By Cheyenne Shoemaker
From the humble beginnings of performing the play, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown in a small, abandoned church in Mount Pleasant, to being Top Gun Director, Tony Scott’s, go-to stuntman, Carl Mergenthaler has literally built his success in Hollywood from the ground up.
With a ton of talent and an attitude that refused failure, the former Northeast Texas Community College student is remembered by Theater Professor Doug Hoppock as being unstoppable.
“Carl spoke German, Spanish, English and Polish, and he did not know the word can’t in any of those four languages,” Hoppock said. “He did not know how not to succeed, he was so determined and so courageous.”
Mergenthaler performed in the first play ever produced by Theatre Northeast and it was clearly an unforgettable performance. Nearly 30 years later, Northeast Vice President for Instruction Dr. Ron Clinton had no trouble recalling Mergenthaler and his role in the play.
“I mostly remember Carl from when he first became a student at the college and was a part of the musical production You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, which was performed in a small converted church sanctuary back in the late 1980s,” said Clinton. “Carl played Linus, and because he had a very thick Spanish accent he had some difficulties pronouncing certain English words in the songs. He had so much difficulty singing some of the lines that I remember thinking that acting was not in his future. Boy was I wrong!”
Mergenthaler recalled his performance that night in the old church as being a truly magical experience, and one that he has not forgotten.
“We did not have much in a sense of set, lighting or sound, but all we needed was a stage and some chairs.”
To no one’s surprise, Mergenthaler has gone on to do some special things in his career. From sharing a set with Will Smith in Enemy of the State, to becoming a frequent stuntman on horseback and writing and producing his own films, there seems to be nothing this man isn’t capable of. From what former theatre professor Doug Hoppock has said of him, that comes as no shock “Carl was one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever known, to be a performer there are no guarantees but that never phased him. Hoppock said. “Every time I turned on the lights in the theatre he was there. I would literally have to chase him out. There has been no one more tenacious than Carl.”
Looking back on his success, Mergenthaler was quick to give credit to both Northeast and his former professor for his many achievements.
“NTCC and Doug Hoppock shaped the course of my life, plain and simple,” he said. “NTCC was a life-changing experience. I am so thankful that the college was finished in time for me to attend after graduating high school. It was the perfect transition for me in to a four-year college.”
Mergenthaler said that Hoppock was instrumental in helping him follow his passion as an actor. “Although it’s a very challenging career, with many obstacles, I know that I am doing not only what I love, but what I’m suppose to be doing,” he said.
Mergenthaler was also quick to give praise to NTCC and Hoppock for the foundation and confidence to go on to TCU and finish his bachelor’s degree in Radio/Film/ and Television.
With the incredible journey he began in this tiny little corner of Northeast Texas, as a teenage ranch hand working for local pediatrician Dr. Gerald Stagg and small theatre plays in an old church. Mergenthaler has become the epitome of an NTCC success story.
Though his achievements are unthinkable he has not forgotten his roots or the people that helped him gain confidence as a performer.
“It was Mr. Hoppock’s drive and creativity with the support of NTCC and the community that came to see our shows that I remember,” Mergenthaler said. “The greatest part for me was how eager the community was and how they looked forward to our productions. It truly gave us a sense of pride helping bring people from all walks of life to one place to enjoy a night of theatre.”
As far as the colleges impact on the future generation of students Mergenthaler could not stress enough the asset that NTCC is.
“It helped me focus on my career and facilitated my studies once I transferred to TCU, “said Mergenthaler. “It gave me confidence, knowledge and the assurance that I could move on to the next level. It gave me a foundation to begin pursuing my dreams.”
After graduating from TCU, he moved on to Hollywood where director Tony Scott quickly noticed his talents.
Scott was quick to pick up on Mergenthaler’s talents and began hiring him on most of his projects where he worked as a stuntman, actor, stand in and double. Over the last 30 years Mergenthaler has appeared in many films, television shows, commercials and theatre plays. Most recently Mergenthaler produced and acted in Ricky Schroeder’s Our Wild Hearts, a movie about a young girl from Malibu who falls in love with a wild Mustang.
Mergenthaler is now living in San Antonio where he is working on several projects, One of which is called Jimmy and Mia, a film dealing with people who have special needs, something that Mergenthaler holds very close to his heart. He said he hopes to film the project in Texas.
Though he does not get back to Northeast Texas often, he said he wishes that he could. “I love the countryside and people very much,” he said.
Clinton praised the former NTCC alumni and said it was a pleasure to have had the opportunity to watch him grow as an actor. “We are so proud of his many accomplishments in this highly competitive career,” Clinton said. “Carl is one of the many success stories we have at the college and a great example of how students can get a great “Start Here and go anywhere”.
Mergenthaler was vocal about his faith in NTCC as a foundation to build a lifelong career. “Education is power, NTCC provides an education for people that want to move on to a four-year university, as well as students that want to learn a trade.” Mergenthaler said. “I want to thank NTCC for all they did for me, I have said it before. NTCC changed my life and without it I would not have followed my dream. I will be forever indebted to this institution and staff.”