Seated at a table in the English department's Willard Smith Library, Ed Herrmann '65 plucked two volumes of English Men of Letters, one of his many gifts to the university, off the shelves behind him. After pointing out how his signature has changed over the years since he contributed the first of the 39 volumes, Herrmann settled into discussing his views on Bucknell, his acting career, politics, religion and his deep commitment to his family.
Herrmann's versatility and skill as an actor have brought him awards for his roles on Broadway, as well as extensive work in films and television over the past 30 years. His most recent successes include the role of Anderson Pearson on the television series The Practice. And, for the past six years, Herrmann has been the spokesperson for Dodge, making him the longest-running spokesperson ever for that company.
In pure terms, I suppose I prefer the theatre
because the actor controls the time element. But something about the nature of acting is public. You want the biggest audience you can have for your work. So, of course, I want to be in front of the camera. Ed Herrmann sat in front of the camera for this photo last fall in Lewisburg.
Herrmann's passion resonates through every part of him when he speaks. He leans forward, eyes wide, hands gripping the table to announce that "Emily Dickinson had to write those poems. Jane Austen would have gone mad if she hadn't written. And that's what one does with one's life: rage and write and perform and paint and get it out and make sense of your experience." What follows is the short version of Ed Herrmann making sense of selected aspects of his experience.
On Bucknell: "The most wonderful thing, the enduring legacies that I've taken out of this school are the teachers. I had some really first-class teachers: Mildred Martin, Willard Smith, David Martin, Harry Garvin, Harvey Powers, of course. They all had an impact on me, and I just thought they were wonderful. They taught me to think!
What turned the tide in Bucknell's favor for Ryen was the flexibility in curricular organization. She can dance, she can take French, she can have the beginning of a premed schedule, and she doesn't have to wait two years as at many other universities. She liked that."
Herrmann feels a parental "weight of responsibility" now that Ryen is at Bucknell. "I have to look at what's going into my daughter's head. She will be preparing for her life here. So I've become far more critical and more serious about things."
On His Acting Career: "Sometimes I think it's a miracle that I got into show business at all. When the corporations came to Bucknell to recruit, we put on suits. I was doing Romeo and Juliet with Cap and Dagger, and my hair was just about as long as it is now, just over the ears, if that. But that was shockingly long in those days. And so I went over in my best three-piece tweed and talked to this Procter & Gamble guy and I said, 'Oh, by the way, I'm in a play.' And he said, 'Oh! I thought you might play the guitar, hahahaha.' And I thought, 'I'm not ready to spend the rest of my life whipping up enthusiasm for some company.'
"I mean, these companies have a profound value. I'm a capitalist. They give people lives, but I couldn't - no, no, no, please. ... So I thought, the only thing I really want to try is drama. So my father said, 'All right, you can have another year. And then you start making your living.' He thought I had better get a degree, because I wasn't going to make it as an actor."
Although Herrmann admits that he used to be "bucking to be the Great American Icon," he has learned to be grateful that he's "not a megastar." As he puts it, "the only thing that keeps me sane is my family and my friends, and the world I create.
"I've made a practice of taking what comes, but trying to make something out of it. I have been typecast in the past (as a politician, lawyer, professional, etc.). ... The first major role that anybody ever saw me in was Franklin Roosevelt (Eleanor and Franklin), and he was the quintessential Eastern highbrow. But the fact is, when I started in repertory theatre, I was afraid I was going to be typed as a comedian, a clown.
"So am I typed? Yes and no. I manage to sort of wriggle out and do things. I've done Herman Munster, The Lost Boys (he played a vampire), Lou Gehrig, Alger Hiss. ... I will reject roles if the script encourages behavior that I think is destructive; there are Satanic films that I don't want to do; I don't want to do films that insult religion. But an old actor told me once, 'Eddie, you can good-taste yourself out of the ball game.'
"By this time in my life, I don't really care about being typed, because I know I'm going to work. I know other roles are going to come up. I mean, there are some wonderful things to come along, and I don't know what they are. So that's the great thing about acting."
On Society and Hope: "I think our society simply tore itself to pieces in Vietnam. I don't think we really have come together. ... I sense a certain cynicism about things. There is a lack of idealism among students about our government and our president and this horrible situation. ... But you have to keep looking, and you have to keep living, and you have to hang on to what gives you life and love. You have to know that the world's been through this many, many, many times, many times."
Herrmann, brought up a Unitarian, has converted to Catholicism. "I've always been kind of a seeker. It's been a long, long journey around the bend to India and the gurus. It just seems to me that the Catholic church's explanation of the human psyche is the most accurate and the most penetrating and the most aware of the dark, yet it still retains a message of hope. So the Catholic church is where I think I should be."
On Being a New Parent: Emma, daughter of Ed and Star, turned three in March. "She just changes everything. I have found myself becoming much more patient. I have a pretty house, a wonderful wife, and my stepson is a brilliant chef, and Ryen is doing very well, so everything couldn't be better. And here's little Emma brought into this whole mix. And now, here's something from this old man's perspective I have about life: How can one really improve the quality of life on earth besides recycling and not smoking in front of people? What you can do is give the world a child who likes herself and who knows she's loved and knows it's possible to live a safe life. And give her a sense of adventure, because the world needs people who are strong and self-confident and full of love."