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'Slap Shot' gave him role of a lifetime -- literally

December 17, 2007|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

Steve Carlson wasn't a great player, nor did he last long in the NHL, but no other player who ever laced up a pair of skates for the Kings left a more indelible, sidesplitting mark in Hollywood.

The King-for-a-season was one of the Hanson Brothers.

As in the expletive-spewing, violence-inciting, scene-stealing trio of goons who practically hijacked the screen from no less than Paul Newman in "Slap Shot," the rip-roaring 1977 comedy that is generally regarded as one of the greatest sports movies ever made and to hockey fans is nothing short of a cinematic masterpiece.

"Newman was on the verge of becoming a superstar at that time," Carlson says, "and they figured, 'OK, let's bring the Hanson Brothers in to put him over the top.' You notice he never won an Academy Award until after he worked with us."

Carlson, 52, is speaking tongue in cheek from his home in Kenosha, Wis., where he runs power skating classes and books appearances by the Hanson Brothers, who were based on the real-life Carlson brothers -- Steve, Jack and Jeff -- and were portrayed in the movie by Steve Carlson, Jeff Carlson and Dave Hanson.

The Hanson Brothers, whose popularity has only grown in the three decades since the film was released, still make as many as three dozen appearances a year, Steve Carlson says. Donning the black-framed, clownishly thick, held-together-by-tape glasses they wore in the movie and wrapping their hands in foil for increased punching power, they answer questions and sign autographs at NHL games, conventions, golf tournaments, "Slap Shot" screenings, etc.

Last year, Carlson says, they received 285 booking requests.

"One of the reasons I got out of coaching was because we felt that we could make another career out of touring as the Hanson Brothers," Carlson says of the trio's surprising realization, about 15 years ago, that they were in demand.

Of course, Carlson jokes, he and the others predicted all this when they signed on in 1976 to make the movie. "Oh, hell yeah," he says. "You've got three great-looking guys with all the talent in the world . . . and the chicks love the glasses."

Later, more serious, Carlson says of the film's lasting appeal, "It has foul language, sex and violence, everything a man wants in a movie. And people can relate to limited-skill players who will do whatever it takes to make it."

Unlike the character he portrays in the movie, or his real-life brothers, Steve Carlson was not a brawler, nor was he unskilled as a player.

"I wasn't a total slug," he says.

In fact, in addition to playing a key role in "Slap Shot," Carlson played professionally with both Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky.

"Pretty cool," he says of his one-of-a-kind hat trick of appearing in history's most famous hockey movie and playing alongside the sport's two greatest stars.

After the movie wrapped, Carlson played with the World Hockey Assn.'s New England Whalers, where he centered a line between Howe and Howe's son, Mark. Later, with the WHA's Edmonton Oilers, he played (and roomed) with Gretzky before the Oilers joined the NHL. And in the 1979-80 season, his lone NHL season, Carlson tallied nine goals and 12 assists in 52 games with the Kings.

"If he had been able to score a little more, he would have been around for a long time because he was a real smart player," Mike Murphy, NHL senior vice president of hockey operations, says of his former Kings linemate. "You could use him as a checking center and as a penalty killer. He was an effective player."

Still, after tallying two points in four playoff games against the New York Islanders, Carlson spent the last seven years of his career in the minors.

By then, he already was destined for hockey immortality.

The Carlson brothers, who grew up in Minnesota, were tapped to basically play themselves in "Slap Shot," Steve Carlson says, because the producers couldn't find actors who skated well enough. (Jack Carlson, called up to the WHA just before shooting started, was replaced by minor league teammate Dave Hanson.)

They weren't paid much.

"But," Steve Carlson says, "when you're 21 years old and they ask you if you want to do a film with Newman, you're not going to say, 'Well, let's negotiate.' You sign whatever they put in front of you and you say, 'OK, this is great.' "

It wasn't a stretch, Carlson says, to play the role.

"That's how our team played," he says of the minor league Johnstown (Pa.) Jets, the inspiration for the movie's Charlestown Chiefs. "A lot of that stuff in the movie actually happened: We did get hit in the face with a key chain and we did go into the crowd and we did get arrested. We did jump a team in warmups.

"We just reenacted all that stuff."

Thirty years later, they're still playing their roles.

They don't do it full time, Steve Carlson says, because they fear that interest in the Hansons won't last forever. So, Jeff Carlson continues working as an electrician in Michigan and Dave Hanson as a manager of an ice rink outside Pittsburgh, even as the popularity of the Hanson Brothers shows no signs of waning.

Last year, the "brothers" shot six commercials in Canada.

And had a blast, Steve says.

"It's fun," he says. "We like putting smiles on people's faces."


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