APL Colloquium

June 14, 2019

Colloquium Topic: Knowledge and Wisdom

Professor Astin will tell us of a traumatic event during his high school years that eventually took him on a path that altered his outlook on life, changed his schools and his fields of study, brought him to a profession he had previously disdained, and led him finally, of all places, to academia. He will express his opinions on the differences between knowledge and wisdom, and will warn us that failure to comprehend these differences could lead us to disaster, and, in fact, may be doing so at this very moment. He hopes to evoke a little laughter along the way. To help explain, he may quote the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, who is rarely funny.

Colloquium Speaker: John Astin

John Astin is Homewood Professor of the Arts at Johns Hopkins University where he is Director of the Theatre Arts & Studies Program. Occasionally Mr. Astin performs on stage with his students, and when time permits he is still in film, television and the theatre.  For six years he performed a one-man show on Edgar Allan Poe to critical acclaim and enthusiastic audiences across the U.S., Ireland and Australia.

Mr. Astin is, of course, best known as Gomez Addams, television’s lovable, slightly crazed patriarch of the original Addams Family series, the myriad repeats of which have led to the frequent reference to Mr. Astin as a “pop-culture icon.” Gomez remains a favorite among his hundreds of TV characterizations, along with Buddy Ryan in Night Court and the title role in Evil Roy Slade. Other TV appearances include Mad About You, The Nanny, The Hughleys, The Strip, and Becker.

Mr. Astin's early training was in Shakespeare and other classical dramatists as he studied first with actor Maurice Greet, nephew of the famous Shakespearean actor-manager Ben Greet. Later he attended for five years theatre great Harold Clurman’s midnight class for professional actors. “Fifty years later, I’m still learning from him,” Astin says. Clurman directed him in David Suskind’s TV production of Jean Giraudoux’s Tiger at the Gates, and he also appeared in the origi­nal New York company of the longest running version of The Threepenny Opera, and in Saroyan’s The Cave Dwellers, Lindsay and Crouse’s Tall Story, James Joyce's Ulysses in Nighttown, and Charles Laughton’s memorable production of Shaw’s Major Barbara. Other stage favorites include Fagin in Oliver!, Vladimir in Waiting for Godot, Percy in Rattle of a Simple Man, Sir Joseph in H.M.S. Pinafore (his most recent NY appearance), Henry Saunders in Ken Ludwig's Lend Me a Tenor and a highly praised characterization of Ebenezer Scrooge in a tour of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. A few years ago he was Linus Pauling in a play on the life of the two-time Nobel Prize winner.

Among his more than thirty films are West Side Story, That Touch of Mink with Doris Day and Cary Grant, The Wheeler Dealers, Move Over Darling, Candy, Viva Max, Pepper, Get to Know Your Rabbit, The Brothers O'Toole, Freaky Friday, European Vacation, Nightlife, Gremlins II, Stepmonster, Huck & the King of Hearts, and Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners.

Mr. Astin has been nominated for many awards, including the Emmy, the Ace, and the Oscar. His Academy Award nomination was for Prelude, a short film that he wrote, produced, and directed. His voice is popular on radio and in animation series. He has received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Alumni Association of Johns Hopkins University (1999), the Phi Kappa Psi 2002 National Leadership Award, and both the Min-on Art Award and the Liberty Award from the Soka Gakkai International.

He and his wife Valerie are in their 27th year of marriage, and reside in Baltimore, occasionally visiting Los Angeles, Houston and Hawaii where they enjoy time with immediate family, including five sons and five granddaughters of whom they are intensely proud.