Tim Allen is a Hollywood celebrity, but he’s the rare one who hasn’t abandoned his roots in favor of the glitz. And that has been a good thing for Flyover Country.
The comic actor and funnyman — well known as the star of Last Man Standing and Home Improvement on television as well as of The Santa Clause movies — not only touted the virtues of his home state in a long-running tourism-advertising campaign but also makes sure he spends much of each summer at his home and on his boat in Leelanau County, the “pinkie” of the Mitten State.
And in interviews with me over the years, for Forbes and other publications, Allen has made clear that retaining his deep physical and psychic connections to the state and our region have been crucial to helping him maintain his balance as an entertainment icon — and his happiness as a human being.
“If you get on Lake Michigan between the Fourth of July and late August, in a stretch where it’s 90 degrees, and you’re standing on a white sand beach and looking at a sunny day — you’d be hard pressed to tell me where you were if you didn’t know,” Allen told me a few years ago when I interviewed him for a cover story for D Business magazine.
One of Allen’s favorite locations is Cathead Bay, near the very tip of the Leelanau peninsula, where he has favorably compared the blues of Lake Michigan to Caribbean vistas. “Sometimes,” he said, “it’s remarkably different and mystical.”
Most recently, Allen lent his star power to the Bay Theatre in Sutton’s Bay, the first town up the eastern coast of the western arm of Grand Traverse Bay, a 60-year-old, typical downtown movie house that a local not-for-profit has been operating for a few years. Allen commonly takes his family to see movies there during the summer, and when theater backers approached him in 2019 to host a benefit, he heartily agreed.
“He believes that the Bay is an important institution for the local community and thought that it should stay around,” Rick Andrews, a former marketing executive and head of the not-for-profit, told me.
So in the summer of 2019, The Bay actually ended up presenting the world premiere of Toy Story 4, the latest in the Pixar series in which Allen voices Buzz Lightyear. “We sold out instantly and had a lot of fun,” Andrews recalled. Allen “joked around and talked with the audience and gave away stuff. We raised a lot of money, and he set up his own matching fund. That was during the critical first six months of the [refinanced] theater.”
Fast forward through Covid to last month, when Allen was at it again on behalf of the Bay, this time showing up for a special screening of Galaxy Quest, the 1999 Star Trek spoof in which Allen played a Captain Kirk-like lead. Predictably, big fans, dressed exactly like the “Thermian” aliens in Galaxy Quest, patrolled the front of the theater, offering to be the subjects of “historical documents” as attendees took photos with them. Funds raised by Allen's appearance there, Andrews said, will go toward a renovation of the cozy little movie house.
Many other famous actors hail from the heartland, of course, including Allen contemporaries such as Bill Murray, who’s from Chicago, and Patricia Heaton, who was born in Ohio and starred in the long-running sitcom, The Middle, which was set mostly admiringly in a mythical town in Indiana.
But few who’ve ensconced themselves in Hollywood so readily and persistently identify themselves with where they came from in Flyover Country. Lately, Matthew McConaughey has become one of those, flaunting his Texas heritage and reportedly flirting with a run for governor of the Lone Star State.
Indeed, in his continued eagerness to identify with his home state in Flyover Country, Allen is more reminiscent of a few Hollywood icons of bygone eras, such as Jimmy Stewart, who never forgot that his home was Indiana.
True to His Roots
Arguably, Allen has outdone them all in this regard. He hails from near Detroit and set his first hit TV series, Home Improvement, in the city’s suburbs, regularly donning Michigan collegiate sweatshirts and Detroit Lions gear that gratified home-state viewers. As he built one career success on top of another, Allen continued to remind home-state fans of his allegiance – for the first few years of Last Man Standing, for example, referring to his domestic rivalry with the character played by his wife, who was an Ohio State alumna, while Allen’s character, Mike Baxter, was a University of Michigan graduate.
But Allen’s devotion to and support of Michigan and, by extension, the land and sensibilities of Flyover Country have gone way beyond such relatively easy shout-outs.
The “Pure Michigan” campaign was a huge example. For nearly 15 years, Allen’s poetic descriptions of the wonders of Michigan in TV and radio commercials beckoned Michiganders, other Midwesterners, and visitors from as far away as Texas and New York to check out cities from Monroe to Mackinaw and natural attractions from Tahquamenon Falls in the Upper Peninsula to the sand dunes of the Lake Michigan shore. Then state budget cuts finally doomed the campaign a couple of years ago.
But that hasn’t stopped Allen from loving and living in Michigan. And supporters of the Bay Theatre, along with the rest of us, are happy for that.