Barry Corbin is an adept horseman who enjoys cutting cattle and doing
Autograph-seekers mob Barry when he attends cutting-horse competitions
and celebrity charity rodeos. But he thinks that being a celebrity is not an advantage:
don't care if you've been in movies."
In December 1993 Barry had an accident that was close to be serious
while cutting cattle:
this time my cutting horse fell on me. The toe of my boot was the
first thing to hit the ground, followed by my horse. My spur went in
his belly but he was okay. They said if it had happened a decade ago
they'd have had to amputate. I think they said I broke 11 bones. They
were a little nervous on the set - we were in our third season of
filming 'Northern Exposure' at the time. The episodes where I'm in a
cast or limping is a result of that."
Barry had always been a cowboy but after being best recognized by his
work in "Northern Exposure"
he was requested more often for celebrity
I've done it a little bit, you know. I'm not going to say that I've
done it a whole lot, cause tomorrow if I do it real good, I'll say
I've been doing it all my life."
Sometimes, Barry is even announced as
"Our first rider on the second bunch, is the man you've seen in
television, movies... From Cicely, Alaska: Maurice Minnifield... or
Barry Corbin, his real name. Let's have a nice hand for Barry!"
Year after year, Barry attends lots of competitions:
know, they let me come down here and do it. So I'll do it, as long as
they'll let me."
why he likes to cut:
best thing is the cooperation between the horse and the rider."
combination of, dancing to the best George Strait song and, riding the
best roller coaster that you could find."
But Barry doesn't give too much credit to the rider:
rider can help the horse, the rider can make some judgments, but the
rider is incidental. It's the horse and the cow doing a beautiful
So he recommends:
on your pockets, that's the most important thing. If you don't sit on
your pockets you can't get anything done. You're going to be eatin'
shredded wheat right up here. Just like that!"
Barry is also often asked to be the Grand Marshall for Charity Trail
and he is always willing to help.
Being a cowboy is one of the very things that makes Barry forget
about the magic of Hollywood:
you come home you got to clean the stalls. You got to water the
horses, make sure they're fed. Make sure the cattle are fed, you know,
you got to do all those things. And it kind of brings you back down to
Barry is unfailingly gracious with fans, who act
more familiar when they know you from TV,"
he says. "You'll
be eating dinner out, and you'll look up and see a fan grinnin' at you, saying, 'Hi, Maurice!"
Is fame worth the bother? "Well,"
Barry concedes with a chuckle, "it's
He says that for an actor, fame can be risky.
actors that I know, almost without exception -good ones- if you ask
them about their childhood, they were very solitary and very lonely,
and very shy. They're still very shy people. They are -we are- by
nature observers. But we are observed observers by the time we get to
the point of being known."
Barry calls it
very strange conundrum"
that a good actor must have, "an
almost pathological humility ... and a monumental ego. He's got to
believe he's the only person in the world who can say what he has to
say in the way he has to say it. If you don't have that, there's no
point in saying it."
Barry was inducted into the
West Texas Walk of Fame in Lubbock in
Two years later, he was named adjunct professor within Texas Tech's
He's constantly honored with lifetime achievement awards and
Veteran stage actor John Cullum (who played barkeep Holling Vincoeur
in "Northern Exposure") says he and Barry were "the
sages of the set," comparatively speaking. "Everybody loved
Barry. He was admired by all the actors," says Cullum. He calls
his former co-star "entertaining, a treasure...but he is a shy
man. The real Barry is beneath all those stories. Part of him is a
dichotomy, I think because he's very hidden and has a way of
expressing himself in a gregarious manner; it's almost his concept of
the way he's supposed to act. Underneath, he has a sensitive
Barry thinks that the biggest misconception about him is:
I'm scary, I'm mean, or that I'm dangerous in some way. I think that's
the biggest (misconception). And I have no idea where that comes from. I've played
some dangerous people, but there are, you know, there are people who
are very afraid of me when they meet me. I don't know why."
Barry has played sheriffs, ranchers and ruthless rich guys through a
film career spanning four decades, but has never seemed to be
interested in playing softer roles:
wouldn't mind trying it, you know, just for the hell of it. But I
don't know that it's what I want to do in my career. I'm not very
fascinated with the modern American male. I'm not very fascinated with
the Robert Bleoch going in the jungle and beat the drum stuff, you know.
That doesn't interest me too much."
leading man is almost always trapped in an image, but a character
actor is, too. There was a time in my career when I turned down any
part whose first name was Sheriff. I've been very lucky in my career,
because when I would start to get typecast, I'd be able to break out
Barry feels most at home playing cowboys:
are my first love, unfortunately, there aren't enough being done to
make a living doing them."
He explained that when he acts in a western, he plays his granddaddy,
a real life cowboy and farmer who has been a lifelong hero to Barry.
actors in westerns do act like their fathers. Patrick Wayne told me
that when he did it everybody could tell. His father was John Wayne. I
act like my granddaddy or my father, but nobody can tell because
nobody knew them."
62, Barry Corbin has appeared in dozens of films ranging from "WarGames"
with Matthew Broderick to
"A Stranger on My Land"
Lee Jones. He fondly recalled playing Shakespeare's characters. He enjoyed Mercutio and Falstaff. Barry said with a Texas twang:
would also like to play Macbeth again, but I don't think I could move
Asked if he had inspired young actors, Barry said that the younger
actors he works with have already made up their minds to enter the
profession. As for his own children he hopes they don't become actors,
but he's not sure they listen to him anyhow.
Barry himself was inspired not by astronauts like the one he played on
don't even like airplanes,"
he said, but rather by cowboys in movie westerns. "When
I was growing up and we'd go to John Ford westerns, everybody else
would watch John Wayne. I'd watch Ben Johnson. He was the only one who
Barry eventually grew up to become a movie cowboy, a real life rodeo
cowboy, and a close friend of Ben Johnson.
Barry remarked that this generation lacks heroes, both on a personal
level and on a national level. Barry himself became a cowboy and then
became an actor because he wanted to play heroes. Now for his heroes,
he looks to the next generation, imagining "a
little kid who hasn't been born yet, who will look at Mars and decide
he wants to go there, and then go there."
A new century has begun and Barry keeps working as hard as he did
since those early days at Texas Tech, always giving 110 percent to his
roles. Barry emphasizes that he is now more intent on challenging the
words, if only to "keep
my characters honest."
As to the future, Barry says:
"There's an old family motto, a Corbin motto: 'God feeds the
raven' - (Corbin means 'raven' in old French) - which means to me we
don't have to work, we just do what we want to do, and food's going to
come. Bread is going to come."
"I'm the luckiest guy in the world, and it's
probably because of that motto."