Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Late Great Ron Glass

It is a rare thing that an actor stars in more than one of my favourite television shows. Most of the time they only star in one. Ron Glass was one of those actors who starred in more than one of my favourite television shows. I first encountered him on television on a regular basis on Barney Miller, on which he played Detective Ron Harris. I would later see him on the short-lived, cult, sci-fi series Firefly, on which he played Shepherd Derrial Book. The two shows couldn't have been more different. One was a situation comedy centred on a police station in Greenwich Village in New York City. The other was a space Western set in a star cluster in 2517. The two characters couldn't have been more different either. Detective Harris was an intellectual with a taste for fashion. While Shepherd Book was also an intellectual, he was a Christian preacher who does not mind a more ascetic lifestyle. In between these shows Ron Glass appeared on an number of series, both as a regular and a guest star. Sadly, Ron Glass died on November 25 2016 at the age of 71. The cause was respiratory failure.

Ron Glass was born in Evansville, Indiana on July 10 1945. He graduated from Saint Francis Seminary in 1964 and then received a bachelor's degree from the University of Evansville . He made his debut on stage at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. It was in 1972 that he made his television debut in the Sanford and Son episode "The Card Sharks". It was followed by guest appearances on such shows as Maude, Hawaii Five-O, The Bob Newhart Show, Good Times, When Things Were Rotten, and The Streets of San Francisco. It was in 1975 that he first played Detective Harris on Barney Miller. In 1982 he was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Variety or Music Series for the role. He remained with Barney Miller for the entirety of its run.

In the Eighties Ron Glass played the role of perpetual neat freak Felix Unger on the short-lived, African American version of The Odd Couple. He guest starred on such shows as The Love Boat; The Twilight Zone; 227; and Amen. He narrated the film Sound of Sunshine - Sound of Rain (1983) and appeared in the film Deep Space (1988).

In the Nineties he starred on the short-lived sitcom Rhythm & Blues, the sitcom Mr. Rhodes, and the sitcom Teen Angel. He provided the voice of neighbour Randy Carmichael on the long running animated series Rugrats. He guest starred on such shows as Amen; Murder, She Wrote; The Royal Family; Designing Women; Friends; The Practice; and Star Trek: Voyager. He appeared in the films Houseguest (1995), It's My Party (1996), Back in Business (1997), and Unbowed (1999).

In the Naughts Ron Glass was cast as Shepherd Book on Firefly. While the show was very swiftly cancelled by Fox, it developed a large cult following and remains popular to this day. He reprised the role in  the film based on the series, Serenity (2005). He continued to voice Randy Carmichael on Rugrats and later on its spinoff All Grown Up!. He guest starred on such shows as Rude Awakening, The Education of Max Bickford, The Proud Family, Shark, and Dirty Sexy Money. In addition to Serenity he appeared in the films Lakeview Terrace (2008) and Death at a Funeral (2010). He provided a voice for the video game Fable II.

In the Teens Mr. Glass guest starred on the shows CSI: NY, Major Crimes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. He appeared in the film Just Another Man's Story (2013). He provided a voice for the video game Ancient Space.

I won't deny that this had been one of the harder eulogies for me to write this year. As I mentioned earlier, Ron Glass starred in two of my favourite television shows of all time, Barney Miller and Firefly. He also appeared on many other shows, from Sanford and Son to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I have admired him since childhood. I was not prepared for a world without Ron Glass. I sincerely thought he would be with us for many more years to come.

Of course, I am sure I am not alone in this. It is not simply a case of Mr. Glass starring in several beloved shows. The simple fact is that he was an extremely talented actor. This can be seen in his two most famous roles. On Barney Miller Detective Ron Harris was an intellectual who may well have loved writing more than police work. Not only was he easily the smartest man in the squad room, he was also easily the best dressed.  On Firefly Shepherd Book was also an intellectual, but for him spirituality was the most important thing in life. He served as the voice of reason and the moral compass for the sometimes rambunctious crew of Serenity. The two characters are quite different, and yet Ron Glass played them both very well.

That having been said, Ron Glass played much more than Detective Harris and  Shepherd Book. Short of Tony Randall, he was perhaps the best Felix Unger ever on television and in  film.  In Unbowed he played President Duquesne, the head of an all-black college who must deal with the conflict between Lakota Sioux who have enrolled there and the black students. In the Eighties Twilight Zone episode "I of Newton" he played the Devil himself. Over the years Ron Glass played everything from medical doctors to politicians to lawyers, and he played all of them well.

Beyond being a very talented actor, it must be said that Ron Glass was also a very good man. The cast of Firefly always had the best things to say about him, always remarking on his kindness, his gentleness, and his generosity. His fans said the same things about him. He always had a way of making fans feel important and special. In many respects he was a lot like Shepherd Book--a genuinely honourable man who was always kind to others. Indeed, Mr. Glass devoted much of his time to the Wooten Centre, a non-profit organisation in Los Angeles that helps students from grades 3 to 12 prepare for college. He served on its board of directors and was its chairman from 1993 to 2005. Despite all the years he was involved with the Wooten Centre, he never publicised it.  In the end Ron Glass was not simply a very talented actor. He was also a truly great gentleman.

No comments: