In a Sept. 2022 New York Times interview, film director Michael Schultz, known for iconic 1970s movies “Cooley High” and “Car Wash” and 1980s classics “Krush Groove” and “The Last Dragon,” described why he came to visit Yellow Springs in 1965 — a passage that piqued this reporter’s imagination.
“I had moved to New York after studying theater at Marquette in Milwaukee, where I grew up. My wife and I were working with the McCarter Theater in New Jersey when Douglas Turner Ward and Robert Hooks were just starting the Negro Ensemble Company. My wife suggested I drop my résumé off with them before we went on the road to do a play that she was acting in and I was directing. Douglas Turner Ward ended up coming out to Yellow Springs, Ohio, to see it and offered me any of the plays in the Negro Ensemble Company’s opening season.”
The California-based Schultz, at age 85, has been directing for six decades. Born in Minnesota, Schultz started out in theater and made his acting and directing debuts off-Broadway before making the jump to directing films and television shows. In addition to his film credits, Schultz has over 100 television credits, having directed episodes of the hit shows “Black-ish” and “Manifest”; the rebooted “The Wonder Years”; and DC-comics-based shows “Arrow” and “Black Lightning,” to name a few. According to the New York Times, Schultz is also responsible for the film debuts of Hollywood actors Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson and Blair Underwood.
As is often the case, it was through a professional relationship, this time with programming partner WCSU-FM, 88.1, that the News was able to secure an interview with Schultz to find out his connection to the village. WCSU General Manager Charles Fox had previously worked with Schultz on a diversity, equity and inclusion in film initiative with Schultz.
“The way it happened for us to be in Yellow Springs was a function of our being in the repertory company at Princeton, the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey,” Schultz told the News recently via Zoom.
“A classmate of mine came back from the Royal Academy [of Dramatic Art in London] and had a job as associate director of the McCarter Theater, and he asked me if I would join the company,” Schultz said. “I said, ‘Only if I can direct a play, and if you take me and my wife into the company. He said, ‘Okay, great.’”
Schultz, who was looking to direct, was offered a position with the McCarter Theater, a respected company that has been producing plays since 1930. At the time, former Yellow Springs resident Arthur Lithgow, father of actor John Lithgow, was running the theater.