Easier Than Baseball (The Paducah Sun/Jul 22/1981/US) By Richard Freedman



Acting is "100 times easier" than playing baseball for Kurt Russell, who has done plenty of both.

On screen these days he's to be seen as Snake Plissken, the hardened criminal who rescues the president of the United States in the futuristic thriller, Escape From New York. And he's also to be heard as the voice of Copper, the hound with an identity crisis in the Disney animated feature, The Fox and The Hound.

But the lanky, athletic actor had a previous career as second baseman for such minor league teams as the Bend, Ore., Rainbows and the El Paso, Texas, Sun Kings until a 1973 shoulder injury drove him from the diamond during his fourth season.

Now, at 30, he looks back on his baseball years with fondness, but no sentimentality. About the current strike he says:

"It's difficult for me to take sides, because both of them are ridiculous.

The owners are idiots to pay the players what they're getting. It's impossible to convince the public that playing ball is hard work. And it sure is a mental drain to stay in top condition for 162 games. But really, the pay ain't bad, when you think what people do to earn a living. Lots of players are making lots of money.

"And striking in the middle of the season on a negotiable issue is suicidal. What I'd love to see happen would be for the strike to be settled on, Sep. 3, and then for nobody to show up in the ball park."

Even before he began playing professional ball, Russell had made some 10 films for Disney. At the age of 10 he appeared with Elvis Presley in It Happened at the World's Fair. Much later he was to play the rock star in Elvis, a television drama directed by John Carpenter, the director or of Escape From New York.

It was while working on Elvis that Russell met his former wife, Season Hubley, who played Pricilla Presley and has a bit role as a "crime groupie" in Escape From New York.

"I'm not a Presley fanatic," Russell says, "but I remember he was very nice to me on the set of World's Fair. We'd toss a football around between takes. He was never fatherly or patronizing. After all, he was only 27 himself at the time.

"Elvis was just an incredible simple man from the South with a talent for singing and a genius for knowing exactly what his charisma was for every individual in the audience.

"In fact, he was one of the few men in the world who understood his own charisma. If he made the slightest mistake in style he'd sense it instantly and lift the audience up again.

"He used to practice in front of a mirror being Brando or James Dean or Montgomery Clift - all wild ones and rebels without a cause. But he never made the mistake of imitating them. He just incorporated them into his own personality.

"Elvis could stand in one spot and move more than Mick Jagger prancing around the stage. Modern rock types eats up the scenery. Punk stars are so rehearsed, you're just watching an act. But he really moved - all from the inside. As far as drugs and women go, he was just a kid in a candy shop."

Russell married his co-star Season, and now they have a 16-month-old son with the impressive moniker of Boston Oliver Grant Russell. Boston?

"I didn't name him after the city, but after a dog kennel I used to see when I was working on a ranch. Only later it dawned on me that of course Boston was the guy's last name. I looked the name up and discovered that the guy who killed John Wilkes Booth was named Boston Corbett: so there are people named Boston, and they shoot assassins.

"If we have a daughter next we might name her Paris or Manhattan. People could call her Hattie. Just now Boston has white hair; he looks like Caspar the Friendly Ghost. You should see the picture I snapped of him being held by Isaac Hayes, the big black 'Duke' in Escape From New York. It's quite a study in contrasts."

Despite the film's title, most of it was shot in St. Louis because "logistically it was impossible to shut down New York streets and bridges long enough to fill them with all that trash and then pick it up again before rush hour.

"I love New York. My wife is from here, and her heart sinks every time our plane lands in Los Angeles. The film certainly isn't anti-New York. I think most people in this country would rather see California sink into the Pacific than Manhattan sink into the East River - and they'd be right.

"New Yorkers have a great attitude. They say, 'Yeah, I'm a New Yorker. Go ahead, mug me.' Then when you ask them why they don't live somewhere else, they tell you, 'There is nowhere else.'

"I spent four months lifting weights to get in shape for Snake Plissken, and quit the minute the movie was over. Nothing is easier for me than acting - I think it's the joke of all time to make your living by talking.

"Usually, once the camera stops, that's the end of the character for me. There are no repercussions at the end of the day, unless I feel I haven't done it well enough. But on Escape, Season tells me I'd come home and be a little surly and quiet. I guess the character of Snake really got to me more than I thought.

"What John Carpenter and I wanted was for people to say to themselves, 'I don't like this guy and I don't know why I'm pulling for him, but God, I hope he makes it.' We never once thought of what New Yorkers would say about seeing their city being trashed that way only 15 years from now."

Before making Escape From New York, Russell starred in Used Cars as Rudy Russo, a wildly unscrupulous car dealer with high political aspirations. The movie was a box office disappointment, perhaps because of the disenchanted view it takes of American business and political ethics.

"Maybe we made a mistake," Russell says. "Essentially we said to the audience, 'You want car crashes? We've got car crashes.' But we had a lot more.

"Rudy is still my favorite character, the closest to real life I've ever played. He has drive and talent as well as being unscrupulous. He genuinely cares for what he is doing, and getting all these nuances meant walking a very thin line as an actor.

"Rudy isn't a product of the '60s as you normally think of them. He came out of the '60s saying, 'I'll accept the way things are and make that system work for me.' I think lots of young Americans today are like him.

"But whatever happened to the American sense of humor? The only kind of comedy that has universal appeal in the country today is parody. Hell, I wrote a parody in the eight grade called Gunsmog.

Parody is easy. Used Cars was a sophisticated '30s-type satirical comedy, the single most difficult thing to do - and apparently to appreciate - these days.

"I enjoy doing commercial things. Carpenter and I agree the reason to make pictures is for people to see them, and not enough people saw Used Cars.

More are likely to see Escape From New York. If the Russell family keeps on growing, in fact, the proud parents may be tempted to name future children Brooklyn, Queen, the Bronx and Staten Island too.