Radio DJ reinvents himself as 'Boss' actor
On "Boss," the acclaimed Starz show starring Kelsey Grammer as a fictional Chicago mayor, Park Ridge actor Doug James plays the scariest kind of sociopath — the one who looks like an average guy.
His character is listed as "Grey Haired Man" in the credits. But his small role as the guy who keeps the mayor's secrets secret — even with a hypodermic needle, if necessary — is a prominent one, landing him in most of the Chicago-shot Season 1 episodes and a few Season 2 shows.
When you can see 'Boss'
July 24:Season 1 will be available on DVD
Aug. 17:Season 2 will premiere on the cable television station Starz
James may be Grey Haired Man now, but he's also been Young Doug James — Comin' On Stronger Than Your Mother's Love! — and a handful of other wacky radio characters during his decades as a radio DJ before his acting career.
His many radio personalities laid the groundwork for his second and third career paths, as a successful voice-over talent and actor. He also spends his days doting over his grandchildren and playing in his high-energy roots blues/funk/R&B/rock band, Doug James and The Pocket, which played at Naperville's Ribfest last week.
"Success is only going to happen for so long before you have to reinvent yourself again," said James, who turns 63 in September. "I am the reinventor of self. Look that up in the dictionary and you'll see my picture."
The Iowa native's first love, however — and the one that drew him to showbiz — was music.
That's what led James to take his first radio job, spinning records at a radio station in Boone, Iowa, "Home of Mamie Eisenhower."
"I got enamored with radio. After baling hay, I would get in my dad's car and put on the air-conditioning and listen to WLS in Chicago and KAAY in Little Rock," he said. "It was the entertainment value you felt like you were getting on top of all the new music."
James didn't go to Vietnam because he failed the physical; instead, he went to broadcasting school and took whatever radio job he could get, even if it meant working overnights or playing polka music. Each year, James moved up to bigger cities. He hosted shows in more than a dozen places, including Minneapolis, Denver, Phoenix and Philadelphia.
"I was a screamer. I was a wild, teenage, nighttime jock," he said. "You could get away with murder back then."
Except, apparently, at the oldies station in Asheville, N.C. James said he was fired from that job for playing from the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar."
"The program director just said to me, 'That just ain't gonna fly here,'" he said.
James came to Chicago in 1984 to host "The Good Morning Guys" show on WMAQ, and pretty much stayed put to raise his four children. His radio career included hosting the morning show at The Beat, a jammin' oldies station at 103.5-FM.
James retired from radio in the 1990s, but he kept plugging away at other showbiz pursuits — including his lucrative voice-over work.
While he's not known for a particular one-liner, James has been the voice of commercials for the Illinois Lottery, McDonald's, United Airlines and Taco Bell, among others. His impressive resume also includes narrating shows on The Weather Channel and voicing documentaries on Garth Brooks and Walter Payton.
If that wasn't enough, James also started auditioning for and landing small parts in movies and TV shows, including "Prison Break."
Last year, he got the chance to read for director Gus Van Sant and wound up on "Boss."
"I like acting a lot. I can see myself continuing to do this," James said. "If all this dries up and I get bored, I'll get thinking again. And who knows?"
— Jamie Sotonoff
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