Published March 07, 2009 08:07 pm - Actors Lee Majors and Rance Howard talked with UNA film students and guests Friday night at the Shoals Theater during the 12th Annual George Lindsey University of North Alabama film festival.
Lee Majors, Rance Howard regale crowd with tales of varied careers
By Kelly Kazek
FLORENCE -- A strapping football player from a Kentucky university is not likely to back down from a dare. Lee Majors was no exception.
It was about 48 years ago when Majors was sitting out the season with an injury that his teammates dared him to try out for a part in the drama department production of “The Crucible.”
“I got the part and then realized I had to do the part,” Majors told an audience Friday night at the Shoals Theater during the 12th Annual George Lindsey University of North Alabama film festival.
Majors played John Proctor in the play about the Salem Witch Trials and was doing a scene where his character is begging for the life of his wife who was about to be burned at the stake.
“I looked out and in the front row were all my teammates, all these big tackles and guards and their girlfriends. The girls had little tears coming out of their eyes. The guys’ eyes were looking a little misty, too. That’s when I said, ‘You know, hell, I can do this.’”
And he’s been doing it ever since.
Majors, who is best known as “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Fall Guy,” took the stage Friday with veteran actor Rance Howard, who has more than 200 roles listed on Internet Movie Database but is best known for his role as father to director/actor Ron Howard and actor Clint Howard, and grandfather to actress Bryce Howard.
The two men talked with UNA film students and guests, answering questions from moderator Tonya Holly. Holly, a UNA graduate, is a director who cast Majors in her award-winning first feature film, “When I find the Ocean” and has cast both Howard and Majors in her upcoming film, “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde.”
It will mark the first time Howard and Majors have worked together, although both have worked with George Lindsey, the veteran actor who helped found the festival in his native Florence.
UNA head football coach Terry Bowden presented Lindsey and Howard with team jerseys and Majors with a signed football following the event.
How they got started :
Howard, who was raised on an Oklahoma ranch and got his first taste of acting at age 12 in the seventh-grade play, determined he would ride a horse to Hollywood after graduation.
“I realized I was acting and this was something I really wanted to do,” said the 80-year-old great-grandfather.
But someone took him aside and suggested he might want to study his craft first.
After a few semesters at the University of Oklahoma’s drama school, Howard struck out, going on a road tour doing children’s theater. He went on a Greyhound bus, not a horse.
He’s gone on to star in dozens of films, including several directed by son Ron, and numerous television shows. He typically has small roles, often billed as “farmer” or “preacher.” But his performances stand out, like the one in 1974’s “Chinatown” with Jack Nicholson in which he played “irate farmer at courthouse.” Other roles include a ring announcer in “Cinderella Man,” the reverend in “Apollo 13,” and the “elderly timekeeper” in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Majors, whose initial aspiration was to become a football coach, went to California after graduation to work at the Los Angeles recreation and parks department. There, he played hoops with stuntmen and began doing a few stunts himself.
His first film role was as the husband of Joan Crawford (in a flashback, as he was many decades younger) in the film “Straight-Jacket.”
In his tiny Kentucky hometown, the theater manager put on the marquee “Starring Lee Majors. Also starring Joan Crawford.”
“She chopped my head off with an ax before the credits came on,” Majors said, getting a laugh from the audience.
Majors went on to star in many popular television series, beginning with “The Big Valley” and “The Virginian.”
Howard described working on his son’s film “Far and Away,” which depicts the great Oklahoma land rush of 1893.
Both Howard’s grandfathers participated in the historic event and Ron cast his dad as a man who sold Tom Cruise’s character a horse who died minutes later.
“I played a horse trader with my grandfather’s name Ralph Tomlin,” Howard said.
When it came time for the elder Howard to participate in the scene in which hundreds of people ride out to claim a piece of land, Ron told his father he should use a stunt double.
“I said, ‘Ron, you’re the boss. Whatever you say goes … But I really would like to ride in this race,’” Howard said, adding he could ride a horse better than any stunt double. “He said, ‘Dad, go get your horse.’”
Sitting on his horse, waiting for the action to start, Howard said he could feel as his grandfathers must have those many years before.
Howard also starred in his son’s directorial debut.
“When Ron was in high school, he was taking a psychology class,” Howard said. “Somehow, he managed to convince the teacher that he should do a Western for his class project. It was a script called, ‘Old Paint.’”
Howard did his part, riding into the scene on horseback. Afterward Ron told him it was good but gave his dad a few pointers.
“I looked at him and I realized he was so right,” Howard said. “From then on, I never questioned anything he said.”
Majors recalled having Roy Rogers play a role on his show, “The Fall Guy.”
“The bad guys were getting away and we had to jump on our horses and chase them,” Majors said. “I’m running out with Roy Rogers and Trigger is next to me. Riding out of town with Roy Rogers right there was the thrill of a lifetime for me.”
When he was offered the part in a pilot called “Cyborg,” which was to become “The Six Million Dollar Man,” Majors said he made the recommendation that the character be more human and less machine.
He wanted the superhuman strength of the bionic man to be used only when necessary, when it made sense.
In the end, he was proud of the results.
“There was no blood. Nobody got killed. It was good family fare,” he said.
Majors also sang the theme song for another hit series, “The Fall Guy.”
“I had a No. 1 hit in Germany,” he said to applause. “but wait … so did David Hasselhoff.”
A look at imdb.com shows Howard has as many as 10 films due out in the next two years, including “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” in which he’ll play Clyde’s father, Henry Barrow. He also has a part in a film of Ron’s called “Angels and Devils,” due out in May, he said.
Majors has been appearing on a variety of popular television shows, including “Cold Case” and “Weeds.”
He enjoys the audition process, he said, and never thinks he should get a part based solely on his name and experience.
“This whole business is a challenge,” he said. “When it’s not a challenge anymore, then I don’t want to do it.”
Lee Majors, Rance Howard wow Lindsey UNA Film Festival
Posted by Greg Richter -- Birmingham News March 07, 2009 6:32 AM
Two of the stars of the soon-to-be-filmed "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde," Rance Howard and Lee Majors shared ancedotes about their years in show business Friday night as the film's director, Tonya S. Holly, moderated.
The event, part of the 12th annual Lindsey UNA Film Festival, was held at the historic Shoals Theatre in downtown Florence, Ala.
Howard, the longtime character actor, recounted his introduction into the craft when he was cast as the lead in a school play at age 12. Majors said he fell into acting accidentally, when he was sidelined for most of a season while playing football for the University of Kentucky.
Teammates dared Majors to try out for the lead in "The Crucible" and he got the part despite no training in acting. On opening night he saw his buddies and their girlfriends on the front row during a moving scene. "The girls all had tears in their eyes, and the guys were sort of welling up a little bit," Majors said. "That's when I said, '... I can do this.'"
Even today, Majors said, he's terrified to audition. But he insists on it anyway, not wanting to get a part just because of his fame or past work.
On "The Fall Guy" Majors says he's proud to have used every then-listed stuntman over the course of the series, including a 90-year-old.
Both men worked in westerns, with Howard saying his favorite moment in the genre was during his son, Ron's, direction of "Far and Away." In that film, Howard got to ride a horse in a re-creation of an actual race that both of his grandfathers had participated in.
Majors said his favorite western memory was of riding beside hero Roy Rogers in a "Fall Guy" episode.
Lee Majors to appear at film festival
Published: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 12:44 a.m.
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH ALABAMA - Actor Lee Majors will be among special guests at the George Lindsey/UNA Film Festival scheduled for March 5-8.
Majors will join fellow actor Rance Howard for a question-and-answer session at 2 p.m. March 6, then at 7 p.m. for "An Evening with Rance Howard and Lee Majors." A location for the events will be announced.
Tonya Holley, a local filmmaker whose credits include "When I Find the Ocean," a major motion picture released in 2006, has worked with both Howard and Majors in the making of that film. She said she expects to work with them again as she finalizes the cast of her next project, "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde."
"Lee has been to the Shoals shooting, and I know (Howard) is looking forward to coming as well," she said. "Lee is such a great actor. As a teenager, he was in the movie industry, and people will want to hear how he started and how he kept working and how he's still working all the time."
The festival, which is in its 12th year, will also include its namesake, George Lindsey, who graduated from the University of North Alabama.
Cynthia Burkhead, an English instructor and co-chairwoman of the festival, said there are 38 films to be screened at a variety of venues. Having big-name stars present brings attention to the festival, she said.
"People ... may not regularly think about going to a festival, and, once we have their attention, we're able to get them into independent films," she said. "That's really the main function of the festival. If you miss it, you might not know the great work that's being done by these independent filmmakers, whether they are professionals or students."
David Shields, co-chairman of the festival and the vice president for student affairs at UNA, said fans will have an opportunity to meet and speak to Majors and Howard.
"That gives the actors a chance to talk about their films as well as to talk about the importance of filming opportunities in Alabama," he said. "It's especially important now as we work with (our state Legislature) on bringing back film incentives."
Majors has performed in more than 30 motion pictures, the most recent being "Conflict of Interest," with Michael Madson. He also has been part of numerous television programs, including "The Big Valley," "Men from Shiloh" and "The Fall Guy." It was his starring role as Steve Austin on "The Six Million Dollar Man" that made Majors an icon of American popular culture.
Michelle Rupe Eubanks can be reached at 740-5745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.