Most people know Bruce Campbell. Full stop. For some his massively chinned visage will forever recall the pulpy, bloody glory of Evil Dead. For others, his hypermasculine squint will forever recall Brisco from The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.. Youngsters and guppies will be familiar with his scenery consumption on USA’s totally ridiculous Burn Notice. Fewer people may know Campbell for his writing, but he’s a solid scribbler and his new (second) memoir, Hail to the Chin, is worth a read. It contains wisdom. Bruce contains wisdom. I know this first hand because we spoke for precisely 17 minutes by phone in the middle of Campbell’s 35 city book tour and he said several things that stopped me in my tracks.
He was in Louisville. He was funny. He was smart. TL;DR: Bruce Campbell knows about life and kids and dog and maybe women and is definitely the philosopher king of B movies.
Lesson One: Don’t Confuse Personal and Family Ambition
The way these interviews work is I usually ask up front about the subject’s children. Fatherly is, after all, a publication about fatherhood. Usually interviewees are eager to share details about their children. Some of this is surely a product of heartfelt love and enthusiasm. Some of this is presumably because I interview a lot of well-known people and well-known people often want to seem accessible and grounded. I’m not saying they aren’t those things, but it can still be a conscious strategy. This is not Bruce Campbell’s strategy.
“I have two children and I mostly don’t talk about them,” he told me frankly. “The reason I don’t is because I am incredible protective of my children. Neither of them has chosen to go into entertainment. I’m very proud of their accomplishments, but it’s most important to me not to drag them into any kind of publicity that they don’t want. It is a little odd to not talk about them because they mean a lot to me, but I’m a protective son of gun.”
Campbell has, it is worth noting, always been like this, carving out a civilian zone for his children, even as his celebrity grew. “I made a decision early on to keep them out of it. They had no part in my decision making process to be an actor. Thankfully, they did not grow up in a Twitter world so they are very undocumented. I’ve always tried to give them a normal life. They both went to public school. We didn’t really go to Hollywood parties. We did things like go to Disneyland. They did not have an insulated life which I’m very glad about.”
Lesson Two: Show Your Kids What You Love
There’s a Chinese saying, “Fu bu guo san dai.” Wealth, according to the proverb, never lasts more than three generations. Happily the wealth of creative expression defies this logic. In Campbell’s case, as the son of an amateur actor and the father of a painter, he is the shepherd of greater Campbellian creativity. He traces the root of his success to seeing his father, an amateur actor, in a local production of “The Pajama Game” at age eight. According to Campbell, “I saw a whole different part of him.He was cracking jokes. He was dancing with women who weren’t my mother!”
Campbell’s dad never really talked about where he headed off to occasionally — by day he worked in advertising — but he was fulfilling a life long artistic dream. “He did it as a creative release,” says Campbell. It turns out that Campbell’s father had always wanted to be a painter, like his son. But his grandfather, who worked for Alcoa Aluminum in Detroit for 45 years, was an old school guy who forbade it. “His whole theory was you work. It’s not whether you like your job, you go to work. End of story. My father’s approach was, yeah, you work, but you should also do stuff you like.”
Campbell’s father was always an ardent supporter of his son’s artistic pursuits. “I give my father a lot of credit for being what I call a generational go-between.” Thankfully it’s turned out great for all involved. “My mother and my father were investors in the very first Evil Dead movie and thankfully he made a sack full of cash,” says Campbell.
Lesson Three: There’s Nothing Wrong With the Second Tier
The subtitle of Campbell’s memoir Hail to the Chin is Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor so clearly he’s embraced the title. Some might see the appellation as pejorative and therefore the subtitle as self-effacing but not Campbell. In fact, he says, “I have a sort of reverse arrogance.”
For Campbell, it’s important to not that B level doesn’t mean bad. “If you think about, almost everything is on the B level,” he tells me, “With all due respect to you and your job, you’re not A, B, or even C level. You are in the entertainment business and so am I, but there are very few people who are at the top A-level.” Not only are these “lesser” levels more numerous but, according to Campbell, they’re more noble. “We work harder for less money and longer hours. But,” he said, “we do what we love.”
The A list tunnel vision, says Campbell, is wrecking our dreams. “In our country, we push and push to become famous and successful,” he says, “the trick is people need to work a lot harder at being happy. A lot of that is doing what you want to do at whatever level that is.” Campbell is like the Lorax of B-levellers everywhere. “Most people out there are doing community theater, or local Chevy ads, or working voiceover. But they are doing what they love. They’re an underrepresented population. There’s no shame in B level. Only pride.”
Lesson Four: “Dogs and Children, You Gotta Let Them Run”
This is the last thing Bruce Campbell said to me before he politely excused himself. It’s pretty self explanatory and also very true.