Rob Lowe Really Remembers Cincinnati Well

May 22, 2019

Riverfront Stadium… Bob Braun… Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall... The Uncle Al Show … Uncle Al's accordion… Great American Ball Park…

The more I talked to actor Rob Lowe, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, from 1964 to '76, the more I was surprised by his flood of Cincinnati memories. 

The phone interview, which airs on WVXU's Around Cincinnati show airing 7 p.m. Sunday, May 26, was to promote his "Stories I Only Tell My Friends" one-man show coming to the Aronoff Center Saturday, June 1, and to Dayton's Schuster Center on Sunday, June 2. (Here's a link to the audio from Sunday's show.) 

Before we talked, I knew two things: He hadn't lived here for 43 years; and that he loved the Reds from watching the Big Red Machine at Riverfront Stadium in the 1970s.

'The West Wing' cast (from left) Richard Schiff, Allison Janney, Dule Hill, John Spencer, Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, Janel Moloney and Bradley Whitford for the 1999 premiere.
Credit Courtesy NBC

I first interviewed Lowe at the TV Critics' press tour in Los Angeles before The West Wing premiered in the summer of 1999, nine months after Cincinnati voters decided the Reds' new stadium would be built on Second Street instead of behind the Hamilton County Courthouse.

Lowe noticed my Cincinnati Enquirer badge and asked me: "What's the new baseball stadium going to look like in Cincinnati? That's the only thing I care about!"

Lowe laughed when I told him that story earlier this month.

"I'm finally going to get the answer myself this trip. I'm going to Great American Ball Park! Bob Castellini is a great man and a very good friend of my brother (Chad), and he has extended an invitation that I'm taking. I'm going to go to the game!" Lowe said.

"I probably will have to leave at the fourth inning (Saturday) to go do my show, but I cannot wait to finally see the Reds at Great American Ball Park!"

"In fact, one of the great reasons I'm coming is that I can't wait to see Marty Brennaman, who I grew up adoring. It's his last year as a broadcaster, and I want to 'kiss the ring.'  Joe Nuxhall, Marty Brennaman, Riverfront Stadium, I have such fond memories."

He loved the Reds so much that, when he got onto the field as a kid, Lowe scooped up some warning track dirt and put it in a small vial.

Promotional photo for Lowe's one-man tour.
Credit Courtesy Cincinnati Arts Association

In most cities, Lowe says his one-man show is about "a kid from Dayton, Ohio, making his way to Hollywood, and everything that has happened along the way" over 40 years. In Cincinnati and Dayton on June 1-2, it will be "very Ohio-centric."

Then he gave me the "Lowe" down. He plans to share memories of watching Uncle Al and Captain Windy, the stars of WCPO-TV's Uncle Al Show who retired in 1985, and Bob Braun, the Cincinnati variety host whose show was simulcast in Dayton and canceled in 1984.

"Uncle Al and Captain Windy. I need to know what was actually going on there. I've been waiting for years. I was always so envious of kids who got to sit on Uncle Al's accordion ... In my memory, that was like the highest honor!

"And we have to do a little bit of a deep dive into Bob Braun.  There's definitely a lot of stuff I'll be trotting out in Cincinnati that won't play in any other city."

Lowe in 'Youngblood' in 1986, a year after 'St. Elmo's Fire.'
Credit Courtesy MGM

Lowe started acting as a kid in Dayton. He dreamed of doing theater in New York, like the actors who performed at the Kenley Players summer shows in Dayton and other area theaters. Soon after moving to L.A., he played Eileen Brennan's son on ABC's A New Kind of Family sitcom and a contestant on $10,000 Pyramid, both in 1979.

He established himself in 1983, at 19, with a Golden Globe nomination for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie called Thursday's Child, and a role in Francis Ford Coppola's The Outsiders with Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Emilio Estevz and Tom Cruise. Two years later, Lowe and Estevez appeared in St. Elmo's Fire with Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Andrew McCarthy.

His list of credits include The West Wing, Parks and Recreation, Brothers & Sisters, The Lyon's Den, Dr. Vegas, Californication, The Grinder, Code Black, About Last Night…, Wayne's World, Oxford Blues, Mulholland Falls and voicing Simba for The Lion Guard animated series.

Rob Lowe with his wife Sheryl Berkoff and their son, John Owen Lowe, at Fox Broadcasting's fall TV announcement party May 13 in New York City.
Credit Anthony Behar/PictureGroup/Fox / Courtesy Fox Media LLC

This spring he hosted and produced Fox's Mental Samurai game show. Fox announced earlier this month (after we spoke) that Lowe will star in a 9-1-1 spinoff, Lone Star 9-1-1, set in Austin for midseason.

Lowe said he was grateful to receive Golden Globe award nominations in three different decades: Thursday's Child (1984), The West Wing (2000, 2001); the Liberace bio picture called Behind The Candelabra (2014) and The Grinder (2016).

Rob Lowe and Fred Savage starred in 'The Grinder,' a Fox sitcom in 2015.
Credit Courtesy Fox Broadcasting

In The Grinder, a short-lived Fox sitcom, he played an actor from a canceled legal series who went home to work at the family law firm. It's one of Lowe's favorites because "law is kind of a family business. My dad (Charles) is still practicing in Dayton. He's in his 53rd year practicing. And my son, Matthew, is about to graduate from law school. That was special," said  Lowe, who was born when his dad was attending the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville in 1964.

His one-man show ends with a Q&A, which makes each gig fun.

"The thing that’s really fun is that you never know what people are going to respond to," he says. "I'm so lucky to have the kind of career where it could be Outsiders, or the Brat Pack, or West Wing or Parks & Rec, or Behind the Candelabra. The questions for sure make it a different show every night, particularly coming back to Dayton or a place where I have a history."

Hear Rob Lowe 7 p.m. Sunday, May 26 on Around Cincinnati on WVXU, WMUB and wvxu.org.