Born in Los Angeles on March 31, 1934, Richard Chamberlain was the second
son of Charles and Elsa Chamberlain. Soon after he was born, his family moved
to S. Elm Drive in Beverly Hills, a neighborhood with many children.
There the young boy loved to play with other kids and “invent adventure”;
he experienced grammar school (Beverly Vista) as a “traumatic loss
of freedom” but he greatly enjoyed going to the movies, especially
the double features, and listening to the radio, the dramas,
the fairy tales, the mysteries.
His relationship with his father, a periodic alcoholic until Richard was a teenager, was complicated while it was a “warm” one with his mother and a “superb” one with his grandmother.
At Beverly Hills High School he excelled in sports – track – and his good grades allowed him to be accepted by Pomona College, a high scholastic standards college, where he studied art, but soon “lost his heart to drama”. His first stage success was a “spirited” performance as Bluntschli in Bernard Shaw’s
"Arms and the Man".
Stroll through Pomona College campus
and end up on a Richard Chamberlain's note
After graduating from college with a bachelor of arts degree he served 16 months in Korea where he was made company clerk of the infantry company,
a job that kept him very busy, and later promoted to the rank of sergeant.
Upon his return to the United States, Richard Chamberlain studied under acting teacher Jeff Corey and co-founded the Los Angeles theater group Company of Angels. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s he landed his first roles on TV series (“Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, "Riverboat", “Rescue 8”, “Bourbon Street Beat”, “Gunsmoke”, "Paradise Kid", “Mr. Lucky”, “Thriller”, “The Deputy” and “Whispering Smith”), on two feature films (“The Secret of the Purple Reef”
and “A Thunder of Drums”) and on two theatre plays (“La Ronde” and “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial”). Highly disciplined and hard working,
he took singing and dancing lessons as well.
His spectacular break came in 1961 with the title role in the medical series
“Dr. Kildare” about an intern learning the ropes at a major hospital.
He became an overnight sensation and heartthrob in every country where
“Dr. Kildare” aired. Show business history was made. He won his
first Golden Globe in 1963 in the category “Best TV Star”.
His musical gifts were captured in various records, his velvet-lined bass/baritone voice, the meticulous orchestration and an impeccable diction made his recordings instant hits and long-time bestsellers. They are still very much appreciated by his fans. Two feature films, “Twilight of Honor (1963)” and
“Joy in the Morning” (1965) were not enough to fulfill the young actor’s
wish to break from his “Dr. Kildare” and “all American boy” image so,
when the series ended in 1966, he turned his back on television
and acted in several summer stock productions (“West Side Story”,
“The Philadelphia Story” and “Private Lives”).
He then put high hopes in the musical “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” with Mary Tyler Moore but the ill-conceived production never opened on Broadway,
to his great dismay.
In 1967 his career took an exciting turn. Director Richard Lester wanted him for the part of Julie Christie’s husband in “Petulia”, “a chance to graduate as an actor into the real thing”. This lead to “The Portrait of a Lady” (1968), an excellent BBC production, which in turn opened the way to playing Hamlet at the Birmingham Repertory Company (1969), for which he received extremely good reviews from the notoriously difficult theatre critics who had all made the journey from London. It was Richard Chamberlain’s consecration as a first order actor. He remained in England for almost five years. In 1970 he reprised his role in an abridged version of “Hamlet” for Hallmark Television. In 1972, his alma mater, Pomona College, conferred him his first Honorary Doctor Degree, a Doctor of Fine Arts Degree.
Then followed at around the same time the feature films “The Madwoman of Chaillot”, “Julius Caesar”, “The Music Lovers” with Richard Chamberlain’s outstanding portrayal of Tchaikovsky, “The Woman I love” in the role of King Edward VIII and “Lady Caroline Lamb”, where his spectacular and flamboyant Lord Byron stole the show.
Richard Chamberlain soon returned to the stage in 1972 to play the part of Thomas Mendip in “The Lady’s Not for Burning” at the Chichester Festival Theatre. A movie was made in 1974 with him in the same role.
Despite being very “attached” to Britain and his British friends, Richard Chamberlain felt he would never “fully belong”, so he returned to the United States. His first part was an amusing Aramis in “The Three Musketeers” and
“The Four Musketeers” (1974), a swashbuckling and humorous version by Richard Lester for the big screen, mainly shot in Spain. This same year he filmed the TV movie “F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Last of the Belles” in the role of the writer. Now very much part again of the American show business scene, Richard Chamberlain was cast in two feature films directed by Irwin Allen “The Towering Inferno” (1974) and “The Swarm” (1978) together with a battery of superlative actors. Between these films, he was featured in a poetic Christmas tale
“The Christmas Messenger”.
To “balance” his screen work he starred in a series of first rate plays,
“Richard II” in Seattle, Los Angeles and Washington DC (1971-1972),
his beloved “Cyrano de Bergerac” (1973) in Los Angeles
and “The Night of the Iguana” (1976-1977) in Los Angeles and New York.
For both plays he won a nomination, from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle for the former and the New York Drama Desk Awards for the latter.
He was also cast in the musical “The Fantasticks” (1972-1973) in Chicago.
With a well established reputation as a versatile actor who could handle
with equal talent and skill period pieces, drama and action, Richard Chamberlain was featured in the movies “The Count of Monte Cristo” (1975), for which
he was nominated for an Emmy, and “The Man in the Iron Mask” (1976) in which he played both the part of Louis XIV and of his brother Philippe with pomp,
éclat and supreme dramatic expressivity. Definitely the best version ever.
He was the dashing singing and dancing prince in “The Slipper and the Rose” (1976), Brian Forbes’ musical version of Cinderella and, under Peter Weir,
he played a lawyer in the enthralling cult movie “The Last Wave” (1977)
filmed in Australia, and for which he was nominated for best actor by the Australian Film Intitute and won the Clavell de Plata at the Sitges
International Film Festival. In “The Good Doctor” (1978) he brilliantly
mastered a variety of roles.
Also in 1978 he gave one of his favorite performances (nominated for a Golden Globe) as Alexander McKeag in the Western mini-series “Centennial”, his first appearance in a long list of mini-series that would earn him the scepter in the kingdom of the mini-series.
The same year, at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, he directed
"The Shadow Box” while playing at the same time the role of Brian.
A year later, in 1979, he again directed "The Shadow Box", this time at the Charles Playhouse Theatre in Boston. At the end of 1978, he tremendously enjoyed playing in New York, and two years later in Los Angeles,
“Fathers and Sons”, sharing the limelight with Dixie Carter.
His portrayal of Wild Bill Hickok won him a second nomination
from the New York Drama Desk Awards.
The decade of the ‘80s started with a true masterpiece, “Shogun”, in which Richard Chamberlain played with enormous universal acclaim the part of John Blackthorne and for which he won a Golden Globe and his second of four Emmy nominations. Soon after followed another of the world’s most popular
and legendary mini-series, “The Thorn Birds” (1982). As the tormented
Father Ralph de Bricassart (the part earned him a Golden Globe and
an Emmy nomination), Richard Chamberlain incarnated the hero
of the impossible romance par excellence with a country girl played
by the gorgeous Rachel Ward and opposite a wonderful cast such as Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Simmons and Christopher Plummer.
In 1982, Pomona College conferred him his second Doctor Honoris Causa,
the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Law.
Between “Shogun” and “The Thorn Birds” Richard Chamberlain starred
in “Bells” (also titled “Murder by Phone”), filmed in Canada, displaying
his great versatility yet again. Then came three superior mini-series
that required not only talent but also great physical condition: the dramatic historical piece “Cook and Peary: The Race to the Pole” (also
known as “Only One Winner”) (1983), “Wallenberg: A Hero’s Story”
(1985), his masterful performance earned him another round
of Golden Globe and Emmy nominations, and “Dream West”, in which
he portrayed with great style John Charles Fremont from the age
of 29 to 80. Back to feature films Richard Chamberlain played
the leading role in “King Solomon’s Mines” (1985) and its sequel “Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold”, two tongue-in-cheek
action adventure films in which his performance outshone
the production as such.
Always alternating stage and screen, in 1987 in New York, the actor was
cast in Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit”. Sadly, however, the play was abruptly interrupted by the sudden death of Geraldine Page.
Also in 1987 Richard Chamberlain filmed the TV movie “Casanova” blending
with panache into the character and in 1988 he was an utterly convincing
Jason Bourne in “The Bourne Identity”, a good and true version to
Robert Ludlum’s book. "The Return of the Musketeers" was filmed in 1989
but Richard Chamberlain, due to other commitments, could be present
on the set for a few days only. Dazzling once again as a doctor, he filmed
“Island Son” (1989-1990), a TV series set in Honolulu which ran 18 wonderful, ground-breaking and educational episodes; it deserved a better fate.
“Aftermath: A Test of Love” (1991) offered him another opportunity
to tap into his wide range and deliver a very effective and believable performance. In the remake of “The Night of the Hunter” (1991), the actor ventured into uncharted territory interpreting a psychotic preacher,
a part in which audiences were not accustomed to seeing him and
that he performed with terrifying realism. In “Ordeal in the Arctic”
(1993) he portrayed a compassionate pilot whose plane crashed in
Northern Canada in the middle of winter. Evil, good . . . a most
extensive acting arc!
In 1992, Richard Chamberlain returned to singing: in Kerimäki, Finland,
he hosted the Christmas Concert and joined singers Marilyn Horne and Jorma Hynninen. He played with great success on Broadway and on
tour in two musical productions, “My Fair Lady” (1993/1994) and
“The Sound of Music” (1998/2000). A slightly different production
of “My Fair Lady" triumphantly toured several cities in Germany,
in addition to Zürich, Vienna and Paris (1995-1996).
Just before the tour Richard Chamberlain filmed a 'midquel' to
“The Thorn Birds”, “The Thorn Birds, The Missing Years” in Australia.
The absence of the original actors made it practically a separate piece,
not unpleasant to watch. Father Ralph’s character was more
developed than in the mini-series of 1982. Several films and
TV movies followed: “Bird of Prey” (1996) shot in Bulgaria,
“A River Made to Drown In” (1997), a bold and tough film
at the height of the AIDS epidemic and another of
Richard Chamberlain’s astounding performances, “All the Winters
that Have Been” (1997), a TV movie about love and forgiveness,
well done and well interpreted and “The Lost Daughter” (1997),
a Swiss/Canadian miniseries, not aired in the US, drawing
attention on the havoc some cults may wreak. “The Pavilion”
(1999) and the TV movie “Too Rich: The Secret Life
of Doris Duke” (1999), costarring with Lauren Bacall, offered
the actor another opportunity to shine playing evil, the part
of a decrepit embezzler in the former and that of a
scheming butler in the latter.
In 2000, Richard Chamberlain was awarded a star on the Walk of Fame
at 7020 Hollywood Boulevard.
In 2003, Richard Chamberlain published “Shattered Love”, a brave memoir
with poetic overtones sprinkled with reminiscences of his professional life but above all an insight into the way he conquered self-esteem after a long journey, interspersed with bright and grey moments, and how he spiritually grew to achieve an “open heart” and “unconditional love”. Coming out was not intended to be the main topic of the book but it became the focus of attention for all the media. His innumerable fans all over the world reacted with unconditional love.
After 2000, Richard Chamberlain made several guest appearances on
TV shows, “Touched by an Angel” (2000), “The Drew Carey Show”
(2002) where he appeared in full drag, “Will and Grace” (2005),
“Hustle” (2006), “Nip/Tuck” (2006) and “Desperate Housewives” (2007),
with all of his appearances causing great expectation.
In 2000 and 2003, at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, he played in
“Shadow of Greatness” and “The Stillborn Lover”, respectively, Martin Rabbett directing. In the winter of 2004 Richard Chamberlain
toured the US with “Scrooge”, giving memorable performances and,
in 2006, in the musical directed by Martin Rabbett for the Honolulu
Opera Theatre he brilliantly played the King in the outstanding and
highly authentic production of “The King and I”, opposite Jan Maxwell.
In 2006 he was Governor Charles Eden in the TV miniseries “Blackbeard”,
filmed in Thailand, in 2006 coach Denis O’Leary in “Strength and Honor”,
filmed in Ireland, and in 2007 Councilman Banks in the film
“I now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”.
In January 2009 he embarked on a tour with “Monty Python’s Spamalot”
in the role of King Arthur, starting in Chicago and ending nearly three months later in Cleveland. He acted, sang, danced and looked fabulously young,
blending into one of the funniest musicals ever created next to highly talented actors while at the same time illuminating it with his magic presence.
His lifelong interest in environment preservation led him to successfully lobby in Sacramento and Washington D.C. to save the Tuolumne River,
his commitment being decisive in obtaining the “Wild and Scenic” designation.
In Hawaii, he gave time and stature to the protection of the islands' environment. As main speaker at the San Francisco Conference
'Dreaming the New Dream' in 1989 and in Rebild (Denmark) in 1990,
he eloquently focused on sustainability at the planetary level.
In this context he narrated three films “River Song” (1987),
“Greed and Wildlife” (1989) and “Hawaii: Perils in Paradise” (1993).
Other contributions as narrator were: “The Little Mermaid” (1973),
"The Challenge of Change", a film on Krishnamurti (1984),
“The Astronomers” (1991), “Papakolea: A Story of Hawaiian Land” (1993)
and “Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire” (2004). He was also host
in the film “Portrait of Japan” in 1991 and donated his talent
to the Honolulu and Maui Symphony Orchestras with narrations
on classical and contemporary works.
An accomplished painter, Richard Chamberlain actively returned in
the early ‘90s to his old love, painting. Some of his paintings are
displayed in the Celebrities Gallery in Wailea and The Mouche Gallery
in Beverly Hills. Images being better than words, visit his website
where you will find high quality prints of his works:
Since his return to Los Angeles mid 2009 after residing for many years in
Hawaii, Richard Chamberlain has been involved in several projects.
In April 2010 he played the part of a dashing thief, Archie Leach,
in an episode of "Leverage" called "The Inside Job" (episode 303,
season 3, TNT) filmed in Portland. Moreover he was cast in
an independent film, "The Perfect Family", directed by Anne Renton,
also starring Kathleen Turner, Emily Deschanel, Jason Ritter
and Michael McGrady and that premiered at the Tribeca
Film Festival in 2011.
Also in 2010 and under director Laura Newman, Richard Chamberlain was
the lead in the independent film "We are the Hartmans", filmed in New York
and premiered at the Atlanta Film Festival in 2011. The actor played the
part of the hippie owner of a local club and was granted the award for best supporting actor at the 3rd Annual Washington D.C. World Music and
Independent Film Festival.
Under creator/director Alex Hyde-White, Richard Chamberlain played
Polonius in the film "Three Days" that combines classical theatre
with modern-age reality television (first screening May, 2011).
Gueststarring in two prime time series, the actor appeared,
in November 2010, in two episodes of "Chuck", "Chuck vs. the Fear of Death" and "Chuck vs. Phase Three" and, in December 2010 and early 2011,
in a multi-episode arc of "Brothers & Sisters".
2011 started with the filming in New York City of "Forbidden Love" also
starring Andrew MacCarthy and directed by Igor Sunara to further
continue with Richard Chamberlain portraying once more
Archie Leach in his second "Leverage" episode titled "The Last Dam Job".
After having been nine years away from theatre, Richard Chamberlain
returned to the stage in the play "The Heiress" by Ruth and
Augustus Goetz, suggested by Henry James "Washington Square".
He portrayed Dr. Austin Sloper in April/May 2012,
at the Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena, CA. in a lovely
production directed by Dámaso Rodriguez.
Without a break, Richard Chamberlain went straight into "The Exorcist"
opposite Brooke Shields in the role of chief exorcist Father Merrin
at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles (July 3-August 12, 2012).
The play, adapted by John Pielmeier from W.P. Blatty's bestseller
novel and directed by John Doyle, was not a remake of the film,
it rather blended suspense with serious discussion of psychology,
faith, love and evil.
For New Year 2013, Richard Chamberlain published his
second book, "My Life in Haiku". The author does not
consider this collection of poems an autobiography but
admits they are quite personal. The book is illustrated
with some of Richard Chamberlain's paintings
that the accompanying haiku interprets.
"My Life in Haiku" can be ordered at amazon.com
to be continued...