The students seemed to hang on actor George Kennedy’s every word as he imparted some of his 70 years of accumulated wisdom.
“When I was your age, the one thing that I was sure of was that I was unsure of everything,” Kennedy told the audience of 10th- through 12-graders Tuesday at Taft High School in Woodland Hills.
“Everything that you are going through now, it will pass, and you will get your wings and you will fly like eagles.”
Dressed casually in a white sport shirt, gray sweat pants and sneakers, Kennedy lounged in a director’s chair as he talked about his life as one of America’s most recognizable actors and offered advice on how to make it big in Hollywood.
“If you want to be an actor, be prepared to lose, but also be prepared to win,” he advised. “But whatever you do, work your butt off, and doors will open.”
Kennedy, who lives in Thousand Oaks, became an actor at age 32. He won an Academy Award for 1967’s “Cool Hand Luke.”
His other movies include “Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult,” “The Dirty Dozen,” “Earthquake” and “Death on the Nile.”
Of late, he has been a spokesman for Breath Asure, an Encino-based firm that is waging a media blitz for a breath freshener it recently introduced to the market. One of the students asked Kennedy to name his favorite movie in which he appeared.
“ ‘Charade’ ,” he answered. “It had Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, music by Henry Mancini; it was shot entirely in Paris. I have nothing but wonderful memories.”
What was his “Cool Hand Luke” co-star Paul Newman like to work with?
“Intense,” said Kennedy, recounting a tale of how Newman insisted on learning how to play the banjo to make a scene more realistic.
After it was over, Kennedy signed autographs for the students. “I’ve always liked him,” said senior Danny Pineda, who wants to be an actor. “I feel inspired. It’s up to us.”
“He cares about people,” said Bety Ben-Abraham, an 11th-grader. “He’s a very caring person.”
Barbara Cooper, a film teacher who arranged Kennedy’s appearance at Taft, said the actor’s visit went exactly as she had hoped.
“He was even better than I expected because he was able to inspire the kids as a person, not as an actor,” she said. “He’s interesting, he’s intelligent, he knows how to communicate.”