Many television viewers who grew up in the ’70s may immediately recognize Randy Mantooth as the brown haired, wavy-locked paramedic and firefighter on the long running TV Series Emergency! Soap opera fans may recognize him as Clay Alden from the soap opera Loving or as other evil or good characters in General Hospital, One Life to Live, or As the World Turns.
Mantooth, who is of German and Seminole descent and has continued to do well in the acting world, is also a proud public speaker who addresses firefighters and paramedics all over the country every year.
In a conversation with ICTMN, Mantooth discusses his successful career, his love of speaking and how he’s addressed the challenges unique to being a Native actor.
What are you doing these days?
I’m in the middle of a normal routine of being on the road talking to firefighters and paramedics. I have also been writing screenplays and I will probably be doing a play at Jeff Daniels’ Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea, Michigan sometime next year.
You’ve had quite a career since you first started in the 70s.
My first job was in 1971. I was fresh out of school and I got a contract at Universal. I started doing small roles and then I got a role with Emergency!—and the rest is history.
You have also said in your career that you had an aversion to selecting Native American roles, can you explain that?
I was very young when I said that, and that was because my biggest fear was that Hollywood has no imagination whatsoever. At first they wanted me to change my name because they thought that Mantooth wasn’t a good name to have. I thought they met my first name at first so I said, “Yeah, I can change my name to ‘Randolph.'” They said, “That’s not the name we’re talking about.” I looked at them and said “Change Mantooth? What the hell would I tell my dad?” I said, “No, I’m not changing that.”
When I say they had no imagination in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, I am not kidding. My biggest fear is that if they viewed you as an “ethnic” actor you were dead. I resisted it at first, but I certainly didn’t resist being who I was. I didn’t want to be known as an “Indian actor” or sadly, I wouldn’t get any work.
As I got older and I established myself as an actor, I became less and less afraid of that sentiment and I became more vocal about such things as Italians playing Natives in the industry, which has always annoyed me.
My dad, my grandmother, and my grandfather are Indian; my mother is German. My grandfather’s Cherokee and my grandmother’s Seminole and Potawatomie. People ask me how I’m so many tribes. How do you do that? Well, you go to Oklahoma.
I have since become very vocal about non-Indians playing Indian roles which, as I said, has always bothered me. They say to me well, there are no Indian actors. I have responded with, “Go to Canada, because they have a lot of resources.” These young Native actors in Canada have access to schooling in the arts that American Indian students in the United States don’t have.
You say that you speak across the country quite a bit to firefighters and paramedics, can you explain?
Firefighters and paramedics have always had a close place in my heart. This is not just because I did the show Emergency! Right after the show was completed, the fire chief Steve Houts came up to me and asked if I wanted to become a firefighter because I had trained with them. He said I would have to take the course for firefighters but he would help me. I truly had to go home and think about it, but I really enjoyed being an actor, so I decided to stay in my profession.
You’ve continued to do a lot of acting and speaking since the Emergency! days.
You know I was also in soap operas for a few years. I was Clay Alden in Loving and in others. Those were fun times. I was single, and I would wake up in the mornings, my feet would hit the floor and I would think, man, I’m getting paid for this? There was a lot of dialogue I had to memorize, sure—but they were great times.
I’ve also been a part of Operation Petticoat and many others; I even appeared in Sons of Anarchy recently.
What else have you been working on these days?
I’ve been trying to raise funds for a screenplay entitled The Bone Game, which highlights the goods and bads of Indian casinos. They are not all run the same way and some are absolutely beneficial and the benefits outweigh the bad. Sometimes we can learn that our traditions can be kept alive with something such as a casino. Saginaw Grant has expressed interest in the script.
You’ve done so much in your career, what’s next for Randy Mantooth?
(Laughs) My wife has always said I need a five year plan. Yeah I have a five year plan; I still hope to be breathing. Truthfully though, I’ve never had a plan. If I was hanging with friends who were auditioning, I thought, “Ok, I’ll audition too.” I never even auditioned for Emergency!, I had a contract with Universal and they told me I’d be playing the part.
Did you ever think Emergency! was going to be so successful?
Hell no, we thought we were going to get canceled because we were up against All in the Family. I definitely never thought I’d be talking about this 35-plus years later.
You say you were trained as a firefighter, did you ever use your life-saving training?
I sure did, during one of the wrap parties for Emergency! I assisted Comedian Shelley Berman after he fell over one of the tables and he was laughing and an ice cube got lodged in his esophagus. I managed to blow some air and he coughed it up. The Los Angeles Times and some others picked up the story.
So you gave mouth to mouth to Shelley Berman?
(Laughs) Yes, I gave mouth-to-mouth to Shelley Berman.
Do you have any advice for young Native actors?
Do acting for the love of it. If your high school has a play, be in it. If your college has a play, be in it. Be generous and at first you will have to give for free before you get paid. In Los Angeles, less than one percent of actors in the Screen Actors Guild are making a living. And even fewer are making millions.
But if you love it, if you love being a story teller, work hard and if at all possible, get them to come to you. Los Angeles is tough. Every waiter I know is an actor. Go to college, college is a place for everybody. Involve yourself and if you have a story to tell, put it up on stage. If it is in your heart, I know you can do it.
Follow Vincent Schilling on Twitter www.twitter.com/VinceSchilling