Knoxville native John Cullum (’53) is a two-time Tony Award winner who is best known for his Emmy-nominated portrayal of Holling Vincoeur on television’s Northern Exposure. The Clarence Brown Theatre honored Cullum with its CBT Artistic Excellence Award. Cullum recently spoke about his memories of UT and what’s next for him.
“I appeared in about a dozen plays at UT, and each one was a terrifyingly beautiful experience. I was also the highest-ranking student officer and colonel of the ROTC regiment. And I took great enjoyment and pride in that position. As president of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, I had some wonderful and lasting friends and fond memories of taking first place in Carnicus and first prize in the choral competition.
“A bunch of us hardy fellows braved the snickers and jokes of a lot of students when we took dance lessons with Ms. Allen, a modern dancer. Believe me, that was a great time
and stood me in good stead in later years when I had to hoof it on Broadway.”
ON STAGE AT UT
“I played leading roles in The Heiress; Born Yesterday; Detective Story; Come Back, Little
Sheba; Death of a Salesman; Jason; Petrified Forest; and several others. But the role which suited me best and that I enjoyed playing the most was the title role in Golden Boy.”
THEN AND NOW
“I loved the Hill and the shape of old UT, but there’s no question that it’s grown in all directions and has become one of the great educational systems in the USA. The musical department was in an old mansion next to our Phi Gamma Delta mansion, there was no drama department—the nearest degree I could get was in speech. We didn’t have a theater of our own. We did our major productions at the Bijou and the smaller shows at
the theater in Tyson Junior High School. “Now, well, just look at the Clarence Brown Theatre, which has major productions of the highest caliber with professional actors, directors, and staff—many of whom have gained national attention and some of whom have even made it to Broadway.”
“Most of my family, which has extended in a large way, has moved back to Knoxville or had never left. I miss them most of all. But I certainly miss the university and the many opportunities it offers to the common folk of our town. East Tennessee is one of the loveliest places in the whole world with its rolling hills and beautiful lakes. And the people are as good as any on this earth.”
“I’ve been doing a lot of readings for revivals or new plays and musicals as well as doing
guest artist roles on small films or TV. I also do five-minute videos every week with my
wife, Emily, and I’ve filmed a one-man musical of an old folk tale, Jack and the Doctor’s
Daughter. I wrote lyrics to well-known old tunes and play all ten parts. It’s a hoot, and who knows, maybe someday you’ll see it. At present, I’m working on putting music and lyrics to Moliere’s The Doctor in Spite of Himself. That should keep me busy till something else comes along. And I’m not all that anxious for something else to come along.”
Photography by Jennie Andrews