Bruce Boxleitner had some down time while working on the Vancouver set of the Hallmark Channel's first TV series production, "Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove."
So the Prospect High School graduate squeezed in an interview with us, cautioning that he could be called away to the set at any moment.
We asked him about how an Elgin-born kid who grew up in Crystal Lake before moving to Mount Prospect ever wound up working in Hollywood.
"You know that Horace Greeley saying, 'Go west, young man?' Well, I did. Because that's what I wanted to do. My dream was to possibly get into television or make movies. I didn't know how to do it. But I did."
Yes, he did.
Boxleitner has racked up an impressive resume of movies, such as two "TRON" features and numerous TV shows, among them "Babylon 5" and "Scarecrow and Mrs. King."
He has also served as a producer on films and TV series, performed on Broadway and written two science fiction novels. Plus, Boxleitner has been inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
Not bad for a kid who used to work as an usher and janitor at the old Prospect Theater in Mount Prospect.
"I used to stand in the back of the theater, watching my favorite films," he said. "I would say the lines of dialogue along with the actors on the screen. I fell in love with it. And I was always a television fan."
Boxleitner credited his English and drama teacher, Patricia Lukowitz, with giving him the confidence and experience to carry out his life's dream.
"She was a terrific mentor who guided me," he said. "She saw something in me, for which I will forever be grateful. She got me into the Goodman Theatre before it combined with DePaul University. It was a wonderful school for theatrical training."
Young Boxleitner found suitable acting jobs in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York.
"Strangely enough, while I lived in New York, I kept auditioning for feature films. 'Day of the Locust.' 'Godfather II.' I was never right for the parts, but I was getting in front of people.
"Finally, I thought, maybe New York isn't where I want to be. Maybe I should go to the coast. So I did!
"I was young. I had no responsibilities. Sometimes I scare myself thinking about how gutsy I was back then. I had nothing to lose! I had two or three phone numbers in my pocket and about $2,200 in cash. I bought a one-way ticket to L.A. and the rest is history."
Boxleitner got lucky. He nabbed an agent right away, and most people struggling to get acting careers going can tell you finding a good agent is a battle for survival all on its own.
Then came the lean, promising years filled with bit parts on TV and in movies, parts with one or two lines of dialogue. Boxleitner earned his Screen Actors Guild card by appearing on an episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." He also did a supporting role on the long-running CBS western series "Gunsmoke." It was a small part, but it got the actor noticed by industry people who would remember him in later auditions.
We hit him with our favorite question: What is it about Chicago actors that makes them different from those in L.A. and New York?
"It's that Midwestern sensibility," he said. "I've always been proud of my work ethic. It's important to have professional standards. I see a lot of younger Hollywood people and I don't see that in them. Finishing a job and doing it well.
"I always thank my mother and father for that. They worked very hard. (They live in Palatine.) People from L.A.? They're just a little flightier. All of my friends out here are from Chicago. We all comment on that, the work ethic thing. It's a common-sense approach to life. We're can-do people."
Boxleitner is 63, a Hollywood veteran still making his mark. What does he know now that he wishes he could have told his twenty- something self during the lean years?
"You make it once and you think it's going to stay," he said. "It doesn't. ... You want to be a star? You've got to stay a star. It's just as much hard work maintaining that as it was achieving that. It's a fickle business."
Now, the veteran actor knows more than ever about the fickleness of his profession.
"Lots of us older guys are still around, and we've wound up back in the hallways again."
What do you mean?
"We start over. We're back to auditioning again. We look at each other and say, 'Why do you have to read for this role?' And they're lesser roles, too. ... Things I would tell a young actor? You're not going to be young forever, and it's a marathon, not a sprint."
In the background, someone shouted something to the actor.
"Ready to go?" he said. "Are we ready? Thank you!"
Then he told us, "They're about to take me out to the set. I gotta go."
One last question: What's it like to be Bruce Boxleitner?
"I've been very blessed," he said. "A wonderful career. Wonderful kids. A beautiful woman in my life. I have my health. Life is good right now."
Then he was gone.
-- Dann Gire
* Jamie Sotonoff and Dann Gire are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make a good feature, email them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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