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Tales from the 19th hole

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Ken Howard

Interview by Eric TracyPublished: February, 2013

Like many character actors, Ken Howard’s face is recognizable to people of a certain age, but those outside show business likely have a hard time remembering his name. Born in El Centro, Calif., but raised in New York, the Tony and two-time Emmy winner’s list of acting credits is as long as his 6-foot, 6-inch frame.

As an actor, Howard has rarely been out of work. His 40-year career credits include more than 20 movies, a dozen Broadway plays and 75 TV shows. Perhaps his most famous TV role was as the street-savvy basketball coach on the “White Shadow,” but “30 Rock,” “Dynasty” and “Crossing Jordan” fans might disagree.

In his second term as president of the Screen Actors Guild, Howard was at the helm when the two largest performer’s unions merged last year, as SAG and AFTRA ended years of contentiousness. The management job has cut into his golf game but not his enthusiasm for the sport.

Q Do you get out and play much anymore? Not nearly as much. I wish I did, I miss golf terribly. I really love the sport and I follow it avidly.

Q How were you introduced to the game? I played all sports as a kid, mostly track and basketball in high school and college. I was the only white guy on the team at Amherst, which led to my co-creating “White Shadow.” My dad introduced me to golf because he loved to play. I remember him telling me golf’s a funny game, saying, “How many tennis jokes have you heard lately?”

Q I’ve seen you play in a number of celebrity pro-ams; do you have a favorite? I loved playing in the Crosby when it was the Crosby and it drew the biggest names in show business – Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Phil Harris and so many more. There were wonderful laughs. I never made the cut, although one year our team came up one shot short. I hated to admit it but in a way I was glad. I don’t know if I could play four straight days. It’s hard work.

Q What do you like most about the game? I was a member of Riviera for many years and one day Jerry West was on the range hitting balls … perfectly I might add. We started talking and he said basketball and golf are one of the only games you can work on alone. You work and work and then you bring your game to the other guys. Like West, I am a loner and I love being alone hitting balls.

Q Do you have a favorite course? Yes, and I wish everyone could experience it – Augusta. It’s also the hardest course I’ve ever played around the greens. You have no idea until you play it. I also had a great experience at Turnberry, Scotland. The atmosphere is incredible, the bagpipes, the history. I even had this wonderful redheaded caddie called Angus one long weekend who regaled us with stories about the time he carried the walking scoreboard in that famous Jack Nicklaus-Tom Watson head-to-head match that Watson won in the ’70s.

Q Who’s your favorite golfer today? Without question, it’s Bubba Watson. Who’s more fun, more creative and fearless? He’s great for the game and has a wonderful heart.

Q How did you get involved in the politics of the Screen Actors Guild? I don’t remember you as being political. Not even a little bit. I was the kind of member that paid my dues, read the newsletters and that was it. What got me involved was when the merger didn’t pass in 2003. What caught my attention was the administration at SAG saying they were the progressive wing that stopped the merger. To me progressive means moving forward. It never made sense to me to have two unions (AFTRA and SAG) representing the same work because management uses one against the other. I thought if we wanted to be strong we needed to merge and there I was in the middle of the fray. I still don’t relish the work but I like the people and we’ve accomplished a lot.


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