LEWISBURG — It’s not every day that a two-time Emmy winner is on stage at the Greenbrier Valley Theater in Lewisburg, but when he is, he brings his Emmy Award-winning brother.
Stuart Margolin moved to Lewisburg just a year ago after several years in Monroe County. Margolin, who won back-to-back Emmys for his role as Angel on “The Rockford Files,” found his West Virginia home by happenstance.
He was traveling to New York from Natchez, Miss., to see his brother-in-law, who asked him this:
“Have you ever been to The Greenbrier?”
Well, no, he hadn’t. So the family made a trip and while he was playing golf, his wife went out shopping. She came back with property in Monroe County, which is now on the market.
Margolin is about to work with his brother Arnold for only the second time in a six-decade career.
Arnold Margolin won an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Music, Lyrics and Special Achievements in 1969 for his work on “Love, American Style,” a show for which he was also the executive producer.
The show was usually three shows in one, perhaps with an over-arching theme. Stuart Margolin said the producers never knew how long it was going to be and for one episode came up about seven-and-a-half minutes short.
“They wrote, I came in that evening and shot it,” Margolin said.
Stuart and Arnold Margolin are about to hit the stage together again in the GVT production of “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” a Neil Simon comedy inspired by the real-life comedy writers behind the 1950s Sid Caesar hit “Your Show of Shows.” Simon, along with such notable up and coming writers as Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, wrote for the comedy smash from 1950-54, television’s “Golden Age.”
The show is an intimate look at the writers’ process, much different from the extravagant and sometimes bawdy “Chicago,” which just closed at GVT last weekend.
“Everything is right in front of you,” he said. “In terms of ambition, it’s all in the crazy staging.”
Margolin’s career is much more than “The Rockford Files.” He was also in episodes of “M*A*S*H,” “Rhoda” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
In fact, between the Margolin brothers, there’s hardly a classic television show from that era they didn’t touch in some way.
From “The Andy Griffith Show” (Arnold co-wrote five episodes) to “Bret Maverick” (Stuart directed an episode), the brothers were in on lots of television success stories.
Into the 1980s, Stuart guest starred in episodes of “Magnum, P.I.,” “Quantum Leap,” and “Matlock.”
Most recently, Stuart was in an episode of “30 Rock” opposite Alan Alda, the star of “M*A*S*H.”
His television career began in 1961 on “The Gertrude Berg Show,” and he got his equity card immediately, becoming a member of the Screen Actors Guild. But he was also doing plays all around Los Angeles, he said.
“I was one of the few actors making a living doing plays, and they sure as hell didn’t pay much, either,” Margolin said.
He’s continued to be involved in theater throughout his career, doing “a considerable amount all over the country,” he said.
“I’ve done that all my life,” he said, “either that or done plays at different colleges.”
That’s how he met Cathey Sawyer, GVT’s producing artistic director.
Margolin was in a production of “The Cavern” by Jean Anouilh in the early 1980s at Memphis State University, where Sawyer was a graduate student. Margolin played the lead, a playwright suffering from writer’s block who takes the condition out on his characters.
They didn’t work together that year, but Sawyer was impressed by Margolin’s professionalism, as she was in charge of public relations for the theater.
“All of us who met him back then followed his career,” she said. They remembered him for “the depth of his character work, the depth of his professionalism and his humility,” she continued.
Sawyer said she is thrilled to have the Margolin brothers in a GVT production.
“They are delightful,” Sawyer said. And they’re the biggest stage names to perform at GVT, she said.
Sawyer said she hopes those names draw big crowds to GVT.
“He has a wonderful reputation,” Sawyer said. “I think if the word gets out, people who remember ‘The Rockford Files’ and ‘Love, American Style’ will come.”
It’s not just about the star power and a filled theater for Sawyer, though.
“It gives us the opportunity to challenge ourselves artistically, to sort of raise the bar, which is what we’ve always been about — to grow the quality of the work, as well,” she said. “This is a prime opportunity for us to grow and come up to his level.”
Margolin is happy to be in Lewisburg.
“I hope to stay. I sure as heck don’t want to go anywhere else,” he said. “I have some very good friends I play golf with.”
He looks forward to getting back to that, and to helping his wife in the garden once “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” closes in August.
His foray onto the stage at GVT aside, Margolin says “he’s really retiring.”
“I’m learning I love to read and I can read forever,” Margolin said.
“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” runs at GVT July 17-18, 22-25 and 29-Aug. 1. Shows begin at 7:30 p.m., with a Pay-What-You-Can Preview July 16 and a matinee performance at 2:30 p.m. July 25.
GVT is at 113 E. Washington St. in Lewisburg. Call 304-645-3838 for more information and ticket prices.
GVT is West Virginia’s professional theater. In addition to quality productions featuring professional actors, GVT offers a successful after-school drama program, a summer camp for children and teens, literary readings, live simulcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, special events and musical performances, art appreciation activities, lectures, discussions and workshops.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; follow PamPrittRH on Twitter