Today: G.D. Spradlin, a self-made multimillionaire who in middle age became a successful actor.
You may not recognize his name but if you’ve seen the “The Godfather: Part ll” (1974), you know him as corrupt Nevada Senator Pat Geary who tried to “squeeze” (blackmail) Godfather Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, to get a piece of the revenue from his four casinos.
In “Apocalypse Now,” (1979) he played a vicious Army general who during the Vietnam War sent Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) behind enemy lines to kill Colonel Kurtz (Marlin Brando).
Maybe you saw him as U.S. President Lyndon Johnson in the TV mini-series “Robert Kennedy and His Times” (1985) or as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in “Dick,” a 1999 comedy about U.S. President Richard Nixon, or in any of more than 70 movie or TV roles over his 33 year acting career.
But G.D.’s story is as interesting as any of the roles he played. Born in Oklahoma to two school teachers in 1920, he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1941 and became a teacher. During World War ll he left teaching to join the military.
In 1944 G.D. married his sweetheart the former Nell Hulsizer and later, they had two daughters, Tamara and Wendy. After the war, hoping for financial success, he attended law school at the University of Oklahoma.
But G.D. had a family to support and what happened next was stunning. He began selling life insurance door to door; facing rejection continuously, in what he would later say was the toughest job he ever held. But that job was a blessing for it taught him how to sell.
That sales skill proved invaluable in his career, as a lawyer, which he became after graduating from law school in 1948, in business and later in Hollywood, when he arrived to audition for parts.
In Hollywood, G.D. dressed in an expensive suit and tie and with his charm and sales ability; he would impress the secretaries of producers and casting directors, who were happy to introduce him to their bosses. He was not just another actor to these secretaries but someone who cared for them as he learned their names and listened to them.
It was G.D.’s sales skills as much as his acting ability that made him one of Hollywood’s busiest character actors.
Earlier in his career, G.D. was a lawyer for Phillips Petroleum. But in 1951, at the age of 31, he left his law practice and teamed with a geologist to risk all he and his wife owned to drill their own oil wells. Those wells hit big, the team made a fortune and G.D. retired from business at the age of 40 in 1960, a huge financial success.
Meanwhile, also in 1960, he ran Senator John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in Oklahoma. And after Kennedy was elected president, for the next 1 1/2 years, G.D. and his family in addition to their lives in Oklahoma sailed the Caribbean in their yacht.
Now that G.D. was wealthy, he discovered one of life’s secrets. “Being rich changes surprisingly little,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1967. “You still have to have an absorbing interest in life, something to make you feel alive.” In 1965, G.D. earned a Master’s Degree in Latin American Studies from the University of Miami and he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Oklahoma City.
However those things didn’t make him feel “alive,” but suddenly something else did. In 1963, his daughter Wendy was auditioning for a role in an upcoming production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” at the Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City and he joined her to give her support.
After watching her audition, G.D. was so intrigued; he auditioned and landed a role in the play! He enjoyed it thoroughly and appeared in two more plays. G.D. decided to be an actor and do this on a grand scale. In 1966, he and his family moved to Hollywood.
Soon he was cast in “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” “I Spy,” “Dragnet” and other television series. The acting career G.D. began in his mid 40’s took off and continued for the next 30 plus years, until he retired from acting as he neared his 80th birthday.
But retired is a misnomer. G.D. owned a cattle ranch in San Luis Obispo, on the central California coast which he operated for the rest of his very active life. However, on July 24th, 2011 at the age of 90 G.D. passed away of natural causes at his ranch.
His wife of 56 years, Nell died in 2000 and G.D. (for Gervase Duan) is survived by his daughters, five grandchildren and by his wife, the former Frances Hendrickson, who he married in 2002. But G.D. is also survived by the many millions of people who have enjoyed or will enjoy his movie and TV roles far into the future, even if they never know his name.
Success Tip of the Week:
If you have a dream, even if you are in middle age or older, do as G.D. did and pursue it. It may bring you joy beyond your wildest expectations.
To see G.D. as Senator Pat Geary in a famous scene from “The Godfather: Part ll,” please click on http://www.videosurf.com/video/senator-geary-gets-tough-1316991550
In the next KazanToday:
How an 8th grade dropout built a business empire.