hopkins has a confident, beautiful signature. When I asked him to sign a copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, which Hopkins made memorable as the butler Stevens, Hopkins wrote: “Dear Larry, I think we should take breakfast in the drawing room. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins).”  In James P. O’Donnell’s The Bunker, he inscribed it in character, using the same initials as Adolph Hitler:  “All orders must be obeyed without question at all.  A H”   And when I handed him my copy of Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs, he wrote: “Next time we meet Larry will be in England for a few dinners of raw liver fava beans and chianti. So until then—pleasant dreams. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins).”

Just from these inscriptions one can see that Hopkins is a playful, confident, complex person. And yet, when it comes to acting, the pragmatist in him always made it sound simple: learn your lines, show up, get on with it. But was it really that easy?

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “The hardest part is putting off the procrastination. I take the script and sit down with a bunch of pencils and markers and go through it very thoroughly until I feel relaxed inside, that I know what I’m doing. I turn up prepared. That’s what I do. I learn the script. Then I go through the preparation, the wardrobe, and I know where I am and what I’m going to do. But once they start rewriting on set, I say no. ‘No, no. I’ve done my preparation, don’t start rewriting it now. I’ll have to take another three weeks off.’ I always make sure that the rewrites come in time so I can learn them. I worked on a film once with Chris Rock [Bad Company]. The producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, would rewrite stuff. I said to him one day, “Why do you do this? To torture us? I just want to let you know when you send me these new pages I throw them in the trash.” People were shocked: “You talk to Jerry Bruckheimer that way?”  Yeah, screw it. If he sends me pages on the day we’re shooting, they go in the trash can.”

Hopkins has never forgotten what it feels like to want someone's autograph. "When people stand in line at a premiere," he says, "I try to sign as many as I can." Signed still from The Silence of the Lambs.

When I saw him more recently, he was filming Slipstream, a small movie blending fiction and nonfiction, reality and illusion, which he wrote, was directing, starring in and had composed the music for. He seemed happy and self-satisfied. He loved being so totally immersed in all facets of moviemaking. And he was preparing for a showing of his art work in a gallery in Texas.  He showed me his drawings, which were small and well done, mostly of landscapes and flowers. He said he used photographic paper, which gave them their shine. He drew with a kind of Sharpie pen, with various colors. He said his last exhibit had sold out.

He spoke about how he felt invigorated doing his art, composing music, making a personal film. “Everyone has genius within him,” he said. “It just has to be explored.”  And then he confessed to changing his attitude about his profession.  “I used to always put down actors and acting, but I realize now that when I said that, I was protecting myself, saying it before someone else could say it and hurt me.”

I wasn't expecting his hand to grab my neck, but that's Lecter for you: he looks right into the camera without a hint of the malevolence inside his head.

Hopkins turns seventy in December, 2007. It’s taken him a long time, but he’s finally beginning to mellow.

In the Trenches: Spektor Strike-Out

By JOSH BOARD

Featured in Autograph January 2010

The author (left) with Mandy Patinkin

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