Never paid much attention to Stacy Keach, whether he was playing tough-as-nails detective Mike Hammer or Warden Henry Pope in Prison Break on TV. Or the alcoholic boxer Billy Tully in Fat City; rookie cop Roy Fehler in The New Centurions; the reprehensible, racist father in American History X; the elderly, goopy-faced millionaire in Brewster McCloud, or harried Sgt. Stedenko in Up in Smoke.
Well, maybe the millionaire and Sgt. Stedenko.
Anyway, Keach just always seemed to be there, blending into the scenery, doing what was asked with him, providing a sense of dignity in projects sometimes that didn’t deserve it (Bird Flu: Fatal Contact in America, anybody?).
But after reading All in All: An Actor’s Life: On and Off the Stage, his autobiography, I am ready to check myself into a three-day Stacy Keach Film Festival, so compelling, funny and fascinating are his stories.
Keach, 73, opens All in All in a gripping way, recounting his bust for cocaine possession at London’s Heathrow Airport in the 1980s, his time in prison and his subsequent battle to kick the habit. He’s still not sure how authorities got wind that he was hiding the drug in two cans of shaving cream, but but he says it “was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Keach then goes back to his earlier days with tales of being born in Texas, and growing up in Southern California, with his father, Stacy Keach, Sr., a stage actor and producer/writer for radio shows with William Conrad and Joel McCrea, which Jr. watched get made when he was a kid.
It wasn’t easy during Keach’s formative years, partly because he was born with a cleft lip and cleft palette, which elicited teasing from other kids. But he countered that by excelling in sports and, later, directed his enthusiasm to the stage.
In fact, over the years Keach’s work has become legendary in the theater, where he’s given acclaimed performances in Macbeth, King Lear and Indians. He continues to take to the boards, finding acclaim recently in Broadway as Republican patriarch Lyman Wyeth in Other Desert Cities.
In All in All, Keach details many of his fondest experiences on and off the stage, behind-the-scenes and in front of the camera. There are the triumphs, like working with John Huston in Fat City and starring in the counterculture drama End of the Road, as well as the disasters, like officially being cast in The Exorcist as young priest Father Merrin, then watching the role be given to Jason Miller a few days later, or actually being replaced for a part in the film version of Catch-22 by director Mike Nichols while he was on the film’s set in Mexico.
Such situations would have been devastating, had an actor had less gumption or thinner skin. But Keach’s resiliency helped him navigate through career rebounds, using the same chutzpah he applied into resurrecting his life from the shambles he found himself in following that arrest and drug charge.
Sometimes, Keach acknowledges, things work out for the best. Even though losing the part in The Exorcist was a huge blow, the book and film’s writer William Peter Blatty later gave him one of his juicier screen assignments in Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane (aka The Ninth Configuration), when original star Nicol Williamson was forced to leave the production in Hungary.
Keach was cast as the American Marine Corps psychiatrist in charge of PTSD-stricken Vietnam veterans dwelling at a remote government-sponsored castle. The film drew few to the theaters but has become a cult favorite.
Today, Keach appears to be busier than ever, with spots in such recent sitcoms as Sean Saves the World and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a supporting part in the Sin City sequel, a stage assignment as Falstaff in a Washington, DC production of “Henry IV, Pts. I and II.” Then there’s his exemplary turn as one of Bruce Dern’s former business partner in the awards-bound Nebraska and voice work—Keach provided the vocals for “Howard K. Duff,” co-owner of Duff Beer on The Simpsons, and crusty aircraft mentor “Skipper” in the recent Pixar release Planes.
All in All: An Actor’s Life On and Off the Stage not only reads as a warts-and-almost-all look at a working actor (Keach remains pretty tight-lipped when it comes to his relationship with singer Judy Collins), but also as a primer for acting, especially for the stage. His discusses his various parts in Shakespeare’s works and how he approached them, which should prove helpful to those tackling the Bard.
Also, in “Curtain Call,” the book’s final chapter, Keach, a graduate of Berkeley, Yale and London Academy of Music and the Arts (LAMDA), offers advice to fellow thespians about rehearsing, accents and finding their own voice.
With All in All: An Actor’s Life on and Off the Stage, Stacy Keach’s voice comes across loud and clear.
Let the Stacy Keach movie marathon begin!
For further information on All in All : An Actor’s Life On and Off the Stage, please go to http://www.lyonspress.com/all_in_all-9780762791453)