For Michael Hawkins,
Suddenly - Happy Days
Soap Opera People Magazine, September 1976
by Ellen Alden
Article Provided By Wanda
Michael Hawkins was feeling good. Make that great. "The best, the happiest. I used to be introspective. Moody. A grouch. Now I feel good. I'm easier to live with. My wife and my son see it. I feel as if I'm on the verge of marvelous things!"
What happened? "Well", said Michael, grinning, "my analyst would probably say this is the result of two years in therapy. The writers on Ryan's Hope might say it's because Frank Ryan is feeling good - he's having a big success in politics - and it's rubbing off on me. I have a different explanation. I think I feel this way because a few months ago I had a breakthrough in my singing lessons. Sounds crazy, huh? But as a kid, I was a singer. I played the Captain in a fourth grade production of H.M.S. Pinafore, and from then on I knew I was going to be a performer. Specifically a singer. That was what got applause for me. That was what made me happy. Later, something went wrong with the singing. I got involved in acting, and I loved it. I still love it. But something was missing, something vital. I've spent 15 years and more than $6,000 on singing lessons, trying to be a singer again. When I made it - when I suddenly could do it again - I knew I had finally gotten back in touch with something. I absolutely must have. And now that I've got it - I just walk around - well, singing!"
A few months ago, Michael Hawkins was not feeling good. Not only was his long-lost singing technique eluding him, but he was in trouble with his acting.
"I was trying to do too much," he explains. "I was in a Broadway show every night, and working on the soap every day. I just couldn't do my best work. I was in pretty hot water at Ryan's Hope. Money was tight, my wife, Mary Jo, and I needed a vacation but we didn't feel we could go. I was really uptight. And now, the difference - it's like magic. I tend to believe in magic, at least a little. Things like astrology. My analyst keeps reminding me that the way I feel now isn't due to magic. I've struggled and striven to achieve the kind of technique I have now in acting and singing. If I'm doing good work on Ryan's Hope again, and I am, if I'm putting together a terrific nightclub act, singing, and I am, it's because my hard work is finally paying off. I've earned my happiness. I have to try to remember that."
Michael Hawkins was born Tom Slater in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and grew up in Texas and Tennessee, where his father worked in textile manufacturing. "I never got along with my father," Mike remembers. "A few years back, after his death, I even changed my name to emphasize the difference between us. I think the big problem was that we never had any interests in common at all. I was a complete mystery to him."
His parents were equally mysterious to Mike. "When I was five, they presented me with a baby brother. I couldn't understand it. Somewhere inside I'm still reeling at the idea that, even thought they had me, they wanted more!" Michael ended up with three younger brothers, a fact which molded his life and character. "Older brothers tend to become leaders. I certainly did. I was always pushing my way to the head of things. One reason I like the role of Frank Ryan so much is that he's also an older brother, head-of-the-family type."
By the time he got to college, Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he studied drama, Mike was seizing leadership roles outside of the family as well. "Please, his professors would beg of his classmates, "do the assignments yourselves - don't just follow him!" It was more a form of showing-off than anything else, Mike thinks now, but then he was struggling hard for an identity, a role in which to feel secure.
He graduated with a powerful ambition, a passion for Shakespeare, and a still-raw talent. "I played a lot of Shakespeare, including some leads, on nothing but guts and adrenaline. I didn't know what I was doing. But at least I was acting." He certainly was. He appeared in three soap operas, as Paul Stewart on As The World Turns, Mark Elliott on Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, and Steve Haskins on Search For Tomorrow, he played Malcolm in a New York Shakespeare Festival version of Macbeth which toured slum schools and streets, forcing the actors to dodge beebees and stones when the audience disapproved of them. And when he played in a Greenwich Village production of the anti-Vietnam War satire, MacBird, he got something more than applause.
One night an attractive young woman came to the show to see Cleavon Little, a former classmate of hers at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. For some reason she found herself watching Mike instead of Cleavon. "I am going to marry that guy," she announced to her friends at intermission, and after the curtain she went backstage and wrangled an introduction out of Cleavon. Michael was equally impressed. "Well, when a woman makes it clear she's interested in you, how can you not hit it off?"
Eight months later they were married. (Mike was Michael Hawkins by then, but Mary Jo took his original last name, and now works as an agent as Mary Jo Slater). Their son Christian is now six, and appearing in his first play, in school. "I'm so proud of him," Mike says. "I'm a kind of cheerleading father, and I really enjoy helping him learn his lines and seeing him do well. Not that I want him to become an actor. Mary Jo and I have agreed he can be anything he wants to be, as long as it's a lawyer or an architect."
He's laughing as he says it. He laughs a good deal these days, out of sheer high spirits. There are such good things happening. For one thing, he is about to realize the dream of every Shakespearean actor; next fall, he will play Hamlet at the National Arts Theater in Manhatten - and as if that isn't enough, the entire play will be performed by members of the Ryan's Hope cast! Among others, Emmy-winner Helen Gallagher will play Gertrude, Kate Mulgrew will be Ophelia, Michael Levin will play Claudius, and Bernie Barrow, who is Father Johnny Ryan by day, will transform himself into the ghost of Hamlet's father by night. This idea for the production was Mike's as was the casting. "I didn't ask anyone to read for parts," he says, shocked at the mere idea. "There's no question about these people's abilities. You just can't do soap without being or becoming an absolute top professional, and the Ryan's Hope people are the best I've ever worked with."
He paused, shakes his head in wonder over the turn his life as taken, and says. "You know, the one thing a television actor misses is the applause. The give and take with a real, life audience. The other night I was feeling too good to stay home - I just had to get out and do something - so I went to a play, and I did the applauding for other actors. And that felt wonderful too!"
The struggle seems to be over. Michael Hawkins is a happy man.
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