Monday, February 26, 2024

INTERESTING FOLKS: Paul Avery, 81 Years Young – A Blairstown Man Who Has Worn Many Hats

Paul Avery archly says that this print ad depicts his life in Blairstown until the pandemic forced him to lay off his staff.

Paul Avery is the executive editor of the Ridge View Echo online newspaper. He has always put his heart into every one of his endeavors. Avery has worn many hats, orchestrating his career and social life along the way.

Avery has been a part of this community for decades, volunteering his time with the Blairstown Rotary, American Legion, as well a heading up the Blairstown 4th of July celebration at Footbridge Park for five years, with the help of devoted citizens Herman Shoemaker and Nick Mohr.

“The great thing about living in a small town is that you can actively participate in it,” Avery said.

Paul Avery at home. Photo by MB Journe

To that end, Avery served on the township’s land use board, was elected to the North Warren Regional High School Board of Education, and served on the Blairstown Township Committee for six years from 2012 to 2018.

His political career ended when his wife, Sheila, suffered a stroke. Since then, she has employed him as her full-time care giver, Avery said.

While on the township committee, he initiated the Blairstown Enhancement Committee (BEC), now a 501(c)3 nonprofit volunteer organization whose mission puts the community first. The BEC is open to anyone interested in participating in making Blairstown a better place to live.

Avery is the visionary and creator of the Ridge View Echo and serves as president and executive editor on its board of directors, with Gail Keogh-Dwyer and John Maxman.

He was the managing editor of the Blairstown Press for a couple of years, moving on a year or so before its demise. He swears that his departure had nothing to do with the end of the paper’s 120-year existence.

When he found out through the BEC that a group called the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium (NJCIC) was offering grants for the creation of local news entities for New Jersey communities without a reliable news and information source, like ours, Avery says he couldn’t resist getting involved. Keogh-Dwyer stepped up immediately and, with time and volunteer effort, the Ridge View Echo was born and is now celebrating its first full year of publication.

Avery was president of North Warren Regional High School Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) in the mid-90s. To develop a fundraiser for the school, he initiated the North Warren Regional High School Talent Show. He acted as the master of ceremonies for the first few years until the kids fired him. They have been running it much better ever since, he says. The show is still a much-enjoyed annual event, Avery is pleased to report.

The summer before his junior year at Purdue University, at the age of 19, Avery fearlessly began skydiving, then a fledgling sport in the United States. In his 10 years of activity in the sport, he logged over 400 jumps. In fact, he has a vanity license plate on his wall stating his family nickname for him, “SKY PIG.” In time, Avery taught his college roommate to jump and formed a skydiving club at a small airport near the campus. “I just wanted someone to jump with,” said Avery.

Avery was also an avid motorcyclist, exploring and traveling. He especially enjoyed cross-country motorcycling, taking a solo trip to Mexico City from Indianapolis, Indiana, his hometown, in 1966.

As a member of the United States National Guard, he was eventually activated and spent a year in the Vietnam War as a helicopter crew chief.

Avery gave up jumping out of airplanes as his interest turned to acting. He started performing in community theaters in his hometown. Having caught the acting bug, he moved to New York City to pursue his quest. He made the rounds knocking on agents’ doors, as is the usual approach to breaking into acting, but adding a twist, he made catchy photo postcards of himself and sent them to all the agents in the Big Apple every month.

One time, he visited an agent who recognized him immediately. She said, “Oh, yes, Paul, I have seen your many commercials.” Which wasn’t true at the time, she just recognized him from the monthly postcards. This approach worked; his career flourished.

In the 20 years he was actively employed as an actor, Avery made over 300 commercials. Avery chuckled remembering some of the commercials he had shot.

“I made two commercials for Odor Eaters,” he recalled. “In one, I was sitting on a couch with my stockinged feet on the coffee table, green fumes rising from my feet, as my acting wife complained to the camera about the smell. In the next, shot several years later, I was a mailman in the locker room taking off my shoes and the guy sitting on the bench next to me passes out. Commercials were lots of fun, always something new and different.”

From Avery’s memory wall: a photo of a billboard displayed throughout the southwest, sent to him by his aunt in Pheonix, and a photo with Leonard Nimoy at a shoot in Florida. Photo by MB Journe, Jan. 2023.

Beyond the commercials, Avery has done many voiceovers, print ads and even had a tiny part in the original “Superman” movie. Avery plays a small role as the first person to see Superman fly as he zoomed to save Lois Lane from a helicopter crashing atop the Daily Planet building. Before the shot, the director, Richard Donner, told Avery to say anything but “Is it a bird? Is it a plane?” Avery chose, “What the hell’s that?”

During the next Academy Awards program, which Avery was watching with friends in Los Angeles, it was announced that the movie “Superman” was to get an award for special effects and a clip of the helicopter crash scene began playing.

“You know, if they keep going, I’m going to be on,” Avery had declared, and there he was, performing his “What the hell’s that?” for the whole world.

One of his friends, a screen writer, went into the kitchen, returning with tinfoil wadded into a very rough Oscar, which he awarded to Avery for the “Best Performance by an Actor of Two Lines or Under.” Avery recalls that he thanked everybody he knew.

Also, while in Los Angeles, Avery guest starred on “Three’s Company” and “Soap.” Over the years, Avery did scenes on most of the soap operas produced in New York, until finally settling into the role of “Hughie,” the scandalous bartender at Foxy’s on the very popular “All My Children” for 12 years. He has fond memories of his days on that show.

Paul Avery as Hughie with Vasili Bogazianos and Robert Morse on “All My Children.”

A licensed pilot, Avery had a small aerobatic airplane he kept at Linden Airport. One fine October day, he and Peter Waldron, an actor friend, were airport-hopping together, Waldron in his Bonanza and Avery in his Decathlon. At Orange County Airport, over coffee, Waldron recommended they fly to a place he had heard had great apple pie and Avery’s long-time connection to Blairstown began.

Two years later, he and his fiancé bought a home in Blairstown. They were shortly thereafter married in the front yard of the new property by Judge Stritehoff, who many will remember. It was intended as a weekend getaway, nestled in the deep woods of Blairstown, but it wasn’t long until the decision was easily made to move into the weekend place full-time.

He and Sheila have raised two beautiful daughters, Parker and Kyle, here. Blairstown has been their full-time residence now for 37 years. Waldron and his wife Reggie moved into a home in Knowlton a year after the Averys had settled into what Avery often refers to as the “garden part of the Garden State.”

In his private office, overlooking a quiet, wooded backyard, there is a wall filled with memorabilia of an interesting career. This memory wall, called the “Wall of Paul” by his family, has pictures of the planes he has owned. There are photos of celebrities with whom he has made commercials, including Leonard Nimoy, Tim Conroy and Yogi Berra. Avery worked with Robert Morse for a season of “All My Children,” just to name a few.

The memory walls of Avery’s office.

Avery was the clown who calls home to his wife and daughter in the first AT&T commercial of the “Reach Out and Touch Someone” campaign. Avery was delighted that this sentimental commercial ran nationally for over three years and no one knew it was him.

Paul Avery beclowned for AT&T.

Avery worked steadily for 20 years as a freelance actor. He was a voice actor, delivering his lines always anonymously. When the M&M corporation was searching for the right voice for the yellow M&M in a special offer commercial, Paul auditioned and got the job. He said in a high-pitched squeal, “Gee, it sure is getting crowded in here!” This commercial ran for quite some time – another feather in his cap.

When he was 46 years old, Avery began writing for several newspapers. He bought his first computer which was huge. He carried it home on the handlebars of his motorcycle.

“I’m dyslexic. The computer made creative writing possible,” Avery said.

He took his two young daughters to a live taping of the TV show “Sesame Street.” He wrote his first story “How to get to Sesame Street” and decided to take this story to The Blairstown Press where it was published. Avery was all in, and his next career started.

Avery’s debut story, first published in the Blairstown Press and reprinted in Warren County Magazine. Photo by MB Journe, Jan. 2023.

Avery decided to pursue writing. He was employed for seven years writing movie reviews and more for the New Jersey Herald in Newton, and following that he was the beat reporter for the Gazette in Hackettstown, covering five towns.

Avery was a feature contributor for the New York Times and a contributing writer for several national magazines. He spent two years as managing editor of the Blairstown Press, moving on a year or two before it went out of business to become editor of Warren County Magazine and later to publish the Warren County Companion.

There is more, but no more space. All things considered, it is no wonder that Paul Avery also has a very large collection of baseball caps.

Yelens Choban
MB Journe, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

MB has been a resident of Frelinghuysen for the past 22 years. She lives in an old farmhouse on the side of the road. She enjoys the simple life, puttering in her flower garden, practicing Qi Gong under her redbud tree, or creating art on the deck.
MB's experience as a journalist began when her son was quite young, she began writing for The Paulinskill Valley Chronicle, often bringing him to work with her. Her responsibilities were writing articles with photos, selling ads, and billing. This suited her, as a single mother not wanting to be separated from her small child.

She considers herself a lover of nature, often seen photographing its beauty. She has worked as a seasonal employee of YMCA Camp Mason for the past 17 years. She is a teacher and mentor of children, always emphasizing the YMCA’s core values - caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. She tries to listen carefully to each individual she interviews, getting their viewpoint. That is why she likes to write about the interesting people and places that make Warren County such a nice place to live.