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Dan Barton GALACTICA.TV interview
Written by Mike Egnor   
Saturday, 05 May 2007

Mike Egnor caught up with actor Dan Barton, better known to the Battlestar Galactica 1978 fans as the Ducket Taker on the Canaris shuttle, who is charmed by Chameleon (played by Fred Astaire) in the episode "The Man with Nine Lives". Mike talks to Dan about his long career and working with Lorne Greene and Fred Astaire. He also talked about what Dan is currently doing.

Today I am speaking with Dan Barton, who played the Ducket Taker in the episode "The Man with Nine Lives". Mr. Barton, I want to thank you for taking the time for this interview.

Sure.

It's great to hear your voice again. I was wondering if we could start off by telling us what got you started into acting? Where the bug hit.

Yeah, I accidentally got into radio in Chicago, when Chicago was really the hub of radio. Some of the people who were very active then, as adult actors, were Dom Machee and Les Tremayne, and I began in a program called Skippy, which was a very popular show at the time. I played the character Somerset Mohagan. How they ended up with that name, I have no idea. One of the other kid actors at the time - we were very friendly and working together a lot - was Mel Torme, surprisingly enough.

Wow!

That was my introduction to the world of entertainment.

Did you go on to have any formal type of training or acting classes to get you on your way?

Yes I did. I went to California and I studied with Max Reinhardt, who was a very well known director from Europe. And I also studied with teachers in Chicago, and got into several groups.

IMDB lists your first TV or movie role as a Hollywood Producer in I'll See You in My Dreams. Is this correct?

That's true.

Were you nervous?

No. I'll tell you how that happened. I had just arrived in California, and after a two year hitch in a play that was probably the biggest play in America at the time, Mr. Roberts, which was later made into a movie. I began working in television very quickly. My wife and I, [having] newly been married, came out to California to visit our folks, because both of our folks were visiting here. We had every intention of going back to New York, but we found out she was pregnant, after we got to California. We said "Lets give it a shot here." We both started working quite a bit. As a matter of fact, if you remember Leave it to Beaver?

I do.

She was Eddie Haskell's mother. She didn't appear that often. I would say there were 20-25 appearances.

I didn't know that.

Yeah, and when she passed away five years ago, the publicity that she received, was all centered around the fact that she had done Leave it to Beaver (laughing) which she would have thought was awful.

Oh no.

And then, I was called in one day with a very strange assignment. Michael Curtiz, one of the great directors, was directing a new picture with Danny Thomas. He was [screen]testing women, and he wanted somebody to do [a reading of] Danny Thomas's role. So I did Danny Thomas' role in the tests. After the first day, he said "You know I've been watching you, and I want you in the picture". That's how I ended up doing I'll See You in My Dreams.

Ok. Let's move on to 1978. Had you heard of the show Battlestar Galactica before you became involved in it?

I'd heard of it, I'd never seen it.

 

Dan Barton as Ducket Taker on Battlestar Galactica 1978 

Dan Barton as Ducket Taker on Battlestar Galactica 1978

 

Ok. How were you approached, or how did you try out for this particular role?

Well, I was doing a lot of television. I did a great deal of television...for a long time playing the young leading man. Work was much easier then than it is today, because most of the shows were anthologies, with different stories every week. So they didn't have a hanging cast, of seven or eight people, with maybe one or two guest people. They had to really start their casting right from the bottom. There were many more roles to go around then there are today. How young people make a living, unless they get very lucky, in television today I have no idea.

Do you remember how the part came about? Did you try out for it? Did your agent get it for you?

I didn't try out. I think probably the casting director called my agent, asked if I was available for it, and that's usually pretty much the way, then, it worked. And then, it just ran out. It was interesting because if you did enough television work, you really weren't auditioning constantly. You were just waiting for calls.

Ok. Were you familiar with any of the other guest actors or regular cast members before you took the part of Battlestar Galactica?

I knew Lorne Greene.

Had you worked with him before?

I had. I had worked with him in a television show. [Playhouse 90 with Joseph Cotton and Teresa Wright]

Can you tell us about that, or any anecdotes that you remember about him?

Yeah, I think probably it was before Bonanza, so it was his first show in America. He had been called "The Voice of Doom" as pretty much a reporter, in Canada. When he came here, this play...Playhouse 90 was the first thing he did, I'm quite sure. He said "If you don't mind divulging it to me, I'll tell you how much I make on this show, if you tell me how much you're making". And I said ok. So he told me a figure that was impossible, and I, in turn, made my figure higher than his. So we were both lying to each other. (laughing)

Do you remember [ever] working with Anne Jeffreys, who played the part of "Siress Blassie"?

Not really. That was...In Battlestar Galactica, that was the only time I had ever met her. No, I had never worked with her before. How did she seem? She seemed very nice, she seemed very professional. She seemed very anxious to talk to Fred Astaire all the time.

I can imagine that.

Yeah, it was very interesting, because it was Fred Astaire, it was shot at Universal, and the people who had very high positions, as producers, were all coming down to the set, just to look at the legendary Fred Astaire. Which was very unusual for television times.

So let me ask you this. What experience did you have working with him?

My experience was great. We began talking [and] we knew several people in common, which was a good diving off point. I had mentioned to him, that my kids were both young teenagers, were huge fans of his. And without my knowing it, he went to the assistant director, found out my address, and sent each of them a wonderful photograph, and a nice inscription.

That's wonderful.

Yeah, that was wonderful.

Did you have any conversations, that you remember anything from after talking to him? Was there anything that stood out?

Yeah, I asked him, I said "Why are you doing this show"? He was Fred Astaire. (laughing). He was doing Battlestar Galactica.

Right.

And he said: "Because, it's my grandchildren's favorite show".

Wow.

Which I thought was a pretty good answer.

It is. Let me move on, the director for that show was Rod Holcomb. Do you remember what it was like to work for him, or how his directing techniques were?

If I remember Rod, because I had done a couple of things for him, he was very definitive in his directions. He didn't do too many takes, and he was very quick, and I think at one time he had been an actor. So he was really used to the conversation that an actor has to receive in order to have an idea come across to him.

Did he explain to you anything about what type of personality you were supposed to have, how you were supposed to act, any background?

Not really, this was a long time ago. I don't remember the specifics, but it seems to me that you would run through it, and the director, in this case Rod, would make suggestions or the actor would make suggestions, and you'd go from there.

Ok. In this episode, you have on this odd looking, yellow outfit with red trim and red patch. To me it either looked like pajamas or a rainsuit. Do you know who designed it?

I don't know who designed it. I remember that I had to go to Western Costume, which is a very large costuming company, which is still in service. They handed it to me, they had me stand up on a podium and they made adjustments so it fit me.

Do you know how long before you started shooting that you went for this fitting?

Yeah, probably about two or three days.

 

Dan Barton as Ducket Taker on Battlestar Galactica 1978 

Dan Barton as Ducket Taker, Fred Astaire as Chameleon and Anne Jeffreys as Siress Blassie
on Battlestar Galactica 1978

 

Ok, let's move onto your character. Your character seemed like a "blue collar" - even though he is wearing the yellow suit - a "blue collar" worker who is a real nice fellow, with this fantastic, warm smile, and warm laugh, but in this episode he seems a little gullible. Now it's not hard to be taken in by Fred Astaire. Were you trying to portray this gullible, hard working character who falls for Fred Astaire's charm?

I would think that was probably one of my aims, because Fred Astaire, was really the guest star, and the main objective of a storyline, is to propel the guest star into an enviable position. So yeah, I think that I was probably playing up to his personality. Sure.

Can you tell me about the prop that you used in the story? You've got this two-handed technical machinery, and people placed their plastic tokens in them. They called them duckets. Do you remember that prop?

I remember it vaguely. I remember when I first saw it I thought "My God I haven't seen this since early streetcars". I remember it was cumbersome, but it was Battlestar Galactica and most of the props were big and cumbersome.

Ok. It seemed to have flashing lights on it. Do you know if there was a power pack on the inside, or some kind of wires running from it?

I don't remember.

Ok. Can you tell me anything you didn't like about the show? Was it rushed, the uniform?

No, I liked the show. I'd been doing a lot of television acting. I imagine one thing I didn't like is that the part wasn't bigger (laughing). I loved the fact of meeting Fred Astaire because he was an icon amongst actors that most people place in a special category.

Of course. When was the last time you saw the episode ("The Man with Nine Lives")?

Probably, the day it came out.

You haven't seen it since?

No.

Do you remember anything about the sets, where the episode was shot? Did you walk around and look at the other sets, maybe there were some vipers sticking out? Were you a like a fan trying to see what all they had?

I don't think I would have been that involved. I certainly looked around. I remember, if I remember correctly, that this was all shot on one set and it was pretty barren, except for....was it a train we were on?

It was on the inside of a shuttle.

Yeah, a shuttle. So they had me on the inside of a shuttle. You know, I can remember there were bits and pieces of atmosphere sprinkled around on various sets, just suggestions of chairs. I don't know, if I really think hard enough, I think there were a couple of interior rooms that were also there but were not used when I was working on it.

Ok, did you make any friends or get to know any people during the shooting that you kept in touch with afterwards?

No. By then I had done so much work like so many other people that I knew a lot of people on the crew. I knew Rod and I knew Lorne Greene. No, I didn't. It didn't work that way. Most actors, particularly in those days, they were doing shows were pretty busy shuttling from one show to another. You know, the camaraderie of friends was already made. This was merely a job we were going through.

 

Dan Barton as Ducket Taker on Battlestar Galactica 1978

Dan Barton as Ducket Taker on Battlestar Galactica 1978

 

Are you doing any acting today?

I'm doing voiceovers; I've been doing voiceovers for about 20 years.

Are there any particular commercials?

Well, Northrup Aircraft. I was there spokesman for I think it was 12 years. I work pretty constantly narrating documentaries. I just did a Nike commercial. I'm quite busy in voiceovers. You know while I was acting I did a series. I did a series called Dan Raven which was a very interesting concept with very well known people who were entertainers like Mel Torme and Sammy Davis. They would go through their cabaret bits and then they would get involved in a detective story that we were in. It was a very interesting show that NBC thought was going to be the first show of their network. This was in 1960.

OK.

It didn't work out that way because in the first shows, the show was interrupted three times by the Kennedy-Nixon debates, which doesn't help anything.

I'm sure. Do you have anything from that episode; did you keep anything, scripts?

No.

Do you have any hobbies? What else are you involved with these days?

Yes, I'm involved with writing. When I was in the Army in World War II, I was in Europe and I was editor of a humor magazine in Paris. I also ended up touring in a couple of shows, one with Mickey Rooney. I play tennis.

When I got married my best man was John Forsythe. Now, does that name mean anything to you?

It certainly does.

And I'm still in touch with John Last time I saw him he's getting to be an old man now. I said "How are you doing John?" and he said " Not too well" and I said "Why" and he said " I'm juggling three women". (laughing)

That would be hard on any man.

Yes, yes, yes. Let's see what else I can tell you about myself. My son-in-law is a rather well known stage director. He got two Tony's on Broadway, one for directing Tommy and another in How to Succeed in Business and he just directed Billy Crystal on Broadway.

That's great.

And that's it. I've been married since May 1 of this year.

How's that working out for you?

It's working out beautifully.

Mr. Barton, would you recommend young people go into acting?

(laughing) What an interesting question. I certainly think anybody should follow their passion, and I think that's very necessary. I think they should be duly warned that it's a very tough field, very few people make a living from it. You hear about movie stars who are replete with mansions, big publicity forces behind them, but if you took the percentage of people who are making a living from, or are comfortable living from acting, it would have to be probably a percentage of one percent.

Wow.

It is very difficult, but it doesn't mean that a lot of people don't pursue it, and that becomes their profession. But in addition to their profession, they have a regular job which keeps them going. But it's tough and people really have to recognize the difficulty of it if they go into something like that and most people do. The best actor in America is probably a guy or woman who has become a stockbroker and they said "Hey, we gave it a hell of a shot and we've got to get on with life."

That's sound advice from an expert. I'd like to thank you Mr. Barton for taking time for this interview.

Well, thank you. I'm very appreciative of you asking me to participate and I certainly wish you, all your viewers, all your listeners all the best and peace in the world.

 

 

On May 25, 2007, I asked Mr. Barton again what he was doing these days. Here's his response:

I've been involved in VoiceOvers that involve political campaigns. For example, I did the campaign (TV and radio) for Schwartzenegger and six others, including Elizabeth Dole, who were running for Governor or Senator from their states. There's a strange twist to the fact that they're all Republicans and I'm a Democrat.

Aside from that activity, there were documentaries, some film promotions and the usual commercial items that huddle next to each other on television.

 
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