Actor and former politician Alan Autry was in Bakersfield Thursday to speak at the annual “In God We Trust - America” fundraiser, but before the event he shared stories from his colorful life on the web-streamed program “Open Up Live.”
Autry described his early — and short — career in the NFL as a quarterback for the Green Bay Packers.
“I had a great career in the NFL, until they put me in,” he quipped.
Autry was cut from the team after only three games.
Faced with a loss of identity as a pro-footballer, Autry sought new avenues in Hollywood, starring in films such as “Southern Comfort” and “Popeye” and taking smaller roles in television series like “Dukes of Hazzard” and “Cheers.”
His big break came in the role of Captain Bubba Skinner in the series “In the Heat of the Night,” an adaptation of the film of the same name. The series starred Carroll O’Connor as police chief in a Southern town still struggling with racism.
Bubba was originally supposed to be racist, and to die off in the first season. But O’Connor changed all of that when he re-wrote a key scene that gave Bubba an arc of redemption.
The show lasted eight seasons. His work on the program led to work on the sitcom “Grace Under Fire” with comedian Brett Butler.
After departing from Hollywood, Autry ran for mayor of Fresno as a Republican. He served two terms, and was credited with maintaining a balanced city budget with millions in reserves at the end of his term.
Autry returned to Hollywood making faith- and family-style films that incorporated his faith. His most recent production, “Victory by Submission” about an MMA fighter struggling to find balance in his family and life, will premiere exclusively with churches for the next nine months.
Autry is also the founder of CenCal Mentoring Academy, a program that works in schools to mentor troubled youth. Autry says that after working in 13 schools in Fresno, the next step is to create a branch of the academy in Bakersfield.
The academy recruits from churches, offers hours of training, and even pays its mentors.
“You really limit yourself if you just ask for volunteers. A good-hearted man or woman might be just one car payment away from being able to do something like this,” Autry said.
The plan to expand into Bakersfield is still in the planning stages, but is going forward, Autry promised.
“Open Up Live,” is broadcast every Thursday at 10 a.m. on bakersfield.com.