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‘Heads-up!’ with Auberjonois & Hesseman

As many folks will hopefully have heard, they’re back! I’m referring to those two wonderful performers and stars of film, television, and stage, Valley resident René Auberjonois and his good friend Howard Hesseman. Their new show is coming on Saturday, February 15, once again at The Grange in Philo, and is presented by the AV Education Foundation.

Auberjonois & Hesseman
Auberjonois & Hesseman

“Heads-Up. Back by Peculiar Demand” is a new “set” exclusively for the Valley; the profits go to high school student scholarships, summer internships, and field trips, etc. They appeared here for the same cause three years ago in “Off the Cuff,” featuring a series of short stories, poems, and quotes read by these two very professional and talented actors. It was a wonderful evening of entertainment, as all those who attended will no doubt agree. They played to a virtual full-house of nearly 300 people and now they are re-uniting in Anderson Valley for a one-night only show.

The event will feature a Happy Hour with drinks and appetizers at 7pm with the show following at 8pm. For advanced tickets ($25 adults; $10 Under 18), call Lanny at 895-2644, Dick at 895-2561, or Laughing Dog Books in Boonville.

Here are brief biographies of the two actors.

Howard Hesseman (1940—today) was born in Lebanon, Oregon, the son of Edna (née Forster) and George Henry Hesseman. His parents divorced when he was five, and he was raised by his mother and stepfather, a police officer. He spent his childhood there and acting became his release. He started performing in the second grade when he made his stage debut as a radio announcer. “I sat inside a large cardboard carton that had been painted to look like a radio,” he says. He stuck with drama in high school partly because his asthma ruled out sports, and partly because “there were these really interesting women who seemed to be devoted to the muse. That did not escape me.” He attended the University of Oregon for three years, before quitting in 1962 and fleeing the mildew lifestyle to appear in a number of little theatre productions in San Francisco.

Between 1960 and 1963 Hesseman was spending his time in various ways—as a clerk in a bookstore, a bartender in a North Beach jazz club and as a convicted felon. “These federal agents—I didn't know that's what they were—continually sought to purchase marijuana from me,” he says. “Finally, as I had been introduced to them as friends of this friend of mine, I sold them an ounce, basically to get them to stop bothering me. It was a $15 transaction.” The outcome of the trial? “Three years in San Quentin, suspended on the condition that I spend 90 days in the San Bruno jail.” Hesseman's memories of his 1963 stint in the joint include lots of bologna sandwiches, mutton stew on Sundays and watching “the guards systematically behave in the most reprehensible fashion toward prisoners. I get tautness in my throat just talking about it. Let's just say it made me real uncomfortable, and I'm really happy to be out of there."

In 1965, he joined that San Francisco’s famed improvisational troupe, The Committee, which also featured Rob Reiner and Penny Marshall, and has been acting rather strangely ever since. Often billed as Don Sturdy (for reasons he refuses to divulge), he performed in various venues in San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as with touring companies of The Committee through 1977.

In addition to starring in three successful television series, WKRP in Cincinnati (two Emmy nominations), One Day at a Time, and Head of the Class, his numerous TV credits include such classics as Dragnet, The Bob Newhart Show, The Rockford Files, Rhoda, and Baretta. He’s been seen in House, Psych, Boston Legal, Lie to Me, and CSI: Las Vegas. Hesseman has hosted Saturday Night Live three times, and appeared in many TV movies, among them The Life and Times of Senator Joe McCarthy, The Amazing Howard Hughes, Secret Santa, CBS’s production of You Can’t take it with You, and NBC’s live telecast of Mr. Roberts. the list goes on.

Likewise, Hesseman can be glimpsed in countless feature films, some of which you may have seen: Billy Jack, This is Spinal Tap, as Ben Affleck’s father in Man about Town, with John Cusack in Martian Child, opposite Tupac Shakur and Tim Roth in Gridlock’d, The Rocker with Rainn Wilson, as Sandra Bullock’s father in All about Steve, as Kathy Bates’ ex in About Schmidt starring Jack Nicholson, not to mention Rob Zombie’s classic remake of Halloween II.

Hesseman has also wandered onstage in Jean-Claude Van Italie’s America Theatre (The Committee Theatre), Alan Ayckbourn’s Man of the Moment (Cleveland Playhouse), Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass (Coconut Grove Playhouse), Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor (6 month national tour, replacing Nathan Lane), Doug Wright’s Quills (Geffen Playhouse), and Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys (Kansas City’s New Theatre).

He’s immensely honored to appear with Mr. Auberjonois at the Philo Grange.

René Auberjonois (1940-today) was born in New York City. After the war, his father Fernand, who worked as the Time life correspondent in Paris, moved his family there for a few years before moving back to the U.S. in 1948 where they joined an artists' colony in Rockland County, New York. René’s first real exposure to that “scene.”

“We were there from when I was eight to sixteen years old. the longest period of my childhood that we were ever settled, and for me the happiest.

“We lived on what was a country road whose residents were a “Who’s Who” of American theater at the time, including actors Burgess Meredith, John Houseman, Helen Hayes, and Lotte Lenya, playwright Maxwell Anderson, and the composers Alan J. Lerner and Kurt Weill, amongst others.

“I also met one of the most influential people on my life during this period – the actor/director John Houseman, who was to become a major mentor to me. He gave me my first job in the theater at sixteen years of age as an apprentice at a Shakespeare Festival in Connecticut where I was credited as “spear carrier.”

René wanted to go to university with a strong drama department but his academic qualifications were poor. However, John Houseman gave him a strong recommendation and the head of the Drama Department at Carnegie-Mellon University, then the Carnegie Institute of Technology and one the top three schools offering such a course, had seen him in a play at the age of fourteen. As a result, René was accepted in the fall of 1958 and spent four wonderful years getting his bachelor of fine arts degree.

Upon graduation in 1962, René landed a job with the Arena Stage in Washington D.C. doing three seasons of ten shows each. “I played a huge range of roles and worked with some wonderful actors. It was the golden age of regional repertory theater and lots of money was being invested. It was a magical three years. In 1965 I left to join the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) with my wife Judith joining the company too.”

In the spring of 1968, René left the A.C.T. and moved to Los Angeles and the rest is a career spanning the acting arts that makes one think there could be a game called “Six Degrees of René Auberjonois.” Here is his abbreviated biography from that point.

Received a Tony Award for Coco (starring Katherine Hepburn,) and Tony Award nominations for The Good Doctor, Big River (Drama Desk Award), and City of Angels. Other Broadway credits include “Metamorphosis” with Mikhail Baryshnikov and “Sly Fox” with Richard Dreyfuss.

His many films include The Patriot, The Eyes of Laura Mars with Faye Dunaway, and five films with Robert Altman: M.A.S.H., McCabe and Mrs. Miller with Julie Christie, Brewster McCloud, Images, and (briefly) The Player.

TV series: Benson (Emmy Nomination) playing Clayton Endicott III; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Odo; and Boston Legal as Paul Lewinson.

Innumerable guest-starring roles include: The Good Wife, NCIS, Criminal Minds, The Practice (Emmy Nomination,) Frasier, Judging Amy, Chicago Hope, L.A. Law, and for the BBC, The Lost Language of Cranes and Ashenden.

Countless animated characters. include Chef Louis in The Little Mermaid. His voice is also familiar from many PBS documentaries, radio dramas on NPR, recorded books, and Symphony Space recordings.

He has worked extensively in Repertory Theater at Lincoln Center, Shakespeare in The Park, the Mark Taper Forum, the Alley Theater, Arena Stage, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He was a founding member of San Francisco’s ACT.

He has directed for the theater, television, and radio, and taught at Juilliard and UCLA. He has served as a panelist on The National Endowment for the Arts, The California Council of the Arts and a board member of The California State Summer School for the Arts.

He is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, a recipient of their Merit Award and Distinguished Alumni Award and was Keynote Speaker at the CMU 2001 Graduation Ceremonies.

He is actively involved in fund raising for Doctors Without Borders.

(Next week we shall present the actors’ responses to The Questionnaire that was previously used to conclude the interviews in the AVA series “Lives and Times of Valley Folks.”)

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