BARRY CORBIN… EXPOSED!
Barry Corbin… EXPOSED!
by Paul Heckmann, Executive Director, Memories Incorporated
A tip of the hat to Linda McAlister, who made our reunion possible
And another tip to Shannon and Jordan Ross, who put me in touch with Mr. Corbin 17 years ago
Parts of this interview were from Mr. Corbin’s front porch with his horses, dogs, kids and grand-kids all around. The other part was from a followup phone interview last week. And after I listened to the interview playback, the longer I talked with Barry, the more ‘ya’lls’ came out – from me!
Paul Heckmann: Hello Mr. Corbin.
Barry Corbin: Good morning Paul. Please call me Barry.
Paul: Thank you!
It’s been a while since we last spoke. So you still raising horses at your place?
Barry: No, I don’t have any horses anymore. I’ve been back and forth traveling and I don’t have time for it. I try to get on one once in a while just to make sure I can still do it, but that’s about it. I know there’s a lot of guys my age getting on horseback every day, but I didn’t do it for a couple of years, and it’s getting harder and harder.
Paul: I’m there with you Barry. Was much easier when we were young and more limber, when the knees and hips would swing a little better.
Barry: You get a good horse, and a horse will put up with a kid. They won’t put up with much from a grown person.
Paul: You will learn more about a horse in a short time than you would ever want to know the first time you walk around the back of a horse at arm’s length. You’d better walk real close or real far away, one of the two.
Barry: Yeah, walk real close, put your hand on his rump. Let him know you’re there.
I guess I should first thank my friend Linda McAlister for her assistance in hooking us up. We go back to the days of Texas Film and Video News.
Barry: She’s a good gal.
Paul: She is the best!
Barry, can you tell me a bit about your family and how they got to Texas?
Barry: Well, my family originated in Virginia. We were always a bunch of farmers. They moved to Texas after the Civil War.
I was born in Lamesa, Texas that isn’t to far from Lubbock.
Paul: Did you grow up in Lamesa?
Barry: I went to first grade there and that was about it. We moved to Austin first and then we moved to Lubbock.
Paul: How long were y’all in Austin?
Barry: Well, my dad had two terms as State Senator from Lubbock. So we were back and forth between Lubbock and Austin.
Paul: So, what was it like growing up to be son of a State Senator? Did you catch any flak from the other kids?
Barry: Well, no, he was the youngest senator at the time. In the senate, he was, I think he was 25 when he was elected. He’d been elected County Judge when he was, I believe, 21. Back in those days, the war was going on, so the old judge that had been the judge for years, he was getting kind of a little bit senile, and wasn’t going to be good. He didn’t even run a campaign. He just put his name on the ballot. My granddad said well, if you win that, I’m going to run for president next time. Well, he won it because he was the only one running.
All the other young men were off to the war. My dad had a crippled hand, so he was not suitable for the service. He tried to join, but he couldn’t because he had polio. So, he got to be judge, and then he got to be a senator, and he won every political race he went and ran until the second time. The third time for senator, he was beat, and he decided politics was not his deal anymore.
Paul: So, that’s when he started practicing law?
Barry: Yeah. He’d already got his law license. He’s passed the bar years before. He passed the bar when he was 20 or 21. So, he was a lawyer the rest of his life, but he didn’t take any cases. The only cases he’d take were ones that interested him, and the ones that interested him didn’t have any money. So, we’d get paid in goats or chickens.
You owed income tax, but you had about $100.00 worth of cash all year.
Paul: So, about how old were you when you moved back to Lubbock permanently?
Barry: I was in the eighth grade when I came back permanently.
Paul: Where’d you go to high school at?
Barry: Monterey High School. I was pretty blessed that it was brand new when I went in. So, I went from the 10th grade all the way up through the
12th grade. I was the first one to go all the way through in the new school. So, it’s a very old school now, but it was a brand new school then.
Paul: How did you get your start in the entertainment?
Barry: Well, you know that’s a good story. The first thing I ever did was playing a piano in church when I was a kid. Then we started doing plays with the kids in our neighborhood. That was back in the day of character actors like Gabby Hayes and Walter Brennan. I wanted to be just like them.
Paul: How about your days in high school?
Barry: Well, the only things I paid attention to were literature and history. Other than that, I hated school. We used to go over to Texas Tech and watch the theater rehearsals all the time. It was a lot more fun than school.
After high school, I went to Texas Tech. Of course theater was what I enjoyed and pretty much all I did. When I was 19 I got the job playing Falstaff and did a pretty good job!
Paul: So, then you decided to go to Texas Tech. So, there’s internet rumor about you sleeping in a dumpster at Tech. Tell me about that.
Barry: Well, I did. I worked at this theater on the day. And they were building the library. And they had a bunch of, at the time, the horticulture department had a greenhouse over there, so they would dump their plants in this one particular dumpster. So, it had nice flowers and it was nice and soft, so I’d crawl up in there and take a nap. And nobody knew about it until the truck came to collect the thing and they started lifting that dumpster up, and I threw the lid open and hollered, and they let me out. So, I got in the school newspaper that I lived in the dumpster.
Paul: I could just see a head popping up and that guy freaking out.
Barry: I’m glad that there were guys there, because if it had been later on, the way they do now, they’ve got one guy; he doesn’t even see what goes into the truck.
Paul: We wouldn’t be talking today, would we?
Barry: No, I’d have been chopped into little bits.
Paul: What happened after you left Texas Tech?
Barry: My brother and I went into the Marine Corp together. Wasn’t exactly the smartest thing I’ve done, but we got through it. I spent most of my time sunny California at Camp Pendleton. After I was discharged, I came back to Texas and worked in theaters around the area
Well, I decided I that had to leave Texas to pursue my acting career. Anyway, I headed up north to New York via Chicago, North Carolina, Madison, Wisconsin and other places.
I finally got to NY and found out that an off-Broadway play didn’t pay squat. I was driving an old Ford Wagon and sleeping in it half the time. Anyway, I did get to do a lot of work – strangely enough a lot of it was Shakespeare. I moved down to Alabama for a while around ’72, then moved back up to the Big Apple.
During the summer of ’79, I got a shot at auditioning for the role of Uncle Bob in “Urban Cowboy” It went pretty well and I got the role. That was the one that pretty much set my film-acting career in motion. There were a couple of pretty good roles that came up right after that in “Any Which Way You Can” and “Stir Crazy.”
Paul: So lets talk about playing Uncle Bob in ‘Urban Cowboy’.
The movie opens, I remember it was Travolta who was sitting there in his pickup truck, and I remember turning around to my date and saying, I can guarantee he’s got a Coke bottle with some ‘chaw juice’ in there right beside him. And what does he do but pick up a Coke bottle right there about that time? It was just a perfect movie for someone that grew up in Texas. You knew it. I knew it. Everything was perfect.
Barry: Yes, I thought so too.
Courtesy Barry Corbin, Paramount Pictures and MovieClips
Paul: Do you remember who Dwight Adair is?
Barry: You bet! I loved working with him.
Paul: Well, Dwight’s an old buddy of mine for more years than you can imagine, and of course, he was dialogue coach on ‘Urban Cowboy’.
So, I reached out to Dwight, told him you and I were gonna have a pow-wow and I said, ‘Anything I should ask Barry?’ And he says, yeah, ‘Ask Barry if he remembers what the inside of Gilley’s smelled like.’
Barry: (laughs) Yeah, sure I can. It smelled like stale beer and cigarettes. And if you got off in a corner somewhere, it smelled like urine.
Paul: Ha! Exactly what he said!
Barry: How’s Dwight doing? Is he okay?
Paul: He’s doing pretty good. I’m gonna do another interview with him here pretty soon. We haven’t caught up in a long time.
He had that Granite House down in Austin for many years, but when I looked it up, I didn’t see it anymore, so I haven’t really touched base. I’ll be happy to put y’all two together. I’ll send you his information.
Barry: I haven’t talked to him in a while, so yeah, I’d like to talk to him. Is he still wearing his hair down to his ass?
Paul: Pretty sure it has grown down around his knees by now. But you know how it is as Old Man Time catches up with us. He’ll trip over that hair one day and it will be the death of him!
Barry: They always want me to send him a video when they want to hire me to do something, they want me to send him a video to make sure I’ve got all my arms and legs and that I’m still all together. They all think I’m old, and I don’t subscribe to that.
Paul: You’re only old if you think you’re old.
Barry: I used to think 80 was old, but it’s not.
Paul: My mom is about to turn 98 in December, and she’ll still whip your butt in any kind of card game you play, and in Boggle, where you roll the dice and spell out the words, and get points from whomever can make the most words. Just amazing. She lives by herself, runs the house, cleans the house, cooks; she won’t let anybody cook over there but her.
Barry: Does she drive a car?
Paul: She does, although I value my life too dang much to ride with her!
Barry: Ha! Well, that’s doing it good. I had a great-aunt who was 103, and the only problem she had was she couldn’t see well. She lived out in the country by herself, and she was going across the road when she was 103 to get her mail out of the mailbox and got hit by a car.
Paul: Oh, my gosh.
Barry: And she’d probably have still been alive if she hadn’t been hit by that car.
Paul: Before we get too far off base, let’s go back to Urban Cowboy for a minute. Now John Travolta was just coming off ‘Welcome Back Kotter’, ‘Grease’ and ‘Saturday Night Fever’. All of them had Jersey/New York accent. Did you ever have to remind John to lose a northeastern twang?
Barry: No, he did pretty good, Dwight worked with him a lot. I thought Debra Winger did a pretty good job too. She’s from up in Ohio.
Now let me tell you a story about that movie. One girl in the show was Jessie; she was playing the part of Debra’s best friend. She was one of the regulars there at Gilley’s. She wanted to be a little dramatic. They were doing a scene late at night. They had a break, and she said to John, ‘You know, you shouldn’t be playing this part, Bruce Boxleitner ought to be playing this part.’
John was just devastated by that. I said, ‘Don’t pay any attention to what she says. She’s just bitching and moaning.’ She’d just had a baby, and she’d put the baby up under the steel guitar player’s guitar and leave him there sucking on a pacifier in all that smoke and stuff.
Paul: Oh, man, that sounds like a no-no in most sets I’ve been on, you know as well as I do, there’s a pecking order on the set. When you talk about a captain on a ship, it’s the same. When you get that top dog on a set, if it’s director, or producer, or whomever, everybody else is below them, and you’d better jump when they say jump, and the only question is, ‘How high sir?’
Barry: Here’s another story, this old boy, the head bouncer, his name was David Ogle, everybody called him ‘Killer’. He looked like a cotton bale with arms and legs. And we were standing there in line, and they gave us these gourmet meals for lunch. I said, ‘Well, David, you and I are gonna have a good meal.’ He said, ‘I’d give my right arm for a slice of white bread.’ He didn’t like that fancy food. He just wanted some white bread and baloney.
Paul: From the way you described him, when he said a slice of baloney, he probably meant half a baloney sausage.
Lets talk ‘Dallas’ for a minute. Now if you remember I stood in for both Larry and Patrick Duffy on Dallas, so I know those guys a bit. Larry could be pretty sharp-edged if you didn’t remember your mark, your lines, or delayed production in any way. Our friends over Dallas Fanzine wanted me to ask you what’s your memories of Larry Hagman.
Barry: Larry, he was all right. I remember he got mad at me because I lost a bunch of weight when I was doing the series. I was supposed to have a heart attack in the series. I thought, well, what’s the first thing you do when you have a heart attack? Drop off a bunch of weight. So, I just started eating apples. When I was hungry, I’d eat an apple, and then that was it. I just ate apples. And I dropped down from about 220 to 190, and the next time I go over to the Dallas set, they had to alter my uniform and all that stuff. Larry says, how’d you lose all that weight? I said, ‘I just ate apples.’ He said, ‘what else?’ I said, ‘that was it. Just apples.’ And he just looked at me kind of with his mouth open and said, ‘You son-of-a-bitch!’
Paul: Of course that was, for anybody that’s not familiar, that was when you played ‘Sheriff Fenton Washburn’ on the set. It was a nice long run.
Barry: We were all right. We got along good. I liked Patrick.
As the reboot was shooting, Patrick told me, I had to come in and read the will on the show after Larry died. They brought me in to read the will, and I said to Patrick, ‘Well, I’m sorry to hear about Larry,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, the son-of-a-bitch had nerve, didn’t he? He died in the middle of the season!’
Paul: (serious guffawing)
Barry: I talked mostly to Linda and Charlene while I was there.
Paul: Linda’s great, she is absolutely amazing. You sit there and you look at her, and you go, she must have a Dorian Gray (relative perhaps? ;^) ) picture painted that sits in the closet, because she just doesn’t age. She’s still got those legs and such a classic beauty.
Barry: And she’s 80 years old.
Paul: She is absolutely incredible.
Found some interesting trivia the other day. I’m sure you remember the iconic Dustin Hoffman photo for ‘The Graduate’ where he is looking over
a great pair of legs.
Barry: That is pretty iconic.
Paul: Yeah, those are Linda Gray’s legs. The photographer said he was told they need somebody with really good legs for the ad campaign. So he says, I know somebody, he calls Linda, I think she said she was paid $25.00 to do that shot. One of the most iconic shots ever in show business and she made $25.00.
Barry: I never knew that.
Paul: I had heard some rumors of something like it but could never verify until I actually saw her talking about it on a video.
Barry: The last time I saw her was on a flight from LA to Dallas. Her birthday and my birthday are close, like within a week of each other. So, we were going to have a birthday party together, but we never did do it.
Paul: One thing that Dallas Fanzine asked me to ask you, was ‘Do you know why Sheriff Fenton Washburn disappeared after the sixth season? Were you working on something else?’
Barry: Oh, yeah, I was working on a bunch of other stuff. And also the Producers were scared I was going to ask for more money, I think.
Paul: Was Mr. Katzman, was that who you were dealing with?
Barry: Yeah, it was Katzman. He’s tight.
Paul: Nah…. (smiling)
It’s funny, because I always have this image of Mr. Katzman always in shorts no matter what time of year it was, and always with those tube socks up around his calves.
Barry: Yep, that’s him, he was a funny guy. I think, well, I worked in one show after Howard Keel came in. But pretty much after Jim Davis died, I didn’t work on it too much after that. And things started taking off after that. We did some movies with Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood and all of the big names in Hollywood back then.
After that we did “War Games” It was a pretty big hit for all of us. My part was General Beringer. Apparently the Director, John Badham, thought I reminded him of his dad who was an Air Force General.
I guess that movie had one of my more memorable lines.
Matthew Broderick was working on some computers trying to save the world and I ad-libbed the line “God damn it! I’d piss on a sparkplug if I thought it’d do any good! Let the boy in there, Major.” We had’em rolling in the aisles.
Paul: I remember the line. I was cringing!
Barry: It worked!
Barry Corbin and his famous ad-lib
Since then we’ve did a bunch of TV movies, features and TV shows, from M*A*S*H to Hill Street Blues to Matlock. And then in 1989 we did “Lonesome Dove”. I probably hear about that show from more people than any other one I was on. And we had a lot of fun making it.
When I first read the book, I called my agents and told them I had to be in it. I told them I’d play anything, just get me in it. It ended up being
‘Roscoe Brown’ which was fantastic. Different from most of my other parts.
And since then we’ve done a whole lot of character roles – and then came “Northern Exposure”. I didn’t really want to do a series. Most of them are pretty much just rehashing the pilot. But the writing was so superior to other pilots; we decided to take the 7-year contract for this show. It worked out pretty well.
Paul: Well, I’d say so, you got an Emmy nomination as “Best Supporting Actor”!
Barry: I’ve got a funny story about that too. Universal was being cheap then and didn’t pick up any expenses for the Nominees, so my daughter and I decided to come up to the building where the were having the awards…riding horses!” We didn’t win, but we had one heck of a night!
Anyway, that series cancelled in the mid 90’s and I’ve been doing a lot of character work ever since. Did a short stint on a show called “The Big Easy” that wasn’t too far from home, just over a piece in New Orleans.
Paul: I’m going to go forward a little bit here to ‘Anger Management’ and Charlie Sheen. Tell me little bit about that show.
Barry: Oh, it was fun. I took us about three times as long to shoot it as we planned, which means, since I was paid by the episode, I could’ve
probably made more money greeting people at Walmart, but it was fun.
Paul: I think Martin Sheen was on that too, I met him in DFW about two or three months ago on a flick shooting in Fort Worth, ’12 Angry Orphans’
Barry: Oh, he’s a nice fella, yeah.
Paul: I love talking with him. We sitting there, being sure not to bother him. He just turns around starts talking to the three of us like we’ve been sitting in a boat fishing for half a day. We’d start talking in between the cuts. He wants to know everything about you, and then he remembers everything about you to the next day. A lot of them, they’ll just keep talking and blah, blah, blah, but he remembered everything. The next day we picked up, right from where we left off.
Barry: Oh, he’ll ask you questions. He’s really interested in people. Robbie Duvall was on that, too, wasn’t he?
Paul: Yes. I didn’t see him during my short time, but Luke Wilson was on in the shots I worked on
There’s another show that you worked on a little more recently, and that is ‘Better Call Saul’. If I had enough talent and I could choose a show, it
would have been Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul. The character development in those two, just absolutely incredible.
Barry: I really enjoyed doing that one. I’d never seen Breaking Bad, I knew about it of course. And I’d never seen Better Call Saul before I did it.
Paul: You fit right in. It’s really interesting, like I say, the character developments on that are just absolutely incredible.
Now you spent a little time with Rhea Seehorn in the show.
I’ve got to ask you, she looks so darn cute.
Barry: Yeah. I’m still in touch with her sometimes.
Paul: So that brings up to, ‘what have you been doing lately?’
Barry: I’ve also been doing a lot of work for different organizations that I’m involved with, working with my horses and my grandkids. I’ve got to tell you, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. Life has been good to my family and me.
Paul: I can see why!
Barry, do you have any words of wisdom for those wanting to go into your line of work?
Barry: Henry Fonda one time said that every time he had a job, he thought it was gonna’ be the last one. And, if you got any sense, you gotta’ think that because, you know when somebody’s gonna do a dip, some of ’em go pretty far down. So, it’s not like having any other kind of a job where you have a natural progression. You just don’t have it in this business. A lot of people are very successful – very young children, very young adults, but when the children’s voice changes, they’re out of work. They’ve got to build a whole other reputation. Most people don’t do it, most people can’t do it, unless you’re a Shirley Temple, you know. She’s was a very successful person, but not in show business.
Paul: Let’s take a quick turn here. I want to thank you for your service to our country in the Marines.
Barry: I appreciate it.
Paul: So, I’ve been trying to write a script the Vietnam/Laos war forever, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing. I’m telling you, those people that can write good screenplays, they are absolutely amazing. When you go out there and you try to do it yourself, holy cow, it’s hard.
Barry: I know. I’ve done it.
Paul: Have you actually written full scripts? Did any of them get made?
Barry: Yes, but I haven’t had anybody that ever wants to do them. I’ve written to write. I’ve written some plays that have been produced. I’ve got one play, or a couple of one-acts under the title Throckmorton, TX from the Dramatists Play Service out in New York, I don’t know, they may not have it in stock, but I don’t think anybody’s doing it right now. I’m not getting any money anyway.
Paul: No residuals.
Barry: No, but there I hadn’t got any for several years. You do little things. I’ve written several screenplays. I wrote pilots that I couldn’t ever get nobody interested in. I’m writing a book now.
Paul: You have 200-and-something credits to your name. There’s got to be some good stories built there.
Barry: Oh, I’ve got a bunch of stories. I just have to go through and make sure I don’t libel anybody!
Barry: Well, you can’t lie anymore. This guy, he wanted to know if it was all right if they published my age. I said I don’t care. If anybody’s interested in that other than me, then they’re welcome to have it. If you want my name, you can go on the Internet and find it. If you want my age, it’s pretty easy to find now. You used to be able to lie about stuff like that. You can’t anymore.
So Paul, how old are you?
Paul: 66 in July of this year.
Barry: You’re about the same age as my daughter.
Paul: Shannon? Shannon is the person that connected us for the 2003 interview so remind her I still owe her lunch.
Let’s talk about Shannon for a second. I know that up until 1991, you had two sons. Overnight you find out you have a bigger family than you thought. Can you kind of tell me how that happened?
Barry: What happened was that her, I was doing a season of Shakespeare up at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and her mother told me she might be pregnant, and I said well, we’d get married when I get back, because back then, that’s what people did. And then she told me, then I talked to her again about a week later, and she said, well, I won’t be here when you get back. I’m going to go over by the school. I guess I didnt think too much about it at the time as she wasn’t sure.
As it turns out she was pregnant, Shannon was her baby. Many years later Shannon had her own little baby, a boy, and he had some health problems that he was born with, and so she wanted to find out if they were genetic. So she found who her mother was and got in touch with her, and then she found out who I was. So, she told my agent.
Paul: So, Shannon actually had been given up for adoption?
Barry: Yes, she was raised by a doctor and his wife over in Arlington.
The first time I talked to her on the phone we talked for an hour. And then we got together and actually, about a month later, I flew her and her husband out to meet us. After that, we talked on the phone every day.
She lives right across the street from me now, so we’re pretty tight.
Paul: That’s incredible. That’s a good story. Now, you were working on Northern Exposure when all this happened?
Barry: That’s correct.
Paul: How is her son doing these days?
Barry: That’s Jordan and he’s doing great. He’s got three little kids.
Paul: So, you’ve got some great-greats there.
Barry: Let’s see, I’ve got three, four, yeah, five so far.
Paul: Oh my gosh. Isn’t that something? When you were young, you never thought you’d live to see the day, did you?
Barry: Well, I didn’t even think about kids when I was young.
Paul: Well, it certainly doesn’t sound like you missed a beat! We are gonna touch base back on the grandkids in a bit, but first I want to talk about something that I know is very important to you. The NAAF Conference. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Barry: It’s the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.
In a nutshell, it’s an autoimmune disorder that causes people to lose their hair.
Some people lose all their hair; some people lose part of their hair. I lost part of mine, not all of it. Some of those people didn’t have any eyelashes, eyebrows, anything.
Bald-headed people don’t understand what it is and they see somebody without any hair, and it makes you look different. For kids, that becomes a very difficult thing. For some adults it becomes very difficult. It just never did bother me that much. About five years ago, I noticed my hair was going and it wasn’t a big deal, but some have a real hard time accepting it and what’s worse, their friends and co-workers have a hard time accepting it. For example, when I started losing my hair, a rumor went around that I was taking chemotherapy and I was sick. And that’s not a good thing to have in our business. It’s all about the perception of the people that are doing the hiring. Somebody asked me if I had lost any jobs as a result of the hair loss, and I said “Yeah, probably, but I probably wouldn’t want to do them anyway.”
But, the thing of it is, a lot of people, when they get something to make them look odd to other people, they retreat rather than come out and say what it is, and so that makes it worse on them physiologically. I said “Now, anybody asks you about it, anybody looks at you funny, tell them what you have, not only tell ’em what you have, tell ’em it’s not catching You’re not gonna’ catch it from me. You might catch it from your own body, ’cause that’s what causes it, but you’re not gonna catch it from me.”
Paul: Barry, we’re gonna talk about Jordan’s career in a minute. But first, did he ever ask your advice or opinion about the art of acting?
Barry: He never did, he just told me he was gonna’ do it. You know, anybody that’s gonna’ do that, if they’ve got to have validation from somebody else, they better not do it.
I had a college professor who kept trying to get me to get a teaching certificate so that I could teach or do something so that I’d have something else that I could do. And he kept discouraging me to try and do this professionally. Well, about 20 years later I saw him and I said “why did you always discourage me?” He said “because if I could discourage you, you’d be discouraged.”
And the reason for that is, if you think about it, the best level of a normal life, a doctor, lawyer, salesman, anything. You will go out and get a job, you might be turned down three or four times, but you’ll get a job. And for the most part, you’re gonna stay with that job for your whole career, maybe you’ll change once or twice. Most people might be rejected four, five, six, eight, ten times in a lifetime and that can be tough to handle. For an actor, you’re rejected eight or ten times a day.
And in this business all you’ve got to sell is yourself. You’re not selling products, they’re not turning down a car, they’re turning you down. Most people can’t handle that. Most people are essentially not set up that way. It’s sort of like the priesthood, you don’t choose it, it chooses you. No matter how good you are, you got to have enough humility to observe other people, we’re all observers. You got to have the egotism to say what you’ve got to say. Nobody else can say it as well as you can. You’ve got to be a peculiar type of person to do this. If you’re not that kind of a person, then you better do Community Theater and just enjoy it!
In a way, you have to re-invent yourself. None of us wants our work to be boring. Every human being in the world has a public persona and private persona, and, sometimes we don’t know the difference, but we’ve all got it.
Usually, when somebody who’s in the public eye a lot, goes out say, to the grocery store, you’ve got to consider that you’re probably gonna talk to 30-40 people. If you don’t feel like talking to ’em, you better send somebody else. Because if you get nasty with one of ’em, he’s gonna say “see that guy on television, he’s mean.” Now, their friends are gonna say it to ten other people….”that guy was mean to my friend.” Pretty soon the word gets around that you’re a jerk. So you’ve got to have a public persona which is what you present to the people who watch you, which is not too different from what you play on television, film, stage, wherever you work.
Paul: Well, I don’t see that you’re any different in person then seeing you on stage or the screen. You are very comfortable to talk to.
Barry: Well, you have to do that especially, in all medias. If you stray to far from what the public sees, then it confuses them, you know? We’re all typecast, but we’re better off if we typecast ourselves before we get started. That way you get yourself a broad spectrum rather than a bare spectrum. You’ve always got to be aware of that. Every time, early in my film career, I had to get to the point where I’d track own anybody that was writing in a sheriff, because that’s all I was doing. I’ve known some actors that play nothing but lawyers, and doctors and stuff.
And if they’re happy doing that, that’s fine, but I’m not happy with no diversity.
Paul: What are you happy doing?
Barry: Just about anything. However when I look at the script, and if it’s a project that I can’t bring something fresh to, or that’s not been accomplished before, then I’m not interested in doing it.
Paul: And you are definitely an original. Have you found it difficult to be the original person that you are with the industry? Has it hindered you, helped you, I think you know what I mean.
Barry: Oh, it’s done hindered. It’s been a hindrance something awful.
Ben Johnson one time told me that “I’m not the best actor in the world, but I am the best Ben Johnson.” And so, I kind of go along with him. I may not be the best actor, but I’m the best me that I can be, right now.
There’s been some difficulties, you know. But anybody who’s trying to create something, you know, you’ve got to be true to your own vision, but you also got to bear in mind that you’re working for somebody else so you can’t just out and out declare war on ’em – although I’ve done that a few times. You’ve got to do it in a certain way that they can save face
But, what happens is that if you don’t give them an out, you gonna’ close the door forever. And I’ve done that once or twice.
Paul: Have you gone back and have you apologized to certain people for some of the things that you’ve done along that way?
Barry: I’ve done that maybe twice. It’s not painful to do if you feel like it’s the right thing to do.
If you go back and apologize for something in order to get some kind of gain, monetary gain, then it’s wrong. But if you go back and apologize to somebody because you were wrong, that’s not a difficult thing to do. I mean we’re all wrong sometimes.
Well, there’s nothing more disparaging than to see an old, beat-down actor.
When I lived in New York, there was this man, this gay man, who would come into interviews, auditions, you know, hang around the Equity Lounge. And he always wore very nice suits, but they were ragged, but obviously nice suits. He wore a little fancy mustache with colored mascara and hair dyed just black and fluffy. He was 70 something years old. And he was listed in the players guide as leading man. But he never got a job – he had some success in Summer Stock, but he never had any real success in New York.
Anyway, he had gone through his whole life as an actor, probably not making as much money as he’d make building hamburgers over at the Burger King, if you put it all together. Yet, he still considered himself a leading man. You know, he’d come in and his zipper and his fly was broken and he’d have ’em mended with safety pins. But, he still believed it. The thing that’s very disparaging is somebody who no longer believes it, but still is kinda’ giving it a half-horse try, you know? And there are a lot of people like that, people who get into their 30’s, 40’s and realize that this is not gonna’ happen. But they stay with it and stay with it. Finally, when they’re in their 60’s, they don’t have enough pension, they don’t have anything, so they become very bitter people.
Funny thing though, that man wasn’t bitter, he still had his eye on that gold. Yeah, he may have been crazy but he wasn’t bitter. A great many people in this business, they take, and take, and take until finally they become bitter. And that’s very discouraging. That’s why I don’t encourage the kids to get into show business because no matter how successful or unsuccessful you are, it’s a very, very difficult business for most people. As for me, it’s the only thing that I can do and it’s all I want to do so I’m perfectly happy with the whole thing. But the odds that you’re gonna be very happy in this line of work are pretty slim.
Paul: Do you sometimes get tired of people asking you all the stuff I’ve been asking you? Do you just want them to say, ‘Hey, let’s go out and play a game of pool, let’s go down here and rope those horses, this is my new little puppy dog, forget this interview, let’s just have a good time?’
Barry: Well, no, I don’t. If I’m overwhelmed, I wouldn’t have agreed to this interview. I didn’t have to this. You know what, if I did everything that people wanted me to do, spoke at everything they wanted me to speak at, did all the other stuff they wanted me to do, I wouldn’t have time to do anything else. So I make up a reason I can’t do it, sometimes a legitimate reason. And, I usually have conflicts. It’s not a common thing for somebody to say “can you come to this function?” If I feel like the function is worth doing and something that’s important, then I’ll make time to do it. If it’s not, then I say “well, I’ve got something else.”
Paul: Now, looking over IMDb, you now have about 222 credits, so out of all those credits, you must have a favorite character that you played. Who would that be?
Barry: Oh, I couldn’t say. I just enjoy the work. I couldn’t say what my favorite was. They’re all good, because they all present different problems. I’d like to do a show where I have to learn a new skill, if I had to play an airline pilot, or, but one of my favorites was a show called Conagher, because I had to learn how to drive six horses on a stagecoach. It’s a TV movie with Sam Elliott and Katherine Ross.
Paul: If you could magically go back to one set for a day, same crew, same actors, might it be that show you’re talking about?
Barry: Yeah, that would be one of them, I guess. I got to have a conversation with Ken Curtis on that. I’d never met him before, and that was just before he died, so that was the last thing he did. So, I got to have a conversation with him.
Paul: Yeah, he was a big Dallas Cowboy fan. We just ran across a picture of him with, I think it’s with Dave Manders, on our sister page, ‘Memories of Texas Football’. I’ll send you a copy.
The last time we talked, your granddaughter was 9 years old. She’d been doing a little singing. She’d sing the National Anthem at the ballpark, I believe.
Barry: Yeah, that’s Tori. She’s got a little boy now. She’s married and got a little boy. He’s, I think, two years old now.
Paul: Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. Isn’t it amazing? So how about, now Jordan, he was doing some acting back then.
Barry: Yeah, he’s still doing some good work. He’s doing a show now called ‘The Chosen’, it’s about Jesus and the disciples. And he’s getting a lot of good feedback from that.
Paul: That’s incredible! I think it was Jordan that contacted Shannon back on the old Yahoo email lists for us to talk the first time. I guess I owe both he AND Shannon lunch!
Barry, is there anything you’d like to say to all the members of Memories Inc?
Barry: Well, once we can get back to where we can get an audience together, I’m going to be doing a one-man show, ‘An Evening with Barry Corbin.’ It’s going to be film clips and me talking, and then we’re going to have a question and answer conversation with the audience. We don’t have anything booked yet, because we don’t know when we can do it. We’ve got a lot of interest all over the country. I’m sure we’ll do it somewhere around Dallas/Fort Worth.
Paul: Let me know, or ask Linda to call me and let me know.
Barry: Well, I’ll be doing it at a high school in Fort Worth whenever we can get back to doing normal stuff. That’ll be the first production of it, so I’ll tell her to get in touch with you on that.
Paul: Absolutely. We’ve got 28,000 members on Facebook’s ‘Memories of Dallas’, I will definitely put that out there and let everybody know, and they’re all over the place.
Barry: Sounds good.
Paul: I appreciate your time, sir, and if you’re ever over Dallas way, give me a holler, I’ll grab Linda, and we’ll go get something to eat, my treat.
Barry: Okay. I will. I appreciate it. Good job on the interview.
Paul: You are an easy fella to talk to, have a good evening!
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A very good, informative interview. A good insight to his life and thoughts.
Thanks Terry. Mr Corbin was very easy to talk to.
Thank you! Mr. Corbin was an absolute delight to chat with. We could have gone on all day and all night and not missed a beat.