Galactic Alliance: September 1998 (pp. 6-7, 24-25)
Fans of Battlestar Galactica will remember Terry Carter as the by the book, Col. Tigh from the series. Sometimes taking over Adama [Lorne Greene], Tigh would often be the one who made the tough decisions and enforced discipline aboard the ship. We did, however, see the lighter side of Tigh from time to time, which endeared him to us as a caring father type who just wanted the best for his crew.
Recently, Terry took some time out to grant me an e-mail interview and talk about his life. He even included a few things about Galactica. For those of you who are fortunate enough to be attending the Battlestar Galactica 20 Yahren Reunion in Los Angeles, you'll have the opportunity to meet this extraordinary man. For those of you who won't make it, read on and meet, Terry Carter!
As with all actors, there must be something that sparks the interest in becoming a member of this wonderful, and yet, difficult profession. I asked Terry about his early life and what created that spark that lit the fire of desire to become an actor.
"My earliest recollection regarding acting: at the age of eight, playing the role of 'Vasco Da Gama' in a play about Christopher Columbus, in the auditorium of my elementary school in Brooklyn, New York. I had no idea, as a child, of becoming an actor. I wanted to become a doctor. As an only child, I wanted to make something of myself, to make my parents proud. I was an only child in a happy family, with parents who loved me and tried to give me every opportunity they could afford. The Great Depression severely limited those possibilities, as it did for many Americans.
It wasn't until my second year at St. John's University Law School that I seriously considered acting. I had several friends who were actors, among them the renowned stage actor and teacher, Howard Da Silva. Da Silva saw something in me and offered me a scholarship to take classes at his acting school. I couldn't resist the offer, and I rationalized that dramatic training could help me in my law career. Before long, I dropped out of law school and began studying acting full time, realizing that the theatre was where I wanted to be. Within a few months, I landed the lead role in Decision, a play by Edward Chodorov, in a Greenwich Village off-Broadway playhouse (1952)."
And so it started. Terry has had a long career in television and on the big screen, starring in such favorites as The Phil Silvers Show and McCloud. I was interested in hearing more about this man's illustrious career. What were some of the high and low points that he recalled?
"When I began acting, I had no thoughts of television or movies, believe it or not. That's how long ago it was! I derived such satisfaction out of performing on stage, before live audiences, and I became so aware of the enormous potential drama held for moving and inspiring people, that I only wanted to be an actor on the stage. Working on TV started as a sideline, to pay the rent. Within two years of my acting career, I landed my first Broadway play: Mrs. Patterson, opposite Eartha kitt in her first dramatic role (1954). We portrayed a couple of poor teenagers in the rural South, dreaming of escape.
Yes, I did land my first series in 1956, on The Sgt. Bilko Show (or You'll Never Get Rich or The Phil Silvers Show, as it was also called). I was 'Pvt. Sugarman' or 'Sugie', as Bilko called me. That was a great experience which lasted three great years. Neil Simon was one of our writers. He and Phil and Nat Hiken, our producer, made the experience an unforgettable and funny one. Our sposor was RJ Reynolds, maker of Camel cigarettes, a Southern company not too keen on having a Black actor in the cast, but Hiken and Silvers insisted. When it came time for the platoon to do commercials for the sponsor, the ad agency guys always put me at one end of the line, and cropped me out of the picture. Incidentally, I don't think anyone on the show smoked Camels, even though they could get them for free. Those who smoked preferred other brands, some of which had filters, in case which they would break off the filter end when they smoked on the set, so that the sponsor's reps wouldn't notice.
Another theatrical high point in my theatrical career was landing the title role in a Broadway musical: Kwamina (1961). It was a major production, directed by Robert Lewis, one of the great directors of American theatre, with choreography by Agnes DeMille, a 60-piece orchestra and a huge cast of dancers, singers and actors. It was a colorful, dynamic musical about an African nation achieving independence from colonialism. Robert Guillaume, later of Soap and Benson fame, played the second male lead. That was a high point in my career, and my life. It made my parents very proud.
Low points? I don't recall any low points in my career, believe it or not. When I began off-Broadway, I had to wait tables and drive a truck in between acting jobs for the first couple of years. But after my first Broadway role in 1954, I have never, ever had to work outside the business. That's how lucky I have been. True, I never became a superstar, and I never got to be extremely wealthy, but then, I never aspired to that. My goal has always been to work in meaningful roles which could bring inspiration to audiences. There have been many roles that I turned down, either because I thought the stories were too stupid or anti-social or the parts were demeaning or stereotypical, but I never made a compromise by playing a role I would have to be ashamed of, or that could foster racist caricatures or anti humanist agendas. You must remember that being a Black actor in the 50s and 60s, and especially 70s, with all the blaxploitation movies, made my career path a circuitous one."
As his television and movie career continued, he became associated with Battlestar Galactica. How did that come about?
"I had worked on McCloud for seven years. Glen Larson was the producer. He liked my work and wanted me for his new TV pilot, Battlestar Galactica. The part of 'Lt. Boomer' was written for me. We all knew from the beginning that this was going to be a successful show. As fortune would have it, I broke my ankle while roller skating with my 6-year old daughter out on Venice beach front. It was excruciatingly painful. I ended up having to wear a kneehigh plaster cast. When they finally announced the start date for Galactica, I was in a walking cast, but there was no way I could play the agile role of Boomer. So they had to re-cast, and Herb Jefferson got the role. I was down in the dumps. The train was leaving and I wasn't on it. THAT WAS A CAREER LOW POINT. But then, Glen Larson and Leslie Stevens got a brilliant idea: how about Terry for the role of 'Col. Tigh'? When my agent threw the idea at me, I re-read the script, and realized that the role of Tigh was much better suited for me than Boomer was. So, I leaped at the opportunity. When you see me in the original movie, my left leg is wrapped in black velvet to match the leather knee-length boot on my right leg. Under the velvet was my plaster cast. Fate had stepped in and (crudely) made things happen for the very best."
And so, the min-series, Battlestar Galactica aired on ABC. Soon after the show was broadcast ABC decided that they liked it so much, they wanted it to continue and asked Glen Larson to create a series for it. Scripts were written weeks before shooting and the entire cast was put under extreme pressure to memorize lines and pull together this last minute idea. It worked. How did Terry feel about the show continuing and about the hectic schedules involved?
"I was elated, although I wasn't surprised. Galactica always had the feel of something extraordinary, so it was almost a matter of course that the network bought the series.
Working on Galactica was harrowing and frustrating, because we always got script changes at the last minute. Since my background was theatre, I have always been a big believer in rehearsals and preparation in order for worthwhile dramatic interchange to occur. When I first started working in TV, in such programs as Playhouse 90 and Kraft Theatre, we always rehearsed many day before shooting. Before long, I saw that practice shrink and disappear, with the domination of film over life performance. Now, with Galactica, there was no time for anyone to develop the kind of depth of character and relationships demanded. But on Galactica, we got new pages of scenes the night before, if we were lucky, or even on the set before shooting. Glen Larson is an amazingly creative workhorse of a writer. I don't know how he did it."
But sadly, after one short season, Battlestar was cancelled. What was Terry's reaction to the news?
"I was shocked. We were doing okay on the ratings. In fact, I recall that the show was starting to catch on in popularity. But I also had heard that there was friction between Universal and Twentieth Century Fox over similarities between Galactica and Star Wars. I got the distinct impression that the network pulled the plug over the issue. Although we were never told officially."
A few of the original cast members were asked to join in a new series, called Galactica 1980. I wondered if Terry had been invited.
"No, I was never asked, and after seeing it, I was quite happy not to be a part of it. I thought it was the worst piece of feldergarb ever to land in the gutter."
After the demise of Battlestar, Terry lived in the US for a while and then moved on, both in his career and to new places. I asked Terry about his decision to leave the US.
"I had begun producing during the 70s, mostly industrial and government informational films. When we wrapped Galactica, I began spending more time producing. In 1979, I founded a non-profit, Council for Positive Images (CPI), to create television programs designed to enhance interracial and inter ethnic relations. In 1980, CPI was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to create a television documentary on Duke Ellington. We won a Los Angeles Emmy in 1985, for K*I*D*S, a miniseries for teenagers I created, produced and directed, for public broadcasting. The same year, I visited Copenhagen, Denmark, a favorite city of mine, to look up old friends. I began developing the Ellington documentary in Europe after finding that there was so much video and film footage of Ellington that never had been seen in the US. After a lot of research and development, I ended up producing the program in Copenhagen, with an old friend, an expatriate American journalist. A Duke Named Ellington was the result. It garnered enormous praise form TV and jazz critics both in the US and abroad, and was nominated for a national Emmy as 'Best Feature Length Documentary'. We lost out to Lillian Gish.
After producing the Ellington program, I was also able to produce and direct JazzMasters, a series of 12 jazz programs on some of the world's outstanding jazz musicians, for the new, second Danish TV channel. Our contract was, in fact, the first one TV2 Denmark ever signed: #001.
So, Europe offered different opportunities and new friends. I felt as much at home in Copenhagen as I had in New York or Los Angeles or Boston. So I decided to make it my home, for a while."
There are currently many rumors about the return of Galactica as a new series, some of which you have seen in these pages of Galactic Alliance. With all the interest and great possibilities of a new series coming out, I asked Terry if he would be interested in resurrecting the role of Col. Tigh should such a project become reality. "I know no more about those rumors than you do. I've heard them too. No one has contacted me about any new series. I think the idea is still premature. I would be delighted to resurrect the role of Col. Tigh, given the chance."
Terry has recently completed a new film called, Hamilton, which is being shown in Europe. I asked about any future plans in the field of acting.
"I have no specific plans regarding acting at the moment. The film you mention, Hamilton, is one I worked on the last year in Sweden. It's a James-Bond genre action movie, on which I played a CIA chief. I hear it's doing very well at the box office in many European cities, and there is talk of a US release.
Although I'm in regular contact with my acting agent and wouldn't turn down the right role if it comes along, I am not living in Los Angeles, where the action is. That's too big a price to pay; I don't care for L.A. I'm more a New York type. I prefere to concentrate on developing good, though provoking documentary programs. I divide most of my time between Copenhagen and New York, with side trips to Norway and other places in Europe. My wife and I travel a great deal. I'm currently in negotiation with a major US home video company regarding the release of my program, A Duke Named Ellington, on videocassette, in time for Ellington centennial next year. I am also negotiating a US cable release of the JazzMasters' series, which has never been seen in the US."
Lastly, I asked what has become our signature question. What would Terry most like to be remembered for when all is said and done?
"I think it would be a bit egocentric for me to want to be remembered at all, outside of my family and friends, those whom I loved and loved me."
Thank you Terry. We look forward to seeing your future work and a possible reappearance on Battlestar Galactica.