Podcast Transcript

Speaker 1:                        Takin a walk.

Steve Guttenberg…:       “Are you going to eat the roast beef sandwich?” That was a pure improvisation between Paul Reiser and me. But it came out of Barry’s mind where, instead of saying cut at the end of a scene, he would let us go and see what we came up with. He just got a big kick out of that. Sometimes we’d come up with some jewels. That was a jewel.

Speaker 1:                        Welcome to this edition of the Takin’ A Walk Podcast, where Buzz Knight talks with musicians and other celebrities about their projects, and of course, their love of music.

                                           On this episode, Buzz’s guest is actor Steve Guttenberg. Steve’s acting career spans over four decades, with iconic roles in movies like Diner, Cocoon, Police Academy, and many others. His ability to blend humor and heartfelt performances is legendary. Steve’s new book, Time to Thank, is a beautiful tribute to his father, Stanley. It chronicles Steve’s lengthy caregiver role for his father as he battled illness. Steve Guttenberg joins Buzz Knight on this episode of Takin’ A Walk.

Buzz Knight:                     Steve, thanks for being on the Takin’ A Walk Podcast. It’s great to see you. I’ve been a big fan of your work for a long time.

Steve Guttenberg…:         Thanks, Buzz. I’m looking forward to talking to you.

Buzz Knight:                     Congrats on the beautiful tribute to your dad, Stanley, and to caregivers everywhere. The book called Time to Thank. How did you, without hesitation, commit with such endless intensity to commit to helping your dad through that difficult period in his life?

Steve Guttenberg…:         Well, when somebody in your family or one of your friends becomes ill, it’s all hands on deck. Everybody’s got to pitch in and they’ve got to do what they can. I was very lucky that I have a career that I can take time off and then just go help somebody that I love.

                                           My dad had renal failure, which is really tough because the body, certain parts of the body start to shut down and you need dialysis. That dialysis is a lifesaver, it’s life-sustaining. But somebody’s got to take you there and take you back. That’s just the beginning of somebody getting ill. It was a no-brainer, as they say in these terrible colloquialisms, that it was just what my duty was.

                                           My dad, in my book that’s coming out, Time to Thank, had a section. One of the sections is how my dad took care of me when I was a kid. My dad helped me put on my pajamas, helped me brush my teeth, taught me how to shave. He drove me places. Taught me how to shower, put me in the shower and taught me about that. Taught me how to eat with a spoon. Then when my dad got ill, we as a family had to do that for him. Drive him places, and help him in the shower, and help him with his pajamas, and help him shave. When somebody you love who’s so strong and so virile gets to a point where they need help doing tasks that they really don’t want help doing but they do, you’re there. It was my duty to be there for my father. I’m grateful I did it. I’m grateful.

Buzz Knight:                     Your father was quite a superpower.

Steve Guttenberg…:         Yeah.

Buzz Knight:                     He really was. His career and his life was filled with being a superpower. Talk about the vast experience that he lived his life with.

Steve Guttenberg…:         My dad was a smart kid and a very loving kid. Loved his mom and his family, and his dad. He grew up a funny guy and also very athletic. He started lifting weights when he was about 12. By the time he was 14 or 15, he was really a little powerhouse. When he was, I think 18, he enlisted in the army. He went to Korea and overseas, became a ranger, and a ranger training at Fort Bragg. Loved being a soldier. Loved it. Loved the army and loved serving his country. He was a real patriot.

                                           Then my dad, when he got out, my dad when back to college, became an electrical engineer. Then when he married my mom, he became a New York City policeman. He became an undercover cop, plainclothes. He had a uniform, too. He loved being a cop. He just loved being outside, he loved helping people. He loved the action. At one point, my mom just couldn’t take it anymore. She said, “I want you to come home without me worrying if you’re coming home.” He had to leave the police force. Because he was an electrical engineer, my mom had a cousin, Harvey, who had an electronics company. He was the vice president of an electronics company. My dad took a job there. It was pretty fantastic because he was in on the beginning of semiconductors. Then he had his whole career in electronics.

Buzz Knight:                     He was endless encouragement to you throughout your life right to the end, right?

Steve Guttenberg…:         Yeah, he was. He really was the guy who said to me, “You can do anything. You just got to stand up and get in there. Start. Do what you can. Get up every morning early and get to work.”

                                           When I came out to California, my mom and dad let me come out to California when I was 17-years-old. Can you believe that? 17. Who would let their kid come to Hollywood at 17 now? I got very lucky. I stayed with a family friend. They knew Michael Bell since he was a kid in Brooklyn. My dad would call me every day at 6:00 AM, a 17-year-old didn’t want to get up at 6:00 AM. But he would call me every day at 6:00 AM and 9:00 New York time, “Time to get up, let’s go. Let’s go.”

                                           He was a great dad. He supported me in everything I did. He just got such a kick out of Hollywood. He would come to movie sets and just love them. He loved the craft service table where you can get anything you want to eat. Loved my trailers. Loved the other actors and the directors. He loved the technical part of it a great deal. He loved the technical part of it. He loved to watch how the people laid the track. That’s what he really, really enjoyed a great deal, was he loved how people laid a track, put the camera on it and it would dally along for a moving shot. Just loved it.

                                           He just always was behind me and he just always had a great attitude toward life. That, “This is what it’s all about, living life, having fun. This is what it’s all about.”

Buzz Knight:                     Many, many life lessons that you take from this book. What do you think, for you, the biggest life lesson that your father taught you?

Steve Guttenberg…:         There were so many. But his great one was, “Don’t walk a mile for someone who won’t cross the street for you. But walk 10,000 miles in a hurricane for one minute with someone you love.” I always thought that just said so much to me. “You know you’ve had a great one when you laugh, the whole world laughs with you. When you cry, you cry alone.” That always hit me. He would always say, “Control yourself. Control yourself.” I always thought that was a great one, too. Control yourself.

Buzz Knight:                     Growing up in Flushing, Queens, were you a Mets fan?

Steve Guttenberg…:         I was a Mets fan, absolutely. Shea Stadium, absolutely. Of course.

Buzz Knight:                     Did you know by heart the Meet the Mets theme song?

Steve Guttenberg…:         (singing) Meet the Meets, meet the Mets.

Buzz Knight:                     Step right up and greet the Mets.

Steve Guttenberg…:         Yeah. I don’t know if I knew it by heart, but I loved it. I loved Ed Kranepool, first base.

Buzz Knight:                     Eddie Krane, yeah.

Steve Guttenberg…:         Bud Harrelson, shortstop.

Buzz Knight:                     They were the amazings, right?

Steve Guttenberg…:         They were amazing Mets. They were, weren’t they?

Buzz Knight:                     What beyond the song Earth Angel, which is central to Time to Thank and it was so important to your parents, Earth Angel by The Penguins, what were some of the other soundtrack in their life?

Steve Guttenberg…:         Oh, for sure. Duke of Earl, the great Duke of Earl. And Blue Moon. And of course, Fly Me to the Moon. Fly Me to the Moon was a really special song. On their 50th wedding anniversary, we all went to Italy. We were in Tuscany. We were at a wonderful vineyard, which had a restaurant. They had a karaoke. I sang Fly Me to the Moon on their 50th wedding anniversary to my mom and dad. Pretty great.

Buzz Knight:                     Amazing.

Steve Guttenberg…:         Yeah.

Buzz Knight:                     That’s beautiful.

Steve Guttenberg…:         Yeah, it was great.

Buzz Knight:                     Yeah. How is your mom?

Steve Guttenberg…:         My mom’s good. She misses my dad so much. It’s tough on her. But she’s doing okay. Health-wise, she’s doing okay, too. She’s got lymphoedema and a few other things, but she fights through it. She’s got some arthritis. But she fights through it and she has a great attitude, she’s very funny. She’s doing okay. Thanks for asking.

Buzz Knight:                     Your ride to and from Arizona during that period, where you’d often hear the sign of a siren and see the lights flashing from having your lead foot, I know, frequently. But as you were trying to get over the hump of that long drive, what are some of the songs or artists that would really get you over that hump that really meant something?

Steve Guttenberg…:         Well, a great deal of the time when I was driving through the California and the Sonoran Desert, the Arizona desert, I didn’t listen to anything. I would just think and remember my dad as a young, strong man and what that was like for me.

                                           Then along that drive, there are tons of empty buildings and small, little empty towns that I would stop in. They actually had diners that still had plates on the tables. They were just deserted. Gas stations. Little stores. Restaurants. When you walk around these deserted buildings that were once thriving, it reminded me that my dad was once thriving, young, virile, vital. Now he’s older and there’s some decay going on. I’ve got to help him with that, we all have to help him with that. But these buildings, they also had a story. They’d become a bit of my friends. I would see them on every drive. That they were just let to decay, but at one point they were very important places with hundreds, maybe thousands of people going through it every month.

                                           But song-wise, every once in a while I’d put on, of course, Bruce Springsteen. I’d put on Billy Joel, Scenes From an Italian Restaurant. Piano Man. One of my favorites was the Billy Joel song Just the Way You Are. My dad loved that song because he said, “You don’t have to be out there in Hollywood, I love you just the way you are.” Another song my dad loved that I would play in the car was You Don’t Have to Be a Star by Marilyn McCoo and her partner, Billy. It was that, “You don’t have to be a star for me to love you.” I always adored that.

                                           I would listen to The Spinners. I would listen to Billy Eilish. I would listen to Katy Perry. Oh gee, I would listen to some Sinatra and I would listen to Nat King Cole. There were some terrific artists that helped me through that. Bon Jovi, Jon Bon Jovi was great. I listened to his music. I think I really enjoyed sitting back and listening to Tony Bennett. Tony Bennett was an amazing singer.

Buzz Knight:                     40th anniversary of Police Academy. How is Mahoney these days?

Steve Guttenberg…:         Wow, he’s in Mexico right now, living the life. He’s got a beautiful wife who he loves and loves him, he’s got a bunch of kids. I think he’s the sheriff of a small town of Cuernavaca, in Mexico. Beautiful Cuernavaca. He lives at Las Mananitas, the wonderful resort. That’s where he lives.

Buzz Knight:                     Talk about the good luck charm your dad gave you when you first auditioned.

Steve Guttenberg…:         Yeah. When I first auditioned for Police Academy, I had a screen test. It was between me and another guy. Great actor, he was, and he still is. Before the audition, my dad said, “Why don’t you wear my police academy shirt, the real police academy from New York?” I said, “Really, dad, can I?” He said, “Yeah,” and he gave it to me. I put it on for the audition. I remember the director, Hugh Wilson said, “Now, what in Sam Houston is that? Did you make that shirt?” I said, “No, it’s the real thing. It’s my dad’s.” He said, “Oh my gosh.” It’s gray. It has a police emblem, that’s what all the recruits at the police academy wear, gray, as opposed to blue.

                                           I went up for this audition. I was actually watching the first guy go do his audition and he was brilliant. He was amazing. Really funny. He could sing, he could dance. He could act. He was unbelievable. Everyone was laughing and clapping. He came off and gave me a tap on the shoulder, “Hey, good luck.” I went, “Thanks.” I went up there, nobody clapped, nobody laughed, nobody did anything. They just couldn’t wait to get to lunch. I did my bit. I went back to my house, my apartment, my studio apartment. I called my agent and I said, “I think I did terrible.” He said, “You got it.” I went, “What?” He said, “They want you.” I said, “The other guy was so good.” He goes, “Well, they want you.” It was a lucky day for me.

Buzz Knight:                     The rest is history as they say, right?

Steve Guttenberg…:         Yeah.

Buzz Knight:                     Wow.

Steve Guttenberg…:         Yeah, pretty much.

Buzz Knight:                     Diner is one of my favorite movies of all time. Religiously, we watch Diner easily once or twice a year, my wife and I. The brilliant cast, and Barry Levinson, obviously. Did Eddie and Modell make up that famous “Are you going to eat that scene?” Was that improvised?

Steve Guttenberg…:         Yeah. That was a pure improvisation between Paul Reiser and me. But it came out of Barry’s mind, where he let us talk. Instead of saying cut at the end of a scene, he would let us go and set what we came up with. He just got a big kick out of that. Sometimes we’d come up with some jewels. “Are you going to eat the roast beef sandwich,” that was a jewel. It was a great scene.

Buzz Knight:                     I have run across a guy, actually two guys, Steve, who can eat the left side of the menu.

Steve Guttenberg…:         Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. As Paul Reiser said, “It’s a house with legs.” Yeah. Wow. They could eat the entire left side? That’s big.

Buzz Knight:                     That’s some eating.

Steve Guttenberg…:         That’s some eating.

Buzz Knight:                     Yeah.

Steve Guttenberg…:         That’s a healthy attitude.

Buzz Knight:                     That’s right.

Steve Guttenberg…:         Healthy, healthy.

Buzz Knight:                     Yeah. Tell me what projects you’re working on now, Steve, and talk about also, some of your great work you do with so many charities.

Steve Guttenber…:         Well, thanks. I work with a lymphoedema charity called LE&RN, L-E and R-N. Kathy Bates and I work on it. It’s a great charity for lymphoedema, which is a disease not people know about but many people have. Whereas if your lymph nodes are taken out, parts of your body will just blow up like a balloon. That happened to my mom, that’s how I got involved. Bill Repicci, a wonderful man, he used to be actually a theater producer, is now the president of LE&RN, L-E and R-N.

                                           Then also, I was involved with foster children years ago and built a little place called Gutten House, down not far from the airport. Where foster children who are emancipated, which means they come out of foster houses, they might have nowhere to go, are able to go into a halfway house like this. Where they can get on their feet, make some money, get a job, stay sober, have children, and stay there for a couple of years and build up a little nest egg. Then go into the world.

                                           Project-wise, I just did a little television series called High Potential, which will be coming out from ABC in the autumn. Then I’ve got a little film about a Jewish day camp, which hopefully will come out in the autumn, too. Very, very funny. I’m always looking for my next gig. I love acting and I love the craft, and I love the people. I love the town. Everything is good.

Buzz Knight:                     That’s awesome. In closing, the book is called Time to Thank. It’s a beautiful book, a tribute to caregivers, a tribute to your wonderful family and your wonderful father. I absolutely was touched by it and loved it. I thought maybe you could close with one last pearl from Stanley. I’m going to close with something from one of your great movies that I’m sure you’ll recognize.

Steve Guttenberg…:         He would always say to me, “Remember when you’re alone somewhere that your family and your friends love you. Don’t forget when you’re around where there’s no love, that you are loved, that your family and friends love you. You’re never alone, ever.”

Buzz Knight:                     Beautiful. I’ll close with this comment. “It’s good. It’s nice.”

Steve Guttenberg…:         Diner.

Buzz Knight:                     The best. Thank you, Steve. It’s an honor.

Steve Guttenberg…:         Thanks so much, Buzz. Thanks for having me. I appreciate you talking about our book, Time to Thank. My dad and I thank you.

Speaker 1:                        Thanks for listening to this episode of the Takin’ A Walk Podcast. Share this and other episodes with your friends and follow us, so you never miss an episode. Takin’ A Walk is available on the iHeart Radio app, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your podcasts.

 

About The Author

Buzz Knight

Buzz Knight is an established media executive with a long history of content creation and multi-platform distribution.

After a successful career as a Radio Executive, he formed Buzz Knight Media which focuses on strategic guidance and the development of new original content.