Monday, July 29, 2013
ACTOR JAMES NOBLE GOING STRONG AT 91
At 91 years young, James Noble is still seeking plum roles to perform. At a recent interview, the distinguished 6' 2" actor stated that his older brother Ralph had a profound influence on his career. Growing up in Dallas, Texas, he always revered the man who was two years his senior. Whatever Ralph did, James followed in his footsteps. Ironically, because Ralph was such a poor performer on stage, James tread the boards and succeeded beyond his own expectations.
According to Noble, "Ralph was my god. I wanted to be everything he was. To read all the books he read. When he was on stage, he was self-conscious, but when I began to act, I was relaxed and thought 'this is great. I feel right at home.' "
Even though he was fascinated by all things scientific, like physics, he pursued theater. When Ralph joined the Navy as an engineering officer, he followed right behind, serving on a destroyer with the job of "locating and killing Japanese submarines." Ralph served off the coast of France and on D Day gave his life saving a comrade, by giving away his life jacket.
Before he died, Ralph had gone to New York where he showed Jim everything. "He knew the city and took me everywhere and opened my eyes to the world." Their mother had died when Jim was 15 and had favored Ralph during their growing up years so Ralph had compensated by being Jim's mentor.
Attending Southern Methodist University, he continued the acting he had done in high school. Once in New York, he went to the Actors Studio and studied with Lee Strasberg, achieving a friendship with actors like Maureen Stapleton. On a typical Sunday afternoon in Greenwich Village, he would go to play readings. He met Marion Seldes at this time and "fell for her." But it was while he was doing summer stock in Kenneybunkport and Ogonquit, Maine and also in Connecticut that he met Carolyn Coates, an actress he would be married to for almost five decades.
They met on the set of the play "Pygmalion," he was Professor Henry Higgins to her Eliza Doolittle. He noticed her in the company and moved toward her, but she turned and walked away. "Now that got my interest and I said to myself 'now wait a minute, baby. You don't like me and I promptly fell in love.' " Initially, it was a rocky road and they moved in together and moved out again. "Finally I got down on one knee and she said yes."
One of James Noble's favorite roles, and one he played several times, was George in Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" His wife Carolyn frequently played opposite him as his wife Martha. The playwright informed him, "You were too nice as George" so next time "I did George better."
In addition to the theater, summer stock and Broadway, Noble has had a colorful career on television soap operas. It was challenging for him because "it was all live, with a live audience and practically no rehearsals. Since I am deaf in my left ear, it was often difficult." His soaps included "The Brighter Day," "As the World Turns," "A World Apart" and "The Doctors," where he played a variety of character roles.
Another favorite role was in the historical movie and play "1776," where he played John Hancock on stage and the Reverend John Witherspoon in the movies. His lack of singing ability led him to a role that required no vocalizing. Perhaps his most easily recognizable part was his seven seasons as the genial scatterbrained and absent minded widower Governor Gatling on the television show "Benson" starring opposite Robert Guillaume as his head of household, Inga Swensen as his German housekeeper and Missy Gold as his daughter Katie. The show achieved a certain status by being the first TV series to reference the internet and for firing a young Jerry Seinfeld, who had a part as Frankie the Courier. The show ended with a cliffhanger as both Gatling and Benson, who had risen in prominence to state budget director and Lieutenant Governor, were running for governor with a third candidate. He is still collecting residuals, most recently a check for $8.38.
Since those halcyon days, Noble has played Bo Derek's father in the movie "10," played Hiram Lodge in the Archie comics show "Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again," and a Nebraska recording engineer in "First Impressions" as well as in movies "The Velvet Glove," "The Runner Stumbles" and "A Far Country."
Now living in Connecticut, in Norwalk, he has co-founded a film production company with Colleen Murphy, "Open the Gate Pictures." He produced and starred in an award-winning short film "Galcier Bay," voted Best Short Film at the 2007 Flint Film Festival. As an active member of The Theatre Artists Workshop in Westport, he goes every Monday night to read plays and be critiqued by the other actors.
Most recently he has performed two staged readings, both humorous, "The Candidate" and "Last Will and Testament" by Frederick Stroppel for Joanna Keylock's entertaining evenings of "Sips and Giggles" at Lyric Hall in the Westville section of New Haven.
Plan to attend the upcoming performance of actor James Noble at Consiglio's Restaurant, 165 Wooster Street, New Haven on Saturday, August 10. Enjoy fine Italian dining and an evening of comedy, music and fun. Call for reservations ($55) to 203-865-4489. View the many dinner choices online at www.consiglios.com.
As for his acting career which has spanned seven decades, his only regret is never having performed the lead in "Hamlet." With his brother Ralph silently rooting him on, who knows what will be on the horizon. Just know that James Noble is ready for the challenge.