KU theatre prof

has always been 

Drawn to the stars

by Bunny Smith


Photo by Doug Koch/University Relations
John Tibbetts' portraits of stars he has interviewed fill his KU office.

Whenever John C. Tibbetts, associate professor of theatre and film, looks up from the desk in his office at Oldfather Studios, he sees stars.

The portraits of Hollywood stars that adorn his office walls are a mere sampling of the hundreds Tibbetts rendered during his years as a radio and television entertainment reporter. Thirty-five more are on display through July in the lobby of the American Heartland Theatre at Crown Center in Kansas City, Mo.

A more diverse assemblage of Hollywood's elite is difficult to imagine. Directors Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg peer from one corner of Tibbetts' office. Mel Gibson, Glenn Close and Helena Bonham Carter-all in Hamlet costumes-gaze regally from one wall, while Gene Hackman grins from another. Arnold Schwarzenegger, dressed as Conan the Barbarian, commands attention in the hallway.

Most are autographed by the stars themselves.
"I'm kind of starstruck," Tibbetts admits.

Tibbetts says his portraits began as a way to break the ice with the personalities he was sent to interview when he worked as a reporter for CBS Television and CNN and hosted his own show in Kansas City, Mo. He would prepare a likeness before the interview, show it to his subject and request an autograph.

"I've never had anybody refuse," he says. "It's a real good icebreaker. It shows that you've prepared for them and you care. Many ask for a copy, which I do."

Tibbetts adds that he enjoys watching his subjects' faces when he shows them his drawings.
"Most will open right up and tell you things about themselves they never would otherwise," he says. "Julie Andrews loves to write and draw. Whoopi Goldberg writes fairy tales. Gene Hackman sketches."

Tibbetts uses a variety of techniques: pen and ink, pastel, gouache, watercolor-even ballpoint pen for the occasional impromptu sketch.

Drawing faces, Tibbetts says, is a compulsion.
"I've been drawing faces since I was a kid," he says. "Faces are whole landscapes in themselves."

While Hollywood faces get top billing on Tibbetts' walls, they hold no exclusive rights.
"Classical music is my passion, so I've drawn many musicians, too," he says. "Some of my favorite interview times have been with musicians-Pavarotti, Van Cliburn."

Tibbetts says his current project, an encyclopedia of stage plays on film that is due out in early spring of 2001, will include almost 50 of his own line drawings of playwrights and composers.

The next Hollywood star to join Tibbetts' portrait galaxy is almost a foregone concluscion.
"Steve Allen is here in the fall," Tibbetts says. "You can bet I'll be there."

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July 14, 2000
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