Hale & Hearty

By Jerry O'Neil

Soap Opera Weekly April 22, 1997 Volume 8 issue 16

Living in a new town and thriving on a new soap, GH's Ron Hale is a happy man

The original offer from General Hospital was for Ron Hale to play the part of Mike Corbin, Sonny Corinthos’ long-absent father, for four to six months. "I was going to take a bullet for Sonny," recalls the handsome and strapping Hale, whose presence has graced a number of soaps over the past two decades. Most notable was Ryan's Hope, where he was on call for 13 years as Dr. Roger Coleridge, earning two Daytime Emmy nominations for his efforts on that late, lamented show. "That was going to be it for me (on GH), but as time went on I became more involved with the story and I was having a great time with Maurice (Benard, Sonny, with whom he's formed a close relationship) and Tony Geary (Luke). About three to four weeks before the big death scene was going to happen, Wendy Riche (GH's executive producer) called me into her office and said, 'Would you like to stay around for a while?' I said, 'Sure, I'd love to.' So she told me I would be shot but I wasn't going to die. All I could say was great!"

Having staved off death-and unemployment- Hale appears to be enjoying himself immensely. Though it's now more than two years since his arrival in Port Charles, the seasoned performer remains a noncontract player, which suits him just fine. "There's advantages to both sides of that equation," Hale maintains. "If you're under contract you make more money and get a guarantee. On the other hand, as a recurring player you have total freedom. So that's a big plus for me."

The job came along at the right time, just after Hale decided to uproot himself and go west. During his 27-year career in theater, films and television, Hale had worked in Los Angeles on numerous occasions but had never resided there. Since heading to New York from the Midwest at age 19, he'd made that city his home base. In 1994, against his agent's wishes, Hale made the move. "There was nothing holding me in New York and it was time I went out and saw what L.A. was all about," he explains. "I gave myself a year, knowing I could go that long without being employed. Sure enough, within a couple of months, I got the call from Mark (Teschner, GH's casting director) to come aboard."

It didn't take long for Hale to find a comfort level as Mike, though at the start he wasn't so sure about the characters intentions and honesty. "He had been something of a grifter and had played a lot of con games. I think Claire (Labine, then-GH head writer, who also created RH and is Hale's longtime friend) and Karen Harris (a GH writer), who both created the character, were leaving a lot open. As we continued along it seemed he was in Port Charles for the right reasons. He wanted to make up for all the time he lost with his kid. Maurice and I talk about the situation a lot. It seems every time we start to get close, the walls come down on us again. Of course, if the two of us rectify everything there's no conflict, and therefore it no fun.

As far as Hale is concerned, Mike is in the midst of coming to grips with his own mortality. Thus, it was imperative that he seek out his son and achieve a reconciliation, if possible. Everything else is secondary, including the possibility, apparently, of an entanglement with a woman. Which begs the question, whatever became of Mike's potential involvement with Jake (Stella Stevens)? Guffawing loudly, Hale says, "I don't know what happened with her.We had a scene in Jake's Bar, right after Sonny had beaten Mike up, so I was nursing my wounds. Jake and Mike struck up a conversation, and he asked her out. He gave her a kiss good night walked out of the scene, and that was it with her."

Actually, Hale prefers that Mike remain unattached and focused on his goal. "Because of where he is in his life right now, he's intent on only one thing, which his the relationship with Sonny. Everything else is on hold. Besides, at Mike's phase of life, which is essentially my phase, he needs someone who is low-maintenance, a fun gal who's secure within herself. Within the show, I don't think there's anybody who fits that bill. In the meantime, I guess old Mike is celibate," suggests Hale, chuckling.

Considering his longevity in the medium (in addition to RH, there were stints as Dr. Jim Abbot on Love is Many Spendored Thing and Walt Driscoll on Search for Tomorrow), Hale is asked if he's altered his approach to the craft over the years. He insists, emphatically, that he has not changed a thing. "First and foremost, you have to do your homework. Know your lines, and be as honest as you can in the scene. There's no formula that I can think of. It's what I've done in all mediums, but it's most important in daytime. It's your job to go home at night and be ready to go the next day. That's why they pay you."

Displaying a distinct lack of churlishness, Hale segues into an area he finds distressing. He's found that in his 20-plus years in the industry, the prerequisites for an actor have changed for the worst. "Training and ability now seem secondary," he asserts. "The attitude seems to be, if the person looks right, hire them. They'll learn on the job as they go along. It's "Let's get the person on the show because he or she is a hunk or hunkette.' I find that a bit tough to deal with, and it can be very difficult on other people. I never hold it against any actor for getting a job, regardless of age or experience. If they can get a job in this business, God bless 'em."

Although he's is all too familiar with the vagaries of his profession, Hale has never doubted himself on his chosen path. He believes that his desire to become an actor was "a need, not a want. That's the way it is with most actors and artists. I've done a lot of things along the way to make a living as I tried to be an actor, but no, there was never a question in my mind of getting out of the business.

Hale fell in live with acting first time out, during his first high school play in Chicago. Shortly thereafter, he set out for New York and enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. It was then, during a scene study class, that he realized his in his heart that "I was right to be there, to be in New York pursuing my craft. I knew I was freed up enough to do what I wanted to do well."

Though no one in his family preceded him in the performing arts, Hale's older brother, Jim Thigpen (Thigpen is the family name), changed his major in college and has been a dramatist all his adult life. Says Hale: Jim has his own theater in Columbia, S.C., called the Trustus. He went the academic route and always dreamed of having his own theater. He's had it for 12 years now.

After Ryan's Hope ended I lived with my brother for two years. I needed to find out if I could still act before a live audience. I wound up doing 17 shows in those two years. Honest to god, some of the most talented people I've worked with are there. Thing is, there's talent everywhere, not just in New York, L.A. or Chicago."

Hale harbors mostly fond memories of his days on RH. At that time in his life and career, he says the concept of signing a 13-week contract to work on a show, with the possibility of it going to 26 weeks, was "phenomenal." After years of struggle and poorly paying parts in plays, he viewed steady employment in daytime as a chance to "buy some new shoes, pay the rent in advance, things like that. It was unbelievable. Of course, 13 weeks turned into13 years. Needless to say, once we started Ryan's Hope, it was obvious to everyone who was there what an exciting thing it was. No soap had ever been that realistic, what with it actually taking place in New York City with real characters, and all the actors were theater people. We figured out once there was something like 275 years of combined theatre experience in that initial cast."

Nevertheless, Hale was reluctant at first to go back to daytime, feeling he was still "pretty burnt out" from his time of RH. Two years later, he's quite glad he decided to return to the fray. "Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I'm having a ball here."

Away from the studio, he tries to remain as constructive as possible. "It's so easy to get lazy out here," Hale believes, "because the weather and Southern California lifestyle. It's not New York, no matter how you cut it. I spend a lot of time reading, or playing golf with buddies. Actually, I like to travel a lot, in my car. I like to throw a bag in the car and take off. A while back I drove to Palm Springs, because I've never been there, and two days later wound up in Jackson Hole, Wyo. I drive on back roads and found these neat places and great dinners. That's what I enjoy."

Evidently, Hale has found a good deal of contentment and satisfaction in his life as an actor. Happiness, by his definition, means, "feeling good about what you do and who you are. The work is a part of that. I can't tell you how many times 'Doctor Theater' has saved my life." Not that Hale is ready to coast, or that he feels there's nothing left to accomplish. "There's are still lots of things I want to do, palpable things.Workwise, I'm now too old to play Hamlet, but I'd love to play Lear. But, basically, I'm really happy with where I am right now as a person. That encompasses everything- where I'm living, the work I'm doing, the people I've gotten to know here who mean something to me. All of it is a real nice place for Ron Hale to be right now.