by G. Jack Urso
Longfield, credited on Hot Hero Sandwich as L. Michael Craig, brought with him a frenetic, kinetic energy that I
identified with as an attention-deficit young man. I
had the opportunity recently to speak with him about the show and he really
delivered some inside info!
Here, Longfield discusses his Hot Hero character “Tapedeck,” the Hot Hero van, the Puberty Fairy at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the other Michael Longfield, beer and comedy in Aspen, Dan Aykroyd's dressing room, and the perks of NBC employment (which seem to include sneaking into the CBS commissary). Also, Eddie Money, Giancarlo Esposito, and Robert Townsend turn up, and we learn about the wild ride young actors take to make their way in the world.
Ae13U: I usually ask where people originally hail from, but you noted you came from a military family that moved around a lot. What places did you live before Hot Hero Sandwich?
Michael Longfield: I was born in Palo Alto CA, lived in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Washington DC, then the family settled in Seattle moving (for their last time) after my dad retired from the Navy. I went to four different schools in Seattle, so in a lot of ways I was still like moving every few years.
Ae13U: How did you get started acting? Did you go through any kind of formal training through a coach or school?
Michael Longfield: My dad used to stick his head in my crib and say “Let’s see the old Stanislavsky technique” and I would apparently laugh, cry, giggle and get mad on cues. I was always interested in acting and my senior year in High School did an Independent study at a local theatre call The Empty Space (I wear that shirt in pretty much every episode). That was the most pivotal training ground I could have had. I went to the Cornish College of the arts for a year, then was a member of The Empty Space company of actors for a season, then I moved to New York.
Ae13U: I know there were a couple episodes of The Edge of Night, according to the IMdB, before Hot Hero. What else? Plays, commercials? If the later, can you share what kind of products they were about?
Michael Longfield: Actually, I was never on Edge of Night, there was another Michael Longfield and a pretty funny story around that and Taps. I did a lot of plays before moving to New York and commercials after.
Ae13U: OK, now that I just completely embarrassed myself with bad research, let’s talk Hot Hero. How did you get cast on Hot Hero Sandwich? What was the audition process?
Michael Longfield: Like Jarett I had just gotten an agent and they got me the audition. Carole Pffeffer and Christine Rolfs [casting agents] cast me in HHS and my first commercial. There were several rounds of auditions and on the final call back I met Robert Townsend. Afterward he showed me how to sneak into the CBS commissary for lunch!
Ae13U: Robert Townsend, the actor and director?
Michael Longfield: Yes. He and Jarett were after the same role.
Ae13U: Where had you been living at the time you were filming Hot Hero Sandwich?
Michael Longfield: I was living with two roommates in a one-bedroom apartment in the village just up the street from Herbert Berghof Studios [a famous acting school] with no air conditioning, it felt very Bohemian.
The “Waking Up” sketch. Michael Longfield channels Buster Keaton. Note Longfield is wearing his “The Empty Space” t-shirt, the theater company he was a member of before Hot Hero Sandwich.
Ae13U: You traveled around a lot at the time. How exactly did you end up in NYC and on Hot Hero?
Michael Longfield: So, I got to New York in a really roundabout way. My agents were Jacobs and Wilder. I was doing plays in Seattle at The Empty Space [the noted theater company that ran from 1970-2006]. Tapedeck [Longfield’s character on HHS] wears The Empty Space t-shirt, and that was the theater that I grew up at in Seattle. They did all sorts . . . David Mamet and stuff like that. I had been seen by this director who is doing a show in Hartford, and he called Seattle and asked, “Oh, is Michael around?” And I wasn't. I was in New York visiting a friend. Through a bunch of phone tags, someone finally told me, “Oh, hey. Burke [the director] has been trying to get in touch with you. I called Seattle. They got me in touch with this guy, and I auditioned for a play in Hartford, and I got it! So I moved to Hartford and Sada Thompson was in it.
[Ed. Note: Thompson is the noted Emmy Award-winning actress on the ABC drama Family, 1976-1980, which also starred Kristi McNichol, whose brother Jimmy is interviewed by Dr. Tom Cottle in Hot Hero Sandwich.]
Ae13U: Acting with Sada Thompson on stage must have been a pretty intense experience for a young actor.
Michael Longfield: It was kind of surreal [laughter]. All of the actors were from New York. So, all of their agents came up to see it and I was kind of courted by several different agencies — which was super cool — because there was kind of a buzz. I got cast, they put in two things at the same time, I got cast in a pilot in LA and Hot Hero Sandwich, and I took Hot Hero Sandwich after I turned down the pilot, for considerably more money and had a guarantee build right into it. I didn’t want to move to Los Angeles, I wanted to move to New York, you know, and the pilot got cancelled after the first table reading!
Ae13U: [laughter] Well, it was a good decision at least.
Michael Longfield: Well, no it was a terrible decision because I could have gone back and done Hot Hero Sandwich . . .
Ae13U: And you would have the money anyways!
Michael Longfield: I would have had $100,000* in my pocket. It was a big guarantee, but I absolutely thought that that Hot Hero Sandwich was just going to be a huge hit. [*Ed. Note: Approx. $415,752.07 in 2023. Sorry Mike. You probably didn’t want to know that.]
Ae13U: Did you have much interaction with Bruce and Carole Hart?
Michael Longfield: Bruce and Carole were just like the nicest the nicest people. They were super down-to-earth and, you know, no pretense at all. I remember they had a wrap party for us at their apartment on the Upper West Side . . . I was using the restroom and they had a signed Picasso in the restroom!
Michael Longfield: It's like, well, I guess Sesame Street was pretty good!
Ae13U: [laughter] Oscar the Grouch paid dividends! Who would have guessed?
Michael Longfield: These were just people you didn’t think would have it, and they have it in the bathroom, that’s the type of people they were. I think their Emmys were in there too . . . just super low-key and really wonderful.
On Stage at Studio 8H
Ae13U: I know all actors chaff somewhat at looking back at their performances, with the perspective of the years, how do you regard the young man looking back at the show now?
Michael Longfield: Looked back at the performances and frenetic energy that you appreciated and it’s something that, you know, I worked my entire career to get rid of and that's one of the reasons why I really don't act that much anymore! [laughter]
Ae13U: Well, listening to your jazz show, which, having worked in radio myself, and love jazz, you have a really tight show, but there was a sort of disconnect. I had to check and make sure this was the same guy on Hot Hero because your delivery is really mellow compared to the series, so you’ve succeeded! [laughter]
Michael Longfield: Oh good. Thank God, because I’m too old to be that nutty now!
Ae13U: One scene you did from the show I want to discuss is regards your monologue in Episode 2, the "Living in a Suitcase" segment. This stuck with me because at the time of broadcast I was moving round a lot, eventually moving five times between 8th grade and 12th grade. It's one of those things I saw that made me think "Yeah, someone gets it. It's not just me." Not that there were any answers, but just recognizing that kids get kind of overlooked in frequent moves, as well the psychological impact, made an impression on me.
“Living in a Suitcase” monologue.
A couple questions about this scene. First, this seems like a real challenging piece. It was just you with no one to react to and you’re in front of a blue screen with only a few props. It seems like a really challenging piece to do as an actor. The background on that piece would be particularly interesting and informative on the process how scripts with this type of messaging were developed. How did you prepare for a piece like this? Did you work with the director to find just the right tone, or did they just give you the space to work up your interpretation for the scene?
Also, speaking with Jarett, I understand that parts were usually assigned, but given your background this part seems almost like it was written specifically for you. Was that just a coincidence?
Michael Longfield: I remember things a little differently than Jarett. I thought we had table reads then kind of discussed stuff we felt really close to. I am pretty sure I pitched myself for that one. It was at the very end of a particularly long day, and it is one of the few pieces I feel very proud of. The thoughts and emotions were real and after what would be a 20-hour workday the crew did clap at the end of the performance but I thought that was just because we all got to go home!
Ae13U: In Episode 10, there is a three-part sketch where your character and Nan-Lynn Nelson’s are friends who have a bit of a flirtation and agree to go to a dance together, but after arguing they realize they have too many differences and decide to stay just friends. A nice little piece of modeling appropriate behavior to kids learning how to navigate crushes with friends.
What I found interesting and innovative in this episode is that is that race is not an issue. That you and Nan-Lynn have different skin colors never is never mentioned. I absolutely remember this sketch because if this was anywhere else on network TV in 1979, it would have been a “very special” episode entirely on race relations. In fact, at the time I can remember thinking, “OK. When are they going to discuss it?” And when it never came up, I can still recall my reaction was, “Yeah, it shouldn’t be an issue, so why even mention it?” What were your thoughts at the time about this aspect of the scene?
Michael Longfield: It was really nice to see the little arc we got out of that. I had forgotten how often the show did that. Nan Lynn was such a good actress and whenever I was smart enough to calm down and listen I think I did my best work. Nan and I listened to each other and I don’t think either of us were thinking about the racial overtones of the scene, just the feelings. There were so many opportunities to find those moments that were especially important to kids. I grew up in a very integrated environment so I didn’t really think about racial stuff at the time.
I was so excited about having a show and I assume everyone felt the same way. There might have been moments where we might have hoped to bring more to the plate but the production team were trying to create a genre, that’s a lot more than just making a kids show. In retrospect testing might have been good but it could have killed us in the middle of production. Standards and practices were always calling. There was always something controversial going on. I know this because I cracked a joke in rehearsal of a Captain Hero bit and someone came out of the booth and said that S&P had called and I felt so bad and whoever it was said “don’t worry we get those calls from them all day”. It was a tight rope and I think we ended up pretty over budget.
The three-part “Getting Together” sketch with Nan-Lynn Nelson.
Ae13U: You had a certain kinetic, frenetic energy on the show, and one I think a lot of teens could relate to.
Michael Longfield: It's so funny that that you talk about the kinetic energy that I brought to the show. When I watched that, it’s just . . . I haven't seen this show in 40 years . . . I didn't even watch every episode when they came out, and so to see it see it now, it’s really been fun. It's amazing to hear, you know, Robert Guillaume, and Richard Pryor, and then Jarett saying the n-word on TV. That would not happen [today].
Ae13U: I remember seeing that episode and it blew my mind. Finally, someone was getting real about the issue. I remember thinking at the time, “Is anybody at the network watching this? How did this get by them?
Michael Longfield: We used to get calls from standard and practices every day. We we're doing a run-through of the Captain Hero sketch with the drug dealer, and I played a drug dealer and at one point. I said, “Kid, why don't you go home and take a nap?” Well, in rehearsal, I said, “Why don't you go home and take a Tylenol?” And their reaction was immediate.
I think we had three Standards and Practices [executives] and, you know, the feed goes all around NBC and so they just watched Hot Hero Sandwich rehearsals all day long . . . and hard days, they were long. They were loooong . . .
Ae13U: Jarett Smithwrick mentioned how long the days were. You began in the morning and worked through evening.
Michael Longfield: I remember the day we did the “I Live in a Suitcase” bit . . . the way the shot those, like Nan-Lynn’s where she's alone, and all the all pretty much all the solo stuff, was done as the last thing so they could release everybody else.
I think our call was 8 o'clock in the morning and it was probably 2 A.M. when we shot that [The “Living in a Suitcase” segment]. I mean, we’re talking twenty-hour days. No problem, you know? [laughter] Everybody was super into it.
Ae13U: That’s the kind of detail we’re want to pull out in these interviews — to give an idea of what goes into being a performer. It’s not always, “Lights! Camera! Action!”
Michael Longfield: It's sit around and wait. You know, the longest part of the day is to sitting in your dressing room and waiting for lighting to get done and waiting for the shots to get set up. It's just such a long day
Ae13U: What about the Hot Hero van seen in the opening credits? Can you tell me anything about that? I think a lot of Baby Boomer fans have fond memories of the VW Bus.
Michael Longfield: One of the stories that I can tell you is they wanted to put the Hot Hero van outside of the set. So, they drove the Hot Hero van from the Brooklyn Warehouse into the city and they pulled up to the loading dock and they tried to get it onto the freight elevator and it was three feet too long, so they drove it back to the shops in Brooklyn, chopped it, cut three feet out of the middle of it put it back together it back to park it on the outside [of the set] and then I don't think they ever did.
The Hot Hero van in the opening credits.
Ae13U: Not that I saw. It would have been a sweet addition to the set, but I’m not sure where they could have squeezed it in?
Michael Longfield: Andy Breckman [as the Puberty Fairy] was the only representative from the cast to ride the Hot Hero van in that year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade! 
Ae13U: That is a surreal and slightly disturbing image [laughter].
|Longfield’s NBC publicity photo from the show
(author’s collection). You can see his character's name "Tapedeck"
written the back of the photo by network PR.|
. . . and, of course, he's wearing his ever-present The Empty Space t-shirt!
Ae13U: Turning to your character on the show, the PR photo I have of you released by NBC at the time as you, or your character at least, identified as ”Tapedeck.” Can you fill me in on the backstory there?
Michael Longfield: We were kinda kicking round the first couple rehearsals . . . talking about who was gonna be Stanley Dypstick, who wanted to be . . . whatever . . . they had a character called “Tapedeck” that just listened to the tape deck and I absolutely said right away, “I will do that guy because I know I'll never have to learn any lines.”
Ae13U: Interesting. In my interview with Marianne Meyer she mentioned that they discussed giving the actor’s on-stage characters an identity, or a backstory of some kind. I don’t suppose you ever actually listened to anything on those headphones?
Michael Longfield: The only song that I listen to during every single taping was "Life During Wartime" by The Talking Heads.
Ae13U: [laughter] OK. So, your cool factor just went to Warp 10. I wish I knew that back in ‘79!
Michael Longfield: If you ever see me with my heading bopping up and down [with the headphones on] that’s it!
Backstage at Studio 8H
Ae13U: I know production ended on Saturday Night Live for the season before Hot Hero got access to Studio 8H, but I would be remiss in not asking if there are any backstage stories you can share.
Michael Longfield: I’ll tell you this story. We went on the year immediately following the season that Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi quit so they were on the season before, but then they didn't come back after our show, and I had Dan Aykroyd’s dressing room, and all of the acoustic ceiling tiles have been punched out! [laughter]
I said, “Hey, could someone put the ceiling tiles back?” And they said, “Oh, that’s Dan Aykroyd and he’s going to put them back.” [laughter] Now, I don’t know if that’s why he didn’t come back . . .
Ae13U: I always wondered if you guys used the same dressing rooms.
Michael Longfield: Same dressing rooms, same crew. You know, I love watching Saturday Night Live now and seeing all the guys . . . I mean they must be very old because they're still on the crew . . . Akira Yoshimura who was the designer.
[Ed. Note: Yoshimura was then and is now a production designer on the SNL crew as of this writing].
Ae13U: Yes, Akira Yoshimura! It blew my mind when I realized he also played Mr. Sulu to John Belushi’s Captain Kirk on SNL [and later for William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, and Chris Pine in their appearances].
Michael Longfield: One of the great perks of being in Hot Hero Sandwich was that I had a NBC employee ID card and it was good until the end of the year. So, I could get in and out of anywhere at NBC anytime I wanted to and so I saw every episode of Saturday Night Live that year . . . [and went] backstage, because I knew all the people backstage . . . and then I go to the party afterwards.
Ae13U: [laughter] That's exactly what I thought you would do if I had to guess! [Ed. Note: The 1979-1980 season of SNL featured, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Bill Murray, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner, and Harry Shearer].
Looking back, what things did Hot Hero Sandwich do that you thought worked particularly well, and which things perhaps you thought didn’t work quite as well?
Michael Longfield: As far as my own performance goes I didn’t think I was very good in HHS, but I learned so much from working with the people on and around the show.
Longfield and Vicky Dawson explore hooking up in the 1970s.
I’m not so sure this would air today, but it was the 1970s . . .
After Hot Hero Sandwich
Ae13U: I know it’s a bit of time to cover, and the IMDb can leave out a lot of what an actor does, such as commercials, plays, voice overs, etc. Can you fill us in on some of the other things you did as an actor after Hot Hero?
Michael Longfield: Right after Hot Hero I did several national commercials, Taps and a silly movie called Hot Resort, I was in a Reggae Band in New York, I worked in a music rehearsal studio, moved to Aspen to be a ski bum, created a 501C3 comedy group there called The Aspen Ridiculous Theatre Company and ran a low power television station. I moved to LA to try to get back into show biz but ended up being a teleprompter operator and bike store manager. The next stop was back in Seattle where I opened my own bicycle shop then retired and moved to New Orleans, where I work on a weekly New Orleans radio show!
Ae13U: A comedy troupe in Aspen, that’s a great place with a ready tourist audience. I’d like to hear more about that.
Michael Longfield: It was like Hot Hero Sandwich almost. We would write probably 35-40 minutes worth of material every week and then we do 30 minutes of improve, and then we would buy a keg of beer from the from the venue and we would charge people $five dollars to get in, and the beer was free till it was gone, and if we would sell out every night. [laughter].
Ae13U: And that was all in Aspen?
Michael Longfield: That was all in Aspen, live every Wednesday. We actually played the very first Aspen Comedy Festival , and Garry Shandling was headliner and we opened for him. We did improv, and oh God, we were terrible, terrible!
Ae13U: Tell me about the low power television station you mentioned you ran. I’m having visions of Weird Al Yankovic’s movie UHF, but I’m guessing the reality is a bit different.
Michael Longfield: It certainly wasn't in that there was not a whole lot of humor. I was the co-host of the morning show . . . So, Bonnie, she was the hostess, I can’t remember her last name, was in charge of the whole show and I just sat there and complimented her. I would say, “Oh, you look great today, Bonnie.” So, that was what my job was.
Ae13U: How did you end up the general manager?
Michael Longfield: The guy who started the station ended up taking on a partner to bring in some cash, and the partner ended up buying him out. The day that he bought him out, the partner called me on the phone and said, “Hey, Michael, do you know how to push those buttons?” And I said, “Yeah,” and he said, “Do, you want to be the general manager of The TV station?” And I said, ”Sure,” and I started working about 80 hours a week and the only thing we had on the air was the was called “The Spinning Leaf” channel because it was the Aspen Channel and it was just the spinning Aspen leaf and, you know, classical music playing in the background, and then the morning show and the ski report.
The Other Michael Longfield and Taps
Ae13U: You appeared in one of my favorite films, Taps (1981) with George C. Scott, Timothy Hutton, Ronnie Cox, Sean Penn, Giancarlo Esposito, and some other guy, I forget his name (just joking –Tom Cruise, or course). The plot was pretty intense, and Vietnam only a few years in the past at that point. Considering the cast, I wonder, can you share anything from your time on the film?
Michael Longfield: I loved working on Taps. I was a “townie" and got to beat up Timothy Hutton! That’s where I met the other Michael Longfield.
Ae13U: There are two of you — and in the same movie?
Michael Longfield: All right, so it's a long story. My name is Michael Longfield, and that was my born name. When I moved to New York and joined [Actor’s] Equity . . . there was already a Michael Longfield . . . so I had to change my name, and I changed it to my mother's maiden name because I wanted to keep it in the family. . . it was Michael Craig. . . and then when I got Hot Hero Sandwich there was a Michael Craig in AFTRA [American Federation of Television and Radio Artists], so I had to change my name again so I changed it to L period Michael Craig.
I had all of my Social Security stuff was under Michael Longfield, all of my legal stuff was under Michael. just my acting cards were under L Michael Craig. So then [after HHS] I get cast in Taps, and that was a long that was a long casting process . . . I was actually cast in a different role and then they put it on hold for a year and then came back and I was kept I was put in a different role, but they still put me in the movie, which was cool.
I go to pick up my train ticket to Valley Forge [for the film] and there are two reservations on the same ticket, one for Michael Longfield and one for L. Michael Craig and I said. “Oh, yeah, they make that mistake all the time.” So, I pick up the one for Michael Longfield, because that's what my ID says, and go ahead and just cancel the one for Michael Craig.
So, I get on the train and first night we're there, we're all having a drink — you know . . . all the supporting cast, and all the townies and stuff, and one guy says. “Holy shit! You know, I thought I got fired. I showed up to get my ticket and somebody had cancelled my ticket.”
And I said, “Are you Michael Longfield?” And he said yes. And Is aid, “I’m Michael Longfield!”
So he said, “Well, why did you have to change your name?” I said, “Yeah, they [Equity] changed my name because of you!”
And he says, “Oh, you know what? I had to change my name because I was Robert Phillips and there was already a Robert Phillips in the union. They [Equity] told me I had to change my name. I'm adopted. That's my adopted name. I changed it to my birth name, which is Michael Longfield.
He says he was adopted at two and his dad went AWOL in World War II. A year later, my dad comes to visit in New York and I said, “Do you know anything about [explaining the other Michael Longfield] . . . and it turns out my uncle went AWOL after World War II and he had never been heard from, and so he's [the other Michael Longfield] is like my second cousin. It was really crazy and we became pretty close friends.
Ae13U: I guess acting must be in the Longfield family genes! As long as we’re on Taps, can you share anything from your experience on set? Were there any parties with the cast like Cruise and Penn?
Michael Longfield: I think that Tom Cruise had a couple of parties . . . the supporting cast was never invited to the big parties, but Giancarlo Esposito, who's one of the coolest people in the whole wide world, probably a year and a half later, I ran into him at an audition. I don't like walking up to people and saying, “Oh, hey, I worked with you,” you know? But he came up to me and said, “Hey, Michael, how are you doing?” And he remembered who I was. And it was, I was just so impressed with him. We had small little parts. A super cool guy.
Ae13U: I try to refrain from asking any questions about other actors or musical guests from the show or a person’s career, but it’s hard to resist sometimes.
Michael Longfield: Well, here’s another story I could tell you. Right after I finished [Hot Hero] Sandwich, I got about five callbacks for this one show out in LA and I was staying at the Sunset Marquis Hotel, and I'm sitting by the pool. It's about 75 degrees . . . I'm from New York. It's March, you know, so I’m really loving the pool . . . and some guy yells out of his out of his balcony, and says, “Hey! Hot Hero Sandwich! What you doing outside?” [mimicking a New York accent]. It was Eddie Money!
Ae13U: [laughter] No way! Oh, that's awesome!
Michael Longfield: And we had some drinks. That was pretty cool, yeah.
Eddie Money in his smokin’ hot rendition of his hit “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” in
episode 3 of Hot Hero Sandwich.
Ae13U: I love Jazz and was excited to see that you have a Jazz show on WWOZ 90.7 FM Saturdays at 10:00 am - 12:00 pm, and in New Orleans! One thing I know about Jazz DJs is that they always have a large album collection, so I have to ask, how large is your album collection?
Michael Longfield: I have about 570 CDs and over 500 vinyl records, about 1/3 of my album collection was bequeathed to me by my dad. My digital album collection is at about 9,500 (lots of artists prefer promo release on digital now).
Ae13U: That is an outstanding, and envious collection, as a fellow jazz lover I could spend another hour just talking about that, but I think I’ve taken enough of your time. Michael, I want to thank you so much for sharing some really wonderful stories and giving us some more important behind-the-scenes info on the show. It really helps put the puzzle together.
Michael Longfield: Thanks a lot, man. Take care. Hope your day is great.
With my love of audio equipment and attention deficit-driven energy, I think I identified with Longfield’s Hot Hero character Tapedeck the most. His “Living in a Suitcase” segment, about the effects of frequent moves on a young person stuck with me. In other scenes, such as the three-part sketch with Nan-Lynn Nelson in Episode 10, or the “Waking Up” sketch with no lines and staging straight out of silent films, show a broad range of talent.
Longfield’s experiences as a young actor, the relentless moving, turning down a pilot to do Hot Hero, extensive stage work, creating your own opportunities — sometimes with a keg of beer involved — are excellent lessons for younger performers to keep in mind for their own journey, including finding other work when the acting opportunities dwindle.
Actors don’t always benefit from the legacy they leave behind on the stage. In trying to explain my interest in the show to Longfield, I recalled his “Living in a Suitcase” monologue and how it connected with me and stuck with me in the back of my mind, I began choking up a bit. Yeah, Tom Cruise is an incredibly wealthy and famous actor, and Giancarlo Esposito is a super cool dude, but Michael Longfield made me cry.
And I remembered it 43 years later.
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Great interview from the both of you.Hats off and much respect to Michael Longfield. Well done Aeolus. Another fab addition to the HHS legacy.ReplyDelete
The ending is a moving and true conclusion. A person can have such an impact on another person, even an impact on the bigger world.ReplyDelete
What I like about your HHS series is you pretty much avoid the "glam" and focus on the humanity and the work involved.ReplyDelete