TBT

#TBT - John Aniston

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Credit: NBC

This interview was originally published in the August 26, 1986 issue of Soap Opera Digest

So You Think You Know This Man…..Think Again!

If a spy from one of the national gossip magazines infiltrated the set of DAYS OF OUR LIVES, no doubt a pesty poltergeist would be blamed for the strange things that befell actress Patsy Pease.

During several tear-jerking weeks while Kimberly Brady suffered from blindness, Pease would regularly reach for her prop cane and to her horror, find that it had vanished. Wheelchairs would mysteriously appear in her path, causing her to take an on-camera tumble. While gingerly inching her way down a flight of stairs during one sequence, she swore she felt the odd sensation of being pushed.

Pease didn’t waste her money on a ghostbuster, though. She knew exactly who the sneaky culprit was — her co-star John Aniston.

“He took every Helen Keller joke and brought it to life,” laughs Patsy, who displays black-and-blue proof that Aniston is as dastardly off-screen as he is on-screen as DAYS romantic villain Victor Kiriakis. Of course, she should have known better. Pease has been the victim of John’s stark-raving shenanigans since they co-starred on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW, she as Cissie Mitchell, he as the gambling, drinking, smoking, womanizing Martin Tourneur. Even after she regained her sight on DAYS, she had to keep a wary eye on John. More than once, cameras stopped rolling while Pease’s recent pregnancy padding was reshaped. During rehearsal breaks, Aniston had been using it as a punching bag — with Pease still in it. “I don’t think he ever takes himself too seriously,” she says. “He’s got a c’est la vie attitude. He’d have it if he were selling cars.”

Despite a twenty-five year acting career, the terminally antsy Aniston has to admit that TV emoting just isn’t enough. “It’s schizophrenia,” he claims. When he isn’t torturing his fellow actors, he’s either remodeling a friend’s kitchen or making a killing selling real estate. At one point in the mid ’70s, he even chucked it all to become a doctor.

His fantasy never quite saw the light of day and clearly, he’s still steamed about it. Frustrated by a long-suppressed interest in medicine, Aniston found himself turning to the medical section in Time before checking out the entertainment pages. “Something is wrong here,” he decided and, at the age of forty, he tried to get into medical school.

Nobody would touch him. “I found it was very difficult to get in if you’re over twenty-fives years of age in this country,” John explains over lunch at a restaurant near Universal Studios. It’s John’s day off and, unlike Kiriakis, who is always impeccably turned out in a suit, Aniston is dressed casually. “If I were female, maybe,” he continues with a sigh. “If I were a minority, maybe. Failing that, there was no way.” Medical schools, it seems, frown on older applicants because of their limited years of potential service. Available training spaces are therefore allocated very judiciously. “Even UCLA told me that the oldest person that they ever took was twenty-eight years old and he had won a Nobel Prize in biophysics or something!”Aniston recalls.

For a wild second, he even contemplated that, with his limited knowledge of Spanish acquired during his Navy days in Panama, he might give Mexican medical schools a try. Sanity prevailed, however, and he nixed moving lock, stock and barrel to Guadalajara. “I knew enough of the language to get myself fed, bathed and put to bed,” Aniston notes, “but to study medicine? That’s something else.”

He was, however, a native of the Greek island of Crete. Not only did he speak the language fluently, a little detective work revealed that one of his twelve million Greek cousins held a position on the Athens Medical School admissions board. Intent on bringing them over as soon as he was settled, Aniston temporarily deposited his wife, daughter and stepson with his mother in Philadelphia and jetted off to Europe.

John’s timing was disastrous. The year was 1974 — and within a month of his arrival in Greece, the government was overthrown and his country was in chaos. “Along with the junta went my cousin,” says John, who found himself an even bigger headache than a thwarted medical career.

Greece requires that all native-born males serve a minimum of two years in the military service. Via a reciprocal agreement with the U.S. government, the equivalent in American service does fulfill the requirement, but Aniston didn’t have the proper papers to prove his status. “I came very close to doing guard duty with a skirt on in front of The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” Aniston winces. Six months of bureaucratic red tape followed in what can only be described as a TWILIGHT ZONE version of THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS with Aniston playing the Jack Lemmon role. Of the whole matter, he notes simply, “Greeks are very stubborn people.”

Once a free man and back in the states, John ventured to New York City, where in the early 1960s, he had scored a big hit in the off-Broadway musical Little Mary Sunshine, opposite Eileen Brennan. An old talent agent friend coerced him into auditioning for a role on LOVE OF LIFE. Aniston reluctantly showed up for a reading and three days later was cast as the suave, charismatic Edouard Aleata. During his three year stint on LOVE OF LIVE, Aniston divorced his first wife and fell in love with castmate Sherry Rooney (Dory Patten).

Even romance and permanent employment weren’t enough to keep the fidgety Aniston occupied, so he opened a restaurant. Convinced that the primarily residential area on Manhattan’s West 57th Street, where LOVE OF LIFE taped, could use a decent eating house, he turned the 5,000 square foot basement of an adjacent office building into The Fives, a restaurant aimed at the cast and crew of LOL, 60 MINUTES and other locally filmed CBS shows. “I figured such a place could make its money back at lunch and anything beyond, such as a cocktail hour or dinner, would be all gravy,” he remembers. “And besides, I wanted a place to eat!” Despite a celebrity-studded opening that made the 11 o’clock news, Aniston discovered his one-man operation was quite a handful. Not only was he constantly bailing his chef out of jail, he wasn’t closing up shop until two or three in the morning. Too bushed to go home and be back on the set at 8 a.m., John frequently camped out in the restaurant. Eventually, he sold the joint. “It was too much work and it wasn’t making me rich!” he readily admits.

After leaving LOL, Aniston signed on for his year year run on SEARCH — a move made even more pleasant by the fact that ladylove Rooney had already joined the cast as Gail Caldwell. When his once wild ride and wooly Martin Tourneur role turned respectable and downright boring, John lost the enthusiasm for the soap. The serial’s abysmal ratings and overabundance of teenyboppers didn’t settle well with him, either. “There was always this frantic ‘Have we been cancelled?’ look on everybody’s face. They went on a youth craze. At one point there were only four adults on the entire show. Everybody else was under 25,” he claims. “I think that’s proven to be disastrous.”

Happily married to Rooney and eager for the domestic calm of Southern California life, Aniston suggested that they permanently relocate to Hollywood. New York was dying, he believed. “Practically everybody we knew had moved to Los Angeles.” There was even a joke circulating among remaining New York die-hards that told of the new sign posted in Times Square. It read: “Last one to leave, turn out the lights!” Rooney agreed to the move which proved professionally disconcerting for both of them.

“Every time you leave here you have to start all over again,” John complains. He had spent much of the ’60s in L.A. playing an assortment of Mafiosi, heavy-type roles in dozens of tv shows. When he returned, Aniston discovered that there were only two casting directors who remembered him. And careers in soap opera, they both found out, didn’t impress anybody either. “It was as if daytime work wasn’t really acting,” John observes. “Well nine times out of ten, you’re working with less than stellar material on soaps and making it work! You can’t do that if you’re not very good at what you do.”

He and Sherry made a pact that they wouldn’t accept any work but leads. “It’s a dead-end street if you do,” Aniston claims. The gamble paid off. Rooney, who had no prime time or film experience, had a heck of a dry spell but eventually landed a lead role as Lee Major’s blind girlfriend on THE FALL GUY. Plenty of raves and episodic jobs resulted. Aniston landed the highly popular role of Victor Kiriakis.

It’s the rare villain that makes men cringe in fear and women’s hearts go pitter-patter, but John is modest about his menacing magic. “Victor is a wonderful character,” he does acknowledge. “Most heavies are utilitarian. They’re just there to advance the plot and present some sort of problem for Our Hero.”

Patsy Pease, on the other hand, will wax enthusiastically about Big Bad Victor. “He has this yearning-to-be-loved quality. He’s sad, like a misunderstood, black sheep. No matter how threatening he can be, you just look in his eyes and wither.” The actress clearly doesn’t care if the women’s movement comes after her with a hatchet. “I don’t mean to put down the female gender,” Patsy squeals with delight, “but women REALLY fall for that!”

 

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