Mr. Redford, I Really Can't Stay Long!
Soap Opera Time Magazine, October 1976
by Jason Bonderoff
Article Provided By Wanda
Ron Hale, was a relatively unknown actor in New York for eleven years, with forty plays and flash-in-the-pan films like Me, Natalie and A Lovely Way to Die to his credit. Then, in the space of about two minutes flat, he came up with an astonishing pair of aces: the plum role of Roger Coleridge on Ryan's Hope, and the chance to play Watergate burglar Frank Sturgis in the Robert Redford-Dustin Hoffman film, All The President's Men.
It all happened for him in the summer of 1975. "It was very strange," Ron recalls. "I had read the Woodward and Bernstein book when it first came out and had fallen in love with it immediately. I had followed the whole Watergate story every step of the way. So, later when I sat down and had a meeting with Robert Redford - who was personally screening all the actors who were up for the movie - I knew a heck of a lot about Frank Sturgis. In fact, because of what I knew, I couldn't understand why I was being considered for the part. I knew Sturgis was at least twenty years older than myself and at least thirty pounds heavier."
"I told Mr. Redford, 'if you're really casting for type, and want to go true to life, I look like Sturgis did twenty years ago. I'd have to put on thirty pounds.' It was almost as if I was saying, I'm not right for the role physically--get somebody else.'"
"It's funny how everything happened at once. I saw Redford on a Wednesday afternoon--the very same afternoon that I did my final tape audtion for Ryan's Hope. In fact, I had told Mr. Redford that I really couldn't stay long because I was going to this other audition that was really quite important to me. As I say, that was Wednesday. On Friday night, I came home bushed after doing a one-shot performance on Another World ('I don't even remember who I played; I was just some guy in a bar who one of the lead gals on the show-- a young blonde--was trying to pick up.') Well, I walked in and my wife Dood, said, 'your agent called. He wants you to call him right back.' I said, 'at this time of night, are you kidding' She said, 'it's about something on Monday--it sounded kind of important.'"
"So, I sat down and phoned. And my agent got on and said, 'Listen, Ron, I've got three messages for you: Don't shave off the mustache, put on thirty pounds quick, and get your tail down to Washington by Monday - Robert Redford.'"
"Well, I never did put on those thirty pounds. After all, this was Friday. I had to be on location on Monday, and the whole Watergate break-in was going to be filmed in three weeks. I played Frank Sturgis as a very low-profile, but dangerous guy, who liked to think of himself as a soldier of fortune. He was a very shadowy person - the kind of guy that you wouldn't want to trust at all. To compensate for the weight difference, I tried to play him heavier. I stuck out my gut a lot and wore tight collars,and I guess I succeeded, because people who've seen the film tell me I look a lot darker and heavier than I do as Roger Coleridge."
"It was fabulous working on the film. I felt privileged to be part of it. I knew it was going to be well done. The whole Watergate episode had fascinated me so much - then, to have a chance to play one of the characters - it was a real kick."
During his second week in Washington filming the break-in, Ron got a call that he'd won the role of Roger on Ryan's Hope. A day or so later, he was standing around on the courtroom set of President's Men, talking with actor Frank Latimore, who played the judge who arraigned the Watergate burglars.
Latimore said to Ron, "Well, what's coming up for you next, after you finish this film?'
Ron said, "Well, I got a call the other day that I'm doing a new soap in New York - it's called Ryan's Hope. I'm very pleased about that."
Latimore said, "No kidding. I've just gotten word that I'm playing a doctor on that show--Dr. Ed Coleridge."
Ron was playing a doctor, too - Dr. Roger Coleridge. It turned out, without either of them knowing it, that these two actors in All The President's Men, had just been cast as father and son.
"Something must have been happening with the stars then - something really weird," says Ron. For not only were Frank and Ron destined to work together on Ryan's Hope, but an actress named Diana Van Der Vlis - who also happened to be in Washington, D.C. at the time appearing at the John F. Kennedy Center in Present Laughter - would soon be joining them at the ABC Studio on West 53rd Street as Nell Beaulac. (Ironically, though Ron's star has since diverged sharply from Frank's and Diana's, as far as Ryan's Hope is concerned; for their characters were both killed off abruptly durng the show's first year.) When All The President's Men was ready to be released, Ron went to a private screening with Richard Hurd, who played James McCord, another Watergate burglar, in the film. They were both a little shocked. "It's amazing," says Ron. "You figure, after three weeks filming the burglary, we'd have to be on the screen for at least a few minutes. We sat there like a couple of kids, waiting for the film to roll. Well, finally the lights went down, the screen lit up - and there was the break-in. And then, slam!, bang!, it was all over with. I think I caught exactly three glances of myself in the shadows - and the same for poor Dick. Practically all of our footage wound up on the proverbial cutting-room floor!"
After playing a character like Frank Sturgis, perhaps Ron Hale should have taken matters into his own hands, broken into the studio cutting room and re-edited the film more to his own liking. But Ron's philosophical about it all. "The break-in itself just wasn't a very big piece of the whole Watergate pie," he says. And after all, what more can an actor like Ron Hale, who was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan - President Ford's hometown - expect?
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