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Lorne Greene Battlestar Galactica Set Interview
Written by Marcel Damen   
Saturday, 05 September 2009

Lorne Greene, better known as Commander Adama on the original Battlestar Galactica series, passed away back in 1987. This audio interview with Lorne Greene is done on set during filming Battlestar Galactica's episode "Greetings From Earth". Since so little interviews like this even exist, we're extremly happy to have found this audio that hasnever been published. We also added two unique audio commercials for US Airforce Recruitment.

These are two radio spots for the US Airforce Recruitment that Lorne Greene did. In the first he merely mentions Battlestar Galactica and his role as Commander Adama in it. In the second he actually plays the role of Commander Adama when talking to the US Airforce Recruitment officer.

If you want to listen to the audio of these spots click the "PLAY" button below to start.

Lorne Greene Battlestar Galactica US Airforce Recruitment spots.

This 30 minutes audio interview with Lorne Greene, from the time when he was still filming Battlestar Galactica, was only recently discovered. Sadly the interviewer is interested in anything but Battlestar Galactica, so he doesn't get a chance to talk about it a lot (though there's plenty on the rest of his career). The only Battlestar Galactica part mentions is that he enjoyed working with film legends such as Fred Astaire and Ray Bolger. Nevertheless this is still a unique piece of audio.

Lorne Greene as Com. Adama in Battlestar Galactica

Lorne Greene as Com. Adama in Battlestar Galactica

Below you can read the transcript of this interview. If you rather listen to the audio of this interview then click the "PLAY" button below to start.

Lorne, it's marvelous to see you again and such a thrill to follow your remarkable career from one series that became such a standard in America, [Bonanza], as Ben Cartwright and now in another, Battlestar Galactica. It looks like it's also going to happen again. You're blessed it seems. You conquered this crazy medium that is unpredictable.

This is probably the most unpredictable profession in the world, next to running a country like Iran. But it's certainly unpredictable -- I've been very lucky. I think there are a tremendous amount of talented people that, you know will never make it, and there are a lot of people that are mediocre, that became very big. I put myself somewhere in between.

Why do you think you became so successful? Did you ever stop to analyze it?

I've been lucky.

It's not just luck.

Yes! Yes, luck. I had a certain talent, but to be in the right place at the right time is possibly as important, or more important than having talent.

Do you feel funny about getting older? At all?

No. I don't think of myself as getting older. We have a little girl that just turned eleven. I think she keeps me feeling more on the 30 mark. She's marvelous -- great, great kid.

People in our business too Lorne, have a tendency to stay younger a lot longer in thought and mind. You really have to.

Yes, you certainly do. As a matter of fact, I think all people should. In our business -- those of us who are fortunate to be working all the time -- you work all over the world practically and you're always moving. It means you have many objectives. You have one objective after another, or a whole bunch of objectives at the same time, you wish you could fulfill. In our business it's the same thing. We have objectives. Fortunately in my business I don't have to retire at the age of 65 or whatever the retirement age is nowadays -- 70. If I'm healthy enough, and still have my senses about me, I can work until I'm 90, because there always a role for some 90 year old guy, you know.

You could do all the Buddy Epson reruns. (both laughing) It's great to see the guys like [Buddy] Epson and Jack Albertson, driving and being successful with a mess across the country.

Fred Astaire. Fred Astaire did a Battlestar Galactica [episode] with us. I think it's the best I've seen him in the last 15 years. He was marvelous. I don't know how old Fred is, but he's in his seventies. Buddy Epson... Ray Bolger is doing a Battlestar Galactica [episode] with us now. Now Ray is 75. He said: "I'm 75 years old." and he does a 15 minute dance number. He's saying he's 75!

Nobody should be more of a maven at this point of your life and experience then you, Lorne. Bonanza, for how many years?


14 years! Battlestar Galactica now in its second year, I believe?

Hopefully going in its second year.

Another, apparently great success. Do you feel that by this time you know what makes a television show not just successful, but sustained for many, many years? Do you know by now? Can you say what that is? I mean, in view the fact you have this catastrophe, twice a year, in January and when the new shows go on in the fall. They go on, no rating immediately and then "PFFFT" -- off.

That happens because the networks used to own the television shows, and they had a vested interest in the television shows and the reruns. Now they don't. They don't distribute and they don't have any vested interest in the reruns. So if the show doesn't make it immediately -- out. You know, this is a business. This is a big, big business, with millions and millions -- billions of dollars involved. There is no mercy there. But after all these years, I think I do know and I've learned it from a lot of people. George Burnett Shore said: "If you can make people think, they'll entertain themselves." and that's true. Garson Kanin said: "A hot property has characters, but cold property has plot." So, if you have characters who are interesting, and if you have conflict between characters, that's drama. If you have love between characters, that gives an emotional base to things.

Is there a similarity along that line or a parallel between Bonanza and Battlestar Galactica? As far as it's of course completely different in time and space and place. But as far as the characters are concerned, as you say, is there a parallel?

We did a show just a little while ago -- one that Fred Astaire was in -- in which Starbuck, one of our leading characters, who is an orphan, thinks he's found his father and it's Fred Astaire -- who is a sort of gentle con man. He is one of the remnants of this fleet. And it became an emotional show, because through all our expertise which we have in outer space, genetically it finally came down to the fact that he was his father. When he found out he said: "Please, don't tell him. Don't tell him I'm his father. We could be friends, but it would be wrong for me to be his father. Because then he'd want to leave everything that he's already done to be with me and I'm not worth it." It was a very emotional thing. So yes, there's a similarity and there will be more and more similarities, whether it's Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie or any other dramatic show -- Moon & Sixpence, you name it.

Now how does that differ from motion pictures? It is said that the most successful films of the last year, for example, have been "pure entertainment films": Saturday Night Live, Grease, Heaven Can Wait... Films where people do not have to see again, reflected on the screen, the problems that they face in their everyday life. They will in effect see those problems on television and accept it, because it's captive and they're there, but they won't go out and pay to see that again. That's a theory expressed about the difference between movies and television, right now, as far as what makes hits. Do you agree with that Lorne?

Oh certainly the box office proves that, doesn't it? Star Wars; huge success, Superman; huge success. I was just talking to someone a little while ago and she said that in Superman what really got to her, was when Superman thought that Lois had died, and he changed the history of the world, which was going against his father's wishes. That was the emotional thing. No, the boxes in the house. We know it's soap opera and what soap operas are. Soap operas are the only meaningful and un-meaningful situations that ordinary human beings get into. And millions of people watch soap operas, they listened to radio soap operas for years and [some even] sent cakes and wedding presents when somebody, some fictional character got married, because they came involved and they became friends. In the same way in the boxes -- if they invite you into their living room, you're their friend. They'll watch you and will accept what you do. If you give them...They will only invite you and accept you if they believe in you, if you have some kind of warmth about you, and if there's some kind of conflict, human conflict which they can relate to.

As you know there's a tremendous furor in the country about what is successful on television. What are the top shows week after week after week. They are unassailable and they reflect the taste of the American public; Charlie's Angels, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and so forth. Is this the mean taste of our country? Is this what America reflects? That these are our top shows. They're criticized. They're very popular, fun shows, throw away shows. These are mindless little series Lorne, that go on and on and on and top everything else. What does that say?

(Sighs) you've just brought up -- you've just opened up a whole big can of beans, haven't you? Because what you are saying is that: is our mentality really that of a 12 year old, or 14 year old, or whatever it is? Is it that low? I think that these shows that you mentioned are pure entertainment -- nothing but entertainment. Charlie's Angels is not a thinking person's show. Bonanza, in the beginning, they said that it's [just] a western, you can't even tell the good guys from the bad guys. But we began to do shows which were meaningful. How was it that for so many years, so many hundreds of millions of people around the world who still watch Bonanza today -- In Poland at 4 o' clock on a Saturday afternoon the streets are empty, because Bonanza is on.

If you're dealing with people who are everyman with universal subjects, subjects that deal with the morality of people, their thoughts, their hopes, their failures -- that is what drama is. Macbeth could be a western. It was set in Scotland. We did Macbeth on Bonanza 14 or 15 times. It deals with ambition, doesn't it? We did Romeo & Juliet I don't know how many times with Little Joe. We did all kinds of... We did Othello, the whole jealousy thing and some of the egging on and people saying "We should look into this. I saw her walking down the street with him."

It could be western. In musical comedy it's the same thing -- which ends up happily if it's a happy musical comedy, although not all musical comedies end up happily today. But, if they're universal themes, and people you can believe in and people you can accept, it will be successful.

Some shows that have been taken off the air in three weeks -- and I've seen the show three weeks in a row and thought: "Oh boy, what a success this is going to be." It's not in the ratings yet, because people don't even know it's on the air, and suddenly it's off. I say: "What happened? Where's that show?" "Well, they cancelled it!" and I say: "Why? It had all the ingredients of a great show." and it's gone. It's an executive decision.

You're a towering figure in this industry for so many years now, and you've seen all around you the tremendous human cry about: "God, the state of television in our country. Look at them, [that] junk that's on the air. How can they put that on? What kind of idiots do we have living in our country?" We have to satisfy everybody. We are millions and millions of people of all kind of tastes and everything else. But it must make one wonder: "My God, are we a nation that watched public television? Is this the taste of America or is this the taste of Laverne & Shirley?" Where are we going?

I think it's a combination of everything. There are people in England that don't watch the BCC, which does some of the great, great shows. The BCC is now doing 34 Shakespearian plays, right now. They need to be shown here, right? Not everybody is going to watch them. Not everybody watches Laverne & Shirley. If everybody watched Laverne & Shirley, they'd have 100 rating, right? So people can choose what they want. Now there are certain sections of our country -- I say this without meaning to cast an aspersion on it -- whose life style is such that at night they want to get away from everything. They don't want to be bonded by anything. They want to be shown something that's going to give them a laugh, and get it over with, and then they go to bed. All the troubles they've gone through all that day are forgotten about and they can go to sleep without waking up and thinking about their own problems.

On Bonanza we do a lot of comedies. We gave them all that stuff, but we always had a sort of little kicker into the comedy which made a little point about our own lives and about ourselves. We laughed at ourselves and it's healthy to laugh at ourselves. We can't take ourselves too serious, you shouldn't. After all, we're only here for a short time.

When you were a kid Lorne, did you ever think this was going to happen to this degree as far as you own success was concerned back in Canada? Did you always want to be an actor?

I sort of wanted to become an actor when I was sixteen. My French teacher threw me into a French play which I didn't want to do because I was playing basketball and I didn't have time. She forced me into it, and it was a comedy about two deaf people who were friends, but neither one wanted to admit that he was deaf, so they kept on talking to each other and misunderstood each other all the way through. It became a very funny play. But I didn't want to do it. I was forced into it, and when we played it in front of the audience in Ottawa, 60-70% of the kids were French. They were laughing like mad and applauding and I said: "Wow. That's kind of nice." That's how I kind of got the bug, and when I went to college, although there was no theatre program as such, there was an extra curricular activity called the drama guild and I participated in that. Then I got a fellowship to the playhouse, and all of a sudden I was in the business.

But did I ever think it would ever happen? One hopes something will happen. I wanted to be the greatest actor in the world. There are very few people that are the greatest actors in the world. They're special kind of talents. I'm not one of those talents. I'm a good actor. I can make people believe, I think, that I'm playing a certain kind of part. As a matter of fact I played a terrible, horrible person -- a very toadying, drinking and brawling, sycophantish, English bishop back in the 1700s. I had fun playing the part, because I could go all over the place. The worse I made him, the better it was. I made people believe that I was that person and that is what an actor is. There are some actors who have a special gift which transcends -- we ordinary actors, because I'm certainly an ordinary actor.

Do you honestly feel that, in all these years on TV and stage and everything, that you, as an actor -- to thine own self be true -- have been stretched to the fullest?

I don't think so, no. No, I don't know if any actor has ever been stretched to the fullest -- I don't think I have. But I do believe in one thing. I do believe that in certain things that I have done. I have helped motivate other people's lives to a newer, better direction and in some ways I think that's better than doing a great Hamlet.

How have you done that? How have you motivated people?

I get -- well, for example...

Which ties in with the next thing I was going to ask you, how this enormous success and being a public figure has affected your own life?

It hasn't affected my life one bit, I'm happy to say. My children are very normal. They have many things which I can give them now which I wouldn't been able to give them had it not been for this -- what you call -- success. But they're quite normal. They live a very normal life. My wife has her own thing that she does, she's a defense analyst in a think tank. We get together at night and we compare notes. I tell her about my problems, she tells me about her problems and we tell each other about the goods things too. And all the kids participate in this. But you were asking me about how...

...the mail that you received from people obviously, throughout the years, who perhaps have been motivated by certain shows that they've seen.

Yes, certainly. Sermons have been preached about shows that I have done. I've got a painting in my home, a large painting -- a scene of the Bavarian Alps. This painter's version -- a very fine European painter -- this painter's version of a Bavarian, Ponderosa type house, right in the Alps. He said: "I feel I must send you this, because you've helped me bring love to my two little girls who are 5 and 8 through your show." Now being part of that, and having this kind of an effect on a father who is impelled to create a small work of art in order to repay you for something that he thinks that he's received from you. That's a great deal.

I'm curious to know how this rubs off on children, Lorne -- your own eleven year old daughter -- living in the limelight so to speak, almost in an unreal world which is reflected by her daddy's unreal world that he works in. Kid's come to her [and say] "I saw your daddy last night and he was terrible, he was good. I saw him do the Alpo commercial." You know, the kidding that kids take. How do you keep them straight to accept what their father does?

Very early - when I was in Canada I was in radio, I was a top radioman in Canada -- and I told my kids: "Some people's parents are doctors. They go to their offices. Some people's parents are garbage collectors. Every day they collect the garbage. My work happens to be to go into a radio studio and doing a news broadcast, or taking part of a radio play or whatever. This one -- I go to the studio, that's my place of work. I'm nobody... I'm not any more special than anyone else. I maybe get more publicity than a doctor does, because doctors don't get much publicity. Only when they do a bad operation and somebody sues them. But in every other way, I'm just like anybody else."

And the truth is I am just like anybody else in the same way that you are like anybody else -- a human being with needs, worries, and problems, happy things and sad things. We live the same kind of life as other people do. Sometimes we have -- because of our circumstances, because of the things we do -- we maybe make a bit more money and a few more luxuries. But only a few more, because how many luxuries can you have and participate in and accept. How many more luxuries can you use?

Do those elements of success bring more problems with them?

I try not to let them. No. My daughter is very straight forward. She's a very talented young lady, very talented. She's a tough young thing, she's a Capricorn with Capricorn instincts.

A Capricorn? A child of the mountains -- dreamer of dreams, lovers of rainbows.

Well. She has her friends. One of her friends is Marlon Brando's daughter. Another friend's father is a laborer. She doesn't look... She's friends with people, not what those people's fathers do.

How long did it take to get used to living with the instant recognition on the street, or the whispers at restaurants and public places; "That's Lorne Greene. Lorne Greene!"

That was gradual. It takes a while for people to begin to recognize you. It took Bonanza about three years. It wasn't an instant hit. There is no such thing as an instant hit. Yes, Mork & Mindy is an instant hit, I think, because he's such a brilliant character and person. It was a gradual thing, and when things are gradual you become used to them. If they happen all of a sudden -- unless you are level headed -- it knocks you right out of the box. It makes you think in different ways.

Do you ever have nightmares that your voice is going to rise about two octaves?

(pitches voice) No, I never had that. (both laughing)

Did you ever, after about 50 paces with Orson Welles, trade Bolitho's tongues?

Oh, I know Orson Welles. I've known him since 1942. He's a phenomenal man. I just saw him a little while ago as a matter of fact. [The producer of Galactica and I] were at (Jasons or Chazens?) having dinner. The producer of Galactica came in, sat down and he said: "Do you know Orson Welles?" and I said "Yeah". I went over and said "Hello" to him, because I hadn't seen him for a long time. He said: "Lorne!" and we talked and talked. I said: "When are you going to do a Galactica with us?" and he said: "Ask me! Ask me!" So I said to the producer: "There he is. Ask him."

Orson Welles is a very special kind of performer and he's a very special kind of person. I think he has a phenomenal outlook on life and a tremendously creative mind -- a great daring, which not too many people have. He has the courage to fail. If more people had that, more creative things would be done, I think.

What can we look forward to in television as time goes on? Are we going to have the same kind of series in ten years as we have today? I mean, if you look back ten years, maybe the photography was not as good, but it hasn't changed that much, has it?

No, it really hasn't changed that much, I think. Let's take drama over the centuries. Actually the writing today isn't as good as it was in the 16th century when Mr. Shakespeare was around. I don't know if anybody will ever equal his writing. Today we have some marvelous things being done -- some very bad things are being done. I don't think it will ever be thus. There are good guys and bad guys, and that will always be. There are happy times and sad times, and that will always be. I think we will always have television, we will always have communication. One of the things that worries me about communication is the instantaneousness of it. When something bad happens over there we know about it immediately instead of, as years ago, we know about it four years later when the trouble has been done and over with.

This world today... I worry about the world, I'll be very frank with you. I have a feeling that in the next 4 or 5 years we are going to have a very, very tough world to live in. I don't think... It may be longer than 4 or 5 years. I think in the next 4 or 5 years we'll have terrorism here to a much higher degree than we've ever had. I think in the next 20 years we'll have more and more hunger throughout the world, because we have more and more people to feed. We have not yet found a way of growing three times as much food per acre instead of the amount we're growing now, because we're going to need that. We're going to have to feed a lot of people in this world.

There are a lot of nations in the world, emerging nations, that haven't yet set up an agricultural system. They don't know. They've kicked out the people that did know what to do, and they're just now beginning to learn what to do, but meanwhile a lot of people are starving. There's nothing that creates revolutions faster than the father seeing his child starving. We're going to have a number of revolutions throughout the world, and each one of those revolutions is going to have an impact on this country.

What's happened in Iran is having a tremendous impact on this country. What happens... I think the whole balance in the Middle East is changing because of what has happened in Iran. That may have a tremendous effect on the rest of the world. There are areas in South America where things are on the cusp of revolution. Mexico, with its oil, and its gas, and so forth... I think big changes are due to take place in Mexico. I just hope the people there don't want everything too quickly, because they won't be able to get it too quickly. It takes time to develop all these things. In this country we have so many problems with inflation, with our balance of trade, and all kind of things.

Hard to be happy in today's world. You really have to work at it.

You sure do.

You've got to kind of step to the left -- and let it go by.

Well, politically I don't know, but I know what you mean. You really have to get out of the way of trouble and say: "From here, from this time, for the next two hours, it's going to be a happy time."

But on the other hand, they say: "How can you?" You've got to be involved. You've got to be concerned about things.

Yes, I do think you have to get involved. I feel I must be involved, because I have children, and some of my children have children. They will have other children. What will the world be like 20 years, 30 years, 40 years from now? What kind of a legacy am I leaving for them? I don't think it's a very good one. And yet, at the same time I say to myself: "But I'm only a pawn. I'm like an ant." We all are. We are not really the masters of our own destiny, even though we want to be, and we think we are. There are forces throughout the world which create conditions, suddenly, which changes our whole lifestyle. As it is changing now. The President says we've got to keep our thermometers at 65 and drive at 55 miles/hour. Who would have ever thought that 10 years ago?

Who would have ever thought that television would have an effect on conditions in the world? I mean for war and peace. The fact that we know what going on in Iran, Vietnam and Russia and vise versa -- that we're all one family and it's visually evident every time we watch television -- is a tremendous force for peace. Not living in the unknown, but living in the known, instead of ignorance, living in: "Hey, they've got this. We've got this. Don't start up." It's much better I think. Television is having an enormous effect in that respect. That we share the same series, if you will, in Japan, Russia and Bulgaria. Peter Falk was telling me that the state department brought him cue cards at 4 o' clock in the morning to talk to the Bulgarian people and tell them that there were more Columbo's coming up. Don't get excited! (laughing) I mean that unifies us, tv. Bonanza has been all over the world.

All over the world. It's still playing all over the world. I remember a friend of mine went to Yugoslavia and he met an old patriarch of a man, and through an interpreter they were talking. He said he saw this man had a television aerial and he asked: "Do you see television?" and he said: "Yeah. The world comes to us now." He said: "Do you see American shows?" and he said: "Oh, yes." So, he asks him: "What your favorite show?" -- this was some years ago -- and he said: "Oh, Bonanza. Bonanza!" He said: "A friend of mine is Lorne Greene.", but it meant nothing to the man, because they lop off the titles, you see, and they just show the show.

Ben Cartwright!

Yes. He says: "Ben Cartwright" and he says: "Impossible." He says: "No, I know him." and he says: "You know him? How big is the farm?" Then he asked him a very definitive question: "What does Ben Cartwright think of modern children?" which is a very searching thought. What would Ben Cartwright think of modern children?

That's an illustration of your career, because as highly successful you are in television, is there ever the deep seated desire: "Jesus, why can't I... I want to do it on the big screen."? Or is it sufficient?

I don't think it makes any difference. I like to do... I like to play characters which are a force for good. I like to be in shows which deal with human values, the elemental, the real human values. I can't always do that on the big screen. I can do it in television. Not always, but I can find properties that can do that. My Last of the Wild show dealt with certain values, and I wanted to do that show and I did it. I don't have any egos about big screen or small screen, or television or motion pictures. Somebody is a motion picture star, I'm a television star. A big picture star is bigger, a television star is smaller. I don't know what that means. All I know is that when I do a television show as many as 400 million people can see the show. When you do a motion picture or theater, a screen play, 100 million people see it.

Why then [Battlestar] Galactica?

If you can say you work five days a week for twelve to fourteen hours, and sometimes on Saturdays and Sundays -- we don't see our families too often. Enjoyment? Yeah, I'm enjoying it. I wish... You see, we started up as a mini series and all of a sudden it became a full fledged series. We didn't have enough lead time. We didn't have four or five months to prepare for the series itself. So everybody has been working and working hard to get the series on the air -- to get the shows ready. It takes time. Sometimes you get one line in a script that says that the Battlestar Galactica is on fire, and four days later that one line has been filmed.

So each show has its own schedule. You can't say a show is going to be done in seven days, because sometimes it's done in ten days or twelve days. But everybody has been pitching in, everybody has been working hard. You become very, very close, as a family should, because a television show is a family project. In that, I think we have a very, very good future.

Do you think you'll have as long a run on Battlestar Galactica as you had on Bonanza?

I think a television show should have limited runs. I think five years is fine. There are so many creative people, so many creative ideas, but there is such a limit on the amount of time there is -- prime time, which is from 8 until 11 at night. That's 21 hours a week on each network, right? And times 3, is 63 hours of time to fill. There are thousands of creative people, with creative ideas, and hundreds of thousands of marvelous actors all over the world and so forth. If a show runs too long, a lot of those people don't get a chance to show their wares. But the future? More of the same and happy days.

Yes, and many, many, many healthy years.

Yes, and the same to you.

And a little more time for tennis too.

Yes, a lot more time for tennis.

It was great to see you again, old friend.

Yes, thank you very much Fred.

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