It was a bleak and damp Wednesday morning in early February when I connected by phone with Wesley Eure (pronounced “your,”) who grew up in Hattiesburg and went on to become an actor, singer and wearer of many other hats.
A string of bad weather days had me in a foul mood, but I was instantly cheered when I heard Eure’s strong and energetic voice on the other end of the line. I was at my desk in downtown Hattiesburg, and he was at his second home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
We exchanged pleasantries, and then we got down to business. I was sure a big star like Eure wouldn’t give me long – after all, he told me early in our conversation that he was, at that precise moment, hanging out with his former “Land of the Lost” co-star Kathy Coleman – but I was determined to pack as many questions in as I could in maybe 15 minutes.
The conversation lasted for nearly an hour, and Eure could not have been more charming and gracious. I felt like I was chatting with a long-lost friend, and, during our wide-ranging interview, I discovered why. I share a lot of similarities with Eure, who you probably know from “Days of Our Lives,” “Land of the Lost” and “Dragon Tales.”
We are both Hattiesburg transplants, and we both have unique connections to William Carey University. These two strings connected us easily, and he talked to me freely about his early struggles, career successes and overall contentment with his life.
The entertainer is now 68 years old, and his connections with Hattiesburg date back 66 years. When he was two years old, his mother and father divorced, and he left his birthplace, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for Hattiesburg. The family lived at 419 Tuscan Avenue across the street from then-William Carey College.
His mother, Mary Jane, and his grandparents, Otis and Vera, were the most important figures in his early life. His father, who taught at Louisiana State University, abandoned the family after the divorce, and Eure would only see him a handful of times throughout his life.
Eure has a powerful memory of his childhood, and he remembers one moment that sets the tone for the relationship with his father.
“My father took me to see the LSU mascot,” he said. “It was a tiger in a cage, a horrible-looking cage. When we walked up, we saw that the mascot was dead! The mascot was dead in its cage. I was horrified, and shortly thereafter, my parents split up.”
Eure’s great memory allows for an easy recall of other major life events, such as the day his father left.
“I remember my father leaving, and my mother and my sister upstairs crying. I remember him looking at me, and I was a little more than two years old, and I remember him telling me to take care of my mother,” he said.
Eure took his father’s words to heart, and he loved and cherished his mother deeply. She died six years ago, but she accomplished her childhood dream of going to law school thanks to her son. He also housed her during the latter years of her life.
“I took care of her, like my father told me to,” he said.
While in Hattiesburg, Eure’s mother worked as a secretary in the downtown area, and Eure would often hop on the bus, unaccompanied, to go visit her. He remembers learning to ride a bicycle and how to roller skate in Hattiesburg’s streets.
He also remembers the pomegranate trees at Carey.
“These trees would grow huge pomegranates, and I would steal them and run around Hattiesburg with my dog,” he said.
Eure was baptized at the old Main Street Baptist Church in downtown Hattiesburg at six years old, and the memory of the event will never leave him due to an embarrassing moment.
He was wearing the white baptismal robes with little on underneath, and, as he waded into the baptistry, an air bubble caught the robe, lifting it into the air. He then slid on algae at the bottom of the pool.
“Everyone was watching me slide, basically naked, and I was horrified,” he said.
While in Hattiesburg, Eure attended George Hurst Elementary School, and, at age five, had already decided what he wanted to do for a career. He announced to his family at a family function that he was going to be an actor and a star.
“Of course, they looked at me like I was crazy,” he said. “I came from a family of educators, so it was a shock to them to do something outside of that field.”
As a youngster, he idolized stars like Eddie Hodges, who was born in Hattiesburg and became a child actor and singer. Hodges starred in the 1959 film “A Hole in the Head” alongside Frank Sinatra and played the title role in the 1960 film “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” He also had a recording contract and, at age 12, became Mississippi’s first Grammy Award winner.
“I’m a little kid in Hattiesburg, and Eddie was a big star coming to visit Hattiesburg,” said Eure. “I went to the dentist that day and, because I was good, I got to pick from a bag of tricks … and I picked a ring for my finger. Eddie came to town on the train, and I ended up giving my precious possession, my ring, to Eddie.”
Eure has kept in touch with Hodges, who left show business as an adult.
“I contacted Eddie two years ago on Facebook and told him the ring story,” said Eure. “We’re friends and keep in touch.”
Eure’s time in Hattiesburg ended at age nine after his mother earned a psychology degree and accepted a job teaching at Texas Woman’s University in Denton. The family would later move to Carbondale, Illinois, and Las Vegas, where his mother was a drug abuse counselor and ran a methadone clinic.
He continued to pursue his dream career and, while attending college and working on a part-time basis at a hotel art gallery, got his first break. It was at the gallery that he met actor and singer Robert Goulet, who took Eure under his wing. Eure would later meet Goulet’s then-wife, actress Carol Lawrence, and become lifelong friends with the couple.
Goulet and Lawrence were planning a summer East Coast tour and signed Eure up as their driver for much of 1968 and 1969. When the tour ended, Eure, who had fallen in love with New York City, remained in the Big Apple, determined to further his entertainment career.
Eure’s first gig post-Goulet and Lawrence was at the American Shakespeare Festival.
“I didn’t know much about Shakespeare,” he admitted, “but I got the job.”
The festival had their work cut out for them. Despite leaving Mississippi years earlier, Eure still had a deep southern accent and drawl. Festival staff enlisted a linguist ‒ a “big and scary woman from England,” according to Eure ‒ to help battle the accent.
The linguist won, and her methods eliminated Eure’s accent ‒ for the most part.
“I still slip into it when I’m around other southerners,” he said.
(I told him that when he was through with our interview, he’d walk around with a southern twang for days ‒ and he agreed.)
For her part, the linguist felt horrible about getting rid of a “wonderful accent.”
“I recall her saying to me, ‘Wesley, darling, the most regrettable experience I’ve had this entire season has been to make you lose that wonderful accent,’” he said.
In 1973, Eure moved to Los Angeles and answered a casting call in Variety magazine.
“They were looking for the next Barry Williams … you know, ‘Brady Bunch’ types,” he said.
After a successful audition, Eure was cast in the pilot episode of “The Organic Vegetables,” a TV series starring Kaye Ballard that was produced by the creators of the 1960s sitcom “The Monkees.” The show never made it to the airwaves and was a casualty of the 1973 Hollywood writers’ strike.
Eure was not discouraged by the pilot’s failure and instead channeled his energies into additional auditions. In 1974, he tried out for the wildly-popular NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives,” which had been airing for nearly 10 years.
The aspiring actor already had a deep fondness for soap operas and particularly for “Days,” which was his grandmother’s favorite TV show.
“During times together, my grandmother and I would watch ‘Days,’ which she loved,” said Eure. “She would always iron while we watched it, and to this day, I can’t think of ‘Days’ without smelling a burning iron.”
Eure joined the “Days” cast as Michael Horton that same year, becoming the 10th actor to portray the character. He served on the “Days” cast through 1981 and helped transform Mike Horton from teen heartthrob to a strong and heroic adult lead character.
(After Eure’s departure from “Days,” the character was recast three more times and continued appearing on the show until 2010. Eure is the longest-serving, and perhaps the most recognizable, of the 13 Mike Horton actors.)
While acting on “Days,” Eure was also cast as Will Marshall on “Land of the Lost,” a new NBC children’s adventure TV show premiering in late 1974. He played both roles until “Land” was canceled by the network after three seasons in 1976.
“During the mornings, we’d film ‘Days,’ and my co-stars were jealous that I got to leave early to go film ‘Land of the Lost’ in the afternoons,” he said.
The “Land” role was a far cry from Eure’s dramatic soap opera mornings. In “Land,” the Marshall family was trapped in an alternate universe and were constantly fending off attacks from dinosaurs and other creatures.
“In the mornings on ‘Days,’ I was crying that my girlfriend was leaving me … and then, in the afternoons on ‘Land of the Lost,’ I’d be screaming, ‘run, Holly, run, there’s a dinosaur,’” he said.
(If you will remember, Holly ‒ Eure’s “Land” co-star, Kathy Coleman ‒ was hanging out with Eure on the day I conducted my interview. She revealed in a 2019 Fox News story that NBC executives did not consider the huge budget for “Land” worth the expense. “The executives thought it was just a kid show,” she said at the time. Ironically, the show now has a large cult following.)
By the time “Land” was canceled, Eure was a big star. He became a semi-regular on the popular Hollywood game show, “Password Plus,” and befriended host Allen Ludden and his wife, beloved TV darling Betty White.
He is still friends with White, who turned 98 on Jan. 17.
“She’s still chugging along,” he said.
It was on “Password” that Eure met and befriended another legendary celebrity.
“I taught Lucille Ball how to play ‘Password,’” he said. “My career has given me great access to so many famous personalities and politicians.”
In addition to Ludden, White and Ball, Eure name-dropped several other big names, including Michael Jackson (“I went to Disneyland with him,”) Bill Cosby (“I opened for him one time,”) Valerie Bertinelli (“We starred in a movie together”) and Cher (“She owned the property next to my horse ranch in Los Angeles.”)
At his horse ranch, Eure would throw big parties and would be shocked at the amount of celebrities who would attend.
“I’d throw big parties three times a year, a barbecue and a potluck, and a couple hundred people would show up,” he said. “One time, I was standing outside and heard someone singing at my pool. I was like, ‘Who the hell is singing at my pool?’ I walked over to see, and it was two of The Pointer Sisters.”
Outside of his hobnobbing, Eure was also finding great success across all aspects of his career. In 1978, he was cast in, according to him, one of his favorite roles. He played a murderer in “The Toolbox Murders,” a 1978 film that became a cult classic. He appeared in another horror film, “Jennifer,” that same year, and he starred with Bertinelli in “C.H.O.M.P.S.,” a comedy, in 1979.
Eure also developed a healthy music career. His talent for singing was noticed by several producers, and he recorded and performed the theme for “Land.”
“I never really thought I was a singer, but every time I would do something, I had to sing,” he said. “Fortunately, I was able to pull it off.”
Motown Records signed a boy band featuring Eure as a singer-guitarist. Some of his music was produced by famous singer Bobby Sherman and by record company executive Mike Curb, but a full album was never completed.
However, big-time singing opportunities were plentiful for Eure, who said he once sang on stage with Diana Ross and performed with The Osmonds. On “Land,” he often sang, particularly in the third season.
“They would write little dittys, tiny songs, and I would go in and record them,” he said.
Eure did not find stellar success in music, but his entertainment career was still bustling.
When his time on “Days” ended, he turned his attention to game shows like “Password” and “Match Game.” In 1987, he became the host of the Nickelodeon children’s game show “Finders Keepers,” a role he held through 1988. He co-produced, wrote and acted in “Totally Hidden Video,” a Fox Television hidden-camera show, from 1989 until 1992, and, in 1999, co-created “Dragon Tales” for PBS Kids.
“Dragon Tales,” a fantasy adventure TV series developed for preschoolers, focused on the adventures of Emmy and Max and their dragon friends Ord, Cassie, Zak, Wheezie and Quetzal. The show was broadcast until 2005 and won multiple Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Children’s Animated Program.
These days, Eure stays busy writing books, appearing on the lecture and convention circuits, and fundraising for various charity efforts. He has published several humor and educational books, including the children’s novel “The Red Wings of Christmas,” which was optioned by Disney for a full-length animated feature.
He regularly appears at schools across the country presenting his interactive program, “Anyone Can Write a Book,” with up to 750 kids in a single auditorium. During the program, Eure and his guests write a book and illustrate it within one hour.
“School districts hire me to come teach the program,” said Eure. “I show kids how easy and how fun it is to write a book. It’s great, a lot of screaming and yelling.”
He is active at comic conventions across the country, and he loves to reunite with his former co-stars while signing autographs and taking photos with fans.
“To have fans remember who you are and want to meet you … it’s exhilarating,” he said. “At these conventions, I’m hitting all the age groups.”
A convention appearance in Mississippi has not happened yet, but Eure is hopeful.
“I think that would be great, and I love any chance to come home,” he said.
Eure said he has several projects in the early development stages, including a reality TV show and a sitcom.
“I can’t tell you much about them, but I can tell you that the sitcom is outrageously funny,” he said.
Eure is also busy with fundraising efforts for various causes, including HIV/AIDS and breast cancer research. He also raises money for battered women’s causes and has in the past hosted telethons for March of Dimes. He has also helped to organize a major HIV/AIDS fundraiser in Palm Springs, California, for the past several years.
“I’ve been blessed, and I believe it’s important to give back,” he said. “I was taught southern hospitality by my grandmother, who always told me there was nothing more important than giving back.”
Eure, who lives in Palm Springs when he is not in Mexico, said his early days in Hattiesburg were formative and life-changing.
“Not only was I taught southern hospitality, but I was also taught the Golden Rule, which is my religion,” he said. “Southern hospitality is amazing. It taught me to be a people lover, to be kind, to be courteous.”
He still considers Hattiesburg his hometown, even though he has not been back in nearly a decade.
“I loved Hattiesburg, and I loved the pine trees. I have this theory that ‘you must go home,’ and you must go back where you were raised. There’s something about going home and resetting the clock,” he said. “Every time I get to go to Mississippi, I feel at home.”
Eure said that, no matter where he is, the lessons he learned in Hattiesburg follow him.
“I live my life with gratitude. I can’t believe this little kid from Hattiesburg had these opportunities,” he said. “I’m lucky that I’m still able to do what I do and enjoy the heck out of it.”