A 16-year-old Darren Burrows packed his bags and departed his native Kansas to travel to Los Angeles, intent on connecting with his father and finding "big adventure," while also biding some time until he was of age to enlist in the U.S. Army. Instead, while living on the West Coast, he developed an interest in acting and went on to acquire his fame playing the character of Ed Chigliak for six seasons on the 1990s hit television series "Northern Exposure."
"My wife, Melinda, was from Seattle, and she and her business partner occasionally provided food for the actors and crew when we taped 'Northern Exposure,'" Burrows recalled. Grinning, he added, "She claims she had a crush on me, and I asked her to marry me two weeks after we met."
After tying the knot in 1993, the couple became the parents to four sons and remained in California for 20 years while Burrows pursued a number of acting roles. Eventually, he realized the lifestyle they found in Los Angeles was no longer part of the grand adventure he had struck out to find years earlier.
"Melinda and I had talked for a while about making our escape from LA, and we knew that we didn't want to retire there," he said. "She had many qualifications as a chef and didn't have trouble finding a job." He added, "She trained at Ritz Escoffier in Paris and was a private chef for Paul McCartney, even touring as a chef with rock bands like INXS."
When she was offered the position as executive chef for a distinguished chain of hotels in Branson approximately seven years ago, they decided to pull up their roots on the West Coast and make the move to Missouri.
The couple purchased a home and some property near the rural community of Forsyth, and Burrows' wife has since accepted the position as executive chef at a local country club. Their three older sons are now grown and live elsewhere while their 16-year-old still lives at home, where he is home-schooled and works part-time at the local grocery store.
"I was so ready to get out of LA because I was too old to play Thor in the movies," he joked. "But really, it was a great opportunity for my wife, and the first time we came out here, the Ozarks were the most beautiful place we had ever seen."
The actor's new surroundings have immersed him in the culture of the Ozarks and inspired an interest in organic gardening, hunting and raising dozens of chickens to provide fresh eggs for his wife's cooking endeavors at the country club. However, a gift from his wife has bestowed him a new creative outlet and resulted in a an unexpected passion.
"For my birthday two or three years ago, my wife purchased me a class on engraving," he explained. "I really got into it and have continued to enjoy doing it. I do it every day and, like anything, the more you do it the better you get at it."
More recently, he has purchased silver and other metals, melting them down and learning to create jewelry such as bracelets, rings and necklaces that are often engraved with stunning Celtic patterns and other alluring designs. Since embarking upon his newfound interest, Burrows has applied for and received his federal firearms license so he can sell such pieces as engraved slides for Glock handguns.
"It was more of a hobby at the beginning, but after I became more proficient, people suggested I make and sell my own stuff," he said. "My wife came up with the name Metal Maniac Art and said I should set up a tax ID so that I could begin selling." With a grin, he added, "She's smart like that."
Burrows explained while acting is a collaborative process that often operates under the vision of a director, the process of etching and jewelry-making has provided him with a level of control over his own creative yield.
Although he no longer actively pursues acting opportunities, he occasionally is offered and accepts roles in certain film projects. This past fall, he traveled to Los Angeles for a part in the upcoming dramatic film "Magpie Funeral."
"One of the toughest things about being away from home during that time is not only being away from family, but I missed deer season here in Missouri," Burrows said, referencing his enjoyment of hunting in the Ozarks.
The "Northern Exposure" star admits the pace of life in the Show-Me State is much more relaxed than the freneticism he and his family experienced on the West Coast; however, it has exposed him to a sense of independence that continues to the attract him to surrounding communities.
"I think a lot of people have been sold a bill of goods about the West Coast — that it's somehow the ultimate lifestyle," he said. "But here, the people are genuine and real and have a confidence that they can take care of themselves."
Mirthfully, he added, "We are really glad to have made the move and love the area, but I don't want to make it sound too good or else everyone will want to move down here as well."
Burrows' custom engraving and jewelry pieces can be viewed at metalmaniacart.com.