DAVID BIANCULI, HTE:
It’s FRESH AIR. Now we are going to remember comedic actor Peter Scolari, who died a week ago from cancer at the age of 66. In 1980, he starred alongside Tom Hanks on the ABC sitcom “Bosom Buddies”. The two played New York City copywriters Kip and Henry, who disguise themselves to move into a very cheap, subsidized all-female hotel. The show launched their two careers. Here’s a scene from the first season. Hanks and Scolari, whose characters are known as Buffy and Hildegard in feminine attire, hang out at a singles bar with other women in the hotel. But they are not having fun.
(SOUND OF THE TV SHOW, “BOSOM BUDDIES”)
PETER SCOLARI: (Like Henry Desmond / Hildegard) see what’s going on here. I understand. Men ignore us, and I know why. Because we are dogs (barking).
SCOLARI: (Like Henry Desmond / Hildegard) That’s why no one comes to ask us to dance.
TOM HANKS: (Like Kip Wilson / Buffy) Now let me understand, Rin Tin Tin …
HANKS: (Like Kip Wilson / Buffy) Are you upset that the men don’t ask us to dance?
SCOLARI: (Like Henry Desmond / Hildegard) A pretty girl can get anything she wants, but if you’re ugly you buy your own drinks. You follow me?
SCOLARI: (Like Henry Desmond / Hildegard) Is it too much to ask a good looking kid to come over here and buy me a drink or show me a little tenderness?
HANKS: (Like Kip Wilson / Buffy) Henry, the clothes are a joke. It’s a gag. We play pretend, remember?
BIANCULLI: Scolari went on to star on the CBS sitcom “Newhart,” which starred Bob Newhart as the owner of a Vermont inn and host of a local TV show. Scolari played her powerful, conceited and egotistical producer and was nominated for three Emmy Awards for this role. Most recently, Scolari played the father of Lena Dunham’s character on the HBO sitcom “Girls,” for which he won an Emmy. He has appeared in many other television shows and on stage. He again worked with Tom Hanks in the 2013 Broadway production of Nora Ephron’s play “Lucky Guy”. In 2014, he played the great baseball Yogi Berra in the play “Bronx Bombers”. Scolari excelled in sports in his youth and was an outstanding high school baseball player.
Terry interviewed Peter Scolari in 1988. They started off with a music video for “Newhart”. He played Michael, the producer of the local show “Vermont Today”, hosted by the character Newhart. Michael always comes up with ways to brighten up the station with provocative programming. In the show’s first season, Michael suggests the show in which the wives of criminals would be interviewed.
(EXCERPT FROM THE TV SHOW, “NEWHART”)
SCOLARI: (Like Michael Harris) Imagine this – a show about the woman behind the prop, the maul behind the menace. What do you think?
MARY FRANN: (Like Joanna Loudon) I think you’re demented.
SCOLARI: (as Michael Harris) It’s just the tip of the iceberg.
SCOLARI: (as Michael Harris) We interview Joe Joe (ph) on “Vermont Today”. Do you like him? You ask probing questions. What attracts him to your criminal inclinations?
BOB NEWHART: (Like Dick Loudon) Michael, this is not entertainment. It is exploitation.
SCOLARI: (as Michael Harris) Tomato, tomato, (ph) Dick.
(EXTRACT FROM ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
TERRY GROSS: So, do you think you’re using a different voice and character than the voice you normally speak with?
SCOLARI: Yeah, but you know, it’s funny. You brought up an interesting point here because I come home the day before, like, last night of what is effectively the last day of rehearsal, and I can’t seem to get the voice out of my – my own voice. who speaks. I think my own voice is more in line with what we hear today and Michael’s voice is more here. It’s just a little change that I make. And I try not to think about it too much. It’s just something I’ve kind of let myself into on occasion, but I’ll be coming home – I hope I’ve got my voice back now. But I’ll be home from a Thursday rehearsal and my wife will say, how was it today, honey? And I will say it went well. I have to tell you. I’m safe with mine – and I’ll realize somewhere along the line that I didn’t let it go and I can’t. It is very scary.
GROSS: You know, your character is always described as the ultimate yuppie, but I think for me it’s like you also go back to the old goofy comedies and look, like, the really rich people, the old money people. , and got some of their mannerisms.
SCOLARI: Yes. Although, you know, Michael, in fact, at least as I see him, isn’t much of a very successful yuppie at all. Michael doesn’t drive a BMW or a Mercedes. He probably didn’t finish college as we understand it, and I think he’s trying to affect or at least join the trend of, you know, upward mobility preppy type people. But he doesn’t really succeed. So it’s – and it’s part of my connection to any success with a character, I think, is that he’s a failed yuppie.
GROSS: You know, I really wanted to interview you and find out more about you. But I had this terrible feeling that you would think it was your job to prove that you were smart and sensitive unlike your character.
SCOLARI: No, I went through that in therapy, and now I don’t have to prove it on public radio anymore.
GROSS: No, but it’s really – I bet you’re expected to prove that in some way, you know, that you’re not the character you play.
SCOLARI: Yes, it’s true. It’s true. I have been arrested and insulted and I know people think they are very nice.
SCOLARI: But they say things that you can’t say on the radio and they ask me if that’s really how I am. It’s a bit of a difficult question to answer. On occasion, I have managed to say, yes, I am like that. No it’s me. It is not the character. And sometimes it works well, but sometimes it leads to arrests.
GROSS: I know that you are interested in circuses and carnivals and that you have been juggling yourself.
SCOLARI: Yes. I’m juggling right now.
GROSS: Well, how did you get interested in this?
SCOLARI: I actually was in a New York play in 1977 playing a jester with a dear friend of mine, Tom Tammi. Our job was to slip away night after night. And somewhere on the way to about 150 performances, my friend Tom Tammi came out juggling this kind of one-upmanship scene. And he won the battle to get the king’s attention that night. The next day, I drained the skill from her mind as quickly as possible and put it in my hands, and we became juggling partners. And then later I met some really talented gentlemen at the Big Apple Circus, which had just been formed in New York at that time, and I started, I guess, what would be a story of the circus world, the circus arts being a big influence on my evolution as an actor.
GROSS: Yeah. How did the circus arts affect your acting?
SCOLARI: Well, you know, Terry, when I was in high school and for a period in college, I could still be considered an OK athlete. And in fact, I was carrying that kind of physical life. And I found out over a number of years, especially in the mid-70s and later in the 70s, after learning to juggle and then unicycle and walk the rope a bit. stiff, that I was able to convert my athleticism into a much more disciplined aesthetic value, dare I say, for myself.
GROSS: It’s interesting for you to describe how athletic you can’t help but look. In a role on the “Newhart” show, you seem very inauthentic, like someone who, you know, wouldn’t jog or play tennis or basketball because it could mess their hair up. .
GROSS: Did juggling and the circus arts also help you learn not to look athletic if you didn’t have to look athletic?
SCOLARI: Oh, absolutely. Absoutely. I can – I could – I mean, well, I hope Michael is some kind of proof of that. But, yeah, I mean, it’s not that you appear – you have to suggest that you are goofy in order to appear non-athletic. It really is a state of mind. And once you can sort of find the mindset for that illusion, then the body sort of follows. In fact, they asked me a few years ago – in one scene they asked me to change a shirt and take a shirt off and then put on a sweater in a scene. And I said, I can’t do that. And they said, why not? I said, well, because Michael can’t be as well built as I am. We can’t do this, you know? And I found a way to do it that we could hide it in. I was halfway behind a door and had the sweater in my hand. By the time the shirt came off, it was – the sweater was already in place. I take this kind of weird concern with me at work. Sometimes I’m a little too picky. But I really like trying to give the audience the best possible performance and not lie to them.
GROSS: Are you recognized when you are not in your character?
SCOLARI: Yes, I am always recognized. And the good thing about the last year is that I don’t seem to be recognized as the character. It’s something that’s happened in the last two or three years, you know. But over the last year, a kind of sensibility has entered my life from the outside world where people know I’m that actor playing that character. What I understand is that when people recognize me, they often laugh. It’s like I have something on my head that I wasn’t aware of and I really enjoy it. It’s not what I could have imagined, but they do. They watch and they go, oh, it’s that guy. Look at him. It’s quite funny.
GROSS: Thank you very much for speaking with us.
SCOLARI: Oh my pleasure, Terry. Thank you for.
BIANCULLI: Actor Peter Scolari spoke with Terry Gross in 1988. He died of cancer last week at the age of 66. After a break, John Powers reviews the new movie “Passing”. It’s FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF DEEP BLUE ORGAN TRIO’S “TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD”) Transcription provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.