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State of the Arts: Warden Norton Revisits 'Shawshank' in Mansfield

Actor Bob Gunton said he's recognized all over the world for his role as Warden Norton in "The Shawshank Redemption."
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Actor Bob Gunton said he's recognized all over the world for his role as Warden Norton in "The Shawshank Redemption."

"The Shawshank Redemption" was mostly shot on location in Mansfield and it's turned the city into a tourist destination. Actors, the movie’s director, film historians and legions of fans are coming back to Mansfield to celebrate the film's 25th anniversary this year. On this Week’s State of the Arts, we talk with actor Bob Gunton, who you may or may not know by name, but you'll definitely recognize him if you’re a fan of the film.

He's played Sweeny Todd on Broadway and been in dozens of episodes of "24", but Bob Gunton is most often recognized for his role as the pious and corrupt Warden Norton in "The Shawshank Redemption."

"People seem to recognize this face and my voice. I'm always surprised and delighted," Gunton said over the phone from the West Coast. 

He's been singled out while travelling through airports all over the world.

"So it turns out that (Warden Norton) has a lot of whiz-bang quotable lines," Gunton said.  

Most often people come up to him with wry smiles and ask him if he is being "obtuse." 

That's a nod to one of his more infamous lines from the film when he punishes Tim Robbin's character Andy Dufresne for trying to appeal his conviction for a double murder he says he didn't commit. 

He gets quoted the line so much that Gunton said "Or Am I being Obtuse?" will be the title of his memoir.

But how does it feel looking back on his most famous role after half a century?

"In some ways it seems like just a short while ago and other times I look at myself in the mirror and say 'you don’t look like The Warden!'"

On set in Mansfield 

"The Shawshank Redemption" has turned Mansfield into a pilgrimage for curious film buffs.

Destination Mansfield estimates thousands have made the trip to take in the Shawshank Trail that covers the filming locations in and around the city. 

Gunton has been back to Mansfield, and the Ohio State Reformatory where most of the prison scenes were shot, multiple times over the decades. 

He said he enjoys signing autographs and even sitting in the warden's office chair during group tours of the facility. 

"And it's like this is a religious experience," Gunton said of the throngs of fans who visit the filming sites. "It was like they were visiting Fátima or Lourdes, a place where some miracle happened. And there is a spiritual quality to the movie." 

Gunton, other Shawshank actors, director Frank Darabont and AMC's Ben Mankiewicz are all participating in anniversary events August 16 and 17 in Mansfield. 

Copyright 2019 WKSU

Mark has been a host, reporter and producer at several NPR member stations in Delaware, Alaska, Washington and Kansas. His reporting has taken him everywhere from remote islands in the Bering Sea to the tops of skyscrapers overlooking Puget Sound. He is a diehard college basketball fan who enjoys taking walks with his dog, Otis.