The Author Reflects - Orson Bean is "Safe at Home"

 

It’s hard to believe that Orson Bean’s show business career spans two centuries. His first appearance on Broadway in 1951 was in “Men of Distinction," written by Richard Condon, author of “The Manchurian Candidate.” His latest professional role was on “Modern Family” in 2016. Clearly, Orson Bean has faced and overcome any challenges that have been thrown his way, going on to become a “grand old man” of show business. Orson was blacklisted in the 1950's but overcame any lasting stigma. He became a nationally recognized face and name for his work on game and talk shows in the 1960's, 1970’s, and 1980’s. His repartee and ability to “think on his feet” earned him a huge following in the early days of television. His performances have included roles on the stage, screen, television, and in stand-up comedy. Orson has been nominated for several prestigious awards (SAG and TONY), and even won one of them (Theatre World Award). In his spare time, he wrote four books, including “25 Ways to Cook a Mouse for the Gourmet Cat,” and starred in several recordings. His biggest mark in popular culture, of course, has come from his numerous television appearances spanning 60 years, which includes over 200 appearances on “The Tonight Show” as a guest and as host. 

 

Currently, Orson is starring in SAFE AT HOME: AN EVENING WITH ORSON BEAN, which is a very funny autobiographical account of his years in the public eye. On 1/18/16, he was interviewed for his thoughts and reflections on his many years in show business and his current one-person show at Pacific Resident Theatre.

 

 

Orson Bean - Photo by Vitor Martins

 

 

 

HAS YOUR NEW SHOW, COVERING THE BETTER PART OF TWO CENTURIES, STIRRED UP ANY SURPRISING MEMORIES? 

 

 

I had a dream when I started. It was about a little kid who has “Help” written in dust on his shoes. I think it was about all that personal stuff I never dealt with in the past. The play was making me re-live it. It’s like a lesson in self-improvement. I did a lot of different kinds of therapy in the past, and I finally got to the point where I know I’m okay. I wrote my autobiographical play based on my book a couple of times. Then a director read my book and made me put other stuff in the play. I go through painful stuff and then put in funny stuff.  My wife said it was painful when I was writing it. For the first few weeks last year that I did the play, I didn’t enjoy it - but I worked through that; and now I enjoy it. I’m getting used to the audience response. I’m never happy unless I get laughs. Otherwise, I’m not comfortable on stage. In the play, I think of Orson Bean as a character.

 

 

Orson Bean Over the Years - Poster Art

 

 

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO WRITE THIS SHOW? 

 

 

At first, I wrote a two-hander for my wife and me. Both of us had troubled childhoods. Now we’ve been married 22 years, and they’re the best of my life. I figured I would play her father and every important man in her life and she could play my mother and important women in my life. But she was uncomfortable with the idea, so I resurrected the part that was me. People really seem to enjoy the show. 

 

 

HOW DID THIS PIECE END UP BEING PERFORMED AT THE PACIFIC RESIDENT THEATRE? 

 

 

I didn’t know what I really had. Somebody put a stage in a garden in the neighborhood where I live, and you can do anything you want there. I did my script there, and everyone liked it. Then I did it for a group of seniors studying theater appreciation, and PRT’s Artistic Director Marilyn Fox dropped in and said they wanted to do it in the theater. Guillermo Cienfuegos is my astonishingly talented director. He was able to get stuff out of me that I didn’t even know was in there.

 

 

Guillermo Cienfuegos directs Orson Bean - Photo by Vitor Martins

 

 

MANY ACTORS, SOME EVEN 40 YEARS YOUNGER THAN YOU, ARE GRUMBLING ABOUT AGEISM IN THIS BUSINESS. YOU’RE STILL GETTING CAST ON MANY CURRENT SHOWS LIKE “MODERN FAMILY.” WHAT’S YOUR SECRET FOR GETTING WORK AS YOU GROW OLDER? 

 

 

I think part of it is I can learn lines. It takes me two days to learn a whole play, even if names elude me. I can learn a long play in a few days. Usually, I read and tell jokes in “Modern Family.” My grandchildren say the jokes are passé. I do a lecture on how to tell jokes that my producers likes, and I think I get jobs because I don’t care. I have a good retirement from SAG, and my wife is working - so we have no money worries. I’m not desperate for jobs, and that’s part of why I get them. 

 

 

IS THE TELEVISION AND FILM WORK YOU’RE DOING NOW AS EXCITING AND CHALLENGING AS WORKING IN THE THEATER? 

 

 

It never has been. Theater is the thing, but you can’t make a living in the theater. I worked on Broadway for 20 years and loved it. Sometimes on TV, I wish I had more time to develop the role. A lot of actors get stale after two or three months when they do plays, but not me. I want to grab new audiences. They’re always new in the theater. Everybody in theater knows that weekday audiences are different from weekend audiences. For example, Friday audiences are hipper, while Saturday audiences are less hip. I remember a few years ago a group of actors used to congregate after their shows and talk. There were at least a dozen actors from a dozen shows. We found out that, for some reason, bad audiences were bad for all of us on the same day; and good audiences were good for all of us in different shows on the same day. Somebody should do some research on that. 

 

 

WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT THING YOU FIND ABOUT PERFORMING YOUR SHOW? 

 

 

I remember I heard that Sophie Tucker threw up before every performance, and she was in the business for 60 years. But I don’t get stage fright anymore. I know my lines, so I don’t get nervous. If in the first two or three minutes, the audience isn’t laughing, then I’m going to do my best to seduce them into laughing. It’s a challenge I enjoy. 

 

 

WHAT IS IT THAT YOU HOPE WILL REMAIN WITH AUDIENCES AFTER SEEING YOUR SHOW? 

 

 

I want them to walk away realizing the importance of gratitude. Every day, I think I’m the luckiest guy. I thank God for the painful things in my life, like divorce or estrangement from my children, because it gave me the opportunity to learn from my mistakes. I hope that the audience feels grateful. I say don’t feel sorry for yourself. My earliest memory was that I’d be happy someday. I don’t think a lot of people are happy; but, when I ask them, they don’t want to answer that question. I don’t think happy is a concept people want to deal with. 

 

 

ARE YOU WORKING ON ANY NEW PROJECTS RIGHT NOW? 

 

 

I’m doing another eight weeks of my play, and I’m not dying to prove anything. I can be happy sitting on my patch of grass behind my house. I do things that are meaningful to me, like putting on my own version of “Christmas Carol” at my church every year. We have fun, and we pack the church. I don’t need to fight the world. I can sit back and enjoy my life.

 

 

 

SAFE AT HOME: AN EVENING WITH ORSON BEAN opens on Friday, January 22, 2016, and runs at8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays through March 13, 2016. Pacific Resident Theatre is located at 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, CA 90291. Tickets are $25. For reservations, call 310-822-8392 or go online at http://www.pacificresidenttheatre.com.

 

 

 

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