'A tradition that continues': WT Theatre to honor distinguished alums with lengthy film, TV careers
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Though their time at West Texas A&M University was separated by a couple of decades, this year's inductees in the theater hall of fame actually share a significant connection.
Jenny Nolan Bailey, who works as second assistant director for CBS's 2 Broke Girls, and Randall Carver, who was in the original cast of the sitcom Taxi, will be inducted at Saturday in the Branding Iron Theatre Hall of Fame.
Carver, who grew up in Canadian and Hereford, graduated from WT in 1968, while Bailey, a Gilmer native, graduated in 1993. Now, years removed from their time in Canyon, their paths cross at a First Christian Church in the Hollywood area, where Carver is an elder and Bailey and her family are members.
And though it's a coincidence that both were chosen for this year's induction, Carver and Bailey also worked together on a project — Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood in 2008.
Bailey was an assistant director on the shoot and suggested her pastor for a small role in the film. The pastor, Bob Bock, was then hired to play a priest in the film and suggested his parishioner Carver for the role of Mr. Bankside, who shares a negotiation scene with star Daniel Day-Lewis' oilman, Daniel Plainview.
"I saw him on set, probably gave him his call time, to be honest," Bailey said. "We talked ... later at church and realized that we both went to WT. We go to different services, but when we do see each other, it's like being at home."
Now, they'll both return to that mutual home for a day of activities Saturday. Bailey, Carver and a handful of previous hall of fame inductees, including Amarillo Little Theatre's Allen Shankles, Amarillo Opera founder Mila Gibson and others, will take part in a Q&A session for WT theater students at 1 p.m. in Room 175 of the Sybil B. Harrington Fine Arts Complex. The official induction ceremony begins at 3 p.m. Saturday in the BIT. Both events are open to the public.
In separate phone interviews last week, both Bailey and Carver looked back fondly on their time at WT. Carver studied under area theater legend William A. Moore, while Bailey studied under Royal R. Brantley, who still teaches theater at WT.
Moore and his wife, Margaret, who helped found the Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation and the musical Texas, gave their students insight into entertainment being produced in New York and elsewhere, Carver said, helping to feed their dreams.
"I learned by doing," Carver said. "That's what Dr. Moore taught. ... I learned a lot from him by actually being in plays. There were no classes per se about the Stanislavski method or the Strasberg method or the Meisner method, but what he trained us in was ... a good, general background in how you could act, how you could come up with your own way of doing things.
"If I learned what Dr. Moore taught me, I could adapt to TV, to movies and not just necessarily the theater. The basis of what he taught was to use yourself, your own characteristics, your own background," he continued. "If you can dedicate yourself to that premise and are in the right mind and are thinking right, it will happen automatically."
Bailey's path also crossed with Moore's at WT when the emeritus professor acted with her in a production of The Man Who Came to Dinner: "He gave me a small ring afterwards, and I still have it in my jewelry box," Bailey said.
Of her primary WT instructor, Bailey had nothing but accolades.
"(Brantley) set the foundation on the discipline and motivation and the hard work" that a career in film requires, she said. "He truly cares about his students."
Carver moved to Hollywood after he graduated and soon landed a walk-on role in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy. After a few small roles in TV series like Room 222 and Alias Smith and Jones, he landed the lead role in a faith-based drama, Time to Run, and on Norman Lear's syndicated sitcom Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman after star Louise Lasser left and the show was renamed Forever Fernwood. Then, in 1978, he was cast as John Burns, a new-to-New York cabbie in Taxi.
From the start, the character wasn't on solid ground.
"I auditioned four or five times, (screen) tested once and they offered me the part without really knowing where it was going to go," Carver said. "The writers weren't submitting storylines for my character. I was the only character (not) from the East Coast. Everyone else was from there, and that's where the writers were from.
"They wrote me out after the first year, and the executive producers said I had done a really good job of turning chicken salad out of chicken sh--," Carver said.
Nearly 30 years on, Carver recognizes that being dropped from the iconic sitcom is just part of the business.
"At least you come away and have stories to tell about the big one that got away," he said, rolling into an anecdote about a role he lost the opportunity to audition for because he had flown back to Amarillo to care for his ailing mother.
"The name of the movie was Star Wars, and I was up for one of the two leads in that," Carver said. "I would have liked a shot at testing in it, but it wasn't in the cards."
Carver eventually landed another sitcom, The Six O'Clock Follies in 1980, but the satire, set during the Vietnam War and co-starring Laurence Fishburne, never caught on with viewers and was yanked from the schedule after only a handful of episodes aired.
"My mother was ill around that time, so I came back to Amarillo and stayed for about the next five or six years, back and forth (to Hollywood) a lot," Carver said. "When I got back, it was like trying to start all over again, and I kind of lost my motivation also at that time. I had had a good 12 or 15 years of doing continuous work, pretty much, and so when I couldn't get things restarted, I got involved in real estate.
"I'm still available for roles, although they get a lot smaller and fewer and farther between because of my age," Carver said. "I've had a long career — not a powerful one, but it's been sustaining. I got to join the circus, so to speak. I wasn't a center-ring star ... but at least I've had a long career and had a lot of fun along the way."
Bailey, though she studied acting at WT and at the University of North Texas, found herself migrating to the directing side of the business while working in Dallas.
"Walker, Texas Ranger was shooting in Dallas, and I realized that they brought all of their crew from L.A. and that if I were ever going to move up and further, I had to move to L.A.," Bailey said. "In about a year, I thought I had saved up enough money — but it's never enough money — and took a leap of faith, packed up my car and my cat, had no job, and moved to L.A.
"It all miraculously worked out," she continued. "I think it probably worked out because I just didn't have another option."
Shortly after moving to California, Bailey applied to join the Directors Guild of America's trainee program and made the cut, one of only 17 out of an applicant pool of 2,500. As a trainee, she worked on several different TV shows and films, including War of the Worlds and The Office. That led to a few years working in film, including The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Lions for Lambs, plus the aforementioned There Will Be Blood.
Now, she's back to television in her role as second second-assistant director on 2 Broke Girls, where Bailey is responsible for scheduling shooting times for stars Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs and various guest stars.
"I guess one of the main things I like is that every day is different," Bailey said. "The job is essentially the same, but the scenes are never going to be the same. One day, it's a wedding; one day, we're at the diner; one day, we're at a party."
About seven years ago, Bailey and her husband, Kevin, had a son, and she has found that working in television is more conducive to family life.
"You think in your mind that you can't have everything (but) you can, but some things have to take the backburner every now and then," Bailey said. "My goal now that he's getting a little older and I've got my foot in the sitcom world is hopefully to get into production managing and directing in sitcoms. I'm putting feelers out now."
When she speaks to her fellow WT Buffs, Bailey said — in a sentiment echoed later by Carver — that she hopes "to pass along that it's not impossible to follow your dreams."
Brantley said he's excited that the students will hear about Bailey and Carver's successes and challenges in "a very competitive business."
"I hope the students hear about each of their individual journeys and their dedication to their craft," Brantley continued. "And I hope they realize they're part of something bigger, that this program goes way back and hopefully will go way forward.
"There have been many people over the years who learned a lot here, grew up here and went out in the world and made there mark," he said. "That sense of tradition and connection with these alumni (shows) that it's not just the here and now, but a tradition that continues."