To most, actor Dan Lauria is best known by TV and pop culture fans for his role as Jack Arnold in the hit TV series “The Wonder Years.” But the 66-year-old is also an author, director, producer and a Broadway star who portrayed legendary football coach Vince Lombardi in the successful play “Lombardi.” Lauria, who attended college in Connecticut, is coming to Hartford this month, reprising his Broadway role as the narrator in the holiday classic “A Christmas Story,” at The Bushnell Nov. 12 to 17. The Broadway musical, based on the popular movie and book, tells the poignant and comical tale of Ralphie Parker and his holiday wish for a Red Ryder BB gun. With the holidays just around the corner, Lauria shared his own Connecticut and Christmas memories as he Spilled the Beans with Java.
Q: I know that your Broadway gig in “Lombardi” was a dramatic role you coveted. But being the narrator in the musical version of “A Christmas Story” is a bit different kind of part. Is there still a thrill?
A: The paycheck is fine but I can’t sing a note. So when Peter Billingsley (who played Ralphie in the movie and produced the Broadway play) said “you want to be in a musical?” I just started laughing and said, “We won’t sell a ticket.” But what a great coup to go from playing one of the greatest football coaches ever to one of the greatest storytellers ever. As an actor, it’s a great challenge
Q: What are some of your earliest childhood memories of Christmas? What is the gift you will never forget?
A: It’s odd you would ask that. See, so many actors and actresses get on these shows and talk about their difficult childhoods. I had the greatest childhood in Brooklyn and the greatest parents in the world. We were poor but I didn’t know it till I went to college in Connecticut. At Christmas we would get underwear, socks, things we needed and then we would get that one gift, the one you asked for and you knew what it would be. And it meant so much to get that one gift.
Q: And what was your “that one gift?”
A: I was a jock so every Christmas I would ask for something that had to do with sports, some kind of glove, or ball or bat. There was never any one gift from my old man that I didn’t use. I can’t even pick one great one. They were all great.
Q: I understand you have a new book series and it’s not what people would expect. Spill please!
A: The series is called “The Godfather Tales” and the first book in the series is called “The Blue Hair Club,” that is actually three different stories, including that one and “The Boy Who Built The Bridge Out of Carrots.” The third one is called “How The Sun Got Into The Sky.” The next book will include a story about a boy who fell through the hole in his sock, another about the ugliest princess in the world, and “The Boy Who Found Thunder and Lightning.” Joe Montana (professional football Hall of Famer) loves the stories and he wants to get a bunch of actors together and go to children’s hospitals and read them to patients.
Q: Let’s talk about your Connecticut connection. I understand it’s two-fold and then some. Yes?
A: I had a scholarship to go to Western Kentucky to play football and I got hurt. So while I healed up, a friend at Southern Connecticut State University suggested I go there. A scholarship, well not really a scholarship, but I got in for the in-state price, was arranged and I started second semester. I got my undergrad degree in history and then I went on to University of Connecticut for a degree in playwriting. And then I went into the Marine Corps and then I got into acting.
Q: You are probably best known for your role as the dad, Jack Arnold, in “The Wonder Years.” What was the best part of being in the series?
A: The best part about that role was the writing. Even Fred (Savage) will tell you that the stars of that show were Neal Marlens and Carol Black for creating it and then Bob Brush, the talented head writer who maintained it.
Q: Did you model Jack Arnold after your own dad?
A: Not at all. My dad was greatest guy in world.
Q: How would Jack Arnold and Old Man Parker get along if they were in the same room together?
A: I think there is more similarity in those two than you would think. They were both a little grouchy and Old Man Parker worked on his crossword puzzles as intently as Jack Arnold worked on his car.
Q: Do you ever come back to Connecticut just as a guy who used to live here?
A: Not so much to UConn but I do go to SCSU every spring and do a class with the kids. Years ago we started a program where we got eight Connecticut colleges to rent a theater in New York for one month and we would do one-act plays with students. I directed the one from SCSU. As far as Hartford, I don’t get there too much. I had a run-in with a critic years ago when I was directing “The Crimson Thread” at Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury. Instead of writing about the play he wrote about what was a secondary discussion about critical plays vs. audience plays.
Q: What is something no one knows about you?
A: I think there are a lot people who don’t know about my godson. Me and his mother, a good friend and professional photographer and a single mother, share him. He spends about half his time with me. I think if every single mom in America could get free baby-sitting a lot of things would change.
Q: That sounds a bit political. Are you interested?
A: No. I’d like to make some real wisecrack comment about being too honest to be a politician. There’s a lot of compromise in politics. I’m more realistic. I know it is wrong to spend more money on prison than education. I don’t really get politics.
Q: So back to something no one knows about you?
A: I always wanted to be a football coach and I am a good golfer. My handicap is 12. I was the man in “Lombardi” but in “A Christmas Story,” I am probably the least talented man in the show.
Reach MaryEllen Fillo at firstname.lastname@example.org.