Movie star’s Newman roots


Since the release of the first motion picture, children everywhere have dreamed about being the star up on the big screen.

They bug their parents about going to see the latest, greatest release starring their heros and impersonate them while playing with their neighborhood friends. Most grow up and their stardom on the big screen fades into treasured dreams and wishes from their childhood. However there are a few who go on to become the big-screen idol.

Newman is the type of town that travelers stop in to get gas, a bite to eat or just to stretch their legs. They don’t expect someone famous to have come from the quaint prairie town. The birth of James Richard Gammon on April 20, 1940, proved again that great things do come from small town USA.

Gammon was born at Newman to musician Donald Gammon and small town farm girl Doris Latimer. Not much is known about Gammon’s childhood except it was less than a smooth ride. His parent’s marriage was one of turmoil that ended in divorce, and Gammon bounced from home to home eventually finding himself in Orlando, Fla.

While in his mid-teens, Gammon found work as a cameraman and director for Orlando television station WFOL-TV. He liked the job but his dreams were in Hollywood. In his early twenties, Gammon left the job at WFOL-TV, packed his belongings and headed for the hills in Hollywood.

His acting dream came true in 1966. Gammon was cast as Deputy Virgil Bramley in NBC’s western series “The Road West.” Although that role only lasted a season, it jump started Gammon’s career.

The 1970s were good to Gammon. One of his biggest contributions in that decade was helping found Los Angeles’ famed Met Theatre. He performed at the theater for a few years until a representative from the Republic Theatre saw him and cast him for a new role in 1978.

Gammon accepted the role as Weston in Sam Shepard’s “Curse of the Starving Class,” which resulted in a strong, life-long friendship between Shepard and Gammon.

The Newman native went on to play Broadway and was nominated for a Tony for his role as Dodge in the revival of Sam Shepard’s play “Buried Child.” A solid theatrical career is good but it takes a movie career to bring widespread public recognition.

Gammon and his whiskey-soaked voice combined with his tough as nails attitude landed many roles in big films like “Cool Hand Luke,” “Urban Cowboy,” “Wyatt Earp” and “Appaloosa,” but it was in his role as Coach Lou Brown in “Major League” and “Major League II” that he is best known by the public. The character of Lou Brown was one of those roles that seemed written specifically with an actor in mind.

Gammon also went on to play a notable role on television’s “Nash Bridges” as Don Johnson’s father, Nick.

Gammon returned to the theater late in his career when Shepard cast his long time friend in the debut of his play “The Late Henry Moss.”Shepard’s star studded cast included greats like Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Cheech Marin and Woody Harrelson.

After the show ran its time in San Francisco many of the famed actors asked Shepard, “Who is this Jim Gammon guy? Where did he come from?” To Gammon, this just solidified his place in the theater and on the big screen.

Unfortunately, Gammon ran into the dreaded disease of cancer and on July 16, 2010, at the age of 70 succumbed to adrenal gland and liver cancer in Costa Mesa Calif. After his passing, Sam Shepard said about Gammon, “This was a guy who could act circles around most other actors, and he never pretended to be other than a working kind of actor.”