Wilford Brimley (1934- ) is a well-known actor to many due to several top-shelf film roles, starring roles in several television series, and a ubiquitous series of television advertisements for Quaker Oats. His grandfatherly appearance, simple demeanor, and deceptively simplistic acting style have ingrained him into American pop culture. He is surprisingly young; in fact, during his years of peak popularity in the late 1980s, he was only in his mid-50's.

Wilford was born in 1934 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was raised on a ranch in Utah and wound up running the ranch when he came of age. As the years wore on and he approached middle age, Brimley began to gain weight, and so he entrusted the family ranch to his children and took up blacksmithing, a longtime hobby of his. He also became friends with actor Robert Duvall in the 1960s, because Brimley would often serve as an extra in various spaghetti westerns that were popular at the time; Duvall encouraged him to get into acting and also arranged a few minor speaking parts for Brimley in some western films. Acting on this advice, Brimley became very active in a volunteer theater group and made a few television appearances in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, most notably as the recurring character Horace Brimley, a blacksmith on the show The Waltons.

Due to the success of his regular appearances on The Waltons, a member of the cast of that hit show invited Brimley to join a noted Los Angeles theater group, the Los Angeles Actors Theater. In 1978, he caught what would be his big break, the role of Ted Spindler in the 1979 film The China Syndrome.

As a result of the success of The China Syndrome, Brimley went on to appear in several film projects throughout the early 1980s, culminating in 1984 with his appearance as Robert Redford's baseball manager in the film The Natural and scoring again in 1985 with another major film success, the movie Cocoon. This spurred his career again, allowing him to become the main star and focus of the television series Our House, which ran on NBC during the late 1980s. Star Wars fans (one in particular) might be interested to know that he starred as Noa in the second Ewok made-for-television movie, Ewoks: The Battle for Endor.

After Our House ended, Brimley stayed in the spotlight by starring in a long running series of Quaker Oats television and print ads, which ran for roughly six years in the United States from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. In these ads, he would try to pitch the product by talking to children and younger people, telling them that "Quaker Oats is the right thing to do and the tasty way to do it." This, along with a memorable role in the 1993 hit film The Firm as an elderly company watchdog, continued to keep Brimley in the public eye.

He has appeared in dozens of films over the years, often reprising a similar role to his first major break, where he played a simple worker caught in the cogs of something much bigger than himself. He plays the "simple man" exceptionally well; this is perhaps the reason why this otherwise ordinary-seeming elderly gentleman has remained quite visible over the last twenty years. He is still quite active and pops up regularly in films in various supporting roles.

Interestingly, Brimley made the news in 2000 because of his public support of cockfighting, a rather surprising stance that received quite a lot of media attention. He publicly disagreed with Arizona's Proposition 201, which passed regardless of his public protest. Wilford Brimley thinks banning cockfighting isn't the right thing to do. Brimley argued that the passage of this bill could lead to more laws restricting use of animals, like prohibiting the use of dogs for hunting. "My saddle horses are my friends," he said at a press conference. "My dogs are my friends. Once an idea like this gets started, I don't know where it's going to end."

Wilford Brimley, a mild-mannered farmer with a gift for playing the simple man on stage and on screen, leaves behind a legacy of supporting roles in a wide variety of films and a face immediately recognizable to anyone who watched television in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Yes, even given his many film roles, some of them quite notable, Wilford Brimley is still most recognizable to the average person as the "Quaker Oats" guy.

Lucy-S says Let's not forget Brimley's memorable role as the deranged, ax-wielding, alien-infected Dr. Blair in John Carpenter's 1982 horror opus "The Thing". Oatmeal never quite looked the same to me after seeing that movie ....

Mostly you wait. It's worse than attending someone else's labor pains. Harder than sitting in the dentist's office on a sunny day. Actors lucky enough to be involved in the creation of a motion picture become experts in the fine art of occupying themselves, waiting while the crew gets things together. "Heavy-duty Greyhound Bus Station Action," is how director James Cameron put it, referring to his performers on The Abyss, who were forced into unusually long periods of inactivity because of the dangerous and technical nature of that shoot.

Indeed, enduring delay may be the business to which the more fatuous talk-show guests refer when they discuss how "difficult" their last (one hopes) job was. When you're alone, a long way from home, in a place not particularly inspirational, well the only thing to compare it to, I suppose, is soldiering, when the shooting's turned down and the air around you is still. People play cards. They read. They knit. A good story-teller is always popular too, in a war or on a movie set.

It was hot that day in Mexico City. Hotter than usual, because we were behind schedule and there were technical problems. The old brick sound stage was not well-insulated, the set had a lot of incandescent light on it, and the air conditioning was over-taxed. You could cook tamales in that place, the way the Aztecs did. Slowly.

But Wilford was cool. If professional, punctual, sardonic, and witty beyond words were not equally strong candidates, cool would be Wilford Brimley's middle name. And if you could manage to get him talking in the first place, he could bust your gut as sure as—I'm sure—he could rope, tie, and brand a steer that's been crossed with the Devil's own. But his humor's subtle, man, subtle.

So the old cowboy and his slick black sidekick, J. A. Preston, who plays MacCleary, the dapper recruiter of hapless Remo Williams in the film version of the cult series of crime novels known as The Destroyer, are sitting backstage in that curious half-light that exists on the other side of Hollywood. It's probably their fifth or sixth twelve-hour work day together, I don't know, but I suspect they've gotten to know each other pretty well by now. They've probably pretty much exhausted each other's back pages, and besides, we've just finished lunch and that dreamy, well-stuffed mid-afternoon feeling has come over us all.

It's quiet, but for the slow hammering going on, over there, in the light on the other side of that false wall, like somebody's nailing a coffin together. I'm wishing I had a camera, cause it's yet another beautiful shot of actors, off-stage, in repose, at work but not at work. What a coffee table book that'd make I'm thinking.

Wilford's tipped back in his chair, chin resting on his chest, just starting to nod off. J.A.'s all nervous energy, just getting going in his career. A nice part in a movie after a continuing role on Hill Street Blues. Foreign city. Nice per diem. What's not to like? He's looking at me, smiling, and tapping his foot. Discretion is the better part of job security on a movie set. I know better than to mess with the director's actors when they could be going to work any second, so I smile back, saying nothing. I'm a little sleepy too.

They're shooting the scene where Preston, best-dressed black man on the streets of Soho, is bringing Remo to meet Wilford for the first time. It's the recruitment scene where—if Remo refuses the gig—Wilford will have him killed, by this self-same dangerous-beneath-the-tweed Afro-American assistant. National security and all.

J.A. throws the slightest little bit of syncopated hand-jive into the beat he's got going with his foot. He's sitting on an apple-box, a ubiquitous piece of movie gear, wooden, that resonates beautifully, like a drum. In fact, it resembles most the cajon, the box-like drum flamenco percussionists use.

Wilford's eyebrows rise surreptitiously. He's like a plainsman who senses game nearby but wants a few more seconds to collect himself. Cause he's cool.

J.A.'s getting into it now: bam badda bam badda bam badda bam. But Wilford wants a little more shut-eye, dontcha know: boomp chakka boomp chakka boomp chakkity boomp.

Wilford lazily rocks his chair back down on all four legs, bomp diddly bomp diddly bomp diddly diddly, slowly opens his sleepy-like-an-eagle's eyes cong gogo cong gogo con go go and looking over his glasses and under those bushy old eyebrows at his new black friend he says, deadpan as only Wilford Brimley can be:

"Ah know what chur sayin'."

J.A. and I bust a gut. I love ole Wilford.

On Hollywood and filmmaking:

Below the Line

sex drugs and divorce

a little life, interrupted
  1. Hecho en Mejico
  2. Entrances
  3. Sam's Song
  4. Hemingway and Fortuna
  5. Hummingbird on the Left
  6. The Long and Drunken Afternoon
  7. Safe in the Lap of the Gods
  8. Quetzal Birds in Love
  9. Angela in Paradise
  10. And the machine ran backwards

a secondhand coffin
how to act
Right. Me and Herman Melville
Scylla and Charybdis Approximately
snowflakes and nylon

I could've kissed Orson Welles
the broken dreams of Orson Welles
the last time I saw Orson Welles
The Other Side of the Wind

Below the Line
completion bond
Film Editing
Film Editor
Final Cut Pro
forced development
HD Video
king of the queens
Kubrick polishes a turd
movies from space
Persistence of Vision
Sven Nykvist
Wilford Brimley

21 Grams
Andrei Rublyov
Apocalypse Now Redux
Ivan's Childhood
The Jazz Singer
The Sacrifice
We Were Soldiers
Wild Strawberries

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