by Christine Holliday Those who glance at Gerry Bamman’s senior picture would see his big thick glasses and his shy smile, and wonder how he had the confidence to choose acting as a career. They might be surprised to learn how he did overcome an “insecurity quotient that was off the charts” to become a well-recognized film and stage actor.
Roots in Toledo
Gerry Bamman moved to Toledo from Independence, KS when his father was transferred here. His first school experience was the 6th grade at Blessed Sacrament School, when a professional recruiter visiting his junior high class there, to make a pitch for a boarding school in Wisconsin. “He made that place sound like an adolescent paradise, so I was ready to go,” Bamman recalls, “but my parents suggested that I take a look at the new all-boys school in Toledo, St. Francis de Sales.”
His dream at St. Francis was to play basketball. He learned that passion alone didn’t overcome his being “slow-footed and short.” Despite coach Dick Mattingly’s reassurances that “You’ll grow, kid,” he realized he was not meant to be an athlete, so he turned to acting.
During his senior year at St. Francis, Gerry had parts in three productions. He has very clear memories of a role he played in the Knight Rampants variety show in 1958 as a female telephone operator, and recalls that “putting on a dress didn’t seem to be a path to higher self-esteem.”
Continuing to learn
“I was not a model student,” he admits. “I was very familiar with detention and suspension, and I recall Fr. Stahl shaking his head in dismay as he told my parents that I had ‘so much potential.’”
But the death of his father in the summer of 1959 caused a change in Bamman’s attitude, and he started college hoping to discover that potential for himself. At Xavier University, he submerged himself in theater and performance activities, relating, “I was constantly surprised at how well St. Francis had prepared me, in spite of my having given no cooperation.”
After graduating from Xavier, he went to Columbia Law School—for five days. He says he knew instantly that it was the wrong place for him. He enlisted in the military, and it was during his time as a soldier that he realized that he was truly happy only in the theater. When he left the service, he enrolled at Wayne State University for graduate study in the theater, and then attended New York University School of the Arts. After graduation, he was a theater actor in New York and in regional theaters around the country.
After about 15 years of extensive theater work, Gerry got his first film role in a television miniseries called Courage. He has played characters in many television movies—Hunt for the Night Stalker, Kojak: None So Blind—and TV series, including Law and Order and Spencer for Hire. He has also appeared in many films, including Cocktail, The Bodyguard, Pink Cadillac, and his favorite, Lorenzo’s Oil. But he’s probably best recognized for his role as Uncle Frank McAllister in the blockbuster hit Home Alone, and the sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. That’s an experience he won’t forget.
“Warner Brothers was originally supposed to do it, and four weeks before the shooting was to start, they cancelled it. Fox picked it up and has made over a billion dollars.
No one knew what a commercial success Home Alone would be. When it became the most successful comedy up to that point, everyone was flabbergasted,” Gamman recalled.
Vision for success
In recent years, Bamman has added Broadway appearances to his resume, including On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (2000), and has added books and audiobooks to his credit. While none of his three children is interested in theater, his wife, Cecil McKinnon, teaches theater at NYU, and is a theater director as well as a circus director and performer.
He has strong advice for those interested in a film and/or theater career. “If you can do anything else, do it,” he recommends. “Show business is only for those who cannot be happy doing anything else. The odds against success are huge, and the rejection is constant. The rewards are enormous when you are able to do something, and that is why we do it. But the insecurity is never-ending no matter how successful you become, and unlike most other jobs, there are no regular paychecks.”
It has been more than 50 years since Gerry Bamman acted on the St. Francis de Sales stage or sat in Latin or French class. But the training he got at St. Francis prepared him for a satisfying career. Millions of people around the world who have seen him act in films and on stage agree that he has realized the vision our patron had for a successful life—“Be what you are, and be that well.”