One of the most frequently voiced claims my critics have thrown at me over the years is that I "thought I was the show" on the ice. That has always stuck in my craw because it was flat out false. People mistook my natural enthusiasm and assertiveness for showboating. I never once tried to overshadow the game I love -- or the teams playing it -- to get face time on camera.
I am someone who owns up to my weaknesses and shortcomings. Being deliberately attention-hungry on the ice was not one of them. Those who have claimed that simply do not know me.
With that said, away from the ice, I am an unabashed movie, stage and music buff. In another life, who knows, maybe I would have pursued an acting career.
Actually, I have appeared in three motion pictures. Most famously, perhaps, I had a cameo in Slap Shot as an opponent playing against Paul Newman's team. Next time you watch the move, look for the yellow-helmeted defenseman behind the net in the infamous scene of Newman taunting opposing goaltender "Hanrahan."
If you want the full rundown of my experiences on the set of Slap Shot and how the movie pretty closely paralleled my real-life hockey playing career at the time, I blogged at length about it in a piece last November at HockeyBuzz. Short version is that I got $500 and a copy of the script autographed by Paul Newman. I also got to have a beer together with Newman.
My other two movie appearances are less well-known. I had a bit part as a Secret Service agent in Kennedy, starring Martin Sheen, EG Marshall and Blair Brown. I was only on camera for about three to five seconds.
Lastly, I was in a movie called Letters from the Dead, a war film that never made it into wide distribution but won some film festival awards. In the film, which looks at men of different backgrounds and nationalities who fought as allies in World War II, I play an American infantryman who, on the final day of the war, gets zippered by a machine gun and falls under a half track.
Small parts, yes. But each and every one was an interesting experience. In my movie-watching fantasies, I would have loved to be a master of the craft on par with someone like Gregory Peck (whom I once had the pleasure of sitting next to on an airplane) or Dustin Hoffman. It was their ability to embrace a role and believably become just about any type of character they wanted to portray.
In Hoffman's case, for instance, I just marvel at his body of work. Ratso Rizzo from Midnight Cowboy, Ben from The Graduate, Kramer, Little Big Man, Marathon Man... will you ever go to a dentist again? In Tootsie, my personal favorite, Hoffman shows at the beginning of the movie what actors do in trying to perfect their craft. It is inspiring, educational, and true.
It's funny. I think back now to my 8th grade, second form year at Groton School in 1968. Our school play was The Taming of the Shrew. Mrs. Wright, our English teacher, asked me to be in the play. A kid from rough-and-tumble Dorchester (who most certainly didn't want to wear tights), I wanted to be on the baseball diamond and not practicing the play everyday from three to four in the afternoon. I'd do my perfunctory lines and then hustle down to baseball practice.
I wasn't pleasant to be around and I acted like I wanted nothing to do with it. I made poor Mrs. Wright's life miserable. Secretly, though, when the play ran at school, I kinda liked being on stage and I liked the performing. As a matter of fact, all these years later, I still remember my lines! I am very sorry, now years later, when I think back on how difficult I made play practice for my teacher.
Fast forward to the winter of 1981. At a crossroads in my life and with hockey, I read about a play that was looking for players at The Harwich Winter Theater on Cape Cod. They were putting on Prescription Murder, the pilot play for the Columbo detective series.
I went down and read for them. Guess what? I got the part as Dr. Fleming, the villain that Columbo sets out to thwart and catch. It was a lot of work learning the lines. On opening night, we finally began and the play ran for a week.
I had no idea if I was good or lousy on stage. But then the reviews came out in the local paper and the Cape Cod Times and I had my Sally Field "You like me! You really like me!" moment. I was singled out for praise in being a convincing villain. Hey, maybe that was good prep for my officiating career!
Anyway, I clipped some reviews and a copy of the Playbill and sent them off to Mrs. Wright with this little note: "Mrs. Wright, as a teacher, I thought you might like to see that the seed you planted in a reluctant me, finally took hold... Some seeds take longer than others to grow. Thank you."
So if there are any casting directors out there on Broadway or Hollywood, well then light the lights and I'll be there. Why not? I always liked "being the show," right?
Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.
Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the ECAC.
The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.
Stewart's writings can also be found on HockeyBuzz.com every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. He is currently working with a co-author in writing an autobiography.