Besides sharing a name with a famous Yankee manager, Casey Stengel of Glendale, California, has become well known in his own right.
Yet his adult life didn’t start out well. ‘I was shot in the back in a Columbus, Ohio, bar in 1971 (at age 22) by an off-duty policeman,’ said 58-year-old Stengel in a telephone interview. His uncle and his best friend died in the unjust shooting incident.
When shot, Stengel was only three weeks away from starting out as a business major at Ohio State after serving in Vietnam. He survived, but with waist-down paralysis. After spending four months in a hospital and another month in rehabilitation, he was deeply bitter.
‘My rehab never really took hold,’ he said. ‘The only reason I wanted to live was to see justice for Bob and Mike.’
From 1979-83, Stengel attended Ohio State, initially as an English education major, before becoming interested in acting. In 1984, he moved to California to pursue for a while his dream in Hollywood, after which, ‘I was going back (to Ohio) to kill the policeman and then myself,’ he said. ‘My intentions were to die by 1990.’ Stengel had been a sniper in Vietnam.
What he described as a supernatural event occurred in 1988. Though an atheist, one day while driving he clearly heard what he believed was God’s voice imploring him to ‘find a church’ and ‘seek the kingdom of God.’ So he began doing just that.
‘And when God saved me, he saved the lives of two people,’ said Stengel, referring to himself and the Ohio policeman.
Wheelchair-using Stengel went on to become one of the nation’s top actors with a disability. He has had speaking parts in shows such as ER, The Unit, The Bold and The Beautiful, Young and the Restless, Grace Under Fire, and Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman. He has been an extra in over 300 shows and in countless television commercials, print ads, and industrial videos.
Stengel is a former national chair of Performers with Disabilities, a union-affiliated organization representing about 500 performers with disabilities having membership in the Screen Actors Guild (film), AFTRA (tape/radio), and Actors’ Equity Association (stage). The current national chair is Robert David Hall of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
As for the Ohio policeman: He died of natural causes two years ago.