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Slap Maxwell’s Boss The Master Of the Colliding Cliche

February 8, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ When Nelson Krueger talks, people listen.

They have to. Otherwise they’ll miss the colliding cliches and split images that emanate from the harried newspaper editor of ″The Slap Maxwell Story″ like pearls from the mouths of babes.

Like the time he was griping about an AWOL employee: ″When Judy comes back she’s not gonna just waltz in here like Bob’s-your-uncle. She’d better look to her lemons, I don’t care how she flips the midgets 3/8″

″Nelson always makes perfect sense to me,″ says Brian Smiar, the actor who plays him on the critically acclaimed ABC-TV series, which stars Dabney Coleman as a grizzled sportswriter on the short end of a midlife crisis.

Nelson is Slap’s best friend, boss and sometime antagonist. Despite Slap’s allegations, Nelson does not have a glass eye or a wooden leg.

″Nelson Krueger is a man running a newspaper who should be selling real estate,″ the 50-year-old Smiar said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. ″He’s in over his head, he has to deal with his best friend. I think if he were in a less-pressure situation, Nelson would talk normally.″

That would grieve fans of Nelson’s verbal trapeze work, as conceived by head writer Bob Brush, developer of the show along with creator-producer Jay Tarses. But just what is Nelson saying?

″We call them ’Nelsonisms,‴ said Smiar. ″They have different forms. Some are combined cliches. In some cases they’re combined images. Sometimes they’re half-images.″

There are bits of wisdom like ″Love don’t make the buttercups shine.″ Or complaints: ″This place is going to hell in a shrimp boat.″ Or, this advice to Slap: ″You don’t want to leave slime-trails all your life.″

Nelson might say that he’s nobody’s fool but his own. In his words, ″Hey, I wasn’t born in a vat.″

The Brian Smiar Story is not exactly pure Hollywood. In fact, he never set foot in the place until he went to work on ″Slap,″ and he, his wife and two teen-age kids still live in Massachusetts.

A native of Ohio, Smiar began acting at Kent State University, where he appeared in a dozen productions while majoring in math and physics.

After graduation, he was a math teacher who spent summers in various theater productions, then a graduate student in theater at Boston’s Emerson College. He taught theater at Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass., at the University of Lowell, Mass., and at Emerson.

He also took whatever acting and directing jobs he could get, including commercials, voice-overs and industrial film productions, and by 1982 he was making a living as an actor-director, shuttling between Boston and New York.

″I got to a point where I found myself the oldest industrial actor who ever lived,″ he said. ″Doing industrials and voice-overs, you can make a fortune. But I found myself saying, ’I left teaching for this?‴

Then a woman who cast him in a production at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, Conn., got him to read for Tarses, Brush and ″Slap Maxwell.″

The rest, as Nelson might say, is mystery.

″The show is an actor’s dream; the scripts are good,″ he said. ″Dabney Coleman is a joy to work with, an actor’s actor.″

He also praised the show’s writers, Brush, Russ Woody, John Schulian and Norma Vela, who watch all rehearsals and are always available for consultations on a scene or a character.

″I think the real strength of the show is the writing, but what makes this show is Jay Tarses. His personality makes the show. He’s, like, in the room all the time, even when he’s not there,″ Smiar said.

Smiar and his family makes their home in Amesbury, Mass., where he goes during the one week a month he’s not shooting in Hollywood.

″At the moment, the tail’s wagging the dog. I like the job; I want the job to continue,″ he said. ″It’s going to give me the financial basis to do the writing and directing that I want, and give me the kind of name recognition where people will say, ’Here’s a reasonable actor who won’t trip over the furniture.‴

Smiar says there’s a bit of Nelson in all people who express themselves in images - including Brian Smiar.

″I think it’s the writer in me,″ he said. ″I have a tendency sometimes to talk like that. My wife and I were talking, and I said, ’Well, you’re just going to have to keep your ear to the rock.‴


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