December 29, 2017 Interview – Paul Linke
There is no telling what tomorrow will bring, you are here one day, and can easily be gone the next. So, why not make the most of the time you are given? Easier said than done, we all have our worries, but how we manage them is what defines who we are. Veteran Actor Paul Linke knows exactly what it is like to be faced with uncertainty. Coming of age in the 1960s, Linke would realize his talent for entertainment and would go on to success both at home and on the screen.
A father, husband, and passionate actor, he would star in the hit television series CHiPS leading into various other part-time gigs in popular television series as well as memorable roles in such films as 1980 cult Horror favorite Motel Hell. A master of monologues, Linke would harness his life experience into a one-man show, defining who he is, while pouring his heart out to audiences worldwide. Recently we caught up with the humble and high-spirited actor to talk his wild journey, dealing with loss, working on Motel Hell, finding balance in life, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been in entertainment professionally for over 45 years now. In that time, you have starred in an impressive list of films and television series. First, briefly tell us what inspired you to pursue a career as an actor?
Paul Linke – Basically, it was a result of having lived through the ’60s. I was in college at USC and I was sort of floundering; I was majoring in The Doors with a minor in Timothy Leary, if you get my drift. I was totally lost, I thought about dropping out of school. A tall red-headed woman named Monday Dooley said, “Have you ever thought about taking an acting class?” It was interesting, because it was a life-changing moment. I took a class. I wrote a piece, a one-man show, which is sort of my specialty. I did it and it was really strange. Nobody had seen anything like it, it didn’t have a lot of words except for The Doors’ song “The End.” It involved needles, women, and all kinds of crazy stuff. Anyway, my point was, I did it, and the teacher was kind enough to say, “I think you need to start focusing on working with others and doing more traditional stuff.” At the end of the semester, she said, “I want you to do that Door scene again,” which really validated me.
Then I just started putting all my attention, all my focus, everything into the plays and the people. I became friends with John Ritter, because he saw that scene about The Doors and he was very curious about who I was, what was I all about. It turned out our parents had been friends and we had never met. It was all about plays. Then, one day, doing a play, I was like, ‘This is what I want to do, this my goal.’ So, when I came out of college, I thought I was insane.
Actually, in college I went to the Edinburgh Festival with a USC troupe, the summer of ’69 and the summer of ’70. In the summer of ’69 when I went, along with us went Jim Bridges and Jack Larson. Jack Larson was the original Jimmy Olsen in the original Superman with George Reeves, and he was a playwright.
Jim was a film writer and a director, and he had just got a film greenlit called The Baby Maker (1970), and it had Barbara Hershey, Scott Glenn, Sam Groom, and me! When we were doing the theater, I had long hair and a beard, I was truly a hippie. He looked at me and goes, “I have a part for you in my film as Sam the Hippie.” I actually got over that first major hurdle getting into the Screen Actors Guild in early 1970 when I made the movie. I realized I wasn’t trained enough, and went back for a Master’s degree in acting from USC. Still, I thought, ‘There’s no way, who would even think about making a living out of being an actor, it’s impossible.’ So, I literally move daway I moved to a rural community in New Mexico with my hippie friends, had a van, and a dog. I realized when I got there, that was not for me. I started seeing my friends on television. After going around the country with my band and my dog, and my herbal teas, I came back to California in basically ’74, and said, “’his is it, I’m going for it.’
I moved into a commune, because the rent was only $35, and I figured I don’t have to worry about getting a lot of work. It’s only $35, I should be able to make it! Then I realize you can’t live in a commune and be an actor, because there was only one phone. There were no cell phones in those days, of course, it was a pay phone. That is not really for a relationship with an agent. I got the commercials right away, and somewhere in that year of ’74, I got cast in a Disney movie called The Strongest Man in the World (1975). I moved to Laurel Canyon and I just started chasing it. I was very lucky, what can I tell you.
CrypticRock.com – That is quite a story. Of your many credits you have done a balance of television and film in your career. Do you have a preference of which platform you prefer to work and what do you think the major differences are between the two?
Paul Linke – First of all, I prefer theater to any of them – I really believe I’m a theatre person. To answer your question, film, because they take time. The television thing, if you’re a day player, which means you’re hired for that day, that’s a very difficult job. You have to come in, and you gotta bring it. No one’s gonna be nice to you, you’re not going to know anything, you’re not going to know where the bathroom is, you’re always off balance.
Being a regular on a TV series was a lot of fun, I have to say. I feel really good about that and it was a great time of my life. I was married, I had young children, I was working all the time, it was cool. Then, of course CHiPs got canceled, and my wife had cancer and died in ’86. All of a sudden, I was a single parent with three kids and desperate to try to move forward emotionally, spiritually, and career-wise.
That was difficult, because the show was over, my agent dropped me, because he didn’t think I’d be funny anymore, and I literally wrote a one-man show called Time Flies When You’re Alive. It was about the ten years I spent with Francesca Draper and what I learned – being in love with her, having children, having her home, having her get sick, die, and be her support, what that journey was. I only did it for my own personal catharsis, never thinking it was going to become successful, and it became a huge hit. It actually was an HBO Showcase special. You can still get it on iTunes, Amazon, and Youtube! Watch it, you’ll know more about me than you ever wanted.
I continue to try and work in television and film, but it became increasingly difficult – the older you get, the harder it seems to be. I just got tired of chasing it. I still do the solo work, and I still do the one-shows, and I perform live. I did a little part in an Amazon film last year… I certainly would work in a moment if someone wanted me to. I just don’t have the heart for chasing it, I don’t care that much about it.
CrypticRock.com – That is understandable. It is very hard, especially nowadays.
Paul Linke – Let me just say this… the business that I entered back in 1974, is completely different now It’s a whole new world. That’s the way life is, and that’s the way it has to be. I think it’s a lot less user-friendly. It was funny, I was having breakfast recently and introduced themselves to me and they said they do reality television. I said, “I remember what I used to think the worst thing about reality television was, that it was taking jobs away from us actors.” There was no such thing as reality television, that was just scripted programming with roles. All of a sudden that stuff started showing, such as The Amazing Race and Survivor, Fear Factor… it’s endless. Even before you got into the horrible dreck of The Kardashians and all that crap. It just took jobs away.
The television grind today, I know how people are going to make a living. I don’t know they’re going to get healthcare and such. For me, it all just seemed to open up. I look back on it, I feel blessed, because I wasn’t even thinking about things. I wasn’t thinking about health insurance. I never thought about it, I was working, and I had it! Now, I look at my four kids, and I watch how they have to struggle. It’s tough out there.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly is a challenge. You had faced a lot of adversity with the loss of your wife, raising children. You also lost your good friend John Ritter.
Paul Linke – That was brutal. Actually, not that it’s important, I was actually the minister at his funeral. No press was invited to that. It was at Forest Lawn on a Monday. I just remember over the weekend, that we were all really struggling trying to stay afloat.
I was talking to John’s secretary, and I said, ‘By the way, I am a minister, so why don’t you tell his family if they want me to do it, I’ll do it.’ I dreaded it, really, because a.) I loved him, and b.) his ex-wife was one of my best friends. It was the whole thing about, “How do you honor both women at the most critical moment in their lives?” I did it, I am very proud, and I thought I handled it well. I was honored to do that for him, because he sure showed up for me many a time… he was a great friend.
CrypticRock.com – That is really special that you had that honor to pay tribute to him. Having faced such adversities, do you find that loss makes you more self-aware?
Paul Linke – No question about. I look at myself sort of retired, and I don’t play golf every day. I try to play once or twice a week if I’m not volunteering. Every other week, I give two days a week to grief support. I sit with people, who have had a loss. It is an organization called Our House – it is a grief support center. There are professionals who run it, but he groups are maintained and led by volunteers like myself. We sit in rooms for 90 minutes and help people get to their feelings about it. As you say, it’s a completely life-changing experience.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly is. It is always interesting hearing other people’s experiences because we have all experienced lost. It certainly makes you more self-aware, not to sweat the small things and learn not to hold grudges, etc.
Paul Linke – Recently I did a performance of my new show called It’s Time, and basically an homage to my wife, Christine Healy. She basically came in 1990 and saved us all. She came in, raised the kids, and we had one of our own, so that made the number four. We’ve been married 26 years now, so the story has a happy ending. I came to a point where I had an epiphany moment, that for 25 years, I had done over 300 performances. I’d done my homage to my late wife, Time Flies When You’re Alive. I did it all over the country, Europe, it was on HBO. I was literally defined by a loss. I suddenly realized a few years ago, ‘Oh wow, it’s time to pay homage to the living wife.’ So, I wrote a play for her, and it’s actually quite good.
Anyways, I develop things live, because of live audiences. In the middle of the development, my dad died at the age of 98, and that became a part of the play, because I realized how it fit in. He actually died on our 25th wedding anniversary. The show became about that and honoring him. He was Andy Griffith’s manager, by the way, he was a very powerful showbiz guy in his time, and Richard O. Linke was his name. Talking about your dad or my day is part of the grief process to establish a life-long connection to your deceased family member or friend or spouse, sibling or whatever it is. That’s how we do it, by honoring them.
CrypticRock.com – That is a nice way to honor someone. It takes a lot of strength to move forward and to do something positive.
Paul Linke – Yeah, I’m so proud of Time Flies When You’re Alive. I often think, when I’m gone, it’s not a bad thing to leave behind, because it had a profound effect on people. I’m trying to do the same thing with It’s Time in a different spin, because it’s a positive story. Everyone in their lives, if they’re fortunate, has a chance to never give up before the miracle happens. I struggled being a single dad, I had some girlfriends, but when you lose your partner, you lose emotional context, you lose simpatico, you lose something really important. I am more than blessed to have found Christine, and for her to have found me, and for her not to ever been married. The whole thing is just a wild story and I’m just very grateful.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, these are really wonderful stories of life. Back to films, in 1980 you starred in the Horror film Motel Hell. A sometimes forgotten film, it has built a cult like status in the 35 plus years since release. How did you become involved with Motel Hell?
Paul Linke – I’m married to Francesca and she’s pregnant. She wants to have the baby at home, so we’re gonna have a home birth with a midwife. She says to me, “I want my friend, Kether, to be here.” Her name was Nina Axelrod, who we know as Kether. I said ok, so I should have a guy for support, so I asked Robert Jaffe if he would come, because he was my dear friend from college, to this day he is one of my dear friends. He came to the birth, Robert took pictures and Kether helped. Needless to say, Robert and Kether fell in love at the birth. He was absolutely over the moon for her so… he wrote the movie for her! He wrote Motel Hell to be a vehicle for her to be the lead lady, the young girl Terry.
His dad was Herb Jaffe, who was a big time producer, so they were able get it made, and Kether was gonna do it. I auditioned, and basically because of Robert, I got it! You might say I got the part, because two of them were at Jasper’s birth, which was in February of ’80, and then, we made it later in ’80. I remember working nights, and having a baby was very challenging. And, of course, getting to work with Rory Calhoun was one of the great honors of my life. What a funny man, and what a great person he was! Nancy Parsons as well, Nancy was fantastic.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, that is a very different story about how it all came out.
Paul Linke – It’s different, yeah, it’s not your usual. I was on CHiPs at the time, and they shot Motel Hell on a hiatus, so that was very lucky for me, and we did it. My Motel Hell reality is this, I worked my butt off. I have a joke about it, I have a line about it, which is true, in the review of the movie Motel Hell, The New York Times, when talking about me said, referred to me as, quote, “Somewhat sexy.” (laughs) I love that, because I’m not the leading guy. I was trying to be the leading guy, I had wraps around my body, and I had this incredible diet… anything to get thin. I wore like a corset, I mean, the whole thing was insane.
We do the movie, and I’m excited, I’m really working hard. Although, I felt like the director, no disrespect to Kevin Connor, who is English with a different sensibility, but the script I read was a little broad in its comedy. For example, my character was supposed to fall down the stairs, and he cut all that stuff. When I didn’t work for two weeks straight, I realized they were emphasizing the gore part of the movie.
Anyway, I go to the screening, and it’s very first time I’m seeing it, it was the most disappoint time in my life when I walked out of there. I didn’t think it worked. I felt like it wasn’t funny enough, and it wasn’t gorey enough. Now, ironically, as you pointed out, it has a following! I’ve gone to screenings of it. There is a former silent theater in West Hollywood that shows Horror films at midnight on Friday. Robert Jaffe, his brother, Steven, who wrote/produced the movie, and I went to speak in a panel before the movie. I look back on it now, and I’m more fond of the movie now then I was then. I think I’d hoped that it would put my career on a whole other level… and, it just didn’t.
CrypticRock.com – Well, it is understandable your level of disappointment being involved and seeing the finished product different than you had expected. The endearing thing about Motel Hell to viewers is it was a very gritty quality. It features a cinematic approach that was perfect for the late ’70s into the ’80s. That said, do you have fond memories of being on the set of the film?
Paul Linke – Thomas Del Ruth, the director of photography was fantastic. I’m watching the movie, and we get to the scene where I’m taking her to the drive-in, but I’m really taking her to ‘Lovers’ Lane, we’re sitting there and I make my move on her. Now, for me as an actor, that was one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever done. When I say that, I mean in terms of watching it. How I viewed my own performance, my own work, what I was trying to do, I thought I was good in it. Most the time, I don’t think I’m very good in stuff. I thought I was good in that scene… but, it was so dark, you couldn’t see it!
Motel Hell really didn’t do that great, but it’s had a long life. I’m still friends with Robert and I’m certainly grateful to have it on my resume. I love telling people I starred in Motel Hell.and I was actually the hero. I had a chainsaw fight… now, that was wild. That chainsaw fight took five days! We were in a real smokehouse and they had two real pigs’ heads.. so by day five, it was pretty funky. In those days, they used an oil-based smoke, an oil-based fog. You know, how they give it that eerie look with the fog? Well, for five twelve hour days, you had to breathe that stuff. It was brutal, I would come home and black stuff was coming out of my body, it was not good.
I loved working with Rory, because he was such a pro. He really knew what he was doing. You always learn from people like that. When I was working with Ben Gazzara, who played Yogi Berra, sitting with him in the rehearsal room in Sag Harbor, and he suddenly became Yogi right in front of me. I mean, literally, mid-sentence, I jumped across the table at him and asked, ‘How did you do that!’ He looked to me and he just smiled (laughs). He just slipped into it, it was really something. I learned from Ben how hard you have to work to do a play. I’ve benefited from that, because I tend to work hard. I’m a total dilettante, but when I work.
CrypticRock.com – You mentioned about the Comedy aspect of Motel Hell and how it really was not drawn upon enough. Obviously, you’ve worked in Comedy. That said, do you enjoy that diversity and the ability to work in various genres?
Paul Linke – I’ll be honest with you, I loved each and every job I got. The actor thing is you fail many more times than you succeed in terms of seeking work… at least most of us. The tip of the iceberg, the pinnacle so to speak, there’s a small group of actors that go from one thing to another, one door opens leading them to another hallway, which leads to another set of stairs that takes them to another. Most actors just don’t have that. Most actors, you get a job and it ends.
Henry Fonda told me once every time he finished a job he thought he was never going to work again… and, he meant it. Think about that, that’s Henry Fonda! You have to be able to go with that. Somewhere in my late ’50s into my ’60s, the rejections start to pile up. You go, ‘Maybe the ship has sailed, and I should just let go.’ As I said, if someone came up to me and said, “Would you do this,” I would do it of course. Although, jumping through hoops to get work I have no interest in.
CrypticRock.com – Well it would be exciting to see you do some films again. You recently did a film called The Guest House, correct?
Paul Linke – I was, and that’s an interesting movie, because it was like Fatal Attraction (1987). It was written by an acquaintance of mine, and he asked me to do it. I said I will do it, they were SAG-approved so it was okay to do it. Then I read the script and it was good! It was a really good script, because it was a real interesting twist because the guy became obsessed with this other guy. It was terrifying, because the guy was a stalker, so to speak, he was a huge bodybuilder.
CrypticRock.com – It had a limited release this past March and it is now available on Amazon Video. Last question, if you are a fan of Horror films, do you have any favorites?
Paul Linke – I can’t say I’m a fan of the genre. I thought The Shining (1980) was incredible. I thought Psycho (1960) was phenomenal. I tend to think that the idea of something is scarier than the visual of seeing people hacked up. The suspense that Hitchcock was able to get going was scarier. I still remember watching House on Haunted Hill (1959) by myself in the late ’60s, and being terrified. I loved the A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Those were kind of, I remember watching those. I mean, Halloween (1978) and Saw (2004), I never got into that stuff.
CrypticRock.com – Those are some good films you mentioned. On the psychological side you had The Shining and Psycho, then A Nightmare on Elm Street because of the unique story.
Paul Linke – Exactly, it actually was really good. I remember being taken by them. I took an acting class with Brian Reise, who was in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Anyway, he’s a wonderful acting teacher now. He’d always tell his students, “The number one genre of all films, the single most making money genre is Horror films.” It so dwarfs all other movies, it’s incredible.
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