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John Beasley

Actor and theater founder John Beasley was born on June 26, 1943, in North Omaha, Nebraska, to Grace Virginia, Triplett and John Wilfred Beasley. Beasley’s neighbors included athletes Bob Gibson, Marlon Briscoe, Gale Sayers, Roger Sayers and Bob Boozer. Beasley’s maternal grandfather invented the brick of chili for Cuttahee Packing House. His parents separated and his father, an electrical contractor, moved to Chicago, Illinois. Beasley grew up at 24th and Lake near the Ritz Theatre and the Hotel Callahan. Beasley played football and was popular at Omaha Technical High School. He attended the University of Omaha from 1964 to 1968.

Beasley moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and after starting in the mailroom of WFIL-TV, he became assistant producer for a local children’s program called The World Around Us. Beasley worked on the waterfront, like Omaha’s Marlon Brando did in the movie of the same name. A small part in Germantown Theatre’s production of As You Like It started Beasley’s acting itch. From time to time, he studied and took classes and completed an internship in Minnesota with Don Cheadle. Beasley was cast in August Wilson’s early Goodman Theatre productions in Chicago; however, Beasley worked as a Union Pacific Railroad clerk for seven years before he decided to pursue acting as a full-time career. In his first year, Beasley’s dream to become an actor came true when he was cast alongside Oprah Winfrey in the short lived television series Brewster Place, and his career took off from there. Beasley’s other film and television credits include The Apostle, Rudy, The General’s Daughter, The Sum of All Fears and Everwood.

Still living in his hometown of Omaha, Beasley enjoys teaching and directing at his newly established theater, The John Beasley Workshop at Center Stage. Beasley also keeps busy with junior golf and tennis programs and fundraisers for the American Heart Association. He and his wife have been married for over forty years and have two grown sons who are aspiring actors.

Accession Number

A2007.285

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/8/2007

Last Name

Beasley

Schools

Omaha Technical High School

University of Nebraska-Omaha

Howard Kennedy Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

John

Birth City, State, Country

Omaha

HM ID

BEA08

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Nebraska

Favorite Vacation Destination

Vancouver, British Columbia

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Nebraska

Birth Date

6/26/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Omaha

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Meatloaf, Fish

Short Description

Actor, theater chief executive, and stage director John Beasley (1943 - ) appeared in several films and television shows, including the television series, 'Brewster Place,' in which he was cast alongside Oprah Winfrey, and the films, 'Rudy,' 'The Mighty Ducks,' 'The Apostle,' 'The General's Daughter,' and, 'The Operator.'

Employment

Various

WFIL-TV

Union Pacific Railroad

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of John Beasley's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - John Beasley lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - John Beasley describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - John Beasley describes his mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - John Beasley describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - John Beasley remembers his parents' separation

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - John Beasley describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - John Beasley describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - John Beasley remembers his neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - John Beasley describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - John Beasley recalls his early activities

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - John Beasley recalls the television programs of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - John Beasley recalls his decision to play football

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - John Beasley recalls playing football at Omaha University in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - John Beasley remembers his teammate, Marlin Briscoe

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - John Beasley remembers Howard Kennedy Elementary School in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - John Beasley describes his early aspirations

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - John Beasley recalls the Ritz Theater in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - John Beasley recalls the music of his youth

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - John Beasley remembers Technical High School in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - John Beasley recalls his introduction to the arts

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - John Beasley remembers the Vietnam War

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - John Beasley recalls his theater involvement at Technical High School

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - John Beasley describes his decision to move to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - John Beasley remembers meeting his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - John Beasley talks about his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - John Beasley recalls moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - John Beasley recalls his introduction to screen acting

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - John Beasley describes his training as an actor

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - John Beasley recalls his first opportunity to sign with an agent

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - John Beasley talks about his early acting career in the Midwest

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - John Beasley recalls working with Oprah Winfrey on 'Brewster Place'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - John Beasley talks about his film and stage acting roles

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - John Beasley talks about acting in August Wilson's plays

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - John Beasley talks about the challenges of acting in the Midwest

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - John Beasley remembers acting in 'The Apostle' with Robert Duvall

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - John Beasley recalls the success of 'The Apostle'

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - John Beasley recalls his transition to acting in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - John Beasley talks about being a character actor

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - John Beasley describes the John Beasley Theater and Workshop in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - John Beasley describes the acting community in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - John Beasley talks about African American theater companies

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - John Beasley describes his plans for the future

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - John Beasley describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - John Beasley reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - John Beasley reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - John Beasley talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - John Beasley talks about his favorite acting roles

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - John Beasley describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

5$6

DATitle
John Beasley recalls working with Oprah Winfrey on 'Brewster Place'
John Beasley describes the John Beasley Theater and Workshop in Omaha, Nebraska
Transcript
Few months later, my agent in Minneapolis [Minnesota] calls, says, "You remember Jane Brody?" I said, "Yeah, I remember Jane, you know, I auditioned for her at the, at your office up there." And so she says, "Well Jane wants to know if you would be interested in coming into Chicago [Illinois] to audition." And I just remembered reading in the USA Today, Oprah Winfrey was going to do a TV series called 'Brewster Place' based on 'The Women of Brewster Place,' and I thought, wow, that'll be a great, you know, great opportunity for some Chicago actors. And so she calls me into Chicago to audition for 'Brewster Place,' and I go in there and I meet [HistoryMaker] Reuben Cannon who had, I had worked for before, and it was a long process and they had me in there several times and then eventually they bring me in to read with Oprah Winfrey and I remember sitting in this cast, you know, office and Oprah Winfrey comes up the steps with her aide, with an aide, and they go in this room, you know, she doesn't give me an eye contact or anything, she goes in the room and so I go in and I do this and, you know, I do this audition, I know I'm good, I know I'm good and so after I, when I get ready to leave, I say to Oprah, I said, incidentally, I said, "Judy [Judy Beasley] says hi." So she says, "Who's Judy?" I said, "She's my wife." So, "Oh, tell her I said hi." So, eventually they called me in to screen test with Oprah, and so they give me this mail uniform, I don't wear a ring today, they give me this mail, I'm the mail carrier, he's a mail carrier, so I'm, so the master props man, he comes around he says, "So what, you need anything?" I said, I said, "Yeah," I said, "a mailman always has keys so I'm going to need some keys and, oh, I need a wedding band 'cause Reuben says that he's probably married and has a couple of kids." And I'm thinking, damn, you know, 'cause if I can have some kind of a relationship with Oprah's character, you know, that would mean that I'd be in it a lot more and I think it'd mean more to me, you know, but hey, I'm just happy to get a job. So we're sitting there while they're waiting and Oprah's sitting there and I'm sitting across from her and I'm just looking at Oprah and I'm giving her eye contact and she's looking at me and so eventually Oprah says, "So, how's the family?" And so, I figure okay, you know, I'd done some selling in my days and I know that in a situation like that, the first person that speaks loses. So now I get a little bolder and Oprah, I hope she never, she'll never see this, and so I get a little bolder and so I said, Oprah, I said to Oprah, I said, "Oprah," I said, "so where'd you study acting," I said, "because I really loved you in 'The Color Purple.'" And she says, "I never studied." I said, "Well," I said, "well, don't mess up 'cause this is my big chance," and so Reuben cracks up and Oprah's like, is this nigger for real (laughter)? I mean, you know, so, but I think it had to impress her because we're sitting there and as we go along a little further, Oprah looks down at the ring and she says, "You know, I don't think Mr. Willie is married," and I said, "You know what Oprah, I don't think he is either (laughter)." And so I got the job, I got the job as her love interest. We did eleven episodes. ABC didn't want it, it was a half an hour, half an hour dramedy, something like that, like 'Frank's Place,' very innovative, you know. 'Frank's Place' was an incredible show.$$Right, right.$$I thought it was one of the best shows not to make it on TV and, but this was, 'Brewster Place' was sort of like that, you know, and we were breaking grounds. ABC didn't want it but they wanted Oprah Winfrey so they gave her a shot, you know, and they kept moving it around, you know. You know, they would show two weeks and then the next week it wouldn't be on and then they would move it around again to different nights and they really knew how to program it to fail and so it never made it but I had my experience with Oprah Winfrey. A wonderful woman, I might add, she really is, you know and I felt that she looked out for me while I was there. There would be times, I came on as a recurring character and wound up having more episodes than some of the regulars and because Oprah would be, you know, they'd be at a table read and Oprah would say, "Well that sounds like something Mr. Willie would say," and the next thing I know I'd be getting a call, you know, "You're going to be working this week," you know. So--$$So, did they shoot that in Chicago or--$$We shot it in Chicago, yeah. Worked out of Chicago and it was a great time, it was a great time--$Now tell us about how, about the theater, I guess. We need to talk about that.$$You know, the theater, it used to be, the theater that I run is called, the John Beasley Theater [John Beasley Theater and Workshop, Omaha, Nebraska], and it's only because the people that owned the building at that time wanted to name it after me. I didn't want my name on it. I don't need my name on a building or anything like that, I know who I am and, but I was, I was working with some underprivileged kids in the projects over in South Omaha [Omaha, Nebraska] and the Center Stage [Center Stage Theater, Omaha, Nebraska] is one of the theaters I came up on, you know. We used to do a lot of good things there, had a good reputation, it was a black theater, only minority theater in the state, and it had been closed for about three years and they asked me if I would want to do something in the theater and I thought, well, no, I definitely don't want to be a busi- I'm not a businessman, I'm not a, my head's not there and I was working with a young lady who wanted to, to get into acting and I'd always told her that, you know, I would work with her at one point or another. She's, was fifty years old at that time and finally I said, listen, we'll do, I'll do something with you. So, I got the, I got 'Fences' by August Wilson and I gave her the role of Linda [sic.], and I said, "Study this," and I started working with her. She came along to the point where I thought, let me put some other people around her. So I put some people around her and the next thing I knew, we had enough for the cast for 'Fences,' and so I decided, okay, I'll do this over there and, you know, we'll do the show. So after that, it was owned by Omaha public housing [Omaha Housing Authority] and they, the council decided, the board decided to name the theater after me and, and now I'm stuck with, you know, running this theater, you know, and, because my name's on it, you know, I want to make it successful. So we started out doing three plays a year, four and five, and, and I've been with the--because I landed 'Everwood,' I was able to support this theater, you know, on my own, you know, with my own money and I've done that, I've done that up to the early part of this year, you know, when I decided that it's just, it's not good business, you know. I'm using my retirement money to run this damn thing and I don't know that Omaha [Nebraska] appreciates it, you know. And so it was a matter of, you know, the theater either making it on its own or, you know, we're just getting out of it, you know. 'Cause I never really wanted to run a theater but I've changed a lot of lives in here, in Omaha, and gotten peoples in the theater that never would have been there because we didn't have a large base to grow from, I'm normally training people and we would, we typecast a lot, you know. If you look like or act like you, this character that I'm looking for, you know, bring you in there and teach you how to be yourself, you know, and, again, it's in being in the moment, teaching them what I do, and just learning how to be real and if I can teach them how to be themselves, you know, we've got it made, you know, and I've turned out some pretty good actors and I've got a couple that I'm really proud of.$$What are their names? Some of the--$$Really proud of. Andre McGraw is one of them. He was in that first cast of 'Fences' and he played my son, and this guy, you know, he wasn't a very good reader but he really wanted to do this and, but once he got the words down, he was, he did really well. But he was in love. He had a girlfriend who lived in Kansas City [Missouri], and he was always on the phone with her and he, he was, you know, it was a distraction and one time I was on stage with him and I give his cue and there's no Andre and I'm waiting out there ad-libbing and this stuff. I finally go offstage and I see him, he's out there talking on the phone to his girlfriend. So I got on him about that. Then one Sunday we were getting ready to perform, he calls me from the highway, he's on his way back from Kansas City and, so I had to delay the show and he got in there and I finally, I said, "He'll never work in my theater again, never again." We were doing a play called, 'A Raisin in the Sun' [Lorraine Hansberry] and Andre called me, he said, "Mr. Beasley [HistoryMaker John Beasley]," he says, "listen, I know you, you know, that you took a chance on me, and I'm sorry and I, you know--I won't give you any problems, I really want to do this." So I said, "All right, Andre," I said, "you know, I'm going to bring you back in," I said, "but if you mess up," I said, "that's it, you're through with me." I brought him in and he was the surprise of that show. He was just, did a fantastic job. So my son, Tyrone [Tyrone Beasley], who directs for me, and I were, we're looking for a lead for 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' [August Wilson] and this character is, you know, is, it's a pretty strong character. And so, the only person we could think of was Andre and, you know, I talk--we can do this, he can do this.