John Ratzenberger has just about done it all. He’s worked stage, big screen (Gandhi, Superman), small screen (Cheers!, Eight Simple Rules), been an assistant to a tree surgeon, toured Europe, showed off his fancy footwork as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars last fall, and been the voices of some of our favorite animated characters. Having not only appeared as the endearing and thinks he knows it all mailman, Cliff Clavin the long running TV show Cheers!, John has been in every one of Pixar Animation’s features films, including the newest (and sure to be a classic), Wall-E, coming out today (June 27th).
This divorced dad of two incredible kids doesn’t end his talents there. Politically active and involved in the world around him, John is one of those rare renaissance men who has the ability to dive into a project with full force and always make it come out great.
HMC talked with John about his many projects, his passions and we discovered there are ten things you may not know about him.
(1) He’s a strong believer in the power of people’s voices in this political climate.
“Something that the people of this country have lost sight of is they (our political officials) work for us. We don’t work for them,” he tells HMC. “People have been so trained by the media to think that and it’s wrong. They work for us.”
He adds, “The people who get up and ask questions (at debates, etc) of the candidates are ones who have been chosen (both the person and the question) beforehand.”
In fact, last June (2007), John went to speak before our political officials about the importance of the working man. “There’s an industrial tsunami coming our way, because in the next several years, half of our workforce will be gone. We are running out of people who can fix things,” he says. “I told this to them (political figures) and they didn’t get it. Almost a year later, I had a handwritten note from a senator who said he didn’t get it when I spoke, but he started to go back to the people he represents and started asking questions and said he finally got it.”
(2) He believes in the strength of working with your hands.
“The media has made blue collar workers look stupid,” says John, “and that’s absolutely not true. There’s this attitude of ‘what would you want to do that?’ if a kid wants to be a line worker or mechanic.” From the people who pick up your trash to the ones who create your trash cans, the blue collar worker is going to be in high demand.
Baby boomers are nearing and entering retirement. People who made a living working with their hands and not sitting at a desk are going to start enjoying their retirement. This is going to leave a huge gap in the workforce from garage mechanics, to electricians, to custodial workers.
There’s an idea that working blue collar doesn’t pay the bills and can’t give you a life of security or even luxury. “Hey, welders make $50 an hour.” John states. “That’s a pretty good living, but, in the next six years, we are going to lose half a million welders because they are going to retire.”
Recent statistics showed that fewer people (under 24 yo) are entering the workforce than leaving (over 55yo). This can be attributed to more people having less children. John says this isn’t something as easy as finger pointing to people who are sitting at desks. “There are a lot of people out there who are sitting at a desk who’d rather be working with their hands, but they were told this is how you make a living.”
(3) He’s an innovator.
After visiting a friend who shredded paper for a living and seeing the mountain of paper he had in his backyard, John said “you should do something with that.”
Trial and error and “getting his industrial shredder to do something besides straight paper cuts, so we got it do the accordian type stuff.” After that, he founded the company Eco-Pack, which was later purchased by another company.
What’s so great about that? Because it’s ecologically friendly, it replaced many of the Styrofoam peanuts found in packaging that isn’t. Some of his clients include Elizabeth Arden, Hallmark, Norstroms and gift baskets.
(4) He loved learning about shoes.
On his Travel Channel Show, Made in America, he’s had the chance to travel all over the country. One of his favorite stops was Allen Edmond Shoes . “I really enjoyed how shoes were made and I got to dance.”
(5) He was a tractor operator during Woodstock.
“Yeah, I did that, helped build the stage, hauled things, took people to the hospital tents, pulled people out of the mud. It was a lot of fun.”
(6) He knows how to give a tree a haircut.
When living in England, he had a job working as an assistant to a tree surgeon. “I basically I gave the tree a haircut. Climbed way up and started working my way down.”
(7) He’s never had an embarrassing moment as a father.
“I had none and my kids had plenty. I go out of my way to embarrass them, it’s fun.” He chuckles. “My daughter and I are buddies. In fact, we’re going fishing together tomorrow.”
For those of you who are looking for a way to get your kids to roll their eyes and say “oh Dad!” John had a perfect example.
“My daughter and I were sitting at a stop light last week and these guys drove up next to us with their loud rap music blaring. So, I put into my bagpipe music, turned it really loud, rolled down the windows and there was no contest. They just looked at me and didn’t know what to say.” As for his daughter? “She was on the floor of the car.”
When talking about his proudest moments, “there’s too many to mention. My daughter lights up a room when she walks in. She’s got a real gift with touching people’s hearts. My son has been on the dean’s list from junior high through high school. He’s worked hard.
(8) He’s got more action figures modeled after him than anyone in Hollywood. John is the only actor who’s voiced a character in every Pixar feature film says his favorite character to date is PT Flea from A Bug’s Life. Because of his involvement in all the movies, he’s got an action figure for each movie.
“I’ve also got one from Empire Strikes Back (he played Major Bren Durlin).”
“Yeah, they (Pixar) calls me and I say sure. I don’t know what it is, but I say yes,” he laughs. “I mean why not?”
In the upcoming Wall-E, he plays a guy named John, “one of the few humans in the movie,” and he returns as Hamm in Toy Story 3. “It’s just as good as the first one,” laughs John (who wouldn’t give us any details).
His relationship with Pixar is a solid one, “because they work far above average. The reason they do better than any other animation studio is they don’t go below the belt. They really understand the story and why the story is important.” He told us that he’s been in several meetings with studio people who are in charge of children’s programming “and I look at them and ask ‘do any of you have kids?’ Many times they say no. I think they write those (dirty/stupid) jokes to make each other laugh. They (Pixar) work harder at telling the story. Sometimes they spend up to two years or more just for the story and that’s unheard of.”
Pixar thinks the world of him too. Not only do they call him their good luck charm, but when he played the part of Mack in Cars, Pixar was in negotiation with Peterbuilt and Mack Trucks to use their likenesses in the movie. When they asked John what kind of truck his dad drove and he said a Mack, they broke of negotiations immediately with Peterbuilt.
(9) He wants you to get your kids to tinker.
“Every company in this country started with one person inventing something,” explains John. Because we as a society pushed the white collar jobs, there are an entire generation of people who cannot fix anything. “We’re raising a generation of helpless people,” John tells us.
His Nuts, Bolts, and Thingamajigs Foundation encourages parents, educator, and kids to encourage kids to investigate their nature of wanting to tinker or investigate inventing something. “Encourage your children to go outside, build a treehouse, play in the sandbox. This is the foundation of our culture, it’s not about being a basketball star or actor, but putting food on the table. “The average age of a line worker is 52 years old. In a few years, there isn’t going to be anyone to replace him.”
What does that mean to us as a nation? We’re going to have to farm out jobs because no one here wants them or is trained to build or construct things. That means more dependence on other countries to provide the goods and services we enjoy.
That means potentially higher costs for the things we take for granted.
(10) He’s got the best advice for women on men.
“Men are simple creatures,” he states. “All we want to be are heroes. After a hard days work, all we want to hear is ‘good job’ and ‘you’re my hero’ from the people we love. We’re no more complicated than that.”
After talking to John, he’s more than a hero, he’s a man of action and compassion.
If you want to learn more about John or his foundation, click here and catch him in the new Pixar Movie Wall-E, coming out Friday, June 27, 2008.