Charles Napier - 1936 - 2011
From the Bakersfield Californian
Veteran Hollywood actor Charles Napier, a resident of Kern County since the 1980s, died Wednesday afternoon at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital, according to a family friend. He was 75.
Though he appeared in Oscar-winning films like "Philadephia" and "Silence of the Lambs," it was in his earlier work -- decidely edgier fare -- that he first attracted the attention of A-list Hollywood directors like Jonathan Demme and Alfred Hitchcock. Early Z-grade films like "Supervixens" established Napier as a go-to tough guy and he deployed his unique brand of wild-eyed bravado to entertaining effect throughout his career on both big and small screens.
Napier was able to recount his uproarious life as an actor kicking around from set to set, never truly breaking through, in his entertaining memoir titled "Square Jaw and Big Heart," released in March. The response to his two book-signings at Russo's Books in Bakersfield was so overwhelming that the shop ran out of copies and was forced to issue rain checks to Napier's fans.
"He spent a lot of time with each person and he took a lot of time," said Tony Russo, owner of the book store. "When the books came in, we gave them to Charlie to sign and then he put a print from his pictures in the books and said, 'Thank you for waiting for the book.' He would be easy to be a friend with, sit down and talk to or have a beer with. You wouldn not know he was an actor."
The Californian spoke with Napier in March before the release of his book. What follows is a look at the memoir and an interview with Napier:
Winding up in Kern
Veteran character actor Charles Napier is the first to admit that he's taken an occasional wrong turn in the long and eventful journey from his native Kentucky to the fast lane of Hollywood. But it was just such a detour that led him to Kern County, his beloved home since the 1980s.
"I had just finished shooting a Toyota commercial in Lone Pine, and on the way back to L.A., my driver got lost," Napier told The Californain in March. "We were riding in a motorhome and I was talking with a friend of mine when suddenly I realized we were not going to L.A. I told the driver to just keep going. We stopped in Kernville and spent the night. Next day we took another route and ended up in Twin Oaks. ... I told my friend, 'This is it -- this is the place I want to live."
|Charles Napier and Anthony Hopkins in "The Silence of the Lambs."|
A couple of days later, Napier bought some land, "where the oaks seemed like they were calling me." The accommodations, such as they were, were rustic by Hollywood standards, but that suited the rugged actor just fine.
"I was single at the time, so I would go to the ranch, pitch a tent and spend as much time as I could. There was a well on the property and I was simply back to the basics. I invited friends from L.A. to come up and camp, and they did by the droves."
A few years later, Napier bought a 25-acre Twin Oaks ranch on which he plopped a10-by-50-foot trailer, where he started a family with his then-bride. Their two children, born in Bakersfield, attended Piute Mountain School.
After his marriage ended in 2006, the ranch seemed too big and lonely, so he sold it and wandered the world from set to set for a while before purchasing a condo in Stallion Springs. Eventually the entire family moved to Bakersfield.
"I don't have lots of friends here or anywhere really," he said. "I like to think my children are my friends. What few friends I do have here in Bakersfield and Kern County I feel are extremely loyal.
"My days at present vary. I talk to the agents about work, editors, etc. and the book, eat out a lot, hate cooking, and just try to live day to day. At my age, roles are scarce, so I seem to be in the process of dealing with my situation as-is. I have no hobbies. I occasionally paint and think about things I never had time for before."
|Charles Napier and Tony Shalhoub on USA Network's Monk|
Many stories in the book start -- or end -- with you drinking in a bar. The stories are fun to hear, but were they fun to live through? Did you drink too much?
My whole movie career started in a bar called the Raincheck Room while I was parking cars, along with Jim Brolin. ...
Finally after making a nuisance of myself for several weeks, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper had just hit so they helped get me agent. ... This was the mid-'60s where LSD and cocaine was the rage. Something told me not to do that as I had enough trouble with booze, so I am proud to say I did not indulge. I suppose I did develop a drinking problem but never to the extent I could not work -- never indulged on the job, but must admit I was a pretty good hell-raiser in a business that runs on excess. I'm sober now and have been for a long time. My young daughter Meghan read me the riot act.
There's not a lot of kissing and telling in the book. Did you not kiss or are you just not telling?
I never really believed in that because bragging about intimate incidents is not my bag, plus it can be the kiss of death in this business.
|Charles Napier in "Star Trek"|
How much money did you make during your career? Were you smart with it?
When I went to SAG (the Screen Actors Guild, the union that represents actors) to start my pension at age 58, I was told I had earned around $4 million, so I assume I've accumulated more since then. Once I started making over 50 grand a year I realized this country boy needed a business manager. ... Like most high-earning people in show biz or sports I doubt very many of us even know how to write a check ... it's all done for you.
Trust? I just usually say I'm from Bakersfield, California, and I am friends with Jack Palance (was) and I'm not interested in percentage deals because I'm over 60 and I smoke and drink ... I want my money NOW. All I can say is I wish I had been better at financial matters but what matters is I was able to support a family and send kids to college even though they did grow up in a double-wide mobile home on a little ranch in Twin Oaks -- my choice, right or wrong.
Is it true that all Hollywood stars are older than they claim and shorter than they appear on screen?
Stars are always younger and taller than the National Enquirer makes them out to be.
Any steamy sex scenes you're particularly proud of or horrified by?
I suppose I have had several steamy sex scenes in films. Russ Meyer was know as King of the Nudies. I was told in the beginning I would never work in studio films if I went this route. At the time I had no other offers, so in order to earn a living in films, I decided I might as well learn to act and get paid for it and be around many beautiful girls. I could always go back to parking cars.
What do you make of the film business today?
The acting business has changed dramatically. Technology, special effects, computer-generated scenes, the abandonment of Hollywood for more generous states such as Albuquerque (N.M.).
The thinking of the studios has been remakes and a 14-year-old audience. Most adults can't or don't want to relate to what's on the screens. Maybe somebody is getting the picture that 80 million baby boomers is one hell of an audience; we shall see. By that time I will be too old to play a corpse.
Your best performance :
I consider my best acting in my last movie to date, "The Goods: Live Hard Sell Hard" and ... as the judge in "Philadelphia." But my part was cut from several scenes, along with Joanne Woodward and Holly Hunter. When you are in a film where two stars get nominated for Oscars, the other actors get cut to give the Oscar runners more screen time -- just business but hard to swallow when you know this was a really breakthrough role. Jonathan Demme (the director) told me I probably would have been nominated for best supporting actor but, for the most part, I ended up with Joanne and Holly on the cutting room floor.
You say you play "Charles Napier" in all your films. Do you ever wish you'd had the opportunity to stretch a little?
I always felt I played myself or some kind of version of myself. If you think about it, old actors probably don't even have a self.
|Charles Napier in "The Blues Brothers"|
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