Versatile actor Ernie Hudson will share the life of Jack Johnson in the premiere of "Ghost in the House" at Adams State University on Saturday, February 2.
ALAMOSA — Being able to relate to the late boxer’s struggles and successes, actor Ernie Hudson is honored to portray Jack Johnson in the one-man play, “Ghost in the House.”
Hudson, who co-wrote the play, will premiere the performance at Adams State University on Saturday, Feb. 2.
A unique man,
a unique story
“I did the Great White Hope, which is roughly based on the life of Jack Johnson, 35 years ago in Minnesota … and it really changed my life,” Hudson said during a press conference call at the ASU radio station on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“I loved the character Jack Johnson,” Hudson said.
The man was more than the first African American heavyweight world champion, Hudson noted. He also starred in movies, appeared in operas, was a musician, professional racecar driver and horse jockey, traveled the world and much more.
“He just was determined.”
That was personally inspiring for Hudson: “If this guy could do all that in 1910 under those circumstances, then anything is possible.”
Johnson died in an automobile accident in 1946. He was 68, “about my age, a little older, when he was killed.”
Hudson is 67.
“He was not embraced by either the white community or the Black community. He was so determined to live life on his own terms,” Hudson said.
“The story is a great American story. I am excited.”
Hudson said performing a one-man show is “right up my alley” because he does not have to share the stage with anyone else and he can interpret the story the way he wants to.
He said “Ghost in the House” provides him with the rare opportunity to be creative and do what he loves, because too often an actor has to take roles because of the paycheck more than because the roles inspire or challenge him.
“You almost have to really be determined to be creative,” he said.
Hudson has exhibited that determination throughout his nearly 40 years in the business through performances ranging from one of the roles for which he is best known in “Ghostbusters” to dramatic films such as “The Crow” and “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle.”
Hudson is from Benton Harbor, Mich., where his grandmother raised him after his mother died when he was 3 months old. He never knew his father. His grandmother was a strong influence in his life.
“She would say ‘there’s a season for all things … there’s a time to sow and there’s a time to reap’.”
She encouraged her grandson to pray, believe and listen to the Holy Spirit for guidance.
Although times had changed somewhat from the time Jack Johnson lived at the turn of the century, racial prejudice and discrimination were still very much alive in Hudson’s years growing up. He recalled the Ku Klux Klan had a strong presence in Michigan, and he remembered there were certain professions such as police and fire that Blacks were not allowed in.
He said Johnson’s story is not so much about the racial discrimination he encountered but about the way he lived his life, in spite of the environment around him, and that is the way Hudson has tried to live his own life.
Hudson left Benton Harbor for Detroit, where he first became involved in theater. He graduated from Wayne State University and attended the Yale School of Drama for a year and later the University of Minnesota.
Going to college was a challenge for Hudson who graduated high school in 1964 with a 1.7 grade point average because as a Black student he was not placed in collegiate preparatory classes.
“In Michigan and a lot of places they had a track system. It’s illegal but they did it anyway,” he recalled.
The “academic program” consisted of all white students, and in the “general program” there might have only been one or two Black students.
“Then you had the ‘practical program’ which we didn’t get much of an education. We weren’t allowed to take algebra. We had shop math.”
His eighth grade English teacher came in, took roll, told the class not to make too much noise and left.
As a kid he did not care, but when he later decided he wanted to further his education, he was rejected by every college he applied to because his high school grades were so low.
During that time he also got married to a ninth grader and had a child. The couple would have two children before the marriage ended, and Hudson has since remarried and has two children from his second marriage.
He credited his first wife with encouraging him, and herself, to go to college. She wound up earning a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.
After numerous rejections, Hudson finally persuaded an admittance counselor at Wayne State to allow him to attend college on a probationary status.
Hudson worked hard. He knew he had to maintain at least 3.0 average to get scholarships. He earned 4.0 averages, so his college was pretty much paid for.
College professors like David Regal encouraged Hudson.
“He said ‘you could be good with this.’ The first time I got on stage, I just knew. I felt like this is home. This I can do.”
He added, “I loved telling stories. We are all storytellers. I interpret the stories as an actor.”
Hudson’s grandmother had always encouraged him to get a good job, which in her mind meant someplace where he could wear a tie. After a few years of college he went to work as a communication consultant for Michigan Bell Telephone Company. He wore a tie, had a secretary and earned a decent salary.
“But I just hated it.”
His wife encouraged him to pursue what he enjoyed, and Professor Regal told him he had the talent to do it, so Hudson committed himself to the stage.
Making a living
Since that time he has always made his living from acting, writing or some kind of theater.
Hudson started out as a writer and saw himself more as a writer than an actor but after he moved to Hollywood he found more financial stability from acting than writing. He said acting is about getting a part and getting paid for it, and he liked that simplicity.
However, as a writer he had more control over the story he told, rather than telling someone else’s story as an actor.
His grandmother never saw acting as a “real job.” At the time of her death in 1979 Hudson had just completed a movie, and the doctors and nurses were watching it in his grandmother’s hospital room and Hudson was signing autographs afterward.
When it was over, she told Hudson, “this is nice baby, but when are you going to get a job?”
Hudson currently has about 10 movies in post production waiting for release dates. One of them, “Pastor Brown,” was recently picked up by Lifetime, and he just finished a movie with Hilary Swank called “You Are Not You.”
“It should get a lot of attention because it’s a good script and it’s a great cast.”
He is also part of the cast of “Five More,” following “Five,” a series of movies on a specific theme. The first five were on breast cancer, the “Five More” on mental health. Ernie Hudson will play the father of a character portrayed by Jennifer Hudson.
“I have done a lot of film, a lot of television,” he said.
He has appeared in episodes of such TV series as “Guys with Kids,” “Modern Family,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Law & Order,” “Desperate Housewives” and many others.
“I just stay busy, and I like to work,” he said.
One of the roles for which he is most known is Winston Zeddmore in “Ghostbusters,” a role that ironically was hard on his career.
“I had been working in movies eight years before ‘Ghostbusters,’ and ‘Ghostbusters’ came out and nothing came. I couldn’t get a job.”
As a single parent in LA, he had to make a living, so he worked in television quite a bit for a while.
“One year I was on a different television show every week. I was literally going from show to show.”
He then obtained a part in a movie with Nick Nolte and earned parts in five or six movies back to back after that.
After “Ghostbusters II” came out, the same thing happened, however. Hudson had trouble finding work and even tried stand-up comedy for a short time, but that was “a hard grind.”
The lull in his career following “Ghostbusters II” ended after he landed a dramatic role in “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.”
He said the “Ghostbusters” movies made him popular, and he joked that he knew he could be “rich and famous” but never knew he could also be “poor and popular.”
Everywhere he goes throughout the U.S. and in other countries he encounters “Ghostbusters” fans, and he is glad to have them.
“I so respect and admire that,” he said.
He said there are “Ghostbusters” chapters in every state, and many are performing charitable work, so something very positive has come out of this.
Hudson is now at a point in his career where he has more choices, and he is especially excited about the “Ghost in the House” play.
“You need to be challenged, and this is a challenge.”
“Ghost in the House” will be performed in the Adams State Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 2, with a matinee at 2 p.m. and evening performance at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $5 for AS&F members and $10 for the general public. Tickets may be reserved by calling 587-8499. The show is recommended for teens and adults, as some language is not suitable for younger children.