It's not like John Schneider is embarrassed about his run as the dashing, daring Bo Duke on the 1980s smash TV hit The Dukes of Hazzard. He remembers those days fondly, and appreciates the show's loyal fans. He even gladly mugs for photos, flashing that warm smile when 40-something women—who idolized him as teens—approach him with their old Tiger Beat magazines, seeking an autograph and a hug.
Schneider, still ruggedly handsome at 52, is okay with all that. He just doesn't want that one TV gig, three decades ago, to define his entire career.
"Every time somebody starts out, 'You know him best from The Dukes of Hazzard,' I just want to strangle them," Schneider says with a laugh. "I did a couple of radio interviews recently, and one guy said, 'We got Bo Duke on the line!' So there I am, on live radio, and I said, 'Really? Is that right? That's who you have on the phone right now? I'll do 'Yee haw!' for you later, but right now, let's talk about October Baby.'"
So we won't begin this story with Schneider's days with the Dukes. (We don't want to get strangled.) We'd rather talk about October Baby anyway … and a handful of other faith-based, life-affirming films starring Schneider in recent months. And how, remarkably, several of those movies mirror his own journey.
Take October Baby, for starters. A surprise indie hit (made for a reported $1 million, it has earned more than $5 million in two months in limited release), the film stars Schneider as the father of a 19-year-old girl who learns that she is not only adopted, but the survivor of a botched abortion. Her quest to find her biological mother yields a story rife with forgiveness and healing.
As it turns out, Schneider's own family saga has some similarities to October Baby. Long before he met Elly, his wife of 19 years, she had been faced with a difficult choice of her own. When she got pregnant at 15, several people advised her to get an abortion. But she opted to have the baby, a girl named Mandy, and gave her up for adoption.
Eighteen years later, while she and John were raising a couple of their own young children, Elly decided she wanted to reconnect with Mandy, but had no idea where to start. A few years later, after countless hours of research and digging, Elly found 21-year-old Mandy in Atlanta; mother and daughter reunited, and they have a strong bond today.
It gets even better: Mandy is now married, and recently had a baby of her own—John and Elly's first grandchild. "It's an amazing story, isn't it?" Schneider says, clearly marveling at how it turned out. "I think it's the coolest thing in the world."
He says he "applauds" his wife for "having the guts" to have a baby at the age of 15, when it "could not have been the popular thing to do" at that time. "But she made that choice," he says, "and gave that baby up for adoption, giving the gift of life to somebody else." Schneider says he and Elly—both Christians—are vocal proponents of "choosing life," of encouraging girls and young women who might otherwise abort to consider giving up their babies for adoption.
"I'm not a finger-pointer," Schneider says of his pro-life views. "But I think that taking that gift that God gives to you at the point of conception and throwing it away, it's a tremendous waste. It's the wrong thing to do with that gift. You have the right to do that wrong thing [by aborting]. But I offer up another choice: Adoption."
Four faith-based films
Schneider stars in another pro-life film called Doonby, slated for release sometime this fall. In that movie, he plays a mysterious drifter who visits a small town, somehow making all the people around him better. The pro-life theme emerges as a surprising twist near the end of the film; to say any more here would be a spoiler. But it's sort of like The Twilight Zone meets It's a Wonderful Life. (Tellingly, Doonby includes a small role with Norma McCorvey—who was "Jane Roe" in the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. McCorvey has since become a Christian and a voice for the pro-life movement.)