Interview by Joshua Maloni
John Ratzenberger's reason for getting into acting was simple.
"You didn't have to pound nails in the middle of August on a rooftop," he said. "It was indoor work. That's what attracted me."
But it was those nail-pounding days as a journeyman carpenter in the late 1960s that made Ratzenberger successful at whatever he's put his hands to, including a starring role as know-it-all mailman Cliff Clavin on "Cheers."
"When I was very, very young, I used to take apart old appliances; always wondered how things worked; and how deep does a telephone pole go into the ground, kind of thing. My curiosity always took me there," Ratzenberger said in a phone interview Friday. "Luckily, I grew up in a factory town - Bridgeport, Connecticut - and there was a lot of people around me that knew how to do things - knew how to make things and fix things."
Unfortunately, the actor said, "Slowly, you realize that that doesn't happen anymore.
"How many people under 35 years old are handy with a toolbox? Can change their own car tire? Or plant a garden for that matter? I think it might've been in the last generation. But that's what we did.
"When we went outside to play, we thought we were playing. But we were actually problem-solving. We were climbing trees, building treehouses, fixing our own bicycles. So, by the time we got to be adults, we were pretty handy. We sort of knew how to use tools.
"But we've taken that away from our kids 30 years ago when we started cancelling shop classes and home-ec classes. That's why it's important to buy things made in America, because the more we manufacture here, the more those skills will stay here."
To that end, Ratzenberger is touting products made locally at the Made in America Store. He will appear at three locations Wednesday, signing men's, women's and children's giftboxes that are bursting with domestically made goods.
"Buy a gift for America," Ratzenberger said. "If you buy it from the Made in America store, these giftboxes, you know, for mom, dad or the kids, whoever it is, you're helping your neighbors - you're helping America stay strong, because you're supporting companies that make things in America."
Ratzenberger said buying products made overseas may save one a couple dollars now, but will ultimately lead to a loss of U.S. jobs, businesses, business locations and tax money.
In promoting Ratzenberger's appearance, Made in America founder Mark Andol said, "My business grew rapidly until we were caught in the crosshairs between the recession and a global demand for cheaper goods. Due to those factors, half of my workforce lost their jobs. It was the most painful experience in my life.
"I started the Made in America Store in 2010 with the vision of being the only brick-and-mortar general merchandise store in the country. Today, we have four stores selling only American-made products - all the way down to the wrapping paper."
"He's got over 4,000 products in the Made in America store," Ratzenberger said. "If people can, it would be great if they come down just to see what he's got there in the store."
"Mark has got a lot of guts to do what he's done, with everybody telling him it's a dead end," Ratzenberger added. "He's proven everybody wrong with a real hunger for things made in America."
Ratzenberger is set to co-star as Hamm in the fourth "Toy Story" movie for Pixar. Just last week it was announced the film, which stars Tom Hanks as Woody and Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear, would hit theaters June 16, 2017.
"Anything Pixar does I'm excited about," Ratzenberger said. "I've been working with them 20 years now. I've been lucky enough to be in every one of their movies. Any time that Pixar's calling, I really get excited.
"They do things the old-fashioned way. They set the bar - they set the standard - very high from day one, and they've never backed down from it, which says a lot."
When Ratzenberger meets fans, as he'll do here Wednesday, he gets questions about "Cheers" and "Toy Story," but also about his own made in America experience.
"I always wanted to do a show on how things are made. You know, manufacturing. And so I did," he said. "I did the show 'Made in America' on the Travel Channel for five years. I produced that and I hosted it.
"I knew the importance of manufacturing in America. What a lot of people don't realize, but I think they're coming around now, is the fact that manufacturing is the strength of America. It's like the spinach to Popeye. That's what manufacturing is to America. Without it, it's over. It's done. There is no more America.
"That's how I look at it."
Ratzenberger will be at the Made in America Store at 900 Maple St., Elma, Wednesday, signing giftboxes from 11 a.m. until noon. He will then go to a giftbox signing from 2:15 until 3 p.m. at the McKinley Mall Made in America location. Next, he will do a giftbox signing at the Eastern Hills Made in America location from 4 until 4:45 p.m.
The giftboxes are priced online at $79 for men and women, and $49 for children. They can be purchased at www.madeinamericastore.com. The website also offers details on what each set contains, as well as maps to the various store locations.
"I believe the best Christmas gift we can give the American worker and family is purchasing gifts made here, in the United States," Ratzenberger said. "I hope we come together to support them this holiday season."
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