HOLLYWOOD -- Sam Waterston, nominated for an Emmy as a Southern lawyer in 'I'll Fly Away,' probably is the contemporary actor who best represents New England in appearance and demeanor.
Waterston could pass for a great-great nephew of Ralph Waldo Emerson, or perhaps a grandson of the late Gov. Leverett Saltonstall of Massachusetts.
In another 20 years he could pose for Uncle Sam posters.
The actor possesses a noble Anglo-Saxon schnoz and a lock of straight brown hair falls over his lined brow.
If he were somewhat taller and a tad slimmer he might be mistaken for a resurrected Ichabod Crane.
Waterston is a New England Brahmin of sorts whose mother's side of the family came over on the boat. Yes, the Mayflower. Check the manifest. Her family name was Winslow, a good solid pilgrim family that helped found the colony of Massachusetts.
As a matter of fact -- and Sam is not altogether clear on this -- one of his ancestors was either the first or third governor of the Plymouth colony.
Sam's paternal side also goes back to 17th or 18th century colonists, but the Waterston branch became disenchanted and went back to Scotland. That line only returned to the states with Sam's father earlier this century.
Waterston recently finished filming a starring role opposite Kathleen Turner in 'Serial Mom' and is production in 'Conduct Unbecoming: The Court Martial of Johnson Whitaker' for Showtime.
Sam readily admits he embodies the physical traits of 'Down East Yankees,' which he says are a vanishing breed.
'There aren't that many of us left anymore,' he said. 'I think we are disappearing as a species because the melting pot has prevailed. Also Yankees of fiction and fact usually were establishment figures. They've fallen out of favor.
'Jack Lemmon played a Yankee scientist in 'The China Syndrome,' which, I believe, is a good example of people going wrong while trying to do things right. Yankees had their day in the sun and are no longer featured very much in TV and movies.
'New Englanders probably came out of the Civil War with a very high opinion of themselves. Now they are apologizing for that attitude, and rightly so. The establishment has a lot to apologize for.'
Not that Waterston is ashamed of his heritage. To the contrary, this Massachusetts native attended the Groton School and later Yale. He has always made his home in New England, currently in Connecticut.
'My mother's family name was Atkinson,' he said, 'and the woods are full of them. Her mother's maiden name was Winslow. The family settled in Newburyport (Mass.) in the 1600s. It was a major seaport until the ships got too big.
'When my parents went to Europe for a year, I stayed behind to continue my studies. I went to live with my uncle near Duxbury (Mass.) on his farm. His ancestors settled that farm 15 miles from Plymouth Rock soon after they landed. It has been in the family all those years.'
Aside from his appearance and somewhat formal demeanor, there is another trait that gives a clue to his Yankee background -- his 'yaah' in place of 'yes.'
'At least it's not 'ayuh,'' he said, 'which is fast fading out.
'Old Yankee ways and speech have been overwhelmed by huge waves of immigration in New England from southern Europe except for Maine. When I was growing up I heard a great many Yankee accents you could slice with a knife.
'Now there is only one subsistance farm left in the area where I live, but as a boy there were dozens of them.'
Waterson has played only one Yankee on screen, the role of Nick Carroway in 'The Great Gatsby,' the 1974 feature starring Robert Redford in the title role.
'Not many scripts include New Englanders these days,' he said. 'I suppose they are in disfavor in Hollywood.
'Starting in the late '50s, I'd say, movies became fascinated with the streets of major cities and to later waves of immigration, and that's not so bad.'
Waterston made his name on the New York stage before becoming established in films and television, including Joseph Papp's production of 'Much Ado About Nothing' for which he won the lead actor Drama Desk Award in 1973.
Over the years he has become a sort of repertory player for Woody Allen, one of several theatrically trained actors the filmmaker has used, appearing in four Allen titles: 'Interiors,' 'Hannah and Her Sisters,' 'September' and 'Crimes and Misdemeanors.'
He received an Oscar nomination as journalist Sidney Schanberg in the 1984 film 'The Killing Fields,' and received more respect -- and perhaps more recognition from TV viewers -- as a Southern prosecutor during the dawn of the civil rights movement in the recently canceled 'I'll Fly Away.'
Despite his professional ties to New York and Los Angeles, Waterston maintains his link to New England.
'I still visit Newburyport and other old colonial towns,' Waterston said. 'Once a Yankee, always a Yankee, I suppose.'NEWLN: