When I was little and living in New York, I had a favorite stuffed animal, an orange monkey with a green ribbon around his neck. My childhood had been strange, and this stuffed monkey helped me through the turbulence. I named him Orange Green, and he was my best -- and sometimes only -- friend.
Years passed, and I returned to my childhood home for a family visit. I was cleaning out the basement, and found myself reunited with Orange Green. He'd been living in a crowded storage box with other banished stuff animals and kid toys. I'd become an adult -- a cool dude back in town from LA -- and had no interest in retaining childhood memories. I threw Orange Green out.
More years passed, and I now consider throwing away Orange Green one of my saddest adult mistakes. You should never discard a nice childhood memory. We need warm and fuzzy stuff around us, particularly as we get older and the world gets colder. I grew up thinking life would get easier as I aged. Who knew it'd get harder? This is what I'm thinking about as I'm driving up Ventura Boulevard to the Studio City offices of The Hallmark Channel to interview veteran screen actor/ Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winner James Brolin for his Hallmark Movie Channel original holiday film Christmas with Tucker, the touching story of a friendship between a boy and a dog.
I'm waiting for Brolin in a conference room, chatting with a publicist and surveying framed Hallmark Movie Channel film posters. The holiday season has begun and I'm feeling appreciation for the kind of programming Hallmark puts out, a warm combination of hope and nostalgia, as though Norman Rockwell swapped his paintbrush for a camera crew.
I'm told James Brolin is running a little late, and that he's coming directly from an interview with Larry King. I picture Brolin's calendar, and take in the reality that his appointment with me is on it, alongside his appointment with Larry King. Orange Green would've been proud, but I'm feeling a little uncertain. Larry King is arguably the world's most prominent interviewer. A tough act to follow. My following Larry King is like a lounge singer having to follow, say, Barbra Streisand. I'm a little nervous, but the moderate success I've had with celebrity interviews -- nothing has gone terribly wrong to date -- steadies me, just as James Brolin enters the room.
James Brolin is dashing, smooth, and ruggedly handsome. (At 73, he works out with professional surfers.) I immediately understand why Barbra Streisand married him, and from where his movie star son Josh Brolin gets his screen charisma. Brolin's presence is so arresting that I forget all about comparing myself to Larry King, that is until Brolin starts talking about Larry King, saying he's "such a professional" and "so supportive." I wonder what exactly Larry King does to make his interviewees feel so supported?
"It's about a kid and a dog and a grandpa," Brolin says, when I ask what attracted him to Christmas with Tucker. "It's the kind of thing that I have an innate investment in from being a child watching Lassie. I even remember a line, 'Lassie, Gramps said I can keep you.' You begin to wonder what it is in your personality and your relationship with your parents that makes you such a sucker for this. You have to be a rare person not to react to this kind of nice thing."
I imagine James Brolin and Barbra Streisand sitting around their Malibu digs watching the Hallmark Movie Channel, and wonder if it actually happens?
"My wife and I see a lot of films and a lot of them are from a real troubled or nefarious point of view," Brolin explains. "It's a relief to run across things that teach you something, where you watch the players grow up. I can turn my grandkids loose on the Hallmark Movie Channel and know they're going to be safe."
Brolin is a legendary Hollywood actor who's been onscreen for decades -- from Marcus Welby, M.D. in the early seventies to Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can to a recent stint on NBC's hit sitcom Community. I ask James Brolin what keeps him interested in acting, and he answers via a story about a young Josh Brolin:
"When Josh first asked, 'Dad, should I take metal shop or wood shop or this acting class?,' I said, 'you can learn a lot from that acting class. It will teach you a lot about your problems and give you an ability to get into somebody else's shoes and look back at yourself and see why things happened and how you can resolve them, and not have such stress over them.' You never run out of energy to explore that, and I think that's what I like about acting."
Time is running out. Brolin has another interview lined up. I have more questions, but I'm not sure which to ask. I wonder what Larry King would do at a time like this? Would he mention Barbra? He could. I'm sure he knows her. But I'm not Larry. It's not my place to mention Barbra Streisand. For some strange reason, I launch into a theory I have about relationship longevity. My ex and I lived in a small, one-bedroom cottage for eight years before our recent separation. I tell Brolin I'm starting to believe that the larger the house, the better the chances are for sustaining a long-term relationship. "The bigger the house," I declare, "the longer a couple is likely to stay together."
I wonder why the hell I chose to mention my relationship longevity theory to James Brolin, and I'm pretty sure he's thinking something along the lines of "this guy's no Larry King."
"I've been married 15 years and going strong," Brolin shares. "Never had an 'I'm out the door' moment. Never once. I feel so protected by her and she feels so protected by me. On our property we built a separate building which I jokingly call 'the B&B.' So, rather than drive to Carmel, we walk 300 feet and spend the weekend in this other building."
I'm currently looking for a new apartment, and I begin fantasizing about living in Brolin's "B&B," imagining myself waving to him and Streisand from across the grounds as I sip coffee and whip up a little breakfast. I wonder how Brolin would react if I asked him if I could live there, if I agree to vacate whenever he and Barbra need it for one of their little trysts? Maybe they'd let me use the main house until they return? Thankfully, I keep all of these crazy thoughts locked inside my head.
Later that night, I watch Christmas with Tucker for a second time. It's a sweet and engaging Christmas story, and it makes me miss Orange Green, which is the nicest compliment I can give a holiday film.
Christmas with Tucker premieres November 25 on The Hallmark Movie Channel