I wasn’t around in the ’70s, so my first impression of actor Howard Hesseman did not come from the hit TV show WKRP in Cincinnati as it had for many before, but instead the ’80s high school sitcom Head of the Class. As a kid at the time with four older brothers and sisters, all mostly high school aged by then, it was easy for me to fall in love with the show and relate to its characters, who I was able to equate to my older siblings. And it was just as easy for me to picture Hesseman’s portrayal of Charlie Moore as someone who could have just as easily been a teacher of mine as well.
Originally a native of Oregon, he rose to prominence in the ’60s as a member of the improv comedy troupe The Committee, as well as an underground DJ for a San Francisco-based radio station, a job that would no doubt help shape his eventual iconic role as Dr. Johnny Fever on WKRP. By 1968, he landed acting gigs in his first film Petulia, and first TV show, a memorable appearance on the hit police show Dragnet.
Throughout the ’70s, he continued to make notable appearances on such classic shows as Sanford and Son, Laverne and Shirley, and The Bob Newhart show, before eventually landing the career-changing role on WKRP in 1978, a job that would keep him occupied until 1982. By the ’80s he was appearing in such big name films such as Clue (1985) and, one of my personal favorite films of all time, 1984’s This is Spinal Tap.
Hesseman also appeared in what would eventually become my favorite Police Academy film (something I would even relay to series producer Paul Maslansky when I spoke to him last year for Rewind It Magazine), 1985’s Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment, before landing the Head of the Class role the following year in 1986 (which would last until 1990).
When I also spoke to actress and Head of the Class co-star Khrystyne Haje last year for Rewind ItMagazine, she had nothing but praise when it came to her time working with Hesseman, stating; “I always admired Howard’s work, and he became just such a mentor to us all. He’s not only a gifted actor, but he’s also a great comedic actor, and was a great example to me as well. He was really invested in the character he played, and it was an honor to get to work with him.”
Hesseman continued acting well into his 70s, both revisiting his role as Dr. Johnny Fever again on The New WKRP in Cincinnati in the early ’90s, and replicating it via several appearances on That’70s Show in 2001. His last television appearance was on a 2017 episode of the ABC comedy Fresh off the Boat. He passed away just two days ago on January 29 due to complications from colon surgery. He left behind a wife of 33 years, Caroline Ducrocq, and a void in the entertainment world like few others. He will be missed dearly by many for years to come.
When legendary film producer/writer Paul Maslansky originally agreed to speak with Rewind ItMagazine, I doubt he knew the extensive knowledge I had on such films of his like Police Academy and Ski Patrol. And no doubt he was unaware how endlessly I watched these films when I was hospitalized for many months after a freak car accident when I was just eleven years old (something I rarely mention), or how I wanted to be a police officer for the longest time “when I grew up” thanks to the Police Academy films (I would come close, working many years side-by-side with law enforcement in the security field, in addition to journalism).
So when Maslansky begun recounting to me recently over the phone the story of how he initially came up with the idea for Police Academy on the set of 1983’s The Right Stuff after seeing a group of misfit police cadets, I was already prepared with a question, and asked if he thought he still would have came up with the idea or not that would ultimately spark an entire franchise had he not been there that day to see those inspiring recruits. He seemed genuinely surprised and impressed; “You know, that’s a damn good question…I’ve never been asked that before! But I I always wanted to make “gang” comedies ever since AnimalHouse, which I thought was extraordinarily good, and that was an inspiration in many ways. So I don’t know whether or not I would have ever come around to it. It was really the moment, when I saw what was happening right in front of me that inspired me to write the story. Damn good question, though.”
I also wanted to know just how it was possible to churn out so many films in one series six consecutive years (from 1984-1989) in a row. He informed me; “It was almost like a sitcom; You had Hugh Wilson who came from WKRP in Cincinnati, and then Jerry Paris who was of course Gary Marshall’s guy. And that’s really why we were prepared for it; we had a cast that was steady, and every year everything was just serendipitously there, and the studio kept asking to make another one because the results were just so damn good, and the costs for these pictures was not that much. It was just really smooth operation, and I had the right directors, production managers, and just overall people in general all of the time.”
And does he have a film in the series other than the original that’s his personal favorite?; “I do have a favorite other than the first, and it’s because it was under great difficulties making it, and that was the last one in Russia. I made a number of films in the Soviet Union, and then I decided to bring Police Academy there for Mission to Moscow, and Warner Bros. said they wouldn’t finance it. But eventually they agreed, and then we went over, and it was then they had the counter revolution in the middle of the picture (Laughs). But we managed to complete it, and it’s really a silly movie that a lot of people seem to enjoy.”
I also asked a little about his background and how he got into filmmaking. He informed me; “I went to one year of law school at NYU, and I have to admit it wasn’t my calling, so we decided it would be best to part company (Laughs). But I met some terrific people at that time, and up until even quite recently they remained friends of mine, but sadly most have passed on. But I did go to an extraordinary undergraduate school, Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA, before I went to Kansas City University after I got out of the military. But I was a C student at best, because I had so many other interests, especially music, and played jazz trumpet.”
He continued; “Once I left school, I decided to play music in Paris, and I was successful at that. I eventually met a young Danish film student, Benny Corsone, who was studying in film school at the time. He had to make a documentary film for his class, and he asked me to produce it. The film won a modest prize at Cannes, and in any event, a producer by the name of Charlie Schneer, was working on a film called Jason and the Argonauts, and had seen my film, and called and asked me to interview…and from there I became his assistant and we shot it in Italy. And that was really my baptism by fire and start in serious filmmaking. And eventually I decided to produce myself, and made a picture in Rome with Christopher Lee called Castle ofthe Living Dead with a guy named Warren Kiefer.”
But the whole reason for my conversation with Maslansky in the first place was thanks to recent interviewee and Ski Patrol star Roger Rose, who told me of their plans to remake the film. Maslansky filled me in a bit more; “Roger came to me a couple of months ago and said there were some people really interested in getting Ski Patrol going again, and I said, ‘Why not?’ So now we’re in the process of trying to get MGM, which we discovered wound up with the underline rights to the film. It’s gone through a couple of different hands over the years, and MGM is in the process of being taken over by a different group, so it’s been difficult to get to the right people there at the moment. But I have a feeling that ultimately, we’ll be able to pursue it properly. And we’ve also got the interest in of group called the Workaholics; it was one of their favorite films, and they would very much like to do that.”
He then gave me some background on how the original film came to be; “One of my neighbors at the time, Wink Roberts, was a stuntman and a damn good skier, and said, ‘Let’s make a movie called Ski Patrol,’ and the next thing you know, we’re making the movie (Laughs). It helped at that time that the Police Academy films were a great success, so it was easy to produce another gang comedy. And that’s really the genesis of it all. And then Roger came to me about doing it again with the Workaholics guys, and they were so enthusiastic about doing it that I said, ‘Let’s proceed!’ But I think nearly any ski resort in the country would be happy to have us film there right now, because I think unfortunately there’s been a bit of a decline in the sport recently, certainly because of Covid.”
And when asked if Rose will show up in the new film or not, he assured me; “Oh yeah, I very much want Roger to appear in it, and maybe get some of the older guys from the original film to make appearances, too. A lot of them are still around, but it’s different with Police Academy, every year we seem to lose more. We just lost a wonderful guy, Art Metrano (Captain Mauser from the second and third installments, who passed away earlier this month on September 8 at age 84), who lived down there in Florida. We’ve lost so many more of them, including Bubba Smith, George Gaynes, Marion Ramsey, David Graf, and said directors Hugh Wilson and Jerry Paris.”
I asked Maslansky to tell me a little about Metrano, with which I’ll end on; “Art was a tough Brooklyn guy, and had one of the quickest wits, but also had a wonderful comedy act. He was a religious man, and a damn good father. We were buddies and used to hang out, and he was as brave a man that you could find after his horrific accident that paralyzed him in the late ’80s. But through it all, his sense of humor was infectious, and he used it to make people laugh during the many months he spent in that hospital ward. It was remarkable the amount of good cheer there was as a result of Art’s presence. And working together with Lance Kinsey in the two Police Academy films he did, they were just a terrific pair. I sure will miss him.”
Roger Rose is one of those celebrities you’ve just got to love; although he may not be as big of a “name” as such leading stars as say, Steven Segal or even the late John Ritter, he’s got his fair share of stories with the likes of both of them (and many more) from more than four decades of crossing paths and working in the “biz” with them. During a recent phone conversation with Roger, I was able to hear firsthand accounts from many of his encounters over the years, often resulting in uncontrollable, side-splitting laughter (did I mention he’s also extremely quick-witted?), making for one of the most hilarious – yet still enlightening – professional interviews I’ve ever conducted.
Right off the bat, Rose helped give some insight on both how he got started, and what he’s up to now; “I got real lucky! My parents were both broadcasters; my mom was on NPR, and my dad was a radio talk show host in L.A. and San Francisco. So I grew up around voice over, and I’m the voice of a bunch of TV stations around the country (Rose himself has lent his voice to everything from Scooby-Doo to Tiny Toon Adventures). I’m lucky enough to do some work for CBS network and things of that sort. And then I’m also producing a couple of things right now. There’s a couple of movies I’m actually working on too with the guy who made Police Academy and Ski Patrol, Paul Maslansky. He’s 87, and has so many stories about all these movies he’s done over the years. He’s just the best!”
Rose’s first on-screen role came in a 1981 episode of the Sci-Fi show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Regarding the experience he told me; “That was my very first SAG job, and I auditioned for the role and got booked, then had to run and give them my membership money because I lied that I was a even member! (Laughs). But the best part about that whole experience was, we shot during Christmas week. I had to cry in my ‘big scene,’ and there were special effects and all that, and they saved everything for the last day of shooting, which was December 24. And on a set, there’s a crew of maybe 150 to 200 people, and they all want to go home because it’s Christmas Eve, and it all comes down to me. My first professional television experience, and everybody is hating me. I could’ve basically not even said my lines and they probably would’ve said, ‘Great, print it, let’s go!’ (Laughs).”
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Rose appeared on a number of other notable TV shows, including Knight Rider,Mr.Belvedere, Married…with Children, and Seinfeld. I asked if he would briefly shed some light on what it was like to be a part of all these shows as well, and he explained; “You know, it’s funny. CNN recently did that show, History of the Sitcom, and now I know I’m old because I’ve been on half of those shows (laughs). The one that you don’t know that I’m on that’s probably more historical though is Three’s Company. They were shooting the intro for it, and someone came up to me and said, ‘Hey kid, want to make a grand?!’ And then I’m suddenly in the opening credits. I was the guy dressed as a woman when Richard Kline jumps on the bumper car, not realizing I was actually a guy! I was lucky enough to be on a couple of huge shows, but I have to say that John Ritter, far and away, was the nicest, most professional and wonderful guy I’ve ever worked with in the business, period.”
He continued; “When I guested on Mr. Belvedere, he (the late Christopher Hewett) actually gave me a Saint Christopher’s medal, which was really nice and I was very honored, and still have it to this day. And Bob Uecker was of course great. I also did an episode of Too Close for Comfort with Ted Knight, and the thing about Uecker and Knight was, by that time I was already doing stand up, and someone told them I did impressions of them. And they both basically said the same thing along the lines of, ‘I hear you do impressions of me,’ and then they would each try to do their own impressions. I remember Knight doing Clint Eastwood, and you just had to laugh! Both very nice guys though!” Going back to Married…with Children, he stated; “I was really lucky on that. I did two episodes, and then the last two seasons I did most of the voice work on that show, too. But those people on that show knew they had it good, and they could not be nicer and more excited about being there. Ted McGinley (who played Jefferson) and I were hanging out on the set maybe the year before its final season, and said to me, ‘I’m the luckiest guy in show business!,’ and then they cancelled the show (Laughs).”
He digressed again; “And Seinfeld? Everything you’ve heard or read is true. I was lucky enough to have already met Jerry through my VH1 show, and then a couple of other times after that. I played the George character initially, and they cut a lot of my stuff out because I ad-libbed like crazy at the audition. Anyway, when they hired me they basically said, ‘Just do what you did at the audition.’ And then I realized, what makes these people so great is they actually hire you for you. And it was so great to do, just so much fun. Oh, and Knight Rider I don’t really have a great story about doing it, but I have come across Hoff (David Hasseloff) a couple of times since over the years, and he is exactly what you think he is; just a very nice guy! I actually tested for Baywatch after it went from NBC to syndication, which no shows did at the time! I tested for the role of like, Joey the stand up comedian lifeguard, and Hoff was there at my final audition. One of the things I had to do was a scene from the TV movie Norma Jean, which was about Marilyn Monroe. During my last line – and this was to show I could do drama, mind you – Hoff stands up and just starts signing (the lyrics to the Elton John song), “Goodbye Norma Jean!” And the producers are looking around like, ‘Just let him go with it!’ (Laughs). So then they offered me the job, and my manager at the time convinced me to turn it down, which I did. And the rest is history (Laughs).”
He then offered some unexpected insight on another show; “But I’ll tell you one that was terrible, which was Gimme a Break! with Nell Carter. They hired me, and told me they were probably going to fire me by the end of the week, because they fired everyone on that show! But I was trying to talk to other people on the show, and they wouldn’t talk to me because they were all terrified. She (Carter) was nice to me, but we were in the middle of camera blocking rehearsal, and the assistant director suddenly screams, ‘hit the deck!,’ and everybody, cast and crew, just hit the floor, and she starts throwing props and screaming! And then she walks off, and some guy goes, ‘Okay, lunch!’ (Laughs). And I didn’t make it to they end of the week, just like they told me. That one was actually devastating, and really upset me.”
Another role Rose will forever be remembered for was Steven in 1986’s Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. As previously discussed in our recent retrospective piece on the film, Roger recalled some of his experiences on the set; “The movie had already been shot, and the phone rings and it’s Paramount calling (Director) Tom McLoughlin, saying there weren’t enough deaths in the film and they needed more, so they were going to go back and kill two more people. Tommy hangs up the phone and says, ‘I always wanted to do this…kid, I want you in my movie!’ And that weekend we shot my scenes. I said to Tommy, “Man I’d love to die brutally on film, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do (Laughs)!”
He then filled me in on how his time as a VH1 VJ came about; “I had a screen test to be a VJ at either MTV or VH1, and I told a much more elaborate story of my audition for Friday the 13th, and that’s what got me the job. About a year after I got the gig, the guy running MTV and VH1 at the time came up to me and said, ‘You know, you were going to be on MTV, but I’m the one who said ‘No.’ And when I asked him why, he said, ‘You wore a sports coat, and no one’s gonna want to eff a guy in a sports coat.’ (Laughs). It was one of the best experiences of my career though.”
Working on VH1 for over two years in the ’80s no doubt awarded Roger with many stories of celebrity encounters, including a three-parter with action superstar Steven Segal. He told me; “He came on my show with his then-wife Kelly LeBrock, and I told her how she was my “free pass” from my wife, and she loved that! So then we took all of these suggestive Polaroids, which Segal loved too – they were both characters! But needless to say, my wife was not pleased (Laughs).”
He continued his story; “So then I’m on some back lot of Warner Bros., having just gotten Ski Patrol – and I hadn’t seen Segal in a couple of years since he was on my show – and I hear him calling my name. He brings me over to some table and he’s with all these women and says to them, ‘You know what I like about this guy?’ And then he looks at me and goes, ‘You popped a chick and had a stain on your pants right before you interviewed me, and I respect that about you.’ My response was of course, ‘Listen dude, I know me, and that was probably just cream cheese from a bagel I was eating at the time!’ (Laughs). And another year or two after that, I did another thing with all these cameos with major movie stars in it, and one of them was Segal. He’s standing there next to the food table, and I say to him, ‘Look man, I don’t know if you remember me,’ and he interrupts me and says, ‘You know, it’s funny, people think I have a really bad memory…but I remember you all the way down to the stain on your pants.’ (Laughs).”
While the previous story might have been enough to end things on, I had to dig a little deeper about his most well-known leading role in the previously mentioned Ski Patrol. He said, “It was three months filming in Alta Park City, and I got to work with the likes of George Lopez (in his first film role) and Leslie Jordan, so how bad could it be? (Laughs). But what’s the weirdest thing that’s happened – and I never thought it really had any hold on anybody (except maybe my mom), because it had been around for awhile – but I was doing the NHL awards a couple of years back, and Anders Holm from Workaholics (another show Rose has guested on) was there, and when he saw me he said, ‘Ski Patrol! You altered my life.'” With praise as high as that, it’s hard to argue with a legacy as vast and influential as Rose’s.
And as far as those ‘projects’ he alluded to co-producing with Paul Maslansky earlier on? He did let me in on one of them; “I can tell you that one of those films will be a remake of Ski Patrol, which I’m very excited about, because I’ll be producing it with Paul!”