Often times, you will try and get a sense that you ‘know’ someone. Even if that person is an ‘actor,’ you have an idea that you ‘know’ who they are. Sometimes, we get so familiar with an actor’s role that we forget they are an actor completely. We forget that this is a real person who may just be incredible at playing another person. We rely on our ability to tell how people ‘really’ are every day. This would be whether we are watching television or never had a clue that we were part of some woman’s five man rotation. So for the purposes of shock as well as amusement, here are five actors that you only thought were walking around with a block on their shoulders as a balancing mechanism.
Dan Blocker (December 10th, 1928 – May 13th 1972) – Name doesn’t ring a bell for you? How about Eric Cartwright on Bonanza? Still not getting the reference? Do you remember ‘Hoss?’ Do you remember the lovable yet some what dim bulbed middle brother? When some one says ‘Hoss,’ you get a mental picture in your mind. That mental picture is Dan Blocker. Hoss is as nice as can be but just not real sharp on the uptake. Which, for the record, was not Dan Blocker. Dan Blocker graduated from Sul Russ State University with a Master’s Degree in Dramatic Arts. He also held a teacher’s license from both Texas and California. Don’t get us wrong, he also played college football for Texas Military Institute and did make a living as a bouncer in local bars. The Master’s degree did make Blocker the only one on the Bonanza set to hold an advanced degree from anywhere though. And this would be the guy that we tend to remember as a lovable lump?
George “The Animal” Steele (born April 16th 1937) – OK, write down a list of professional wrestlers that you think MIGHT possess graduate diplomas in ANYTHING? We would guess somewhere around the 1000 – 1500 range you might come up with the ring alter ego of one William James Myers. The ring persona was George “The Animal” Steele. George Steele, for those who might not be old enough to remember, went into the ring with a green tongue. One of his favorite pass times (in addition to grunting incoherently) was to eat the stuff in ring turnbuckles. Later in his career, Steele would bring a doll to the ring which he would talk too. Not really feeling the whole BRANIAC thing? Try this one for size. Myers was a high school teacher who holds a Bachelor of Science from Michigan State University. He also has a Master’s Degree in Physical Education from Central Michigan University. Not impressed by a Master’s degree in phys ed? Check your wall. If there is one on there better, then you get to talk. Lets try putting this a different way, Myers/Steele accomplished all of this while fighting a lifelong battle with dyslexia and Crohn’s disease. This is the same man who convinced people for years he was actually a raving lunatic.
Dolph Lundgren (November 3rd, 1957 – whenever he decides to save the universe from Skeletor and Ming The Merciless) - Before continuing, write the following sentence down 50 times and mean it “I can not and will not ever hope to be Dolph Lundgren.” We want that one made perfectly clear. Yes, the man who got famous by playing large hunks of meat like Ivan Drago and He-Man is quite possibly the most perfectly build nerd ever. Not that anyone would be man enough to say that to his face…including Chuck Norris. There are two reasons for this. Lundgren is possibly as good a martial artist as Norris (winning two European championships as a third don black belt in 1980 and 1981) and definitely smarter. Lundgren’s first introduction to the United States was as being a straight A student from Sweden studying chemistry on academic scholarships in the 1970s. He studied at Washington State and Clemson. He spent a couple years in the Swedish Marine Corps where he completed amphibious ranger school before going back to his first love…. Chemistry. Lundgren would go on to complete his degree in Chemical Engineering from Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Figuring he would simply return one day to Stockholm and collect a Nobel Prize, Lundgren went on to Sydney, Australia. Yeah, how many times have you written that sentence now? This is where Lundgren again proved himself to be ridiculously better than you by earning a Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Sydney and beating up legendarily rugged Aussies during part time work as a local bouncer. While attending MIT on a full bright scholarship for a Phd in Chemical Engineering, Lundgren found more part time work as a body guard for Grace Jones. Jones, in disbelief at her luck in finding the most perfect human ever created, immediately started an affair with Lundgren. She got him a small role in the James Bond movie A View To A Kill and then he gets famous in Rocky IV for being a Soviet killing / boxing machine Drago that says “I will break you.” Reading over his biography a few times and examining our own wasted lives…we are already broken.
Larry Drake (February 21st, 1950 – ) - When the show L. A. Law unveiled lovable staffer Benny Stulwicz, I thought the same thing that most people thought. “Wow, it is so neat that they are giving this retarded guy Larry Drake a part in a prime time series…” Turns out. Larry Drake got that… a lot. Drake is not developmentally challenged nor does he have any type of Down’s Syndrome or mental retardation. Larry Drake simply is and was a hell of an actor. His portrayal of Benny convinced nearly everyone. He also won two back to back Emmy’s for his portrayal. Actually, Drake overcame some serious odds in growing up in a dysfunctional household near Tulsa, Oklahoma. Drake personally valued education to the point that he spent thirteen years paying out of pocket and going to school part time to graduate from the University of Oklahoma. Drake did mimic and friend an actual developmentally challenged man to do the role of Benny, but Drake himself is simply an unbelievable performer.
Jim Varney (June 15th, 1949 – February 10th, 2000) – Not only was Jim Varney not as slow witted as his famed persona “Ernest P. Worrell,” Varney himself was quite literally a child prodigy. Born near Lexington, Kentucky, Varney was actually doing stage productions and attending Murray State University as the age of 15. Varney had the ability to memorize long poems on sight and would entertain family members with them from grade school. At 17, Varney went on to Virginia where he was trained as a Shakespearean actor in the Barter Theater. So at that age, he was probably a bit more comfortable standing on stage with a skull saying the line “Dost Thou know what I meanth, Vern?” Varney, of course, would go on to success with his Worrell characters first in commercials and later in such intricate nuanced performances as Ernest Scared Stupid and Ernest Saves Christmas. Varney was a natural to play the role of Jed Clampett in the big screen production of The Beverly Hillbillies. Maybe Varney never got quite the due for intelligence and drama that he should have, but we prefer the real payoff he gets is from the shock you get when you do find out.
Hollywood is a pretty corny place and can rather inspire some corniness. That is inherent. Just remember that occasionally when you see some one screen, they are just an actor. Also remember, sometimes they really are acting. Just how much and how well (even in characters you may dismiss) may be astonishing.