A Mirth-Filled Interview
Meet the folks at www.wellcat.com. They are Ruth and Tom Roy, and they are the creators of more than seventy copyrighted “holidays,” as published on their web site and in the annual Chase’s Calendar Of Events (McGraw-Hill).
The Roys are interview guests and the subject of feature-length newspaper and magazine articles throughout the US and other countries, including Australia, Canada and Great Britain. They receive hundreds of such requests annually. Past interviews and stories about Ruth and Tom and their holidays have appeared on the front page of the Los Angeles Times (11/19/96 by Senior Correspondent Rick Meyer, front page, 65 column inches), in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Washington Post, Nickelodeon Magazine, Modern Maturity, Redbook, McCall’s, on the BBC, Australia Network-10, ABC, ABC radio network, Paul Harvey News And Comment, and in thousands of local newspapers around the world.
One of their holidays, “Northern Hemisphere Hoodie-Hoo Day, is actually celebrated every February 20th by citizens in Europe and America. There are parties near Brady, Texas, town-square festivals in seven municipalities in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, radio station remote broadcasts from county seats everywhere, elementary school parades and much more. Other holidays, such as “Eat What You Want Day,” have brought out large advertising firms, as in the case of Entenmann’s Bakeries, which contracted with the Roys for exclusive rights for a one-month period to introduce their newest line of snacks during an ongoing national campaign, including handing out the goodies at New York’s Grand Central Station. Meanwhile, the folks at Day’s Inns grabbed up the temporary rights to “Be Bald And Be Free Day,” so that Willard Scott could refer to it during a TV commercial for the motel chain.
Tom and Ruth are delightful guests, as well: articulate, affable, and full of wit. Their backgrounds, of course, are a perfect match, not only for each other, but for creating and nurturing the mirth and goodwill of their zany Wellcat Holidays.
Ruth’s career path has run from touring actress, to college administrator, to radio talk show hostess and morning show personality, to mom, to proprietor of a web-based herb business with an actual herb garden and apothecary shoppe at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.
Tom’s 22 years as a radio news director, talk show host, and morning man make him the perfect…and succinct…guest on any show. He’s a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation Of Television And Radio Artists, and his television and screen credits include the wild-eyed street evangelist in Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, Lou Pucci's alcoholic dad in The Answer Man with Jeff Daniels and Lauren Graham, Old Man Harrison in Night Catches Us starring Anthony Mackie of The Hurt Locker, two separate gigs on Saturday Night Live, a co-starring guest shot on Nickelodeon’s Pete ‘n’ Pete, and much more. His full-time occupation is that of Associate Producer of the annual Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, where he also acts, directs, and teaches the art of improvisation.
Tom and Ruth are nearly always available for on-air interviews. Feel free to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-279-0184, and be sure to visit www.wellcat.com for “Healthy Herbs and Hilarious Holidays!”
Scroll down to see more photos & interview notes from the movie Twelve Monkeys.
Thomas Roy with Vanessa Webb as Fortunato and Montressor in Edgar Allan Poe's Cask of Amontillado.
Tom was the first to create Wellcat’s wacky holidays. Back in the late 80’s he came up with Northern Hemisphere Hoodie-Hoo Day as he was doing show prep for his next day’s morning show on WIOV-FM in the Lancaster-Reading area of central Pennsylvania. One of his constant sources of material was, of course, Chase’s Calendar of Events, now published annually by McGraw-Hill. As he flipped through the book he came upon a form at the back that allowed for the submission of new “holidays.” It was then he knew he was in for some creative mirth, never expecting his creation would be published.
When the next year’s edition of Chase’s came out, TR turned to the entry for February 20th, and, sure enough, there it was. This was pleasant enough, but when the 20th of February actually arrived, he was even more surprised to learn that it was also picked up by USA Today as well as by national broadcast pioneer Paul Harvey. That was the day that Serial Holiday Creator Tom Roy was “born.”
He raced to his IBM Selectric typewriter (machines with keys one would tap so that words came out onto paper) and created Pet Owners’ Independence Day (April 18th), Stay Home Because You’re Well Day (November 30th), Humbug Day (December 21st), Take Your Houseplants For A Walk Day (July 27th), Panic Day (March 9th), Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbors’ Back Porch Night (August 8th) and a few more. In a world hungry for mirth, he supposes that he shouldn’t have been surprised that all of those “holidays” also ended up being published in the next edition of Chase’s.
Now, these many years later, he and Ruth and their son, Michael, have created and copyrighted close to seventy days with more always on the horizon. Many e-card sites also use Wellcat’s holidays as inspiration for e-greetings, and, indeed, it is the Wellcat holidays that seem to generate the most interest.
What Else About This Weirdo Should We Know?
A left-handed Sagittarius, TR was born on November 30, 1944, in Philadelphia. He grew up with a very high IQ and very low grades until he fell in love with his 11th grade English teacher, Peggy McCurdy. She announced during the first week of school that the class was going to study Coleridge’s Rhyme Of The Ancient Mariner and that “Tom is going to read it…all of it…to us.” She walked down the aisle and handed him the anthology and, ‘neath golden curls, batted her eyes at him. He was a new man, and the fact that she became Mrs. Metz over the following summer didn’t deter him. The mere fact that she was now married had nothing to do with his undying love for her, his need to please her. He began to write. He began to think. He thought a lot about blonds, but he also thought a lot about writing. He became…even quirkier!
Soon teachers actually liked him. He started to act in plays, and those teacher-directors brought in directors from…yes…Community Theater…even Community Theater! Off he went to West Chester to study English, with a minor in blonds.
A war in Southeast Asia came along and he joined the Navy and was sent to Florida for three years. Following his honorable discharge, he sold his boat and moved back to PA to teach English, the only highlight of which was a blond student teacher named Cindy.
Luckily there was a radio station in the same town, so he drove over one day and got a part-time job there. It was love right off. And, luckily, a full-time guy quit shortly thereafter, so TR got a full-time gig as the morning newsman. Another guy quit, so he became news Director (same money) and the station Talk Show Host. Giving Tom a talk show was, of course, the equivalent of giving Bill Clinton a crate full of cigars in a gym full of interns. It was an addict’s heaven, a heaven that lasted for the next 15 or so years…until the station was sold.
The new manager told the staff that the AM station would be sold off, and that the new company would keep the FM station and its Country Music format. TR would stay with the FM station.
A month went by, and it was decided that the news wasn’t enough for TR, so they made him the Morning Man. TR said he hated Country Music, but the station manager said, “So? You’re an actor, aren’t you? I’ve seen you act. So act like you like Country Music.” So TR acted like he liked Country Music for several years until some banker/politician who owned a radio station made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: lots more money…as a talk show host.
The first day on the job he was introduced to Ruth, a blond…with green eyes…and multiple degrees in English. And she knew all about the Rhyme Of The Ancient Mariner. He never actually asked her about this, but he was sure she knew all about Coleridge. No, instead he asked her out for lunch, and within about a year they were married, working diligently on making a Michael.
Heaven agreed, and Michael arrived. There was more blah, blah, blah work in radio, and finally his “big break” arrived. A manager of actors sent him to NYC for an audition. Pretty soon there were so many auditions that he and Ruth and Michael had to move to NYC, for he was working…as an actor! His acting work included a couple of stints on “Law And Order,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Pete ‘n’ Pete,” soap operas, and a nifty little featured role as the wild-eyed street evangelist in Terry Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys.” Ask him to tell you, when you have a half hour, his favorite “Terry Gilliam is a helluva great guy” story.
More stars crossed, and suddenly the Roys were back in Pennsylvania, all three heavily involved, deeply committed, to the annual Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, where they have dedicated many hours and much hardwork to the fulfillment of dream: both their own, and those of their many friends and valued colleages there.
For his leisure, he sits by the pool and sips iced tea and lemonade. He and Ruth take Michael to fencing and karate. He reads a lot. He teaches Improv regularly. He does a lot…a LOT…of newspaper, TV and radio interviews. And all the while, all the time, seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, a little voice inside his head is asking what holidays might be created today.
12 Monkeys: Interview Notes from the Evangelist
In December of 1994 I was playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol," at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, when I received a Tuesday phone call from Mike Lemon Casting in Philadelphia to attend an audition for a film called "12 Monkeys," to be directed by Terry Gilliam. The audition was slated for the following Tuesday, and, fortunately, it was a day we were not doing a show, so everything was set. Then, on Wednesday, I noticed that my left eye was acting strangely; it was as though a curtain were being drawn over it.
By the grace of the universe, a doctor friend of mine happened to drop by, and when I told him about my eye, he took a look and picked up the phone. It turns out my retina was detaching. Next morning I was undergoing re-attachment surgery, which was successful, and I was sent home. I was able to perform Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but it was a horrid experience, whacked out on pain killers and decongestants to keep the swelling down, eye-patched, disoriented, but a "trouper" nevertheless.
Came time for the trip to Philadelphia for the audition, and friends were having doubts as to the sanity of that act. But actors do not operate on sanity, so, of course, I went. I entered the casting office, and was taken in to see Mike Lemon and meet Terry Gilliam. I had been called to audition for the part of one of the scientists on the panel who talks to Willis.
Well, it must have been the painkillers, coupled with the months of doing various English accents at the Faire (a Renaissance-era Bishop, the British actor Edmund Kean during our Poe production, as well as Scrooge), so that when I opened my mouth to answer his "How are you, Tom," it was with a definite British response: "Oh, well...I'm quite alright, but my eye, you see, is giving me a bit of a problem. The retina, you see, has detached itself, and I've just had it corrected, and now my entire skull, including nerve endings and muscles, are quite pissed about it. Not to mention the painkillers." He looked at me for a second, then asked, "How long have been over here (in America), Tom?" Mike Lemon laughed, and Terry said, "What's funny?" Mike said, "He's from Philly. He's just been doing so many English characters that it just rolls out."
"Wow," said Terry, "you fooled me; I had you pegged for a middle-class Londoner who learned his upper class dialect at university. Tell you what, I have another part that might be better suited for you. Go outside and get the script for the Street Preacher. Take a look, and come back in when you're ready." So I did, and I got the part, more, I think, because of my eye than my talents. But wait! There's more!
That was in December. Move forward to late February, and the newly-established "12 Monkeys" Production Offices set up at the old Philadelphia Armory. I'd been called down there for a beard-sideburns-and-eyebrow fitting, and, as I'm walking from the check-in office to the make-up trailer, I see Terry coming the other way. Certain that he'll not remember me, I prepare to say nothing. He sees me, and with a big smile and a wave of his hand, says, "Hi, Tom, and how's your eye?" I was astounded. Here's a BIG director, with hundreds of people and thousands of things and millions of dollars on his mind, and he not only remembers a little actor, but the actor's formerly ill EYE as well! That is the mark of a consummate professional, not to mention a gracious and kind person.
So, a couple more weeks go by, and it's time to film my scenes. I arrive at the Met, on North Broad Street, Philadelphia, and I'm sent to my trailer to wait. A few minutes go by, and there's a knock on the door. It's Terry, holding a paper cup in his hand. "Hi, Tom, all set?"
"Comfortable with the line changes?"
"What line changes?" say I.
"You didn't get the line changes. Oh, dear. You'd think, wouldn't you, that in a multi-million dollar operation like this, where there's one person whose sole job it is to make sure actors get line changes, that the actor would actually GET the line changes. Wouldn't you?"
"Yes, one might assume that, but I've been an actor for a lot of years, so nothing surprises me."
"That's the spirit. Look here, I'll go and get the line changes and be right back. Do you need anything?"
"Is there any espresso about?"
He looks at his paper cup and says, "It's half gone, but here you go. I'll bring some fresh." With that he was gone, and I drank from the cup, remembering for some reason Robert Heinlein's "Stranger In A Strange Land," and thinking that now Terry Gilliam and I were "water-brothers," although it was espresso that we shared.
Fifteen minutes later he arrived with fresh espresso and showed me the script changes. "You going to be alright, Tom?"
"Terry, I've just last year performed the role of Undershaft in 'Major Barbara,' so I'm UNASHAMED, besides, I'm getting too old to be afraid."
"Atta boy, Tom. Look, someone will take you to make up and wardrobe, so you'll have time to look over the lines some before we go out to the set. See you later."
He left, and about five minutes passed until a production assistant came for me to take me to make-up. I sat down and was no sooner getting my beard applied when first Madeline Stowe and then Bruce Willis arrived. And what do actors talk about just before a shoot on a major motion picture? Stuff! Real stuff, just like anybody else at work anywhere. We talked about cats. We talked about Madeline's horses out west and how she was worried that something was wrong with their drinking water or maybe their feed. We talked about kids. We NEVER talked about acting or other things that people assume gets talked about, because, for most professional actors, our acting is a craft, much like carpentry or masonry. It is for inside ourselves, not outside.
The make-up and wardrobe done, we were driven, one block, to the North Broad Street site of the Met, a now-ramshackle enormous former pentecostal temple. Willis and Stowe are spirited away to deck chairs under a large umbrella, as the skies are dripping cold rain, and because all the lines in this scene are mine. They only have to cross behind me at the right time. I am ushered over to the sidewalk and to Terry.
He shows me two little sets of railroad track running perpendicular to each other down the sidewalk, and says, "Here you go, Tom. We're going to strap you to this dolly and wheel you down the track while you say your lines, and the camera will follow you on the other track, and you see those barrels behind and in front? They're filled with propane, and we'll be sending ten foot high flames into the air in front and in back of you while we film."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Didn't anyone tell you about this? You'd think in a multi-million dollar production like this...oh...well...are you quite alright, Tom?"
"Like I said, Terry, I'm getting too old to be afraid of anything. Gary Gilmore said, 'Let's do it' when he was about to be executed, so let's do it."
"Yes," he said. "We're UNASHAMED, aren't we?"
We shot the scene twice to get Willis' and Stowe's cross to my lines timed right, and Terry came up and asked, "Tell you what, Tom. This is my favorite shot in the script, so...do you remember still the lines you had ORIGINALLY learned? I'd like now to combine them with the lines we're now using and make the scene twice as long."
It's raining. It's cold. I'm strapped onto a dolly on a railroad track, and there are ten-foot high flames front and back. I'm wearing medieval garb, bearded and dirty, with a crucifix in my hand, and homeless people are shouting 'Amen!' to my script rantings, and he asks if I mind doubling my scene. Does a bear live in the woods?
So, 'neath an umbrella, Gilliam, Willis and I stand with the script supervisor and hand-write the new lines which we then go back and film, twice, and I am done. Terry tells me he might need me in a couple of months to do some voice-looping to be heard before I actually appear on screen, and I drive back home to Lebanon PA.
In April I get the call to go to Baltimore for voice-looping, so I drive to a ramshackle set there and am escorted inside to wait. Coffee in hand, I sit outside a room where they're filming an enormous fight 'twixt Willis and some villain, when I hear Terry yell "Cut," and the whole crew takes a break to re-set lights. Willis comes out to make room for their work, and I notice he heads for a young woman in jeans, sweatshirt, and baseball cap I hadn't noticed standing off in a corner. He hugs and kisses her, and I realize it's Demi Moore. But they're not being movie stars; they're just a husband and wife having real time together, just like the rest of us.
Terry comes out and says, "Hi, Tom, how's your eye? I have the voice loop lines for you, so I'll have one of the guys take you to my trailer to record them." We go to his trailer, and the sound guy holds a Sony cassette recorder mic in front of me, and I record my lines. No big sound studio. No little sound studio. Just a Sony cassette recorder. You'd think in a multi-million dollar project like this....oh, never mind.
New York casting director Toni Roberts once told me, "You know, Tom, you're a kind and generous guy. And kind and generous rises to the top in this business. Sure, there are always a few schmucks who make it, but 99% of the folks at the top are real people, kind people, gracious people. Always remember that."
And I have always remembered that. And Terry Gilliam proves over and over that it's true, one film after another. People want to work with him again and again, not just because of his unique talent and vision, but more I think, because he is a joy as a person, a gracious and kind person who'll ask you about your eye. I know I want to work with him again, and yes, a lot of that is because it'd be work in film, but, and I swear this is true, I felt that I'd made a friend in Terry Gilliam, and I miss him.
~ End ~