Old MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Barnard Hughes comes through

Actor Barnard Hughes is dead at 90. I’d like to tell my Barnard Hughes story now; it’s a small story, but it reminds me of why I always thought he’d live to a ripe old age.
Many years ago, Elle Magazine asked me to write a piece on New Year’s Resolutions of the stars. They wanted 50 “fabulous” celebrities. No problem, I said.
It was a problem, of course. Rule No. 1 for freelancers: Never agree to do a “roundup” story involving celebrity quotes unless you personally have the home phone numbers of said celebrities in your PalmPilot (or, back then, in your handwritten scrawl on a piece of paper). Even when you have their home numbers – I dialed Susan Sarandon while she was in her kitchen making dinner and she chewed me out in a most Oscar-worthy way – these need to be home numbers of celebs who will take your call.
Getting a celeb on the phone is hard. Getting a “fabulous” celeb is harder. Getting 50 of them on deadline? Impossible. I tried night and day, hounding publicists, calling in chips. I didn’t have any chips, but I called them in anyway.
Then I widened the net. I couldn’t get Mick Jagger, but I got Judge Reinhold, briefly buzz-worthy for Ruthless People. Brooke Adams, already fading from sight after Days of Heaven, would only cooperate if I also used a quote from her (less fabulous) sister; I agreed.
Then there was Barnard Hughes. Not only was his home number listed, but he answered his phone, seemed honored that I had thought to include him, was delighted to help. His movie credits included Midnight Cowboy, Hamlet, and Tron. He was an Emmy winner for Lou Grant. Really, he was more of a theater actor, starting out at New York’s Shakespeare Fellowship Repertory and developing into a Broadway and Off-Broadway institution. He worked steadily, reliably, never making it to People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive status, but never lacking for work or respect either. And still answering his own phone. I don’t remember what his New Year’s resolution for 1987 was, but I like to think it was that he’d continue to be at one with himself.
I’m not saying actors should get off their high horses and take my phone calls. Far from it. I think actors and “stars” and “celebrities” should strictly enforce boundaries to afford themselves a private life, since the media and public certainly won’t do it for them. But I can barely recall today the other names on my list of 50 — only Hughes, who was gracious, charming, generous, and seemed so at home in the world that he’d likely live to 90.
Which he did.
Elle Magazine killed the piece. “Not fabulous enough,” was their assessment of my 50 celebs.
Barnard Hughes, dead at 90. Not fabulous enough for Elle Magazine, but fabulous enough for me.

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3 Responses to “Barnard Hughes comes through”

  1. hatchling says:

    Jami, some 20 summers ago, I was on Cape Cod, browsing in a local book store, The Compass Rose. I bumped into a man I immediately recognized as familiar, but couldn’t quite place. I know I stared… he could tell I was trying to figure out from where I knew him, so he put me out of my misery and said that he acted occasionally, and that might be why I would think he looked familiar.
    He was so low key and charming about it, I apologized for doing it and asked his name. He said, “Barnard Hughes, but don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize it.” But I did, of course, and I think he was pleased. He disarmed me by asking my name in return, saying “It is only fair”. We chatted pleasantly for a bit about spending summers on the Cape, about the books we were perusing and then he went on his way.
    I’ve met other celebrities over the years, some have been nice, some not, but no one was as charmingly down to earth as Mr. Hughes. RIP.

  2. Cadavra says:

    He was one of my favorite character actors. Had he done nothing else but WHERE’S POPPA?, he’d still be in the pantheon. Talent plus graciousness: an almost extinct notion.

  3. Batton Lash says:

    Beautiful piece, JB. Hughes was great in “Midnight Cowboy” and his own TV series, “Doc,” but he stole the show with his killer last line in “Lost Boys”!

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon