From “Troubled Youth” to Ebenezer Scrooge: An Interview with actor Gary Sandy

From “Troubled Youth” to Ebenezer Scrooge: An Interview with actor Gary Sandy

Early in his professional acting career, Gary Sandy said he specialized in portraying “troubled youth.”

c.Gary Sandy

“Those were the best roles to have,” the actor said, though he understands that fact may be difficult for casual fans of his former television series, WKRP in Cincinnati, to grasp. But it was because of his “All-American Boy” looks, combined with his considerable skills as an actor, that made him so effective in villain roles in “As The World Turns” and “Another World.” It will also serve him well on the Rohs Opera House stage in Cynthiana, Kentucky this Friday and Saturday night, Dec. 12-13, when Sandy takes on Ebenezer Scrooge for “A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play.”

Sandy is excited for a chance to put his spin on the Scrooge character. “I’ve been looking at what other people have done with the role and deciding what elements I’d like to steal,” Sandy joked during a phone interview last week.

But given his professional history, be prepared for some surprises. Sandy built his early career on people underestimating the character types that fit him as a performer. Right out of school at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York in 1970, Sandy was put in touch with an agent. “I told the agent, ‘you set me up for something acting-wise and I’ll get it,’ which was a pretty naive statement at the time, but I was young,” Sandy said. Nevertheless, he credits his hubris for his chance to read for the character “Thomas Hughes” on “As The World Turns.” On meeting Sandy, the soap’s casting director’s first impression was that he was too much of a nice guy for the role. “The character was just getting back from Vietnam and they wanted someone to play the role as ‘troubled.’ I convinced her to let me read the part. After the reading, she said, ‘In 30 years of casting, I’ve never been more wrong.’ “But I still didn’t get the part because then she said I was too ‘troubled’.”

“Even when we went to live tape, the shows were always just a day ahead of the broadcast. Writers were cranking out scripts like mad, so you can imagine the hokey lines that actors had to make convincing. That’s why I loved the bad guy roles so much. We got these great evil lines to say.”

But she also told Sandy to wait three months because there was a character for which Sandy would be perfect — the role of drug dealing Randy Buchanan. From this start, Sandy continued to play bad guy roles in soaps. His final daytime television role was in the short-lived series, “Somerset,” a spin off of the popular series “Another World.” Sandy’s evil character was last seen crying in a jail cell — the narrative thread was left unresolved, Sandy said.

“When I was in soaps, we were live. Even when we went to live tape, the shows were always just a day ahead of the broadcast. Writers were cranking out scripts like mad, so you can imagine the hokey lines that actors had to make convincing. That’s why I loved the bad guy roles so much. We got these great evil lines to say.

“Bad guys were just the better roles to play. They were the better roles!” he exclaimed.

After four seasons of playing Andy Travis on WKRP, where Sandy was ofttimes asked to play the straight man to the ensemble of comic characters, he earned guest spots in television and occasional movie roles. But the theater is where his career has flourished and where he has avoided being pigeon-holed in “Andy Travis”-like roles.

“The stage has given me the chance to take on all sorts of complex characters.” His most notable successes include a starring role on Broadway in “The Pirates of Penzance”; the lead in a production of “Billy Bishop Goes to War”; and a co-starring role with Ann-Margret in a national touring production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”

In the latter days of his career, Sandy has found a niche performing in live radio plays.

He was recently part of the cast for a well-reviewed performance of the live radio drama “The BBC Murders” by Agatha Christie in Florida. “These are very entertaining productions. They combine the experience of live theater with a look into how old-time radio dramas are produced,” Sandy said. The production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol: A Radio Play,” which will be revived at the Rohs Opera House in Cynthiana, Kentucky will feature radio sound effects and advertisements from radio’s golden age. “People are going to come out to the theater and they are going to have a ball with this play,” Sandy said. In addition to playing Scrooge, Sandy is also proud to offer his support to local theater in Cynthiana.

“My mother and a lot of my family live in the north central Kentucky area. There are a lot of good memories for me here,” Sandy said. It’s been a long time since those days – almost an entire professional career. But Sandy has always had a special place in his heart for this area of Kentucky and he feels honored to be a part of this holiday event.

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An expressive newcomer – The art of Ray Duke

An expressive newcomer – The art of Ray Duke

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When asked to talk about the subject matter in one of his paintings, local artist Ray Duke prefers to turn the inquiry back to the questioner. He enjoys it when his work evokes a response from viewers.
“It’s not important to me that people get what I intended in a painting. I like hearing what my images make them think about,” Duke said.
Duke has converted a small bedroom at the back of his home on Wohlwinder Avenue in Cynthiana, Kentucky into a studio for his painting.
He has sold a few of his works here and there, but the majority of his paintings lie against each other against the rear wall.
Thumbing through the collection, one is struck by the range of subject matter that he has painted. One of the pleasures of looking through these works is tracing Duke’s development as a painter.  

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Even to people who do not have much of a background in the visual arts, it is still possible to recognize the development of a highly individual style. There is a great deal of movement and energy captured in these images. Thick strokes invite viewers to touch the canvas and appreciate the tactile sensations in the paint itself.

“I like the way the paint dries on the canvas,” he said. He has re-purposed some of his old canvases, with images he was not satisfied with, to new work. An unexpected benefit of this practice was the way his oils interacted with the older paints, creating a work that invites touching as much as it invites viewing.
Duke has been a practicing artist for decades.
“Growing up, I have always been able to draw and work in clay,” Duke reflected. Yet, he is a relative newcomer to oil painting.
When he first began applying himself as an artist in his spare time, his first devotion was to sculpting, which he had begun in earnest as far back as 1996 while he and his wife were living in San Francisco.
In his living room are impressive examples of his skills as a sculptor. Among them is a detailed scene of two baseball players falling over themselves to catch a fly ball. He’s a fan of baseball, particularly of the San Francisco Giants.
Another is an almost mythic depiction of a beautiful woman with her arms open, an inviting expression on her face, and a scorpion’s tail and pincers seemingly ready to strike.
Duke would have happily continued creating bronze sculpture, but it is a very expensive endeavor.
“It’s not just that bronze sculpture requires a lot of money in materials to create the molds, it also costs a lot to reproduce the works for people who like them. Bronze sculpture is cost prohibitive as a hobby,” Duke said.
He started to take painting seriously around November 2006. From an economic standpoint, it made better sense. A 4 x 5 canvas can run anywhere from $20 – $100.
If the subject matter calls for it, Duke uses wood canvases which are also not very expensive.
But in 2006, when he decided to switch his preferred medium to oil painting, there was one small hitch. He really didn’t know that much about it.
But things were going okay for he and his wife, Karen, – enough so that he decided to leave his job and spend 17 months with a friend in Mazatlan, Mexico to teach himself to paint.
The city proved to be fertile ground for inspiration. The rich culture gave him numerous subjects to depict on campus.
Carnivale in Mazatlan, Duke said, is one of the best known in Mexico. Though it does not have the tourist crowds associated with those celebrated in Rio De Janeiro or New Orleans, it is a vivid spectacle.
One of the works inspired by the celebration occupies a space in their master bedroom.
He has several others in hispersonal collection in the studio. What captures the attention most in his work is the individual detail in the faces.
One of the more vivid examples of that work is one of his early paintings of a struggling family. The fatigue in the face of a mother raising a family alone stands in contrast to the belligerent expression on the face of her son, a toddler who is already adopting a sense of the false machismo that is a bane of male culture in that part of the world, Duke said.

Mazatlan family
“I found that there was a steep learning curve when it came to developing skills as a painter. It took some time before I produced anything that I thought was worthwhile,” Duke commented. “It may have leveled out a bit more, but the curve continues to go upward.”
His development is like leaping from one rock to another to cross a stream, he said. “I can see the shore ahead of me, but I never get there. It always recedes.”
The 2008 recession was an economic setback for Ray and Karen Duke. Relinquishing their home in San Francisco, the Dukes came to Cynthiana to where his wife’s family resides.
“We’re like Okie’s from the Grapes in Wrath, but in reverse. We’re economic refugees from California,” Duke said.
But even in the midst of re-establishing themselves here in Cynthiana, Duke has found plenty of material to inform his paintings in Kentucky.

Portrait of Amber Philpot
Portrait of Amber Philpot

A source of enduring inspiration has been a series of nudes that he has interpreted in numerous ways. Recent experiments, which found their way to his living room wall, cast his nude model in the forms of two famous marble statues — Venus De Milo and Michaelangelo’s David.
Two other works that have been displayed in regional art shows are powerful images of a female boxer preparing for a bout.
As with many artists, he hasn’t sold many of his original works. But then again, he describes his work as more an avocation than a profession.
“It’s something that I enjoy doing,” Duke said.
Interestingly, the pleasure that he derives from painting is in the completed work, not in the process itself.
“I find that the work can be enervating. It saps a great deal of energy. I usually just work about two to three hours – about the length of a playlist on my iPod – then I stop and rest,” Duke said.
But when he finally comes to a point where a work is complete, there is a sense of release.

On occasion, Duke enjoys the way that his art can make a powerful statement.
On occasion, Duke enjoys the way that his art can make a powerful statement.

He’d like to sell more of his work, but the market is not the reason he commits time to creating  his art.
Ray Duke is always glad to meet new people and share his art with them. During art shows in the region, he is glad to break out a few examples from his growing body of work for people to see.

“I have known that I have talent to draw and create. I don’t want to live my life knowing that I have an ability and never used it,” Duke said.