Monday, June 06, 2011

Chatting with Christopher Mayer, part 1

He says on his Facebook page that he has "decided to discard Howard Hughes and re-assume Vance Duke," and every fan of "The Dukes of Hazzard" definitely knows the context of that. He's been our Holy Grail for many years of "Dukes" events. He's been the missing signature on the trunk lid of just about every General Lee out there. He's been the only surviving "Dukes" cast member most of us haven't had the pleasure to meet.

But earlier this year he re-emerged on the radar. Christopher ("Chip") Mayer resumed personal appearances with his Duke cousin, Byron ("Coy") Cherry, beginning with the Hollywood Show a few months ago and continuing on with this month's Johnny Cash Music Festival. For BRBTV, Mayer is a double-shot, as not only Vance Duke but also as T.J. Daniels on our beloved soap "Santa Barbara." And he certainly has been our Holy Grail, the interview we've been wanting for years. We're not going to blather on about exclusive-interview-blah-blah-blah, because most folks who use that term "exclusive interview" nowadays have no idea what it actually means in the *real* journalism world. But BRBTV is mighty happy to have connected with the gracious and friendly Mr. Mayer.

As we chatted with him via phone this this past Saturday (morning for him, noon for us! before his coffee, he said, noting that it probably was a good thing!), we touched on both "The Dukes" and "SB." In this two-parter for the BRBTV News Blog, we'll bring you some of that action. (For the whole text of the interview, see future editions of the BRBTV reference guides "Them Dukes! Them Dukes!" and "Send Me to Santa Barbara.") So let's talk this week about "The Dukes" ...

“The thing about the show that’s interesting," he says, "I don’t know if people realized it or not at the time, but it was becoming a sort of cultural phenomenon like ‘Bonanza.’ I had a great time on the show. I did personal appearances every weekend. I was on the set until 9 o’clock every night during the week. Obviously it was of wonderful financial benefit.”

Mayer talked about the audition process for "The Dukes," which found him with a daughter on the way by his first wife, Teri Copley, and in need of some financial security. His manager at the time, Ron Samuels (onetime hubby of Lynda Carter), asked him to try out for the show, the auditions for which Mayer remembers as a worldwide PR blitz in the wake of the departure of John ("Bo Duke") Schneider and Tom ("Luke Duke") Wopat.

“It was insane," he says. "There were producer meetings in the studio, and you’d go back there, and there’d be like four blond guys, and four dark-haired guys. I'd just do the audition and I split. You'd get a call the next week, and you go back, and there’d be like eight other blond guys and eight other dark-haired guys. They finally got down to the final four guys they wanted for each role. … They would take you to the airport, and you get out there, and Cathy Bach was waiting for us there. …You do exteriors out in Valencia, out at Magic Mountain, where they had Hazzard set up. .. Cathy Bach is in a pair of Daisy Duke shorts, and we got to the audition scene. It was kinda bizarre, because the other guys who are going for your role are standing there watching you. … You just snap the ball through it. But it was acting, you know. Nothing remotely realistic. … I guess about four or five days later, I was sitting in my apartment, and my first wife was pregnant with my first daughter Ashley, and my agent says, ‘Are you sitting down? Well, you got it!’”

So onto an amazing journey that would prove more meaningful to Mayer than he realized at the time. And into a world where he will be forever remembered -- replacement or not -- in our eyes!

“When we first did the show, a lot of people thought I should be doing serious acting, not bright colors and notes like it was then," he says. "Now in hindsight, it’s become something that’s very sweet and a cultural icon. Even though we were in a replacement role. It gave me an opportunity to bring my first daughter into the world in something other than a cold apartment.”

And now, so many years later, as we watch our beloved "Dallas" being given a "next-generation" approach, with not only original cast members but an emphasis on the kids of the show that could surely sustain it with a new fan base, and even as we remember Ben ("Cooter") Jones telling us that he once pitched that same next-generation idea to Warner Bros. for "The Dukes," BRBTV had to ask Mayer ... what would Vance Duke's life look like these days?

“I’d have a lot of kids," said the father of three girls. "And I’d be married to a really pretty girl that looked like Cathy Bach."

(Truth be told, Mayer has hooked up with a beautiful actress named Catherine!)

"I’d be in fairly good shape, but maybe have a little more on my waistline," he continues. "I would be somebody who would be involved in the community, maybe something with kids. I would be involved in Hazzard County and helping the community.”

Hmmm ... very nice, admirable traits. So in what other ways might the persona of Vance Duke intersect with the person of Chris Mayer, at least the Vance we knew back in the '80s?

“He was about family, he was about kids, he was about being respectful to women and not treating them like objects. And if you want a fight – hell ya, right now!”

Ahhhh. We love it. Especially the note he adds: “Kids and women are it, man. They’re the hinge on which the gate swings.”

Mayer, a lover of the Lord, is clearly happy with the blessings he's had in his life, and he certainly sees his experience on "The Dukes" as one of them. Chief in all of that, it's clear as you talk with him, is the opportunity to be back on the radar and to make some kind of difference to the people he encounters.

“Television is the opiate of the masses, but at the same time, the way it touches people, it’s such a great thing," he says. "The average person aspires to that. You can go and meet people and shake hands, and I love going out and making people smile, look them in the eye, shake their hands.”

He adds, perhaps not entirely tongue-in-cheek:

“I’m 57 years old now. I want to be a part of it. I’m not MIA. I’ve been in the Dukes of Hazzard Witness Protection Program.”

Tune in next Monday for part 2 of our interview snippets, where Mayer reminisces about "Santa Barbara" and tells us what he's got coming up next (and yes, it's on TV!) ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amazing, nice to see Chris back in action !!!