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A 1963 interview with Barbara Barrie became one of the weirdest experiences of my life.

Barrie was in the Cleveland area to make a film called “One Potato, Two Potato.” I had noticed her earlier on a few television shows and thought she was an excellent actress who likely would have a long and successful career.

At 32, Barrie was better suited as a character actress than a leading lady, though for certain projects – such as “One Potato, Two Potato” — she was a great fit for the starring role. (If “Marty” had been filmed in the 1960s instead of 1955, Barrie might have gotten the role that was played so wonderfully by Betsy Blair.)

(Barrie’s male counterpart at the time was Robert Duvall. Both were immediately recognizable in the parts they played, but both had the ability to play almost any kind of role, though often their characters were troubled outsiders. Barrie and Duvall co-starred earlier that year in an episode of "The Twilight Zone." And as far as I'm concerned, what happened when I went to interview her also could have been scripted by Rod Serling.)

ANYWAY, I had contacted the publicist for “One Potato, Two Potato” and requested an interview with Barrie and was told he would get back to me. When he did, it was late on a Friday afternoon. He said I could talk to Barrie that evening in Painesville, a Cleveland suburb where most of the filming was being done. This would be my only chance because the night's scene was the only one left to be shot in Painesville.

The film is about a white divorcee who falls in love with a black man (Bernie Hamilton) and how this leads to a child custody battle with her former husband (Richard Mulligan). My interview was to take place before filming outside a movie theater. Barrie and Hamilton were to exit the theater along with the night's actual patrons. Their characters had gone to the movies separately, but would bump into each other afterward. (It may have been the last scene filmed, but it appears rather early in the movie.)

My first complication — I had a date that evening. We were going to a movie in Akron. I called her about a half-hour before I was supposed to pick her up, said I wouldn’t be able to make it, explained why, then half-jokingly said, hey, she could accompany me to Painesville, sit in on the interview and afterward maybe we’d watch a movie being made.

To my surprise, she agreed. When I picked her up I discovered her mother seemed more excited about the whole thing than I was. Which was a good thing, because the patience and understanding of the girl's parents would be tested later that evening.

Painesville was about an hour's drive north. When we got there it was about 9 p.m. I was told the interview would be delayed, as would the filming outside the theater. I forget the reason, but will never forget the consequences.

SO MAYBE an hour later my date and I sat down with Barrie, who hadn’t had much movie experience, but already was well acquainted with one of the most frustrating aspects, especially for actors. They sit around, sometimes for hours, waiting for scenes to be prepared.

We had a pleasant, unhurried conversation with Barrie, but when it was finished, my date and I were asked if we could hang around. Soon the theater let out and many of the patrons agreed to remain until filming began. But after 20 minutes or so, with no sign of that happening, most people decided a good night’s sleep was more appealing than being movie extras.

My date — whose name has escaped my memory — felt otherwise and surprised me again by saying she was willing to stay for as long as was necessary. We had no easy way of contacting her parents — where were cellphones when you really needed them? — but she was certain they would understand, no matter what time she got home.

Meanwhile, members of the film crew were several blocks away on Route 20, the main drag through Painesville, flagging down vehicles, mostly trucks at that hour. I tried to imagine how I would have reacted, hauling a load through a small Ohio city in the middle of the night, having some stranger wave and gesture for me to roll down my window, then ask, “Hey, fella, how’d you like to be in a movie?”

SHORTLY after 1 a.m., my date and I joined a few trusting strangers and some crew members and strolled out of a movie theater while the camera rolled. The girl and I walked toward the camera, Barrie a few feet in front of us. Hamilton, walking faster, went around me and soon found himself alongside Barrie. Their characters worked together, so they knew each other, but this moment would mark the start of their romance.

The scene was filmed several times. I think the take that was used had Hamilton bumping me as he passed. It was an inadvertent thing, but the way we reacted — he briefly turned toward me and I shrugged an okay — made it seem more natural, I guess.

It was after 2 a.m. when we started for her home. I delivered my date to her door at 3:30 and got to my apartment about 4 a.m. Although it was Saturday, a day off, I couldn’t sleep late because — of all things — I had an early morning haircut appointment.

AS USUAL, I had a difficult time getting to sleep, and when I finally did I had a dream about my dentist, which seemed unusual, to say the least. I lived in Kent, where I had gone to college, and went to a dentist a few blocks from my apartment. He was a young, funny guy who enjoyed arguing politics and sports while my mouth was wide open and I couldn’t offer rebuttals.

While we never socialized, we did have a friendship of sorts. Sometimes I’d drop by his office to say something I would have said during my last office visit — had I been able to speak.

So after my haircut appointment that morning, I visited the dentist — I think his name was Hoskins — to kid him about my weird dream.

He laughed. “That was no dream, you idiot. I phoned you at 8 o’clock; we talked for a couple of minutes.”

“I must have done my talking in my sleep,” I said.

“Well, you’ll be happy to know," he replied, "that you make as much sense when you’re asleep as you do when you’re awake.”

I don't remember why he called, but I'm sure it was to chide me about something. It wouldn't have been the first time.

THAT AFTERNOON I phoned my parents in Solvay, New York, to tell them about my strange experience, but all my mother got out of the call was this: My son is in a movie.

So she contacted the Syracuse Herald-Journal to let them know that a local boy was in a movie called “One Potato, Two Potato.” And so it would be reported.

Because of its subject matter (the interracial romance) and the fact it was an independent film, “One Potato, Two Potato” was not released for several months. In the meantime Barrie was honored with a best actress award at the 1964 Cannes Movie Festival where the film was well received.

When the film reached Akron, the girl and I no longer were dating, though I called her to exchange reviews of our movie debut. We're visible for maybe three seconds, which isn’t much, but enough to verify — at long last — the excuse she gave her parents for being out until 3:30 a.m. with a guy she barely knew.

On the other hand, there was no need for either of us to quit our jobs, hire an agent and move to California.

October 6, 1963 / Akron Beacon Journal

By JACK MAJOR

Her name is Barbara Barrie. She is an actress ... a darn good actress ... but I’ll bet you’ve never heard of her.

Now in her 10th year of acting, Barbara Barrie remains ageless and therefore type-less. Off-screen, as well as on, she can convincingly assume the look of a teenager or a middle-aged spinster, depending on the role.

There is nothing glamorous about her. She has never posed for cheese cake, perhaps because she works more out of New York City than Hollywood.

She often seems mousy and helpless, but is attractive enough to get your attention, so she doesn’t fade into the background the way mousy, helpless people usually do. Her natural expression seems to be a plea for help and her response to every situation seems genuine, making it easy for audiences to identify with her characters.

What she seems to have in abundance is whatever it takes to become a successful character actor for a long, long time.

This isn’t to suggest Barbara Barrie isn’t busy already, at age 32. anyone who watches television should recognize her face. In the last year she appeared on more major television programs than some actors who are series regulars ... and she earned $25,000 in the process.

This year, she predicts, her earning could exceed $50,000 because she is still hot property for television programs that pay about $3,000 per performance.

Her recent success is due, in part, to the popularity of off-beat themes which put young character actors into leading roles. Fittingly, Barrie got her biggest boost from the most off-beat of the off-beat programs, “Naked City.”

She auditioned for a small part on “Naked City” two years ago. Herbert B. Leonard, executive producer of the recently canceled series, saw the performance and decided Barrie had the right style for the program. During the next 18 months he offered five scripts on “Naked City” and his other property, “Route 66.”

(Both programs have off-beat episodes as well as off-beat stories. One of her appearances on “Naked City” was in a story called “Dust Devil on a Quiet Street.” Her “Route 66” performance was inn a story called “Even Stones Have Eyes.”)

“Leonard as the first person to give me a leading role,” said Barrie. “Before that I was the original neurotic teenager on live television plays.”

Her confidence boosted, Barry left her New York apartment last year after doing a “Naked City” and went to California “on a lark.”

She found work as soon as she arrived and within three months had important roles on “Ben Casey,” “The Virginian,” “Premiere Theater,” “Twilight Zone” and other shows.

“The only back luck during that time happened back in New York,” she said. “My apartment burned.”

Barrie’s California visit also got her a featured part in the movie, “The Caretakers,” which temporarily pushed her back into her neurotic rut – she played an inmate at a mental institution.

“That’s why my favorite TV role was in ‘Twilight Zone,’ ” she said, smiling. “I was normal – my brother was the neurotic.”

(The episode was titled, “Miniature.” Robert Duvall played her brother.)

Barrie recently spent two months in nearby Painesville where she completed her first starring role in a movie, “One Potato, Two Potato.” The film will be aimed at art theaters in hopes of matching the success of last season’s sleeper, “David and Lisa.”

Some believe the film’s subject matter, based on an actual case involving a white divorcee who lost custody of her children because her second husband was black, will prevent “One Potato, Two Potato” from being shown in parts of the country.

Barrie figures the film with worth the gamble. Her 10 years of acting have given her a world of experience but very little reputation. What was the risk?

Her story is typical of people who going into acting simply because they love to act. This separates her from the men and especially the women who are lured to because of their looks and despite a complete lack of acting experience.

“Movie were the farthest thing from my mind when I arrived in New York ten years ago,” she said during our interview in Painesville on the last night of shooting. “I weighed 138 pounds (on a five-foot-five-inch frame), had a crooked teeth and a long nose. When I thought of acting, I thought of the stage, nothing else.”

She became interested in acting while a freshman at Del Mar Junior College in Corpus Christie, Texas, her hometown.

Barrie’s major at Del Mar was journalism, but the transition to acting was easy. “After all,” she said, “they’re both creative.”

She won an award at Del Mar. “It was a best actress type thing. After that I began to think I was pretty good,” she admitted.

She went next to the University of Texas “but I didn’t know whether I wanted to act or teach. I switched my major seven times before I graduated I tried switching an eighth time – from drama to drama education – but my adviser wouldn’t let me. I think he just wanted me to get out of school as quickly as possible.”

She got out in 1953 and went to New York City, a natural step for an aspiring actress.

“To tell you the truth, the only reason I went was because I had a boy friend who was living there. We were supposed to get married, but couldn’t right away. Since I had gone to all the trouble of moving to New York, I figured I might as well try to act.”

It wasn’t easy. Her first problem, she said, was hurdling the frustrating obstacle of joining Actors Equity Association, the actors’ union.

“It’s quite a circle,” she said. “You can’t join Equity unless you have a job ... and you can’t get work unless you’re a member of Equity. What do you do? Lie!

“I auditioned for a part and got it. They asked me if I belonged to Equity and I said yes. Then I went back to the Equity office and told them I had a job. It worked.”

But acting jobs were few for several months. She had to find work and wound up at a paper box company “where my job was to tear apart old magazines.”

She earned $800 that year, most of it from the paper box company.

During her second year she worked part-time at a Russian tea room. She got her meals free at the tea room and split the cost of an apartment with three roommates.

She says it took five years to become established enough as an actress that she could drop part-time times altogether. In the meantime, her original reason for going to New York – romance – had died.

Incentive to remain in New York was provided by television in 1954 when she landed the first of several part in live dramatic productions at $350 a performance. She also enrolled at an acting school and felt for the first time she was learning her craft.

“You just can’t learn in college,” she said. “You get the basic requirements at school, but you can’t learn how to act. For one thing, the college instructors don’t have the background or the acting ability.

“College instructors never get their students to look deep into themselves, thus the acting is never real. I’m glad I went to school, though, because the whole sociological experience is valuable.”

Barrie complete the first of three seasons in summer stock in 1955. “The pay wasn’t much – $65 a week – but was was regular.

Early in 1956 she went home to visit her family and her timing was perfect. Director George Stevens was in the Corpus Christi area filming “Giant,” and Barrie landed a bit part in the movie. “One scene, no dialogue” she said.

In the late 1950s she became a semi-regular on the soap opera, “Love of Life.” Some of the episodes might have been laughable. but she didn’t make fun of the show. It paid her $900 a week for several months.

In late 1958 she got a part in her first Broadway show, “The Beaux Strategem,” with June Havoc. It died after 16 performances.

She went from there to the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut. In 1960 she toured Europe in “The Miracle Worker,” as part of a State Department-sponsored good-will tour.

Upon her return a friend from the casting office of the old “Kraft Theater” series recommended that Barbara audition for the “Naked City” role.

It would be dramatic to say Barbara Barrie is at the crossroads of her career, but that would be a lie. Her career probably won’t have a crossroads. It may never even have a climax.

Her career may simply continue because she views herself as a working girl. Other women pound typewriters, Barbara Barrie acts.

Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s annoying, but acting is always the big thing in her life.

She is single with no immediate prospects of marriage. Paintings are her major expense (“I have six rooms full”). Otherwise she hoards her money and puts it into a savings account.

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget tearing those magazines apart in the paper box factory.”

Unlike most of my forecasts, what I predicted for Barbara Barrie was pretty much on target. She has gone on to have a long, varied and successful career, mostly in television and on stage, but with a few movies along the way.

Her hair turned white, but she continued to wear it in the same, short style, and more than most people she has looked amazingly the same through all these years.

She was married in July, 1964, to theater producer Jay Harnick. They had two children, Aaron (who also became a theater producer) and Jane.

Barbara Barrie became a household name through her many television appearances, particularly on programs where she had recurring or regular roles. Chief among them were "Barney Miller," where she made 38 appearances as Mrs. Miller, and the Brooke Shields series, "Suddenly Susan" (10996-2000), in which she was a co-star.

In 1970 she was nominated for a Tony Award for the Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's musical, "Company," and in 1979 was nominated for an Oscar for her supporting performance in "Breaking Away." Later she would repeat the role in the short-lived TV series of the same name.

She also is the author of two novels for young adults, "Lone Star" (1989) and "Adam Zigzag," and also wrote a memoir "Second Act: Life After Colostomy and Other Adventures" after her successful 1994 battle with rectal cancer.

In recent years she has appeared on television in "Pushing Daisies," "Army Wives" and "Nurse Jackie."

 

 

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Herb Alpert Richard Egan George Montgomery
Dana Andrews Jack Elam Joanna Moore
John Astin Linda Evans Mary Tyler Moore
Frankie Avalon Pat Finley Ozzie and Harriet Nelson
Barbara Barrie Eric Fleming Hugh O'Brian
Bill Bixby Peter Fonda Pat O'Brien
George Burns Anthony Franciosa Gene Pitney
Michael Callan Annette Funicello Martha Raye
Richard Chamberlain Zsa Zsa Gabor Della Reese
Leslie Charleson Beverly Garland Carl Reiner
Petula Clark Jackie Gleason Barbara Rush
Dabney Coleman Merv Griffin Robert Ryan
Robert Conrad Mark Harman Henry Silva
Bill Cosby Patricia Harty Julie Sommars
Joseph Cotten Marty Ingels Barbra Streisand
Bob Crane Jack Jones The Three Stooges
Richard Crenna Jack Kelly The Supremes
Ken Curtis Dave Ketchum Dick Van Dyke
Bill Dana Sue Ane Langdon Jerry Van Dyke
Bobby Darin Sheldon Leonard Robert Vaughn
Sammy Davis Jr. Jack Lord Clint Walker
Richard Deacon George Maharis Ray Walston
Bob Denver Jackie Mason Betty White
James Drury Raymond Massey Andy Williams
  Martin Milner Henry Winkler
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