As a child growing up in the 1980s and fascinated by Asian culture, viewing the film, Year of the Dragon, starring Mickey Rourke was a visceral experience. I saw the film three times during its opening week. The film co-stars Raymond J. Barry as Louis Bukowski, the longtime friend and law enforcement superior to Mickey Rourke’s Stanley White. Their relationship, aside from being professional, depicts an intensely loving and contentious friendship. I loved both Barry’s performance and the film itself for its exemplary level of intensity and rawness.

My favorite scene takes place in a bar they habitually frequent. Barry’s Bukowski reads Rourke’s White the riot act. As Detective White leaves in a huff, Detective Bukowski calls to him, “Take care of yourself. If you need anything, call me!” His statement is a heartfelt touch that describes unequivocal affection between two men, bound at the hip both professionally and emotionally. From what I know about this man, indeed, Raymond J. Barry does have an abundance of so-called ‘heart’.

Barry is a workhorse of an artist, known for his immense body of creative roles both on screen, as well as on New York, European and Near Eastern stages. Between 1964 and 2021, he’s garnered an impressive 128 film and television credits alone, not to overlook hundreds of stage performances throughout the globe. After performing The Brig with the notorious Living Theater, he collaborated in the creation of the Open Theater productions of The Serpent, Mutation Show, Masques, Endgame, and Nightwalk, and performed those plays in the following countries: Iran at the Shiraz Festival, Algeria, Germany at Academy der Kuntz, London at the Roundhouse Theater, Paris, Switzerland, Denmark, Canada and all the major cities in Italy, as well as throughout the United States.

He went on to perform in more than 80 productions in New York, from Broadway to Off Broadway, including the Tony nominated musical Happy End by Kurt Weil and Bertolt Brecht. For his work in theater, he received a Drama-Logue Award for his lead performances in Sam, Shepard’s Buried Child. He also received a Drama-Logue Award and the LA Drama Critics Award for Writing and Best Actor, for his play Once in Doubt.

Although Barry appeared briefly in Neil Simon’s The Goodbye Girl in 1977, his film career took off in the Oliver Stone written and Michael Cimino directed film, Year of the Dragon in 1985. So impressed was Oliver Stone with Barry’s performance that the following year he was cast as Tom Cruise’s father in Born on the Fourth of July. Since then, Raymond has appeared in dozens of big-budget and indie films, including Falling Down (1993), The Ref (1994), Sudden Death (1995), Flubber (1997), Interview with the Assassin (2002), Walk Hard: The Dewey Cocks Story (2007), and Made in Chinatown (2021).

Between films Barry has also been a favorite in television, where he has played major roles in such shows as LA Law, Frasier, Crossing Jordan, Law & Order, and Lost. However, his biggest television fan base is tied to the shows where he appeared as a regular character, including the X-Files, Hyperion Bay, Cold Case, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Justified, Ray Donovan, Alias, and Gotham

I grew up watching Raymond Barry in film and on television. And in 2018 when I started casting for my feature film, Made in Chinatown, I was taken aback by a telephone call from Hollywood manager Bob Magowan, stating that Raymond J. Barry had been shown the script and would be interested in playing a role in the film! Was something available? “Is that a trick question?” I asked. “No,” Bob said, “he read the script and finds it interesting.” I immediately replied, “Of course he can be in the film. I’ll send his sides right over.”

By this time, the lead parts had all been cast, but there was no way I was going to lose this opportunity of casting Mr. Barry in my film. Henceforth, I expanded the role and scenes of the corrupt crime commissioner, Sean O’Greedy, to create a worthy role for this legend to play. A few days later I received a phone call from an unknown number in California, and the voice on the other end of the line said, “Mark, this is Raymond Barry. I’m in your movie.” I almost peed myself.

I picked Ray up at the airport and checked him into his hotel. It was late, but he needed a smoke (his only vice), so we walked around Philadelphia’s Chinatown talking about theater, film, sports, and his many connections to the city of brotherly love, which include running in the Penn Relays, playing football for Brown University against University of Pennsylvania, and performing at the People’s Light and Theater. His demeanor was happy, loose and cool; one couldn’t avoid catching his vibe and not realize you were sharing a cloud with him. Raymond J. Barry played O’Greedy with a smoldering intensity that only a great comedic actor could do. He played the ridiculous lines straight as an arrow, elevating them from mere spoof to cultural parody. And, unlike some on set, he knew every line in every scene, and did them on queue without error, a consummate professional.

During our many long phone conversations, Ray muses how a stage actor must know his lines, or he’d not only embarrass himself but let down the entire production. Theater is live, one shot each night to get it right; unlike film, where many takes, and cuts can put a line or a scene together.

I also came to know Raymond as an artist. He is an inspiring painter of abstract art in brilliant colors. He’s also a sculptor, who carves monolithic wooden logs to his vision of love and death: various works of holding hands. His work can be viewed on his website: raymondjbarry.org. Raymond is also writer of both non-fiction stories as well as fiction, some of which appear in this memoir. His numerous, original plays will appear in another volume by Tambuli Media, titled Mother’s Son and Other Plays.

“I go to my studio daily for eight hours to paint and write in isolation,” Barry tells me. “I feel I’m doing the best paintings of my life right now and a long time coming. I began painting at age twenty-three and continued, whenever I wasn’t working as an actor. Writing plays and short stories came later during my early 30s, while I was working with the notorious, New York based Open Theater,” he recalls.

I was also privileged to be given a draft of his first novel, Beans and Brussels Sprouts, about the life of a transgender man and his homophobic roommate. When I inquired about his novel’s homophobic theme, a timely subject, yet seemingly out of touch with others of his generation, Raymond responded:

“I owe my awareness and social consciousness to my mother’s influence. She was a painter, a published writer and later in her life an actress. She was a gay woman, who educated me to the horrors of racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia way back in the ‘40s and ‘50s when all three were rampant in America. We became close friends. During her late 60s, she became an actress in my New York based theater company, Quena Company. She acted until age eighty-eight and died at age ninety-four.”

You can read about Raymond J. Barry’s relationship with his mother in chapter two of Never a Viable Alternative. “Barbara Constance Barry, Last Visit” is the chapter, a deep, heartfelt, intense, a bit sad and full of love. Much of the work published within his memoir is similar to that chapter; both a mirror and a reflection of a man of many talents, a journeyman following his spirit, a workhorse staying focused, so as to avoid being blinded by the darkness of our culture’s racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia.

In celebration of his work, Raymond has been presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Gasparilla Film Festival; the Stanley Kramer Legend Award For Excellence in Film by the Pasadena Action On Film Festival; the New York Film Festival’s “Best Lead Performance” for his work in Interview with the Assassin, in which he played the alleged second gunman who shot President Kennedy; Philadelphia’s First Glance Film Festival’s “Best Lead Performance” for his portrayal of “Charlie Valentine” in which he played the title character. For his work in theater, Ray has received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award, three Drama-Logue Awards and a Maddie Award for his play, Once in Doubt (1990), which originated at La Mama in 1984.

But these awards are nothing compared to the real award: Being a working actor for sixty years and happily married for the past thirty-one years to writer Robyn Mundell in a town and business that too often ruins lives, destroys spirits, and obliterates relationships. In Barry’s case, being a workhorse of an artist, dedicated to his many crafts, leaves little time for temptation, and the essays contained herein show what it takes, who he is, and precisely what it must be like to become a real man and a mensch. He’s dug deep and provided us all with a “Master Class” on how to be a positive and successful working artist.

In honor of an idol, who has become a friend, I write these words and publish this memoir with ultimate gratitude for his trust in me to do so.

Mark V. Wiley
Publisher, Tambuli Media

Never A Viable Alternative is more than the memoir of an award-winning actor. Deeply moving, heart wrenching, and inspiring, Raymond J. Barry offers readers insights into what it takes to survive a violent upbringing, to excel in sports, to be swept away by theater, and to barely earn a living while trying to make it as an artist and an actor for 20 years; before finally garnering significant recognition beginning in the 1980s, in such films as Year of the Dragon, Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Man Walking, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Made in Chinatown and on television series including X-Files, The 100, Gotham and Justified.

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