ON AN AFTERNOON in May 1966, John Glover, the first graduate of the Towson State University theater program, handed his father his freshly minted diploma and boarded a bus for New York City.
This Saturday -- some 25 years later -- John Glover, Drama-Desk-award-winner and Emmy nominee, returns in triumph to Towson State to present a benefit show for the John Glover Scholarship Endowment for Acting Majors.
The story line sounds almost too perfect, doesn't it? Of such stuff is press-release mythology made.
But the 46-year-old character actor swears it's true.
"It is absolutely true," he said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles last week. "I got right on a bus after graduation and headed for the theater -- for New York. I guess I was in a hurry to start working."
It took him a few years of running errands and selling concessions in theater lobbies before he started working as an actor, however. But once Glover got started, he never stopped.
Today he is one of the busiest and most widely respected character actors in TV, film or theater: Even if his name doesn't bring instant recognition, you have surely seen Glover in something. He received an Emmy nomination for his performance as the dying AIDS patient in "An Early Frost," a made-for-TV movie that brought the issue of AIDS to prime time. There was another Emmy nomination for his delicious work as the sleazy confidante of a murderer played by the late Lee Remick in "Nutcracker: Money, Madness and Murder" on NBC.
Or maybe you saw his guest performance last year on "L.A. Law" as a doctor suffering from neurofibromatosis ("elephant man") disease. And he was a regular visitor to "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd" as Cousin Mike from Baltimore.
Although Glover, the son of an appliance salesman, grew up in Salisbury, there's a lot of Baltimore in some of his best work, he says. During the filming of "An Early Frost," for example, he says he couldn't get Victor, the character he played, quite right. Then one day, Glover says, "I started playing him with my Baltimore accent and all of a sudden it clicked. And there was now a sincerity and a gentleness and a sweetness to him that had never been there before."
Glover used that same accent for one his favorite film characters, too: Alan Raimy in John Frankenheimer's version of Elmore Leonard's "52 Pick-Up." No sweetness here, though. Raimy is a low-life, blackmailing sleazeball.
That character type is at the core of Glover's best work in TV
and film. Glover has played a number of exquisite variations on the good-looking, eager-to-please guy gone -- or about to go -- over the edge into a place that's strange and scary: Mr. Goodbar going, going, gone bad. He painted it in dark, Freudian tones in
"Nutcracker" and, then he offered a lighter, more comic version in the recent "Drug Wars" movie on NBC as a fast-talking DEA informant. On Feb. 24 and 25, he'll bring it to the role of an assassin in another NBC film, "Grass Roots" (9 p.m. on WMAR Channel 2).
While some actors may find it difficult to pinpoint the essential quality that makes their characters successful, Glover has no such trouble. When asked about his take on this character type, he says, "I guess the essence is loneliness . . ."
And understanding, he says, helps him bring loneliness to assassins, blackmailers and drug informants: When he was younger, his shyness often caused him to feel lonely. Even as a student at Towson, he could empathize with the lonely.
In fact, it was in a class at Towson that this character type seemed to crystallize. "We had an assignment to do improvisations," Glover says. "There were three of us. And I played a character in a cafeteria, who meets this couple. And the situation we came up with was that the couple was having a very, very personal squabble about their relationship, and I just start talking to them as we're standing in line. I just butted myself into their lives, and just wouldn't stop talking to them. And I was telling them personal things about myself . . . and just became totally obnoxious . . . but the key was my loneliness," he says. "I've been working on this guy, this character, for a long time."
As he speaks, Glover seems to surprise himself with the memory and the connection from the classroom in Towson 25 years ago to the characters he's playing today. And he hopes to talk about that sort of thing Saturday night during his show.
"But I'm also going to do things Saturday like showing a great scene from Molly Dodd where I talk about . . . Otto Nowicki and his Polish Partymakers from Bawlmer," he says.
"John Glover: An Actor and His Work" will be held at 8 p.m. Saturday in TSU's Fine Arts Center's Mainstage Theatre. For tickets, call (410) 830-2787.