Rene Auberjonois noted actor with Toledo ties, teaches a class at University of Findlay

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  • FINDLAY Rene Auberjonois star of stage, screen, and TV shows, and a familiar voice in animated films certainly could be called a master of his craft.

    And here he was one recent day, conducting a master class as guest artist at the University of Findlay s Egner Center for the Performing Arts.

    He watched two students acting out a scene from Neil Simon s Brighton Beach Memoirs. He suggested some fine-tuning, ways they could make the characters (teenage brothers) more believable. He reminded the students to understand every role in a play, not just their own. Be aware of everything around you, he advised.

    From left: Rene Auberjonois (at right) in Boston Legal
    From left: Rene Auberjonois (at right) in Boston Legal

    Auberjonois urged the students to enunciate a bit more clearly, partly because of his one bad ear but also because you always have to remember your audience hasn t heard what you are about to say. He asked them to re-do the scene a second time, a third time, and finally a fourth time, striving for better effect.

    But he also cautioned the class: You ll never be perfect. We re not looking for perfection. And he confessed that even at the age of 67 and after half a century of acting experience he is uncomfortable being labeled a master. I hardly feel like a master, he said.

    There is the craft, and there is the art. Craft is something you learn, but no one can teach you the art. When it moves into the [realm] of art, you never master it. You are continually figuring out what you are doing.

    Auberjonois has had plenty of chances to refine his craft, or art, including such memorable roles as Father Mulcahy in the original M*A*S*H movie; Odo, the security officer on the six-year TV series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; Clayton Runnymede Endicott III, the pompous aide to the governor in the long-running TV series Benson; geologist Roy Bagley in the 1976 remake of King Kong, and Paul Lewiston, a partner in the Boston Legal TV series for the last three years.

    Rene Auberjonois as Odo in Star Trek
    Rene Auberjonois as Odo in Star Trek

    His long list of credits also includes a key role in the Broadway musical Coco that starred Katharine Hepburn (for which he won a Tony award in 1970); films such as Batman Forever, The Patriot, and Sally Hemings: An American Scandal, and he also had lent his voice to numerous books on tape and animated films, including his favorite, as the voice for Chef Louis in the Disney film The Little Mermaid.

    Even though this was Auberjonois first visit to Findlay as the most recent recipient of the Don and Barb Hennigs Chair for Theatre Guest Artists his family has long ties to this region. His father was the late Fernand Auberjonois, who was European correspondent for The Blade and its sister paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, for decades. (His grandfather, Rene Auberjonois, after whom he was named, was a well-known Swiss impressionist painter, and his mother, Laura, descended from a European royal family).

    He credits The Blade s publishers decades ago for helping to guide his choice of a college that jump-started his acting career. In an interview, he said that when he was a teenager his father sent his resume to Paul Block, Jr., then publisher of The Blade, who suggested the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh (now known as Carnegie-Mellon University). Mr. Block forwarded the resume to his brother William Block, Sr., co-publisher in Pittsburgh, and he contacted the university.

    Rene Auberjonois and as Clayton Runnymede Endicott III in Benson
    Rene Auberjonois and as Clayton Runnymede Endicott III in Benson

    It helped a great deal that Auberjonois application was accompanied by a strong recommendation from famed actor and producer John Houseman, who had been his mentor when he was a 16-year-old apprentice at a theater in Stratford, Conn.

    Auberjonois was born in 1940 in New York, but after World War II his family moved to Paris. He said it was there, at the age of 6, he determined to be an actor. For a time, the Aubernonois family live in Rockland County, N.Y., where they had such neighbors and friends as cartoonists Bill Mauldin and Milton Caniff and actors Burgess Meredith and Helen Hayes.

    It was at Carnegie that he learned mid-Atlantic English neither too British nor too American from Edith Skinner, a speech coach and a consultant to Broadway actors. Later, he was an associate of Ms. Skinner, when both were on the faculty of the Juilliard School in New York City.

    Actor Rene Auberjonois in a recent master class on acting at the University of Findlay.
    Actor Rene Auberjonois in a recent master class on acting at the University of Findlay.

    Auberjonois is a believer in thoroughly researching his roles. He recalled that when asked to play a character with Tourette s syndrome on the TV series Chicago Hope, he watched a documentary film about the malady.

    A long and successful career as an actor has been good to Auberjonois. He and his wife of 44 years, Judith (a classmate at Carnegie), live in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles, just to the left of the H in the Hollywood sign. Their grown children also are in show business son Remy, an actor who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and daughter Tessa, a Californian whose voice is frequently heard on national TV commercials.

    He has owned several homes in the Los Angeles area. Our first home was bought by King Kong, he joked. The next one Star Trek bought. This one was bought by Boston Legal. This is sort of my measure [of success].

    He has no plans to retire, even though he s at an age where a lot of actors think about retiring. I m pretty sure I will die with my boots on.

    Actually, he added, as an actor, you live in a state of retirement all of your life. You re either between engagements or working your butt off. The actor s challenge is to remain fit and ready to go when the time comes.

    But he does plan to spend more time on his hobbies of photography and wire sculpture. And he said he has plenty to do at his 42-acre retreat near Mendocino in northern California.

    Auberjonois said he visited his father, the Blade correspondent, at his home in Ireland a couple of times a year until he died in 2004. His time at The Blade was probably the happiest and most fulfilling time of his life, he said. I saw a man at the top of his game, the top of his profession. He was mellow and satisfied. His was a life well lived.

    Scott Hayes, chairman of the Fine Arts department at Findlay, said about 100 students and 100 other community residents were able to meet Auberjonois during his recent visit. Rene s resume and experience denote him as an expert in almost every area of acting film, television, theater, voice-over work, Mr. Hayes said. He has been so prolific that his expertise is vast.

    Contact Homer Brickey at:homerbrickey@theblade.comor 419-724-6129.