Montier's Favorite Actor Returns
Tue, 04/27/2021 - 2:48pm admin
Last April this column featured former Birch Tree and Liberty teacher Bob Shepherd in an article titled "Montier's Favorite Actor." And by now you probably recognize Bob as the "Hearing Aid Guy" from the TV commercial, but I recently learned that a movie he co-produced and stars in, Past Shadows, will be playing the next two weekends at The Glass Sword Cinema in West Plains.
Describing the film, Bob says, "Past Shadows is a supernatural faith-based film. We want everyone to know that from our view these supernatural events come from God, not magic." And to make it a gala event, he and his wife Marcia plan to attend opening night on April 30 at 7 p.m. and the showings on May 1st at 4 and 7 p.m. The movie will also be shown on May 7, 8, and 9.
So, with this new information, I thought a reprise of last year's story would be timely to reintroduce Bob and alert former students, friends, and neighbors of his return to the Ozarks.
Have you seen the Hearing Assist TV commercial with the son attempting to talk to his hearing-impaired father, and then the father goes into a monologue pitch for a hearing aid, followed by the son’s tagline, “I love you, Dad.”?
Or, perhaps, you’ve seen the GEICO/Helzberg Diamonds TV spot with the iconic gecko (a lizard, for Ozarkers) approaching a beach wedding, with a distinguished-looking minister presiding.
Well, I’ve seen both commercials numerous times. But the first time I saw the GEICO commercial, I was sitting on the couch with my wife, watching the gecko approach the beach wedding, and did a double take at the wedding scene. “Hey, Mary Ellen, I went to grade school with that minister.” And in the doubting voice she employs when she thinks I’m up to something, said, “Oh, you did not.”
“No, really.” I explained that Robert Shepherd, the actor playing the minister, was a schoolmate at the two-room, country school in Shannon County (Montier).
Before long, I began seeing him as the main actor and pitchman in the nationally broadcast hearing aid commercial. And when Wal-Mart displays a Hearing Assist poster of you on its shelves, for sure, a country boy has “arrived.”
In addition to TV commercials, plays, and trade films, he has appeared in numerous movies, including Evan Almighty, The Book of Ruth, and Mary for Mayor, and has hung out with actors such as Scott Glenn (The Right Stuff, Urban Cowboy) and Corbin Bernsen (LA Law, Major League).
In the movie Lincoln, Shepherd portrayed the doctor who pronounced Academy Award-winner Daniel Day Lewis dead. I saw the movie, and at the time, had no idea it was Robert Shepherd.
In the third season of the TV miniseries, Legend and Lies, he had a featured role, appearing in all twelve episodes, as Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. It was stunning how much he resembled this historic figure and captured the intensity of the times with his performance.
All his connections made me curious. Based on the Kevin Bacon parlor game, how many degrees of separation existed between him and Kevin Bacon? It turns out he was an extra in the Kevin Bacon film Hollow Man, which means there is only one degree separating me from Kevin. Who knew?
Robert currently resides in Virginia, but I connected with him on Facebook, and asked if he would be interested in being profiled in the Howell County News. He said it sounded like fun. So, let me tell you more about our actor from Montier.
Robert Shepherd, still known as Bob to family and friends, was raised on a farm in Shannon County, a couple miles down the gravel road from my grandparents’ farm. We attended the same church, and I actually have a vivid memory of sitting next to him at a brush arbor revival.
Bob was two grades ahead of me at the Montier school, and for 4 years we rode the same school bus, but after the sixth grade I moved to Willow Springs, and Bob went on to graduate from Birch Tree High School.
Wondering what he was like in high school, I asked Judy Mizer Barnes, another BTHS alum, who still resides in Birch Tree, what she remembered about Bob. “He was our Band Major, and wore a beautiful uniform with a tall hat. Boy could he march. He led our band in parades, with three girls as majorettes, of which I was one. He was one of the boys who was as much a friend to girls as boys. Mannerly and thoughtful, always. Just an all-around good person.”
Did he always want to be an actor? Bob says, “I can’t remember when I didn’t want to be an actor, but was not sure how to get there.” He participated in Christmas programs at church and the Montier School, which he says “were something I excitedly looked forward to. I had the lead in our junior-year play and I played the villain in the senior play.” He added that “singing both at church and high school helped to expand my performing options.”
Incidentally, I last saw Bob my sophomore year at the district music contests in Rolla, when he competed in the vocal solo category singing “Give a Man a Horse He Can Ride.” (What can I say? I remember the oddest things.) Ironically, although Bob grew up on a cattle farm, he wasn’t an equestrian and took riding lessons for a role that required him to mount a horse.
After graduating from Southwest Missouri State (now, Missouri State), Bob returned home to teach the sixth grade at Birch Tree, and later, taught at Liberty. He taught from August 1967 to December 1971.
His national TV debut occurred during the summer of 1970 on The Dating Game. While visiting his aunt in California, he auditioned at a casting call for the popular TV show. Remarkably, he had never seen the show before, since TV reception was still unavailable on his family farm. In fact, to see the show when it aired after he returned home in August, he went to the local banker’s house.
Not only did Bob beat out 200 other wannabe panelists for The Dating Game, he won the date. You may recall that the “bachelors” were kept out of sight from the contestants, who could only hear the responses to their questions. Apparently, Bob’s rich baritone voice and extemporaneous acting ability served him well.
His acting career, however, took a circuitous route. After teaching for several years, he entered graduate school, returned to ROTC and earned a Regular Army commission that led to a 22-year career and meeting his wife Marcia.
Bob’s first paid acting gig occurred while on active duty in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He snagged a featured extra role in Robert Altman's Nashville, which was shot on location in Nashville, approximately 40 miles south of the Fort.
Bob contacted the movie production office and indicated he would like to work on the film. Later, a producer called asking if he would show actor Scott Glenn around the Fort, as he had been cast as a soldier in the 101st Airborne. Of the experience, Bob says, “So, Scott came up on the bus and I escorted him around the post. My wife and I drove him back to Nashville. We were both cast as extras for the race car scene.”
But like most professional artists and actors, Bob has paid his dues. After three years in the army, he resigned his Regular Army commission in 1976 to pursue his acting dream in California. “We were living on a shoestring and expecting our first child, which we had saved up for the delivery bill. Ten days after our daughter's birth, Marcia had an aneurysm and was in ICU for two weeks before surgery. After which, she was miraculously healed and had no residual effects. But we were in debt $14,000 with no steady job, so we moved back to the Ozarks where I almost immediately started teaching in the Liberty School System.”
It wasn’t the end of his dream, however. Bob says, “In the hospital, while still in LA, I distinctly heard a voice in my head: ‘Delay is not denial.’"
After two more years teaching, Bob returned to the military and ultimately retired. Of his retirement he says, “Then, I could afford to be a freelance actor. I got an agent and started booking jobs and have been doing so for almost 30 years.”
It seems so many people want to be actors but fail. I asked him for the secret to his success. His answer reflects his humility: “I believe if there is a secret to being a working actor, it is to never give up. Rejection is ever present. Also, never think a role is too small or unimportant. So, I have worked on student films, training films, and ultra-low budget features. Even roles that did not pay. I have heard and believe: ‘Do what is in front of you and the rest will take care of itself.’"
As a follow-up question, I asked how he got his acting jobs. “There are multiple ways to find acting jobs. I currently work with three talent agents. However, I have been in the business a long time so many times I am contacted directly. Also, jobs come up on FaceBook and the internet to apply for.”
Toward the end of our discussion, I asked if there was something he would like readers to know, and he provided a hopeful message. “What I would like readers to know is ‘Delay is not Denial.’"
For more information on Bob, go online to https://www.imdb.com/.