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Original 'Bad News Bears' Engelberg an SMU Graduate

Postby MrMustang1965 » Sun Aug 07, 2005 11:46 pm

Bad News Bears actor who played Engelberg comes out of retirement by Kevin Sherrington, Dallas Morning News

Before coming to terms with his past, Gary Cavagnaro found it "sort of embarrassing" to be known as the fat catcher on The Bad News Bears.

Especially when people in restaurants sent over candy bars.

"Not cool," Cavagnaro says.

Neither was baseball, really.

"I wanted to be identified," he says, "as a football player from Highland Park."

He did that. Also slimmed down, grew up, graduated from SMU in '85, got married, had kids and, at 41, is managing partner of a small electronics firm based in Richardson.

But whatever happened to Engelberg, one of the Bears' biggest stars 30 years ago?

Made a comeback just this week.

Cavagnaro put on the gear again Monday for the Brockton (Mass.) Rox, an independent minor league team whose owners include Bill Murray and Jimmy Fallon.

Cavagnaro's battery mate: David Pollock, or Rudi Stein, the Bears pitcher as out of control as his hairdo.

Faced one batter Monday, and it went as if by script.

"Walked him on five pitches," Cavagnaro says.

Trivia: Pollock was relieved by Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, who promptly gave up a run-scoring double.

The Can never starred in any movies but is making his own comeback, still trying to live down his cameo with the Rangers.

Cavagnaro's star rises again because of the Billy Bob Thornton remake, which makes the '76 original look like a Ken Burns documentary.

Example: In the latest, Chico's Bail Bonds has been replaced as the team's sponsor by a topless club.

The original was shocking enough 30 years ago, and not just because Walter Matthau couldn't stick with one brand of beer.

The original cast cussed, fought, shot the bird, swilled beer, hurled epithets and, perhaps most egregious of all, lost in the end.

The director, Michael Ritchie, actually filmed two endings. Win or lose? Cavagnaro had no idea until he saw the premiere.

He heard two audience gasps: One for the ending, and the other for his ad-lib early on.

Engelberg breaks the windshield of Matthau's convertible with a wild throw, and Matthau tells him his father will have to pay for it.

The script called for a facetious, "Yeah, uh-huh." But Ritchie didn't want his cast bound by any literary constraints.

"We were all cussin' anyway," Cavagnaro says, "so I just said, 'Bull –.' "

Not exactly Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh at Tara, but memorable.

Ever feel uncomfortable with what the script or scenes called for?

"Not at all," he says. "I was a smart-ass little kid. We all were.

"This is the way kids act when their parents aren't looking."

And that's what sold it, too. The film became a cult favorite. Even inspired a Web site, still active.

Who knew? Certainly not Cavagnaro. All he did was answer a casting call on Ron Chapman's radio show for tryouts at the Apparel Mart.

"The worse you were," he says, "the better they liked you."

Helped, too, that Cavagnaro, who turned 12 on the set, was 5 feet tall and weighed 210.

Not for long, though. Developed bronchitis while filming. A doctor told him if he didn't lose weight he'd be dead by 21.

He dropped 25 pounds while making the movie. He was down to 160 when producers were ready to make the sequel a year later.

They asked him to put on 50 pounds, and he said no. Still, he played bit parts in two other films. Even won a role in Jaws 2 that would have paid him $90,000 for six months' work.

Turned it down. A sophomore at Highland Park, he'd just been called up to the varsity.

"He was a tough little ol' kid," says Frank Bevers, the Scots' legendary coach. "He was kinda roly-poly at first, but he went to work and built himself up into a pretty good player."

Playing defensive line seemed like more fun than chum for sharks, anyway.

"Much to my parents' credit," Cavagnaro says, "they told the producers, 'No, he wants to be a kid.' "

Now, he and wife Kimberly have four: Matthew, 21, Emily, 14, Blake, 12, and Gary Jr., 10.

Get this: The three youngest tried out for the Bears remake, and Blake was called back three times for the role his father made famous.

Blake didn't make the final cut. Just as well, probably. From what he's heard, Dad's not sure he wants to see the sequel.

He's loyal to the original. Even if it took awhile.

"Time ages and mellows all of us," he says, something no bad news kid wants to hear.
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