One of Hollywood’s most recognizable and successful character actors, Scottsville, Ky. native Charles Napier came to WKU in the Fall of 1957 after a three year stint in the U.S. Army. The next four years on the Hill laid the foundation and provided many of the life experiences that helped shape Napier’s career and life in Hollywood and elsewhere. Over the years the former Topper has been fortunate enough to work on some of the most successful films and with some of the greatest actors of our day. However, despite all of this success and notoriety Napier remains extremely humble and down-to-earth never forgetting where he came from nor the friends and family who have helped him achieve his hard-earned success. Napier also expresses great fondness and respect for Western, acknowledging the large role the school and its people played in his life and career.
Napier currently lives on a southern California ranch with his wife and two children. He is currently in the process of writing his first novel and also spends much of his free time painting watercolors. His latest projects include national TV commercials for Anheuser Busch and Pontiac Montana mini-vans. This phone interview was conducted on Monday, July 23, 2001 and has been transcribed almost in its entirety. It should give everyone a chance to get to know this well-known and successful Hilltopper in much greater detail.
HH: You were born and raised in Allen Co. right?
HH: I guess you grew up on a farm there?
CN: Until I was six years old and then we moved into Scottsville. I was born in a community called Mt. Union in a house, I think it’s still standing there. But I lived there until I was six years old and then we moved to Scottsville on the Glasgow Pike and my dad got a job as a……he was a farmer, he kept a farm all of those years out in that area….but he was a rural mail carrier until he retired in ’65. So, after six years old I grew up in the so-called suburbs of Scottsville. Then when I was in, I think the eighth grade, we moved into the city on Cherry St. right beside Allen Co. High School there, next door to it as a matter of fact. And that’s why I ended up going to Allen Co. High instead of Scottsville High School, because it was easy to walk or jump across the fence, you know? And I thought my chances were better to play basketball there, which I guess they were because we won the regional tournament two years in a row. I got to play in two state championships.
HH: Did you come from a big family?
CN: No. I had a younger brother that died and I have a sister that’s a retired librarian and she lives in the county out on a lake there, and that’s it. My dad’s family was huge, there were ten of them, one sister and nine brothers. My mother’s family was fairly large as I recall, she had five sisters and two brothers. But no, I didn’t come from a large family, just my sister and I.
HH: So you said you played on two state tournament teams…
CN: 1953 and ’54.
HH: Now were you good enough to be recruited by Western or anyone else?
CN: Tommy Long was the only person that was accepted on scholarship at Western. I tried out at Austin Peay and I think that was about it. I just wasn’t tall enough. I played a forward and people were starting to get really big in those days. But I think I made All-Regional or something. Anyway, that didn’t happen and I went into the Army in 1954, two or three weeks out of high school, me and a buddy named Jim Wilson. And I spent the rest of the next three years with the 11th Airborne Division stationed in Germany. When that ended I came back and that’s when I enrolled at Western.
HH: Now had you been very familiar with Western before you enrolled there?
CN: Sure. We used to go and watch the games, you know.
HH: Do you remember Tom Marshall and those guys?
CN: Yeah. I didn’t know Tom but I met him. But I’d go see Richard White…..Richard White was from Scottsville and Richard White was I think the first player from my area to get a scholarship at Western and Richard was here in the early 50′s. He played guard. And that’s about the only people I know at that time that ever went on to get basketball scholarships. So, anyway I went to school on the GI Bill.
HH: Why did you decide to go in the army? Just to help pay for school?
CN: No. Because in those days in small towns in Kentucky where you grew up, if you didn’t find something to do within two or three weeks out of high school you weren’t looked on too approvingly in the community, so you’d better get out and do something….either leave and go to Indianapolis and get a job in the canning factories…..or Cincinnati, or go to the Army or go to college. One or the other, you did not hang around and do nothing. So, that’s kind of the way it was. Everybody either went to Indianapolis……in fact there used to be a saying that when you died you either “went to hell or Indianapolis.” Where they go now I don’t know. Maybe there’s enough industry around there now. But there weren’t any jobs. We would try to get summer jobs on pipeline construction but we were too young and very few guys got on. It was either that or you got farmed out. It was kind of like indentured service and I spent one summer doing that. I think it was five dollars a week and you were worked six days a week. You got up in dark, I mean 4:00 in the morning, and you quit at dark. Well, one summer was enough of that for me. So I started taking off when I was like a freshman, sophomore and junior years. I left and went to Louisville to try to find work during the summers and I did find some work. I worked on a yacht for a guy from Scottsville named Harry Reed that owned Royal Crown Cola in Cincinnati and Louisville. We’ve had some pretty successful people come from Scottsville really. He was from there….he was a very wealthy man. He bought some plants in the 40′s during the war and became very successful with Royal Crown Cola in Louisville and Cincinnati. And he lived close to me and he offered me a job to go with him and I was only sixteen years old at the time, but I was his driver. But I would go to meetings with this guy….board meetings and all kind of things and we stayed in great hotels. Then he wanted to build this boat on the river at the Louisville Boatworks there, so the next two summers I spent working on this boat and when we finished it then we took the boat…..and I became, you know, I became like a captain on this boat when I was eighteen. And we’d take the boat up and down the Ohio River and eventually we took it all the way to Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee, in Nashville. We went down the Ohio and up the Cumberland and through Nashville and docked it in Old Hickory Lake. And for all I know the boat may still be there, it was called the “Friendship” and it was hand-built, a big boat, maybe a forty-footer. So that was sort of my adventures in and out of Scottsville until I graduated from high school. So I was in and out of there a lot and I got wanderlust at a very early age obviously, and I got exposed to a lot of things that I would not have gotten exposed to…..cities, hotels, how to order….I remember the first time I was in a restaurant in Nashville, I was a kid, I don’t know what I was doing there….and you know, we didn’t know how to order anything, we’d never been in a restaurant. But anyway….I was talking to a friend the other day……those for us, were the last good years really. Times changed totally after the 50′s. Of course they’re always changing but I think there was a great, big, huge dramatic shift in social and economical and every kind of phase of life from 1950 to 1960 and those years were very, very interesting for me and I had some hard times during those years but that’s when I finished high school, that’s when I went in the army and when I got out of the army I started Western and I got out in 1961. So the fifties were very, very interesting years. There were no drugs to speak of then. You know kids today, I feel really sorry for them, they’re exposed to so many temptations that we didn’t have to be tempted with, with the exception of alcohol. There was no such thing….I never heard of marijuana until I got out of college.There was nothing like that going on around there, at least I never ran into it. It’s just a different era, you know?
HH: Well, you enrolled at Western as an art major right?
CN: Yeah, because it was the only thing I could do. Listen, let’s face it…..it’s no reflection on the school system, it’s just that small schools in those days…..they had enough to offer, but number one, I was not that good a student……not interested really, I wanted to play sports and because of sports I got through high school. And in 1957, when I had a chance to go to the Annapolis Naval Academy and I couldn’t pass the math on that. We had capable teachers, I just wasn’t geared in that direction and I flunked the test for the Naval Academy and that was four years of free education and that really bombed me out because I always thought I wanted a military career. And there was a state representative by the name of Natcher and my number happened to come up….and they picked you out of congressional districts….and I was one that got picked, but I didn’t pass the test. But the reason I became an art major is that I could draw pictures, I always could, and I could think of nothing else to major in. And certainly I didn’t have any background in the mathematical field or sciences, so that was my choice, and obviously physical education was second, and I would become a teacher and hopefully become a coach someday. That was basically it. If there was a plan that was it. But that was four WONDERFUL years of my life. You know, imagine coming out of the army and all of the restrictions and all of a sudden you’re getting to go to school and you’re getting paid for it, you’re meeting all of these new friends and you’ve got all of these girls to look at and date and have a great time.Western to me, was my social founding in a sense. I met some people there who….of course you met them in the army too, but it was a different class of people. You met serious students, you met goof-off students, you met people from all over the state, out of the state. It was certainly important to me. I really, really hated to graduate quite frankly. Those were very, very good times for me, very good times. You know, I certainly didn’t do any great mathematical achievements, but I would bear down when then would threaten to flunk me out. Then I would bear down to make sure I didn’t get kicked out.
HH: I understand you liked to maybe get out and stir up a little excitement around campus and such?
CN: Oh yeah. I belonged to a group, an outlaw group, at the time there were no fraternities there, but I joined a group called the 13′ers and we had our own cabin a few miles out of town and some property. And there were some other groups, there was the Barons, there was four or five groups…..and from what I understand, the reason they were unlawful is because….I forget the reason, somebody in the 40′s was injured or hurt or something…..I don’t remember, but anyway, that made it even more exciting because they knew we having our clubs and what not, but actually we were a very strong social group. We made a lot of bonds that have lasted until these days. Most of those guys have gone on to achieve great things, in my opinion. Like Al Ross and Bob Wilson. Al owns most of J.C. Bradford & Co. in Tennessee. Dr. Harry Gray is one of the most prominent….I forget what his field is….professors here in southern California…..
HH: Chemistry is what he’s involved in I believe.
CN: Yeah, chemistry that’s right. But Harry was a type of guy….he was an ordinary guy even though he was a super-brain. Joe Turnish (sp?) is now an attorney over in Henderson. John Smith went on to become an attorney. Gary Gardener….I saw in the USA Today a lawyer by the name of Gary Gardener had filed a suit against the drug company that’s manufacturing that drug that’s wrecking Kentucky….Oxy Contin. And it’s probably the same Gary Gardener that I went to school with. Joe Bugel was a friend there who went on to become a professional football coach. It’s on and on. We’ve had some great people come out of there. Clem Haskins went on to coach Minnesota, the Hilltoppers singing group….Jimmy Sacca and the Mcguire boys. Speaking about old man Diddle, the only times we ran into him, and it was intentional, is when….you know, he was getting elderly then, but he was still as cantankerous as ever. And he had his basketball house there….and if you stepped on that grass, or even looked at it, he sat out under a tree in a chair and he would come out raving and ranting and cursing and yelling. And you’d think a Doberman or a Rottweiler was after you, and that was part of the prank. Then of course the players always had their pet stories about him. Even Professor Stephens who taught Biology liked to pick on him and he used to tell great stories about Mr. Diddle. I never knew him personally, I never played under him of course, but of course everybody knew who he was. Interestingly enough, I met a girl in Florida one time and I met her father….his name was Ed Whitnell. And he had actually gone to Centre College with Coach Diddle back whenever, and I asked him about him and he said, “Yeah, Ed was hard-headed. He would run through a brick wall.” Well, when we were in high school for instance, or a little bit before that actually, they had some great teams that were really competing on a national level…..with Art Spoelstra, Dan King, Tom Marshall. When I was there Charlie Osborne I think was the big star. We used to play football. Louisville was a big rival of course. Football games were a lot of fun back in those days.That was a big event for us…Homecoming. A lot of fond memories, a lot of fond memories of the place.
HH: Did you hang out with any of the basketball players much, like Osborne or Ralph Crosthwaite or any of those guys?
CN: Yeah, I knew all of those guys. But mainly I hung out with football players. I think Dean Cowan decided after my second year that I should probably move into the dorm to stay out of trouble, which only made it worse because they moved me in with the football players (Laughs). A guy named Larry Brantley went on to become a pilot, and then Zeke Bradford was a roommate, Yogi Hardin. It was always called the “Animal Dorm”, all football dorms are called the animal dorm.
HH: There was a big fight down at Tennessee Tech involving Western’s football team and the Tennessee Tech fans. Were you involved with that? Around 1960 I believe.
CN: No. I was involved….a bunch of GIs from Ft. Campbell got in trouble somewhere with some of the guys in the dormitory and slapped them around a lot so the guys jumped in their car, and there was like 6 or 8 paratroopers and they chased the guys all the way from downtown in their car, but the guys led them straight to the football dorm. And all of a sudden the entire football team falls out on them. There was quite a bit of carnage. It’s a wonder somebody wasn’t killed. But there was always a ruckus and a fight somewhere.
HH: They weren’t coming from Pauline’s were they?
CN: No. (Laughs) Pauline’s…that place was always there for everybody I guess, over a period of time. The Moose Lodge, Manhattan Towers, those were some hangouts….if you had any money to go Manhattan Towers on a date. Jerry’s Drive-In, the By-Pass. Bowling Green at that time was maybe 40,000 with the students. It was like something out of a movie looking back on it. It was like small-town America but big enough to have a presence, big enough to have a personality. A lot of the kids around there all came from small towns….Glasgow, Tompkinsville and Scottsville and so and so and so and so. And it was unusual, it was unusual. When I went back 8 or 10 years ago I hardly recognized the place. That’s the trouble with going back….in Scottsville they tore the courthouse down, they tore the hotel down and to me it took the heart and soul out of the town. And those are the memories that are stored forever and they’re gone. I don’t know about downtown Bowling Green, whether it’s changed or not, do they still have the park there and everything?
HH: Yeah, actually downtown Bowling Green is pretty much the same. They’ve restored a lot of the buildings and everything.
CN: That’s great. I’m glad to hear that because the heart of every small town is what a kid remembers when they grew up there and the city fathers all think, “Well, this all has to go and we have to have something new.” And I’m not sure sometimes that’s the way to go. Urban sprawl is….I live outside of Bakersfield, California, which I just read is number one in the nation for urban sprawl although I live an hour from there in the mountains on a ranch, it doesn’t bother me. But the last time….look at Louisville and Nashville, they’re practically grown together in a sense, and I hear Bowling Green is really growing now. Are they building a new airport?
HH: It’s a big industrial airpark they’re trying to put in there.
CN: Yeah, I did a voice-over for those guys. A guy named Dan Cherry, a retired general.
HH: Yeah, he’s Dr. Cherry’s grandson. He was a fighter pilot in Vietnam. He was also the leader of the Air Force Thunderbirds, the precision flying team.
CN: Oh yeah. I fly with the….I had an opportunity to fly with the Navy’s Blue Angels. I’m connected with a lot of…..I go to a lot of celebrity events, I get invited to these things….golf, mainly my thing is trap and skeet, so I get to meet a lot of these people. I got the Grand National Quail Hunt in Enid, Oklahoma and I’ve hunted with Schwarzkopf and four or five other generals, governors, and there’s always a couple of hundred CEOs there from all over the United States. I got to Louise Mandrell’s celebrity shoot in Nashville where we raise money for the Boy Scouts. I go to Sen. Fred Thompson’s shoot there and that money goes to Diabetes, and there’s several others that I go to. We just go and donate our time. I sell paintings, I auction off my watercolors and donate those and so forth and so on.
HH: Well, is there anything that stands out about your years on the Hill? The campus? The people?
CN: Fun. Fun. Fun stands out. I remember one time we got in trouble for something and Dr. Kelly Thompson was the president and you had to really screw up really big to get into his office, okay? I mean usually Dean Cowan dealt with this, but I forget what it was, some kind of college prank we pulled, I don’t know. I don’t even remember what it was, but I know we were summoned to Dr. Thompson’s office….me and Zeke Bradford and a couple of other guys. And we were sort of shaking in our boots because that’s as high as you can go for punishment, right? And three of them were on football scholarship. But I remember how he handled this….you know, it was like a common sense approach to a disciplinary problem. He didn’t say a word about what we had done. He didn’t berate us and he started out with a thing like….”What I see here in front of me are four very, very attractive young men that are headed for great success in life,” blah, blah, blah. And he never said a thing about what we had done, but we all left there scratching our heads like, “Hey, maybe we can do something.” And that was his approach to discipline. I thought that was pretty cool. And you know, he just made us feel like we weren’t a bunch of duds. That we could amount to something if we’d knock off the crap and get down to business. And I suppose it did keep us out of trouble for about six months. We had a little club on the side, me and a couple of other guys, called “Kong’s Barbary Coast,” which was about a block from school. I had a rented house….it was kind of like an after hours joint. And sometimes the girls would be able to sneak out of the dorm and party late into the night with us. And that ran for about a year. And I worked part-time. I worked at Ken’s Liquor Store out on the By-Pass for a couple of summers. I worked as a lifeguard at the Bowling Green Country Club, that was a great gig. It was just a fun, fun time. Fun, fun, fun. And then it all had to end. We all had to get out and go to work. That’s the brutal thing about college, especially for people who were like myself, who had no great intentions to be a doctor or a lawyer or scientist or whatever. And then one day you’ve got to leave. But you have to understand, I had three years in the army before that, so I could really appreciate it. A lot of people hated it and they were forced to go to school, but I didn’t, and the people I hung around with it certainly didn’t.
HH: Well, you had various jobs after you graduated but you came back to Western in ’64 and took some graduate classes?
CN: Let me tell you what I did. I went back to my high school at Allen County and I got a job as an assistant coach replacing Tommy Long, who was one of my teammates on the 1954 team, and he had gotten called into active duty. So, I took his job as assistant coach with my old coach Jim Bazzell, who I’d played with in high school. And I taught a couple of subjects like Health or Biology or something, and when Tommy came back I had to give the job up because any returning veteran got his job back. And therefore I had to….I really had no future because I wanted to coach and I wasn’t prepared to teach. I wasn’t really qualified to teach some subjects that I would have had to do. So, as I recall, I left and I took a job with Brown and Bigelow advertising agency. I couldn’t hack that….I mulled over a….I had gotten married somewhere along this time, and had a job offer in Florida teaching art and we had a son and I wanted to see him, and I had to go back to Western to take some courses in ceramics and something to qualify for that job and working on a master’s degree. And I went back that summer and that’s when I got involved in theater and so forth and so on. And then I went to Florida and taught there, I think two years until I became involved in theater and then many, many years of being broke and many, many years of wandering the streets of New York and Chicago and Los Angeles and blah, blah, blah, until finally somebody said, “Yes, you have the job.” And I’ve been doing it ever since. With the exception of 1970-73, I became a writer and a photographer for a trucking magazine called Overdrive, and when that ended during the truck strike in ’73, I went back…..miraculously, into this business thanks to Alfred Hitchcock. And I’ve been doing this ever since.
HH: So wasn’t it (WKU professor) Russell Miller that got kind of got you into acting?
CN: Russell Miller….yeah. And I didn’t get along with Russell Miller at all when I was there. None of the guys I hung around with would even dream of going to theater. We had one guy in a fraternity named Walt Langsford who was involved with a theater group at the time there, but that was considered…..how shall I say….actors at Western at those time I think were looked upon as….oh, I don’t know…..maybe a little prudish or whatever. Anyway, one never even dreamed of going out for a play. But when I came back I was hanging around a guy named Bill Hancock….Bill still may be there now. And Bill encouraged me, he said, “You ought to try this.” And I finally went to Dr. Miller and apologized for years of hostility because he had lived in the same rooming house with a bunch of us at one time. We drove the poor man nuts. And he goes, “Fine, I’ll give you a shot at it.” So, that summer we did, and then I came back the following summer, I guess, and we did the Shakespeare there at the Alley Theater and after that I moved on. So, yeah, Dr. Miller instigated the whole thing, he and Bill Hancock. After that I sort of caught the bug…..and went on and I’m still doing it to this day. I play a lot of generals now because I’m in the “General” stage of my life. So, what can I tell you, I play bad guys, truck drivers.
HH: You mentioned Hitchcock, I read that you were living in your car in a parking lot and a limo pulled up from Hitchcock. Is that true?
CN: Well, it’s just a long story man. It’s like, here I’m forty years old….I had been bounced out of the Overdrive magazine with the threat of….the threat of death, because of the union wars between the teamsters and the steel haulers and I got caught in the middle of it. So, I had to vanish, literally in Pittsburgh. So, I worked my way back to California, somehow. And I turned my credential in…..and disappeared because…..there was like a price on my head of some sorts, simply because I was a reporter. But I had Overdrive on the side of my truck and everybody knew my CB handle was “Overdrive” and Overdrive was an anti-Teamster magazine, it was for independent truckers. But I wasn’t really that, I was covering both sides, but certain unions didn’t see it that way. Anyway, here I am now….38, 39, 40 years old, and I’m back on the sidewalks. This is after the army, it’s after a degree, it’s after working on my Master’s, and I had all of these different jobs….and now I’m back on the street with no phone and no place to sleep. I finally got a parking lot….it was owned by a fella that I’d done some films with and he let me stay on that parking lot. So, basically I’m homeless at age 40 and thinking, you know, “Well, I’ve achieved everything that a man fears. I’ve become destitute and I have become homeless.” And I stayed there for four or five months, and when you have nothing to do with your time you want to be in the city generally, because you can find some food there. When your needs are reduced to first of all, finding a bathroom in the morning…..life is pretty basic. And that’s where it was. But again, the gods smiled on me and Alfred Hitchcock had seen me in a picture two or three years before and basically wanted to sign me to a contract. And nobody knew where I was of course. And Hollywood’s got quite an underground system. Starting with the carhops and guys that park cars, you can usually track anybody down if you hit the main joints, and I used to park cars in the early days and you had a grapevine you could track whoever you wanted to track basically. Somebody finally tracked me down and they came to get me in a limo…….and I was in pretty rough shape. Mentally, I was okay because it was like my epiphany, man. My worst fear has come true and I’m still around, still walking, still talking….I’m not dead, it didn’t kill me, so I’m alive. When you have nothing left to lose everything is up. And I felt this was a joke. Anyway, the guy asked me who I was and I told him. At that time I hadn’t shaved in three months or had a haircut and he said, “They want to see you at Universal.” And he didn’t say “who”, he just said “they”. So, and we go and it’s only about a four mile ride to the gates. We stopped in front of the building and on the side of it…..and I’d seen this many times before because I worked on that lot…….was a profile of Mr. Hitchcock, which was interesting. So we go in, through the secretaries and through the vaulted doors. And the guy said to me, “When we go in here don’t say anything, keep your mouth shut,” and I said, “Okay.” This guy’s in a suit and we go in and Hitchcock has got his back to us in a revolving chair and a window he’s looking out, this big window. And he turns to profile very dramatically. Finally he turns around and faces us but he never looks at me and the guy’s standing right beside of me. And he says to the guy, “Tell him to turn around,” and the guy says to me, “Turn around.” And I did. And he said the magic words, “Sign him.” and he goes, “Yes, sir.” And we go out and I go, “What’s going on?” The guy was bummed out of course and he goes, “Look buddy, I don’t know who you are or whatever, but you’re one lucky guy because he just signed you to a contract, a yearly contract.” And I said, “Okay.” Normally you have to beg for roles, now I’m being ordered to do roles. I needed some money. He gave me some money, “Go to the payroll office and don’t forget this is coming out of your pay.” I go, “How much is the pay?,” and he said, “I think it’s $3,500 a week.” And I go, “You’re kidding me.” And he goes, “No, and you will be there. You’re gonna be doing Baretta Monday morning and then after that you’re gonna be doing Kojak, then you’re gonna do Rockford Files,” the guest star “heavy”. So how could you ask for more? Out of the depths of despair within hours or days and I’m back working legitimately better than I had before. So, that was an interesting experience. And a lot of it;s happened that way with me, a lot of it’s happened. I developed, I feel, tremendous social skills, if nothing else at Western. Getting out there in life, to me, is more than just having the knowledge to pursue something and be a success at it. You have to remember, there’s people you have to deal with it, all along the line. And I learned to read people. I learned to read who was not worth talking to….I learned to read who pretty much WAS worth talking too. I learned not to hustle people to get something because you may get a temporary job but usually that turns to resentment. So, I just sort put myself in a position…..I always worked in Hollywood, I always had a job of some kind, whether it was parking cars or driving trucks or something. I guess that was the old work ethic. I always felt guilty not doing something, but I had the goal in mind anyway. For whatever that means, I did achieve that goal. I’ve become a professional actor for thirty years, which isn’t saying very much but I have seen the world, I have got to meet very, very interesting people. I go to a lot of universities now, mainly to the drama department and talk to younger people about what it’s like to be there. I can discuss commercials, which I do. I can discuss cameras, I can discuss agencies, whatever….not that I know it all, but I’ve been here enough to know that you don’t want to enter this business unless you commit your life to it and then you still may not make it and by that time you’re generally too old to do anything. But that’s like any business, you know. People say, “I want to do this,” but you’ve got to make up your mind to do it and what you’re gonna sacrifice is….a lot of times is……family. You’re gonna sacrifice friendships. You’re gonna be lonely a lot of the time. So, in that sense…..but it’s been gratifying too, so what can I tell you. But I enjoyed teaching, I enjoyed teaching, I enjoyed coaching. I thought we were gonna go to Western many years ago…..Jim Bazzell and I as coach, but he turned it down or I would have been an assistant coach at Western in my 20′s….the fork of the road. And Jim later became superintendent of Allen Co. schools. He didn’t take the job (WKU) but it was offered to him, I’m pretty sure. That means I would have gone too. So who knows, I could have still been at Western. Probably doing janitorial work by now, and there’s nothing wrong with that
HH: So Bazzell was up for the job when Coach Diddle resigned?
CN: Yeah, yeah, as I recall. He was up for the job. I never asked him why he didn’t take it. But I would imagine I would have been a part of the deal…..I would like to think that I would be, because we worked very good together and Jim Bazzell is one of the finest coaches that’s ever been as far as I’m concerned. But for whatever reason, he chose to stay in administration work and eventually became superintendent of the schools at Allen County and they merged…..Scottsville and Allen Co. merged under his tenure and he did an awful, awful lot for Allen Co. and Scottsville quite frankly.
HH: He was a Western grad too wasn’t he?
CN: Yes he was. He was on a basketball team there. He was from out of Western Kentucky….Clinton, Ky. I believe, way, way over there close to the Mississippi River, that part of Kentucky. Anyway, he came there on scholarship and finished and then his first job was coaching at Allen Co. and he stayed there. And he’s still there to this day I’m sure. A fine man, fine man. I learned a lot from him. He was a great coach. In those days to go to a state tournament was really, really something. And those were high moments, high moments very early in life.
HH: I think Bazzell was here for a game last year when we retired Jim McDaniel’s jersey, him and Tommy Long too I believe.
CN: Yeah, he probably was. Jim was the most famous player to ever come out of Allen Co. as far as I know. What does he do now?
HH: He moved to Charlotte, NC.
CN: Yeah, I saw him when he was with the Lakers. I went by one time to a Laker game when they were warming up and I went and said hello to him.
HH: That’s a shame, he should have had a lot better professional career.
CN: Yeah, he should have. He should have had a better career than he did. I don’t know what happened. He was extremely talented…..extremely.
HH: Well, you’ve worked with some of the most well-known actors of our time like Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hanks, Stallone…..is there any one movie or actor that stands out to you as one of your favorites?
CN: John Belushi. He was fun to be around. And we’re not talking acting-wise here because acting is something that you really can’t nail down. When you say “worked with” it means not only “acted with” but it was the individual after the work was done or while the work was going on. Tensions can get very high, egos can erupt….blah, blah, blah. Some actors are very eccentric and so forth and so on, it’s the nature of the business. But I was able to get along with most of them and become friends with some of them and later on…..and directors also. And that’s probably how I’ve kept my career alive a lot of times. I never caused any trouble. I always went on the set….I never tried to upstage a star, I always tried to help the stars. I didn’t take any crap but I didn’t give any either. I let them know where I stood. If I had to fight somebody I always made sure the guy wasn’t scared of me, so that would make him look good. The actresses…..some of them have totally ignored you like you were a piece of dirt. Some of them have been very, very generous…..Goldie Hawn is one of my favorite people, Annette Benning….I won’t mention the ones that weren’t nice to me, I might need another job someday. Angela Lansbury was a sweetheart. Let me think here…..Michelle Pfeiffer, she was pretty cool.
HH: What about Tom Hanks?
CN: Tom was not a social guy on the set. He was pretty wrapped up what he was doing. Of course he had his family with him. Denzel Washington was the same. I hung around with Jason Robards on that movie (Philadelphia). Jason was a fine fella. But Tom wasn’t stand-offish, he just had a job to do and he was losing weight everyday trying to do that role and it was pretty physically and mentally demanding on him. John Belushi, as wacky and crazy as he was, was a great guy. And he didn’t give me a lot of breaks and he was fun to be around. Unfortunately he self-destructed but he was an incredible, funny man and talented. Anthony Hopkins was very generous….again he spent most of his time to himself. Rod Taylor and I worked together on two series, he was a great man. Fred Williamson, he used to be the hammer on the 49ers…..Jim Brown, I ‘ve done a couple of things with Jim Brown. Shaq O’neal…I’ve done movies with Shaq (Steel). A lot of boxers….Sugar Ray Leonard, I always got along with those guys just terrific….Marvin Hagler and I spent some time together in the Philippines (Indio 2). I even was in the only picture that Sonny Liston ever did, he and I became buddies. Robert Mitchum was a great guy…..Rory Calhoun. Younger ones……Luke Perry, Jim Carey, a very nice fella, Ben Stiller the director and actor. (Laughs) He loves me, he was a big Star Trek fan when he was a kid. When I was doing Star Trek he was probably five years old…….and a lot of these guys grew up watching me. The interesting thing is I’ve never worked for John Carpenter (WKU ’68).
HH: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that….
CN: Well, I take that back, but he wasn’t directing he did some little picture and he gave me a day’s work on it. If I could ever corner John I’d find out if he thinks I’m such a bad actor or he just doesn’t like me or whatever (Laughs). I used to see his father all the time, Dr. (Howard) Carpenter (former head of the WKU music dept.), and he was a nice man and John was a kid playing in the backyard up there. They lived on campus right?
CN: Angie Dickinson, she was a beauty to work with……
HH: Now do you know Leo Burmester that went to Western also?
CN: I know Leo. I never knew him at Western but I met Leo later when he was out in California a few times. Is Leo doing theater in Louisville or something now?
HH: I’m not sure.
CN: I don’t know what happened to him.
HH: So have you got any future projects lined up now or are you just waiting around for something good to come up.
CN: Yeah. What’s happened this year….my last film was….I stuck my head in….the Klumps. Eddie Murphy used me for a couple of days in that. I turned down…..I’ve been working for the Israelis because I wanted to work in Eastern Europe and see it. So I’ve been in Bulgaria, I’ve been in Romania, I’ve been in Russia. I just turned down a job back in Belarus. My kids are 13 and 9 now and I’m trying to spend a lot more time with them at home. I’m under contract to General Motors for Montana Minivans for Pontiac, that’s my voice. I have that. I’m under contract with Anheiser Busch. So, right back to what I was saying….they were going to have a writer’s strike last year and the actor’s were going to strike so all of the future projects got put on hold and now they’re just getting cranked back up. I probably will try to get a pilot. I want to go back and do some television. The last thing I did on TV, I did The Practice two or three months ago. I played a judge, that’s a Top 10 show. And I did an episode of Diagnosis Murder. So, right now the town is just deader than a doornail. So this has been a summer where all the actors went to Broadway to do a little theater. We’ve lost most of our production up in Canada, an incredible percent we’ve let slip out of California and they shoot in Toronto and Vancouver and we can’t work there. Which is kind of like, not fair. They can come down here and work. They can go up there and shoot because it’s a lot cheaper and they use Canadian actors. And the only way you can work there is if you’re a so-called qualified superstar. But all our crews can’t work there, actors can’t work there. And it’s being shot up there. So it’s really slammed the door in our face here. It hurt our town tremendously. And where the future’s headed in films, I think there will always be….they’ll always be entertainment. It started in the depression….movies are still a pretty good ticket for people that want to be entertained and forget their troubles. There’s a big thing going on about virtual reality….the Final Fantasy thing. That’s a movie that opened last week or so. Everybody’s worried that we’re all going to be replaced by robots. And these people they will have it down in the next two years where you cannot tell whether it’s a human being or a robot, I guarantee you they will. But at this point the old human spirit is still missing in it and the film bombed. And it cost a hundred million to make, so it’s a huge risk for them. So, I don’t know, maybe they’ll just caricature me and I’ll get paid and they can use my image. How’s that?? And I can come back to Bowling Green and go down on the Barren River and go fishing or something….live on a houseboat or something. Or paint pictures in the town square and try to sell them, you know, something.
HH: You’re also writing a novel now aren’t you?
CN: Yeah. It’s called Rednecks in Love. We’re into it about 210 pages. Of course my writing friend and I both think it’s brilliant but we may be disappointed with what the rest of the world thinks about it. We also have to find a publisher. But anyway, we’ll finish it, we’ll get it out there.
HH: So I guess you feel that Western really played a big role in all of the success that you’ve had over the years right?
CN: Oh yeah. Sure. Like I told you…socially, and I mean that sincerely and I’m not talking about partying and raising hell. I’m talking about……a college education, or being around that level of education, gives a person later on in life an advantage, that I feel, people that don’t do it….miss. And I’m not talking just about going out and making millions and millions of dollars because of something you invented or whatever. I’m talking about a balanced…..as well as can be, social life, family life….it just does something to you that is impossible to register almost, at the time that you do it. If that makes any sense? And we’re not talking about becoming a straight “A” student so that you can become the greatest orthodontist in the world. We’re talking here about human nature and how that counts. It’s not just academic achievement, it’s not just the acquirement wealth. It is the part that helps balance your life and brings you some peace of mind and happiness while you’re trying to achieve these or if you have them, trying to utilize them, if that makes any sense. So that’s my answer to that. Simply that. If I had never gotten a degree, it would have meant that to me.
HH: Well, do you think you’ll ever come back to Kentucky to live someday?
CN: Yeah, I’ve thought about it. Going home is usually never like it was. It’s like Scottsville….I can’t go back there anymore hardly, it breaks my heart. You know, because the town isn’t there. But Western? Yeah, that’s a different story. That’s not my home, it’s where I went to college but it was where I spent some beautiful, beautiful years and some fun years and some years I’ll never forget. If I have an incentive to go back there, if I can be of any contribution at all, not just to live, but to contribute something of what I’ve learned, which is very limited…..then I would definitely consider it, of course, yeah. Because I can work anywhere in the world. Because they call you on the phone and they send you a ticket and a script, and if you like it you get on a plane and you go. So it’s not like you’re nailed down to any one place. However, my children are in school now, at a small school here, which is so unique it’s unbelievable because it’s like an hour from the nearest town and it’s a little country school. So, but I’m not nailed to any place. I never plan that far ahead. Wherever I could be needed or I could use what I have learned, if it’s mutual I will go. So, that’s probably the best answer I can give you.
CN: Well, I wish you the best my friend
HH: You too. It was great to talk to you.
CN: Maybe we’ll bump into each other one of these days.
HH: Well, I’d like to see you come back to campus this winter or this fall…..
CN: Well, work it out. Work it out for me. Sniff it out and see what you can do, huh?
HH: I’ll do it.
A complete listing of Napier’s filmography and TV appearances
Charles Napier’s official website