Today, as he says, “We’re getting no less than 13,000 letters, or nearly 50,000 a month.”
Chamberlain’s fan mail comes mostly from women in every city in the United States, according to John Rothwell, an MGM TV executive, and although the influx hasn’t grown
to monster proportions from Europe, England is contributing its 2000 letters every week.
“They propose marriage, they ask if they can come visit him in Hollywood just about everything under the sun,” says Rothwell. “I’ve hired five secretaries to handle it all.
They read most of it and, needless to mention, the marriage proposals aren’t forwarded
on to him.
“One woman wrote to say she’d just had a baby and was naming it after Chamberlain. Another apparently an elderly lady, was making out her will in Dick’s name. Unbelievable things. They just worship the ground he walks on.”
Not too curiously, the thousands of nurses working in hospitals across the country comprise a large segment of Richard’s fans.
At the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles, for example, the head nurse says patients with a TV set in the room always find themselves receiving more attention than others when “Dr. Kildare” is broadcast. The nurses rush for the patient’s room – to watch their favorite doctor.
When Chamberlain motors into the MGM studio gate at 7 o’clock every morning in his red Fiat roadster, invariably there are women fans laying in wait for him. According to the studio policeman at the gate, they appear outside as early as 6 a.m.
“They are very nice,” Dick says. “But on occasions they’ve tried to rush over and kiss me. I don’t mind autographs, but well, you know how it is…”
In the evenings at 7 o’clock, when Chamberlain leaves, more women are standing outside the gates. It’s become something he just expects.
But recently, he was astonished to find himself trapped inside his own home, a rustic little apartment in the Hollywood Hills. A girl of 25 somehow gained entrance to the apartment during his absence and hid in a cupboard until he arrived.
“I came home, opened the cupboard to hang up my jacket and there she was,” laughed Chamberlain. “I nearly fainted, I must admit. I told her to come out of there and gave her a very stern talk about breaking in like that. But in the end I signed one of my photos, gave it to her and advised her to leave immediately. She did.”
Another time Chamberlain found two teenage girls students at Hollywood High School, perched on the steps of his apartment at 8.30 p.m. when he arrived home from the studio.
“You get so you don’t think much of it,” he says today, the handsome face showing genuine appreciation. “After all, it’s all those wonderful girls and ladies who are responsible for my success. The only thing I feel badly about is that it’s also disrupted my best girl, Clara Ray’s personal life.” What Chamberlain was talking about is the fact that Miss Ray, a professional singer whom the TV intern met in music school and now considers his favorite date, recently had to have her telephone number changed and unlisted.
“She was getting calls, dozens of them, day and night,” explained Chamberlain, flopping on to the couch in his dressing room. “Young girls and more mature women would call and ask questions like, ‘Are you going to marry Richard Chamberlain?’ ‘Are you secretly married to him now?’ or ‘Why don’t you let him go? I want him.’ ”
At first the calls came on sporadically, but when they built up to a crescendo Miss Ray had to take drastic action or, as she said recently, “Go out of my mind.”
All told, there are at least 150 Richard Chamberlain fan clubs in the United States. An MGM executive claims there are also “an untold number of them in England.”
Considering their ranks number in the hundreds of thousands, one can well imagine what
a tide of presents come flooding in to MGM studios addressed to Dr. Kildare at Christmas. “Last Christmas,” says Chamberlain, “I was relatively new, but still there were many gifts mailed to me from my fans. Everything from cuff links – 50 odd pairs – tie clasps, ashtrays, knitted socks and sweaters, ties, shirts and a million other things.
“This Christmas I suppose there will be even more things mailed to me.”
“I only wish my fans would follow the example of Hugh O’Brian’s friends and send gifts instead to children’s orphanages, hospitals for children or simply donate the money they would spend on presents to charitable causes.
“I love children and believe they’d appreciate having the “Dr. Kildare” fans giving them a little happiness at Christmas time.
How has all Chamberlain’s feminine adulation affected his daily life, if at all?
“Oh, it has,” he said. “But don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about it. Actually it’s gotten so that I can hardly go out of my house on foot. I don’t dare walk on the streets of Hollywood because I’d find myself going a few inches an hour.
“But why should I complain. An actor needs fans to stay in business.”
“Even if I fall in love with a girl I won’t marry her!” The extraordinary story of how Dick Chamberlain remains a bachelor
Life is passing by Dick Chamberlain – and he knows it. Stardom is his, and the adulation
of millions, and more money than he ever dreamed of making at his age. But where is
the great love of his life? Where are the children of which he dreams?
Looking much younger than his twenty-nine years, Dick spoke of his older brother Bill.
“I envy him,” he said, in a tone more revealing than he realized. “He’s the proud father
of two children. I love those kids!” He spoke of “a wedding to end all weddings” – that
of Suzanne Pleshette and Troy Donahue – adding, with almost frightening candor: “But,
if it gave me ideas, I have been conditioned to repress them.”
There was an air of resignation about this handsome man. There was also determination
in the set of his jaw. Dick’s strong will had, indeed, joined the studio battle on the side of keeping his bachelorhood. Hut a bitter question glowed in his intelligent blue eyes as he explained, “I’ve been cautioned that marriage could damage ‘the Kildare image’ – and one mustn’t do that, must one?
“So, as girls go . . . I’m playing the field. And I’m willing to say it can be quite exciting, and leave it at that! Which reminds me – I promised to call Anne Helm, my date for that wedding. We haven’t seen each other since.”
His tone implied complete agreement with his studio. Take out pretty young actress Anne Helm, it had been suggested, because people are talking too much about your being seen continually with pretty young singer Clara Ray. Okay, I’ll take out Anne Helm. And I’ll call her and take her out again.
If it isn’t too late! Perhaps Anne’s now “playing the field” while I’m still seeking a few open hours for dating . . .
Time, of course, is the great ally of those who would keep Dick a bachelor for years to come. Time, and his own earnestness about his career.
“If I fall in love with a girl,” he told me emphatically, “I won’t marry her because I will not be able to offer her a home that would be like a home. I simply don’t have the time to give her. Not enough for a happy marriage. Much less, for children!”
George Richard Chamberlain is, today, a crown prince who is being groomed for the royal mantle of filmdom by a concilium of wise men, possibly the best experts in handling the notorious Hollywood movie-myth machine. In a strange way, Dick – MGM dropped “George” and kept “Richard” – is a throwback to the days when all-powerful studios threw all their weight behind a new name. The concilium was assigned to the job by the top brass of a mighty studio reliving, in his isolated case, its past glory. He has been manipulated, directed, guided, from the day MGM realized it had a potential phenomenon on its hands.
Ever since, Richard Chamberlain has been little less than a prisoner of his movie town mentors, and he has allowed them to bend and twist him any way they liked because he
is convinced they are doing it for his own good. His life has been regulated to meet the demands of an existence that calls for so many hours before the cameras each week, so many hours with his singing teacher, so many hours with his dancing teacher, so many hours for recording radio greetings, so many hours for meetings with studio executives,
his own agents, business manager, lawyer.
His ratio of press interviews is two lunch sessions a week – and newsmen are known to have waited in line for as long as four months. In each case, Dick has made a point never to miss his appointment. In our case, he came to the studio specially, even though the sudden illness of a guest star had shut down “Dr. Kildare” for the day and everybody was allowed to stay home.
But not Kildare himself. He reported, of his own volition, explaining, “They’ve trained
Life in a gilded cage
Told to report to a local school for a brief personal appearance, he will race his blue convertible out the studio gate as soon as the lunch break is announced, head for the school, smile stoically at a student body of frenzied teenagers, walk out beside the principal, jump into the car and race back – all within the span of a sacrificed lunch hour.
At the first opportunity, he will munch his lunch in his dressing room, a simple furnished wooden cubicle in a corner of the site. His day, which began when his alarm clock sounded off at 5:45 a.m., comes to a close at home as he learns tomorrow’s lines – from a script dropped off by a studio driver who is making his late-evening rounds.
Obviously, it takes very special stamina to accept such a routine without flinching.
But then Chamberlain possesses just this type of stamina.
“I’m lucky,” he reminded me. “It so happens, I love uniformity. I even eat the same
lunch day in, day out.” (It’s steak, medium rare, two scoops of cottage cheese, a glass
of milk, a cup of coffee. And, as often as not, he has the same for dinner.)
“People tell me I’m living in a gilded cage,” he says, wrinkling his high forehead. “I’m sure they’re right about the cage, if not about the gilt. I have practically no personal life.
Yet I’ve been amazingly placid about it.
“I say ‘amazingly’ because I amaze myself! Others would have long since rebelled against such a regimented existence as mine, I have not. My only attempt to break away from it was my Christmas trip to England. I was away seven days and those seven days of freedom cost me something like two thousand dollars. It was well worth it. But this was the extent of my rebellion.
“I returned and went straight back into my cage. I may not leave it again until we all go
to Rome to film a proposed three-part ‘Kildare’ episode set in Italy. My trip to England whetted my appetite for more, and I’m looking forward to our Italian adventure.
“But if we don’t go – I won’t scream ‘foul’ . . . he’s really very well trained, this young
Dr. Kildare . . .”
Dick’s being groomed for Success and he’d be the last to throw a monkey wrench into the Wheels of Progress. Yet, ironically, the Kildare buildup was originally a measure to “make hay while the sun shines.” No one was sure Kildare’s good fortune would last. Studio executives were well aware of the fact that Dick was perhaps the worst new actor since Clark Gable to make it to their star ranks.
Consequently, he was kept in every episode that first year, without a day off, for a total
of forty-six weeks – some of the early episodes taking as much as two weeks to shoot – and was also sent on personal-appearance tours. During the second year, following a
four-day vacation, he made the prescribed thirty-some episodes for TV, plus a movie.
The same pattern held true for the third year – except for that week off, last Christmas.
By now, of course, the “make hay” approach is not even mentioned and is indeed denied
by sanctimonious studio executives willing to swear such heretical thoughts never crossed their minds. Today, it’s The Grooming of a Star. Long Live Kildare! Their Boy, their Bundle of Joy, has come a long way since his early, stuttering attempts to impress cynical editors with a forthcoming series called “Dr. Kildare.” He stopped blushing one year later. He stopped searching for words on TV panel shows, in front of live cameras, eighteen months later.
“Today,” Dick says, with quiet insistence, “I don’t take my orders the way I did in the beginning. I’ve stopped standing to attention. I don’t salute the commanding officer.
And I do come up with suggestions of my own, and I argue my point, and defend my right to disagree. But, in a series like this, it’s the script that is the prime star. And I don’t
write the scripts.”
He has won for himself a semblance of independence within his dependence, but it’s still only a semblance.
“Don’t misunderstand me,” he smiles. “I’ve not grown tired of ‘Dr. Kildare,’ no matter what other interviews you may have read. I love the show, really. But I cannot assert myself on it.
“I’ve been slow growing up”
“However, I have grown up of late to assert myself elsewhere. This may sound strange, coming from a man my age, but then I’ve been sort of slow growing up – I remember,
I felt very much at sea in college; it was over my head.
“This ‘elsewhere’ I spoke of,” he continues, with a new note of animation, “is on the recording end of my career. I’m assuming control. It’s a strange feeling! I’m picking the music, I’m guiding the arranger, I’m styling the songs for my next album.
“I’m doing something like that for the first time. And it’s all mine. This has boosted my self-confidence in general and has carried into everything I’ve been doing.”
Today, Dick is a self-assured but very-careful-what-you-say young man who loves his fans, professes great admiration for the medical profession, and delivers smooth speeches at medical banquets he attends as guest of honor. Yet, outwardly, there is little change
in Richard Chamberlain.
The old, beat-up Fiat roadster has been replaced by a metal-blue Corvette Sting-Ray, most expensive sports car on the American market. His wardrobe of two suits has grown to twelve. This isn’t much to show, as stars go, but Dick is basically a very frugal person.
He still lives in the ramshackle house, up in the hills overlooking the Sunset Strip,
which he could have bought for the rent he’s already paid.
The reason he won’t move, he claims, is force of habit. Also the privacy this remote, inaccessible house offers him. There are very few new pieces of furniture in his living room with the now-famous sloping floor. NBC gave him an expensive color TV set; he wouldn’t have bought one himself. But where, a year ago, he was still doing all his own cleaning,
he now employs a cleaning woman once a week.
His eating habits have remained the same; he still does not smoke; he still drinks in moderation. He is keeping up the same dance-studio lessons with a group of young actors, each of whom pays teacher Renova two dollars a lesson – Chamberlain, black leotards and all, chips in with the rest. He still pays teacher Trojanowski fifteen dollars for each private singing lesson.
What does he do with the rest of his money? “I am about to start investing,” he tells you. “I’ve not had enough to invest until this year.”
It is said that Dick was signed at $250 a week, was given an immediate raise of $250 after “Kildare” was bought by sponsors, and is now making $1,200. He gets the usual artist’s five-percent royalty from each copy of his MGM records sold – which should add a minimum of $50,000 this year.
What about friends, parents, relatives? Do they profit from the “Kildare” bonanza? Do they play an important role in his life today?
A “loner” all his life?
People who claim to know Chamberlain well insist that his childhood was not the happiest, and that Dick became a “loner” by force of both circumstances and nature.
Today, he tells you flatly, “There are some seven people who play important roles in my life. They are my music teacher (Carolyn Trojanowski), my business manager
(Alexander Tucker), my agents (Ashley-Steiner), my lawyer (Gunther Schiff) and
one or two studio executives.”
He doesn’t particularly care to admit the existence of the studio’s concilium of wise
men who have shaped the suave, self-possessed Chamberlain of today. Most significantly,
he does not mention his father, mother or immediate family unless reminded of
Would he go to Dad for advice, when faced with a sudden emotional crisis?
Would he go to Mother?
The reply is a spontaneous “No, I would not. I would call one of my seven people.
Maybe my music teacher.”
But why not Dad?
The answer is a friendly “We’re not that close, really.”
Dick’s father owns a factory in Los Angeles specializing in merchandise fixtures for supermarkets. When Dick was a child, the family lived in Beverly Hills. Several years ago, his parents moved to Laguna Beach, sixty-five miles south of Los Angeles, and ever since, his father has been commuting daily to his factory – in which brother Bill is now a
“Dad doesn’t think anything of covering 130 miles daily,” says Dick, and there is pride in his voice. But he very rarely visits his parents. His excuse: “No time.”
Still, family ties do exist.
“During the first year,” Dick says softly, “my parents called me every week to tell me what they thought of the ‘Dr. Kildare’ episode they’d watched the previous evening. It was always ‘great.’ But, nowadays, I hear from them only occasionally and then the series is brought up rather casually. Now they don’t mind saying they didn’t like what they saw. Usually, I know what is coming when they ask me, cautiously, what I thought of the latest episode – and I say, ‘it was not particularly good, was it; and they concur.
“I talk to brother Bill much more often. I love his kids.”
Dick remains the loner. But unlike other Hollywood loners – Warren Beatty, George Chakiris – Dick Chamberlain circulates freely, enjoying the dangers of exposure to mass frenzy. And unlike Beatty, he does not believe his own publicity.
Not anymore, at least!
“The publicity did affect me in the beginning,” Dick admits. “The show became rather successful and lots of people were saying, ‘Gee, you’re really a good actor!’ It was very nice, and I got to thinking I was pretty important. And terribly talented.
“But I’m lucky enough to have some rather perceptive advisors – who kind of got on to me and said, ‘don’t take it too seriously. Think of how much you have to learn if you want to get where you really want to go.’
“It’s terribly important to listen to the right people,” he adds. And he does listen – not only to those few he considers his friends, but to all those who are guiding his career and counseling his bachelor life today.
Yet there was one point in our conversation when you couldn’t help sensing that this docile recruit to fame has finally begun to question the Great Procedure.
Dick was genuinely perturbed as he told of some charming people he’d recently met.
“I knew we could make friends, if given the opportunity, and I was looking forward to it.
They took him in, these warm-hearted strangers, and taught young Mr. Chamberlain a new meaning of America
“I arrived,” said Dick Chamberlain, “wearing a big fur-lined parka, carrying ice skates and loaded with luggage – about 75 pounds overweight with winter gear – and of course it was the warmest Christmas in history. But there was still snow on the ground, good thick snow, and they really floored me by arriving at the Concord, New Hampshire, airport in an open carriage.
“My host is a great carriage collector . . . and here he was, driving up with a flourish in what you might call a coach and two. With him was his daughter, Betty, who is 20, a slender girl with flashing grey eyes, and a wonderful sense of fun. But then, everyone in this family has a fabulous sense of fun. Actually it’s three families, three related families.
I first met them nine months ago. They have, these families, a life that is so stunningly different from anything I’ve know, Utopian, really, that I had eagerly accepted their Christmas invitation. And flying in to New Hampshire from New York, seeing the jagged coastline with the old old lighthouses and the fieldstone fences, I had the strange sense
of moving back, back in history. And here I was now riding through Concord in a coach behind two superb black horses, their hooves clanging on the pavement.”
It was kind of marvelous driving through town. Anything horse-drawn has the right of way, so everybody was very careful to get out of the way. Policemen smile. Pedestrians waved as they passed. Not because they recognized Dick Chamberlain. Not in that fur parka.
But because they recognized Dick’s host, who is as famous for his carriage rides as he is for his sculpture. Past the capitol with its state house of Concord granite topped by its ornate cupola, the Federal Building with its triangular, pointed roof, City Hall with its traditional colonial architecture and dainty spire.
The horses picked up speed as they reached the outskirts of town and it was like flying,
up the pike past Penacook and Boscawen, past a blacksmith shop in one town and a stone blast furnace, a forge and a rolling mill, all restored as they were 300 years ago, the little mill powered by water falling over the wheel. Dick was enchanted by the white spired churches in town after town, with his glimpses of the Merrimack River twisting and streaming in the sun. A million miles away from the scrutiny of a camera, hundreds
of years away from public appearances. Past Gerrish and Franklin and into
East Andover lying along the picturesque shores of Highland Lake. His host’s farm
is just outside East Andover.
They galloped up to the big house, deposited Dick’s luggage in the little fieldstone guest house and galloped off to a festive lunch at a nearby farm. Then there was tea at one place and dinner at another where they all sat in front of the mammoth fieldstone fireplace.
Coming out into the clear night air, Betty suddenly ducked, picked up a handful of snow and threw it at Dick. Within seconds, everyone was engaged in a mad snowball fight. Dick, who grew up on southern California, found himself packing snowballs and throwing them like Sandy Koufax. Dick’s new friends were all laughing and fighting and the ladies were grabbing each other’s collars, throwing snow down each other’s backs – all hilarious, and breathless with laughter.
“I’ve never known people like this,” Dick says. “They see each other all the time but they never stop talking to each other, never stop playing pranks on each other. There’s an atmosphere of crackling excitement. Vitality. I have a feeling it’s part of the New England nature. They are so secure in their own identities, so secure in their way of life. Just imagine, these families are living in the same houses their families lived in 250 years ago!
“But what I started to say . . . these people are so secure in themselves, so successfully creative, that they can afford to expend time on other people – me for example. They can afford to sit back and say, ‘Now tell us about you. Let’s find out about you. Tell us, Dick!’ And as you can imagine, they’re not in the least interested in me because of TV. They’re interested in me in spite of TV, which is a tremendous compliment. I’m not a personality
to them, I’m just a person”
Which Dick knew from his first meeting with them several months ago. That’s why he accepted the Christmas invitation.
From childhood on, Dick has followed one line – he’s avoided conflict, done what was asked, outwardly conformed, inwardly rebelled. He never believed a bit of it. In college he discovered for the first time intellectual curiosity and artistic creativity, and retreated into that. This is one think he has believed in. Not the image of Richard Chamberlain
or of “Dr. Kildare,” but the delight in creativity, his own and other people’s.
For this reason, when he casually met a nephew of a famous sculptor who was touring the studios, and when this young man mentioned his uncle, Dick really flipped. He has been familiar with the man’s sculpture for years, known it through photographs actually.
“How I’d love to meet him!” Dick said impulsively. “How I’d love to see his work.”
“Why don’t you call him next time you’re east,” the nephew said.
“Oh sure. How about that.”
“No really, call him. He knows who you are. As a matter of fact it’s sort of a family joke, his brother’s daughter dates a fellow who looks just like you.”
The next day Dick decided to be terribly brave – “for once in my life.” He picked up the phone and called the sculptor in New Hampshire. The man was delighted. “You have to come out the first time you come east, come see this house of ours.”
Dick went. He went on his next business trip and understood why the sculptor was so proud of his place. There are three buildings on the property, the original house, 250 years old, and the original stable, and the original carriage house, all beautifully restored. It is an area of farmland, rich fertile soil, the original farmer dug the rocks out of the land and those rocks are the fieldstone used for fences and fireplaces and for parts of the houses themselves. The fabulous thing to Dick is that “they have people scattered over the countryside who are skilled in all the ancient crafts. They can work in stone and in wood. The sculptor’s brother has a banquet table hewn by an ax from one huge piece of wood,
a great tortured piece of wood, really marvelous.
He saw their houses . . . his host’s great fieldstone house – dark, and nestled into the thickest part of the forest, furnished throughout with authentic early American furniture. The other houses – beautiful, bright, full of color.
From then on, they kept in touch. Dick was intrigued by their “crackling creative excitement” and he wasn’t afraid to show it. The next time he was in New York, he had invited some of the young people to come down. They saw a show and did the town afterward, and next morning, very early, got together and paraded through Central Park.
So here he was for Christmas. Here he was out in the snow pelting everyone with snowballs, shouting, laughing and feeling as if this is what he should have been doing
for years. These people are so vital and they have such a deep camaraderie.
“This amazes me, this close-knit society, this ability of a group of people to adore each other. There’s an openness and generosity you don’t find in Hollywood where there’s
a certain caution in human relationships. In this business you never know whom
you’re going to need tomorrow, so there’s a vague caution, always, except with
your closest friends.”
Christmas Eve after the great family gathering and snowball fight, they put up their tree. That is, the father and mother put up the tree and Dick and the others visited in the library. No one was allowed into the living room until Christmas morning. Then they awakened Dick, long before dawn, and everyone trooped into the living room to open presents, and as soon as they had done that, the ate breakfast and packed off to the
other families to join their Christmas and exchange gifts.
For Dick there were lovely gifts, several old old art books and a charcoal sketch by his hostess and, best of all, an early working model of a small sculpture by Dick’s idol.
They had, obviously, discovered his secret. They had discovered the Dick Chamberlain who once devoted himself totally to painting, immersed himself in it, and who has, subconsciously, continued to dream of painting. He didn’t realize it himself until he got
to New England last Christmas. And then, suddenly, everything he saw: the rolling fields,
the occasional ridges of trees, the sense of so many generations on this soil. Originally
this country was forest, full of racing streams of white water. Well, the water was still there and still racing, and the trees . . .
“Everywhere I looked I saw a painting, something I wanted to say something about visually, something I wanted to possess by putting it down. You looked out over one field to a ridge of trees, fairly bare, but what color! So subtle and so beautiful . . . first a low wave of yellow-green, then waves of maroon, growing bluer and bluer into the distance, a thousand extraordinary differences of color and texture, each thing in it different state, one tree very quietly gathering its resources so that by spring it can go bursting into bloom.”
One day when they’d ridden horseback across the valley, and come back through the town, they’d stopped in town and a group of people asked for Dick’s autograph. He signed for them and his host said, “I’d like to have that signature . . . “ at which Dick looked up startled . . . “on the bottom of a drawing.”
Dick went home and promptly went to work. In two hours he had drawn two superb trees. No one was more surprised than Dick. “I could never draw worth a damn.”
He says. “But for some reason, I had the ability there to just really go with it – to work. Usually I find whole layers of resistance that have to be overcome before getting down
to work. I was never able before to sit down and work straight off.
“I had the strangest feeling. I had the feeling that I could live back there and paint. I had the feeling I could do it. I would splash color all over my canvases. This countryside played tunes on me. There is a latent lushness even in winter. I’m positive that if I went back, lived there, I could make a painter of myself.”
He got carried away. There is a farm for sale in New Hampshire, and Dick rode by time after time to see it. “The price is a good deal more than I could afford right now,” he admits. “But I was thinking of getting a couple of people from New York and maybe a couple from California, and making it into a co-op. We’d build a stone wall around it, make it a separate village, have our own post office and carriage station. There’s a grand main house and a number of smaller structures. Two hundred and fifty acres and they tell me it’s the best house in the area.”
Dick has always dreamed of building a life, creating a world of his own. What this trip to New England did was prove to him that it can be done. What weaned him from painting to begin with was its loneliness. Here are people who work along but have a true social rapport to return to when the work is done. And they accept him. They’re only interested in his autograph at the bottom of a painting.
Sometimes, strange as it may seem, a star like Dick feels trapped. He felt trapped the day his holiday was over and he had to fly back to New York to catch the plane for Hollywood. On the way he did a lot of thinking. A painter is his own man. An actor must have permission to act. On the other hand, painting had been so lonely for him, he’d switched to acting for that very reason, for the need to relate to people. That has, all along, been the desire and the difficulty, to relate easily to people, to have them accept him . . .
In 1963 at Christmas, Dick spent his holiday with an English family he barely knew and felt totally taken in by their affection and their warmth. This year he joined another group and felt accepted once again, this time into a truly sophisticated society of talented people. As a matter of fact, time stood still for Dick, he dropped back in time, back to the beginnings of America to a pure and vital era when every American was intensely individual.
He came back determined to build a world for himself as well as for Kildare. He is full of plans for self-improvement. He’s going to start French lessons. He’s going to get a new piano and play it. “I used to be pretty good on the piano when I was a child.” He’s going to learn to ski and surf and cook . . . gourmet cooking.
“That was another wonderful thing about my New Hampshire friends. They know how to cook. Great cooking.” Oh, and painting. “The first thing I did when I got home as pull out a picture I’d spent hours and hours of work on and frankly despaired of. Four children, that’s the picture. I took a look at it and realized it isn’t bad. Not bad at all and I’m going to finish it. I realize that it’s the first painting I’ve ever done that came from inside of me, not manipulated from outside, but genuinely from inside. And I realized something else. That the painting is really me. Maybe I thought I was painting four different children but they’re all me, all aspects of the peculiar states of being which one individual passes through on the road to himself.
You’ve seen pictures of them together for months, now here’s the story of what Joan Marshall really means in Dick’s life.
No question about it, something has happened to Richard Chamberlain, something quite wonderful, and my guess is her name is Joan Marshall.
You saw the result of her influence on the Andy Williams Show . . . a very different Richard. “Why, he doesn’t look like Dr. Kildare,” my daughter said, and she was right. He looked easy, relaxed, song-and-dance-man Dick, having a marvelous time for himself. And it wasn’t all that easy. They were on a tight shooting schedule for Kildare, had to catch rehearsals in bits and snatches over week-ends, and when they finally got down to taping, he had a cold – the last think you want when you’re about to sing a song . . .
“But I had more fun,” he tells me when we met for lunch at MGM a few days later. “It was a great experience, in that suddenly I had a great deal more freedom than I’d expected, for instance, the river boat number. It’s hard to learn that kind of thing when you’re not
a dancer, but the people on the show are so marvelous – the choreographer, the dancers, the singers, Andy himself. I felt great, so much more relaxed than on my last TV appearance.” . . . on the Como show that was, and although there, too, Como and company did everything to put Dick at ease, he was tense and held-together and didn’t know what to do with his arms. Joan was there for the Williams taping, along with her children, Steve and Sherry, and that’s what made the difference.
Dick is an Aries, and as such, he has always liked people, wanted to be around people and to meet them on an “open” basis. Read any horoscope and you know that when a situation is not “open,” when others are trying to be subtle or clever, an Aries is in for a certain amount of confusion. They are inclined to be direct and honest, generous almost to a fault and this generosity, misused by people with hidden motives, brings an Aries almost to the point of disbelief and stunned helplessness when fraud and double-dealing are exposed.
That’s what it says in the Astrological Manual and it couldn’t be closer to the mark. To be
a handsome and stellar bachelor in this business is far from an ideal situation when it comes to any real and important relationship with women, and for the last four years, Dick has met his share of glamour girls and indulged in what he calls “charming playlets.” I’ve talked with several of these girls and they professed deep and devoted feelings toward Dick, but it was difficult to tell whether they ever really knew Richard Chamberlain
or whether they knew only his star image.
The one girl who certainly knew the difference was Ann Helm, a talented actress who worked with him on a Kildare, dated him, and gifted him with his portrait in oils. She is
a talented painter, her portraits of Peter O’Toole and James Arness are priceless, and Ann’s Chamberlain is a pretty accurate portrayal of Richard, exactly as he was two years ago. More perceptive, he says, than she even knew . . .
“What she painted is a light blue cat, the cat is very round, had a little round top to his head, eyes that are veritable slits, a doctor’s stethoscope around the neck, and across the face – a surgical mask. She got into the face a very remote quality, a very present intellect, a self-sufficiency I recognized myself, believe me. The overall effect is one of
a remote being, someone who observes rather than participates in life, someone who is waiting for the all-important encounter and has built so many walls around himself that
no encounters are possible.”
That’s what he told me then. But today’s Dick is a different person. “It’s almost as if the all-important encounter has many facets and they keep coming closer. I’m not waiting any more, I’m living. I don’t know that I’ve totally encountered all the facets but I’m a lot closer . . . we’ve brushed occasionally . . . things are better with people. A lot more fun and a lot less over-cautiousness.”
And Joan’s had a lot to do with that. She is, as Dick says, “a real person, very real. Her children are extraordinary and their relationship as a family is extraordinary . . . close, alive, very warm. She has all the authority she needs when they need authority, but it’s always authority tempered with understanding. It’s not that they are friends, or pals or buddies, it’s that there is mutuality here, there’s no separation of interests, no separation of generations. They do all kinds of things together and they are somehow a charmed circle, and with them I feel very much a part of the charmed circle. It’s something I’m sure of, the kind of relationship that doesn’t vary.”
His knowing Joan is the richest experience he has ever had with any girl and one of the reasons is that he’s mad about her kids and they return the compliment. Another reason
is that Joan, who is an actress, as most of the girls Dick has dated have been, is a strong person without being a domineering person. She is blonde and beautiful, “finely made,”
he says she is intelligent, she khows who Richard is and cares for who he is – and he is
not a star but a human being.
They’ve taken French lessons together. They’re taking Flamenco, private lessons from Teo Morea. And this is something to behold. He really laughs telling you about it, has to laugh because “it’s as far from my nature and general appearance as anything could possibly be and it’s absolutely great. You have to have special boots with heels and the very hard plastic or bone on the heels with which you can make the greatest noises. The most fun about the dance – you’ll find you start a sort of rhythmic thing with your heels and soon
it doesn’t seem to be you at all, you’re caught up in a rhythm that takes over, goes faster and faster – it’s marvelous. Joan had never danced flamenco before either, although she’s a fine dancer and still studies ballet, etcetera.” But the fact is, this kind of music sets you on fire, and Joan and Dick dance beautifully together, love dancing; as a matter of fact,
it was when they went to see Nureyev and Fonteyn that Dick came away feeling as if he’d had a revelation. Their dancing was so vital, so fiercely alive, they gave themselves so totally to the dance that he had the exhilaration and impetus to go and do likewise, give himself – to acting, to life, without the usual reservations of a guy who is afraid he’ll (a) make a fool if himself or (b) get hurt. He came away changed, he found himself getting involved – with people, with living, something not easy for him to do, but something
he’s wanted to do all his life.
Aries are capable of overnight changes, sudden inspirations toward that which means progress, that which means growth, and Richard is Aries. He’s having a chart drawn
for himself at the moment. Like most imaginative human beings, he’s fascinated with astrology, palmistry, cards, all the hidden meanings in the lines of the hand or the
signs of the stars.
With the desire to become involved in life, he came down off his hill in Benedict Canyon, bought a beautiful home, allowed himself to buy only objects he totally loved, found himself able for the first time to become totally involved with his work . . . not on every script, but often and increasingly. He’s had some fun too on the social scene. When Princess Margaret and the Earl of Snowden were here recently, he was in on the whole gay whirl. Sharman Douglas was their hostess, she came into town with the royal couple and had wired ahead asking Richard to be her escort . . . at the Bistro party, at the WAIF Ball, and to a small dinner party. They were working like mad at the studio at the time, but at night, there was the “doctor” in evening dress in the midst of “the most amazing conglomeration of stellar personalities I’ve ever seen. I was quite awed actually. But it was all far easier than I’d expected. The princess and her husband are famous for putting people at their ease. Apparently they had seen the show in England and liked it . . .”
An understatement! The fact is, the English royal couple had especially requested to meet Richard and at the Bistro he had the honor of dancing with Princess Margaret (she asked him). “She dances divinely,” he says. “She’s quite small and very, very charming. The dances were mostly the fox trot type. No, no flamenco.”
It was a thrilling experience for Dick. He had never met some of Hollywood’s luminaries before. Elizabeth Taylor, for example. He describes her as a “super gal.”
“There are certain people in this town who have a star quality, and I don’t mean because of their billing, but because of an intensity of living. Elizabeth and Richard Burton are two who have it, Julie Andrews is another. It’s an exciting quality to meet and I came away from the round of festivities terribly stimulated. I felt among these people an awareness of what’s going on in this world, an awareness on many levels.
“As a matter of fact, it hit me that although I’m very aware of my own little circle, and it’s an interesting circle, I’ve spent five rather circumscribed years on Stage 11, plowing along on Kildare and with little awareness of the outside world. Not that I’m underrating the series, I would take Kildare again if I had to pay to do it. It has been a large experience, just knowing Raymond Massey has been a large experience. He is a learned man and
he does read the books and does know the score, which is something I want to do.
I’m not always going to be working at this same mad pace . . . I’m learning more and more that the years count; and I want to make sure that when I do have the time,
that I use it properly.”
His horoscope indicates that as he begins to reap the beneficial effects of strong cosmic forces at work for him, his spirits will soar, his sudden enthusiasms will be so contagious they’ll bring happiness to all those about him.
Well, his enthusiasms are pretty contagious right now. He, Joan, Steve and Sherry went to Disneyland one Sunday, went on every ride, and were having such a beautiful time that no one had the heart to intrude on them. Dick’s hat and dark glasses weren’t much of a disguise . . . people saw right through them . . . but his joy was so contagious that they let him enjoy himself. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. It was as if they said, go on, have fun.”
At home he’s been having some trial parties, trying the house out, seeing how it “worked.” There was a cocktail party for friends from New York that started it all off and proved a smashing success. Then a little dinner party for the New York people and some of their old friends and classmates from Pomona.
It was a good party too. Joan did the cooking and everyone compared notes, discovering how much they all had changed since the days of Pomona. And then Thanksgiving dinner . . . Joan cooked that too (“she’s incredible,” he says), with a few friends in, and the kids. And it is a thrill how the house responds to people and how people respond to the house. The house means so much to Dick, it’s given him his first chance to feel ten feet tall, and now, with Joan’s cooking and her grace and the laughter of her kids, the place has become alive. It’s the kind of atmosphere that Dick could find very pleasantly habit-forming.
Their interests are so mutual. Joan is a talented actress who has done a number of commercials, several movies and television; she had her own show at one time. Richard thinks she is very gifted, but what he particularly likes is her very sound approach to the business. Sherry is a bright girl who is very good at creative writing and has an intuitively keen mind. She wants to be a nurse, an actress, a singer, a writer, who knows what else? And she loves to come to visit his set whenever there’s a school holiday. Steve has already decided he wants to be an actor, as a matter of fact, he’s studying at MGM with
Like Richard, he’s an Aries, they were born on the same day, March 31. And young as he is, “he’s fifteen years ahead of me,” Dick says. “He’s already found out who he is. He knows now what he wants to be, he’s committed himself to acting and has started to work on it. I didn’t commit myself until I was twenty-four and didn’t get to work at it (because of the Army) until I was twenty-six.”
Richard’s saying this is in itself an indication of change. Young actors don’t usually discuss ages, and the studios they work for never want them to mention age. But Dick Chamberlain at this point says, “Of course it’s all right to say I’m thirty. I’m sick and tired of being perpetually twenty-five. As a matter of fact, I discovered the other day that I’m getting on – I don’t want to drive fast any more. Young Steve adores driving fast, just speed for speed’s sake. I’ve been teaching him a little about driving and it suddenly occurred to me that not wanting to speed, you’re getting somewhere, moving on
to something else.”
Are you in the midst of a mess you think you’ll never live through? Are you depressed, downcast, melancholy, lower than a whale’s grave? You’ve come to the right place. Ol’ Doc Kildare can tell you a story that contains Vitamins A, C, and E (Advice, Caution and Encouragement). It’s a story that, as Richard Chamberlain learned while living it, shows how an experience that may seem without value at the moment can have unexpected benefits. A story that proves . . .
SOMETIMES MISERY CAN BE YOUR BEST FRIEND.
The day Richard Chamberlain was inducted into the Army – December 7, 1956 – may very well have been a day filled with the recurring thought that nothing good could come of the ensuing sixteen months. He had his college degree in one hand, Those Greetings in the other, a career on his mind and a fractured romance on his heart. He had never been out of the State of California, and his school friends had been equally local.
Green, you say? “Compared to me at that time, grass is pink,” remembers Dick.
“The only comforting thought was that our entire complement of inductees, rounded up
a stowed in an Army truck for the trip to Ford Ord, constituted a grove as verdant
as a spring jungle.”
His first shock was the mere sight of Fort Ord. He remembered seeing it, as a youngster, just after World War II had ended. It had been bright with paint, surrounded by manicured lawns – neat, brisk, very G.I. But a peace-time Army camp is a ghost town. When the bugle blows Taps (a recording), echoes wash backward over memories of World War I, World War II and the Korean War. The dying sound wails along streets walked by men long gone, and an old wind troubles weeds once trampled by the horses of Felipe de Neve. The sensible inductee lies on his stomach – his shots forbid any other position –
and pulls the covers over his head.
“During our first formation I made what was to be Number One in a long list of mistakes,” Dick recalls. “As background I should explain that my older brother had been a Navy volunteer for ten months, then had been discharged. When the Korean War broke out he had been drafted into the Army, and had wound up in the Intelligence Section. As soon as
I was classified 1-A, he flattened my ears with advice. He explained the entire Table of Organization for each branch of service and warned me against almost every pitfall of military life. With one exception. He failed to tell me – never volunteer for anything. Never take one step forward in formation for any reason.
“On my first morning the drill sergeant yelled, ‘All college graduates – one step forward.’”
Dick fell for it.
And was assigned to latrine duty.
“Not only that, I was awarded the other twenty patsies standing one step forward. They made up my latrine squad.
“That was the illustrious beginning of my Army career. From that moment on, I was – repeatedly – given some such high-sounding title as Colonel’s Orderly, or Platoon Corporal, or Painting Detail Corporal. Without the authority to strike a match unless ordered to do so I always inherited the jobs that could not be done unless one had some authority.
“For instance, how do you get twenty guys organized as a latrine squad when all twenty report for sick call each morning?”
Dick’s second shock was provided by the food. He’s a steak and green salad man, edibles of which he saw not one sign during his eight weeks of boot camp. The Army has to provide filling fodder, which means carbohydrates until belts won’t buckle. Says Dick,
“We had macaroni, spaghetti, potatoes, beans and bread; then beans, bread, spaghetti, potatoes and macaroni; then spaghetti . . .” The needle stuck. On the scales, that is.
“I was successful in two respects: When our G.I. clothes were issued, I was given a pair of shoes that fitted perfectly. I loved those infantry boots.”
He was the only lucky man in the outfit. The rest had enough blisters to be eligible for The Purple Heel. Dick was known as “Astaire” in honor of his flawless feet.
His second success resulted from keeping his head down when inching in prone position through an obstacle course over which live ammunition was being fired – he escaped getting a bullet through the brain, which is a plus in any man’s training course.
Muses Dick, “We had been told some fascinating stories about the live ammunition bit. One man was supposed to have been elbowing along when he met a rattlesnake, tongue to tongue. He jumped up and ran, somehow dodging lead all the way to the infirmary where his ailment was diagnosed as shock and acute embarrassment. I never heard what happened to the snake.”
At about that time Dick was detailed, along with two reluctant assistants, to paint a mural on the mess hall wall. Unfortunately, the scene was not that which had been anticipated and yearned for by habitués of the mess hall. Some officer had gone out of his skull over
a picture post card showing a wharf lined with small craft. The card was a standard three and one-half inches by five and one-half inches. Dick’s job was to enlarge the scene to eighteen feet by thirty-six feet and transfer it to plaster. Luckily, Dick had painted scenery for college plays, and had done fairly well in mathematics. Even so, when he awakened
in the night, he thought he could hear Michelangelo groaning.
Or possibly the sounds of agony could have come from the Captain who was losing his mind over the expense. The mural cost a fortune because the plaster drank the oil paint and screamed for more. And, as an ultimate demonstration of the futility of trying to combine esthetics with military training, it must be recorded that the next commanding officer
to come to Ford Ord promptly ordered that the mess hall be repainted, blotting out
His outfit, having finished basic training, was shipped to Seattle by rail. It was his first train ride, a curious experience. He found himself pressing the floor with his right foot each time the train entered a station.
Dick says, “I think the trip took something like thirty hours; once I grew tired of staring at the scenery, I turned to ‘The Great Gatsby.’ Reading that minor classic by Fitzgerald was the first thing I had done in eight weeks that, I felt, bore some relation to my past and my possible future.”
In Seattle, the outfit was loaded onto a troop ship. That’s where Dick learned how Clint Walker would feel in Mickey Rooney’s scuba-diving suit. Sardines live in the great open spaces compared to men on a troop ship who are stacked five deep in practically adjoining bunks.
“Everybody had a little job to do every day . . . busy work to keep us from trying to bite a passing shark. The really rough duty was chipping paint. Some men had to do it all day for fifteen days. I knew where those men were going to live when they got out of service – in log cabins chinked with mud,” grins Dick.
“Our job was to collect the mops, after the deck had been swabbed, and put them over the side to be washed by wave action, and I don’t mean WAVE. The sight of a woman . . . well, guys with pictures in their lockers refused to open the door after the sixth day at sea. By that time we had run out of books, newspapers, comics and old love letters. It got so I found the label on a catsup bottle fascinating reading.”
There are two things to do aboard ship, once the reading matter has been exhausted:
(1) Listen to rumors and pass them on. (2) Take stock of one’s situation.
“The first week, rumor had it that we were to live in tents with sod floors; if the floor suddenly lurched, we were told by the solicitous Navy, which had been in Pusan many times, we weren’t to worry. We were to reach for the nearest can of DDT and spray until we could see solid earth again,” Dick remembers.
“The second week we were assured that the first rumor had been intended only as conditioning. Actually, we were going to be domiciled in caves. They also housed rats, bats and snakes, but at least they weren’t swept away by typhoons.
“A Command Post Officer told me, ‘The way to get edible food and a decent place to sleep is to buck for Company Clerk. It’s the cushiest job in the outfit, I’m telling you.’ That advice helped me assess my situation and gave me a goal.”
The ship sailed into Pusan harbor at dawn one morning. Dick had never seen a more beautiful sight. The scene was like something out of a book of Oriental watercolors. Junks were bowing briskly before the wind, their bright sails pink in the early light. The water beneath the ship was indigo, fading to silvery turquoise toward shore. In the distance, through a delicate mist, line after line of lightly etched mountains arose.
Somewhat nearer, between mountains and harbor, there lay a collection of what looked like giant silver firecrackers, cut in half and placed, rounded side up, in rows. “What are those?” Dick asked the world in general.
The world in general answered, “Wassa matta you? Dint cha ever see no Quanset
Dick had never expected to eye the cross-section of a galvanized iron cylinder and say to himself, “Man, how beautiful! What a place to live.”
That was the last comforting thought he entertained for over a year.
Pusan may have changed since 1957, but on close inspection when he landed, it struck Dick as being the bleakest, most barren, hottest, dustiest spot on earth.
His outfit was loaded into Army trucks and driven to camp. The dust was like talcum powder. It eddied around the trucks and swirled through them. It was a dry river that coated hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, clothes and dispositions. The men’s eyes burned, they could scarcely breathe and their teeth closed on grit. One of the men, the constructive type, announced, “I’m going to save this stuff, day by day after my shower, and send it home. After a year, I’ll have a ranch to go back to.”
The pay goes home
Dick knew what he was going to send home: his pay. He had made that decision on the ship. When he was discharged he was going to be on his own for the first time in his life. He was going to need civvies, a place to live, a car and a steak fund. After a long look at Pusan, he could spot just one good thing about it: It would be the perfect place in which
to save money.
“I’m ambitious,” Dick admits. “I’ve always been ambitious. I’ve always worked toward a goal. So I became Company Clerk. ‘The cushiest job in the Army,’ according to the Navy.
“I should have known, there is no such thing as a cushy job in the Army. Being Company Clerk was complex and difficult – and completely absorbing. There was always more to do every day than could be done, so time simply evaporated. I couldn’t believe it when I was notified that six months had passed, so I was entitled to a seven-day leave in Tokyo.
“I went, mainly because several of the men in our hut were going, and the trip promised a break in routine. However, to get the most out of a large city a man must have money, the more money, the more he can do and see.”
Dick was broke. He had sent his total paycheck home a week earlier, before he’d known about the trip to Japan. He didn’t want to borrow, so about all he could do was roam the Ginza or read a book in the Army Rest and Recreation Center. He hopes to return to Japan some day under different circumstances. He’d like to see Kabuki Theatre, No Dramas, and the Takarazuka all-girl shows. As it was, he was glad to get back to Korea.
He explains: “Some people are stimulated by change. Some people thrive on the challenge of strange scenery, unfamiliar food and foreign customs. I’m the type who merely feels uprooted. However, I had fallen into a routine in Korea. Returning to that routine represented a type of security. Also, when I was on the job in the Company office, I felt that each passing day moved me nearer the end of my hitch and closer to home.”
At about that point in Dick’s military history, a regulation came through from Washington announcing that all tours were to be shortened by three months. The jubilation must have been heard in the Pentagon. Never have so many packed so much so fast. Some men actually were homeward bound on the Pacific when a new regulation was posted:
The cut had been discontinued.
Unless you’ve been uselessly stuck in an equivalent situation, you can’t imagine what that three-month reprieve had meant. And unless your celebration has been made a sickening mockery, your dreams turned to worms and your bitterest suspicions about some distant, unhearing, heartless authority confirmed, you can’t understand the discouragement caused by the second directive.
Dick admits, “We fumed at every officer above the rank of Sergeant, every politician, every knucklehead involved in any way in the placement of troops and in the issuing of regulations governing same.
“Personally, I told myself that time is the most valuable possession of an individual, and that I was losing sixteen months of that precious time for no discernible good purpose.”
A poet named Emily Dickinson wrote, “After great pain a formal feeling comes.”
After great disappointment, a formal feeling also comes.
That withdrawal into a zone of observation instead of participation gives one time to examine any experience for value.
“Once I started looking for plus signs in Korea, I was surprised by the number of things
I could set down on the credit side,” says Dick.
“Misery is the great teacher of endurance and patience. I don’t think anyone can claim maturity until he has learned to put up with things that can’t be changed, until he has learned to bring patience to any job he undertakes.
“For the first time, I had learned the meaning of that little word ‘loneliness.’ It helped me to understand other men in our outfit who gave in to emotional problems. As for myself,
I learned to live within a sort of emotional hibernation, thinking – along with the French king of the legend – ‘This, too, shall pass away.’ I also resolved to take advantage of
what I had learned.
“I spent the first white Christmas of my life in Korea. Naturally I’d seen snow scenes on Christmas cards and I’d seen snow movies, but nothing had prepared me for the beauty
of Buddhist lanterns casting golden light upon falling snowflakes, and there’s no more magical sight on earth than a stand of evergreens glittering with frost in the moonlight.
“We had a Christmas tree in our mess hall. Some of the men had strung popcorn and cranberries, and an inventive type had cut stars out of scrap metal, so the tree was pretty well decorated. It may not have been as elegant as the tree in Rockefeller Plaza that year, but it couldn’t have meant more to us if it had been two hundred feet high.
“However, the best thing that happened to me was being thrown with men from every part of the country and every condition of society. In our hut we had a cross-section of humanity, about twenty boys with twenty different backgrounds, twenty different attitudes about the three foremost topics of concern to single men in barracks everywhere: Women, politics and baseball.
“Probably their only shared opinion was that an actor was strictly for laughs, so I kept my ambitions and opinions to myself.
“When I came home, I discovered a fairly remarkable fact: After seeing my folks and a few friends and certain familiar landmarks, I felt as if I’d never been gone, except that I was sixteen months older. Sixteen months surer of myself, sixteen months more mature, sixteen months better equipped to settle down and study medicine under Dr. Gillespie!”
‘You have to look after yourself’ Dr. Kildare’s prescription for actors has worked for Richard Chamberlain
Most of the time Dr. Kildare was at Blair hospital, it appears he was giving a lot of attention to a private patient named Richard Chamberlain, a notably handsome, reasonably rich young man who was a television star. Among Chamberlain’s symptoms was a mild surprise that the success which had seemed so desirable when he was a struggling actor had brought him neither great happiness nor complete satisfaction. Dr. Kildare diagnosed boredom, due to overlong exposure in one series, and prescribed a complete change of roles and scenery.
Two years ago the series finally expired, despite frantic transfusions of guest stars, and passed from the world of first runs into the great beyond of the residuals. Dr. Kildare doffed his white coat for the last time and, with the self-knowledge gained by his long study of himself, went out to compete in show business again as Richard Chamberlain, journeyman actor.
Friendly voices urged him to stay close to television, where he was an established name,
to learn from the fate of so many small-screen stars before him who had tried to repeat their fame on stage and in films and had vanished into the small print of supporting casts. Chamberlain thanked them for their good intentions and continued on his professionally perilous way. And this is a progress report as it emerged in a long talk in a hotel room
just off the Champs Elysees in Paris.
Outside, the streets still bore the traces of the student demonstrations that led to the political crisis in France, and Chamberlain said he believed in the younger generation and was sorry he was too old (he’s all of 33!) to take part in the exciting developments in the world of youth.
“When I was at school,” he said, “it hardly occurred to us to question authority. It didn’t occur to us that we could protest with any success. Most of my friends were happy to be interviewed by the big firms. Not that I sympathize a lot with violence unless it’s the only way you can get action. But someone better find some answers to the questions students are asking.”
He wore a pale-blue lounging outfit setting off his tanned face – he’d been filming on the French Riviera – a brilliant smile. His blond hair rolled down his neck to his cervical vertebrae – Beatles length, in fact, but he said this had nothing to do with his rapport with the youth movement. He started letting it grow after Kildare and simply hadn’t gotten around to cutting it often enough. Nevertheless, there was a hint of maturity that made him even better-looking than he was in his television days.
Chamberlain had a day off from filming in Warner-Seven Arts’ “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” in which he is one of a cast headed by Katharine Hepburn and Danny Kaye. He plays Roderick, the romantic lead, a study in youthful innocence (to quote the publicity) and he was asked how this squared with his stated belief that “the most boring part I can think of is the pre-minded leading man with no problems, no faults or weaknesses.”
“Did I say that?” he said, letting the sentence convey an unspoken “or did a press agent?” “Of course a leading man can be fascinating. The challenge is to make him fascinating. I’ve got two good chances to do so in ‘Chaillot,’ two good scenes. One of them is with Kate (Hepburn). She pretends I’m an old lover of hers. I go along with her and over her shoulder I see Nanette Newman, the incredibly lovely wife of (director) Bryan Forbes. And I play the love scene to her.
“The other scene is with Donald Pleasence” – one of the most accomplished character actors in the business.
I brought him word that British film critics had praised his small but effective role as Julie Christie’s violent husband in “Petulia,” and he was genuinely pleased. One critic applauded his breakaway from his “antiseptic image.” “I’d rather play villains,” he said. “They’re often more real than heroes, who tend to be a kind of impossible wish fulfillment. But shows like Kildare are valid if only because they give people a chance to escape from themselves and their own relationships into a fantasy world.”
He remarked that he still gets fan mail in quantities, though nothing like the record 11,000 letters a week that used to avalanche into the studios at the height of Dr. Kildare’s popularity. Looking back, as he sometimes does, at that part of his life, he finds he has no real regrets.
“I’d do it all over again if this were seven years ago and I were a young actor looking
for a break,” he said. “Dr. Kildare gave me a house, money in the bank and opened
“And I learned a lot – that acting is a harsh, competitive business, and you have to look after yourself in front of the cameras. I learned to save my acting for the close-up shots because those are the shots they use in television. It was wonderful at first – the relationship between Kildare and Dr. Gillespie interested me. But as time went on,
it became more and more an anthology show, and the guest stars became
more and more important.
“They ran out of arguments. I remember once Dr. Kildare killed a patient. We were keeping him alive with machines. None of his vital organs would work without them. Turning off the machine was not murder, but it was a terrible decision. Fascinating, that kind of stuff. But in Kildare they’d often write around problems. TV never gets to the heart of a problem. Producers have a tendency to skirt issues or merely suggest them.
“Then again, once a show has made it, they cut the budget every year. The top producers move on to other projects and turn it over to their assistants. And later their assistants turn it over to their assistants.”
As though the conversation were striking too serious a note he flashed the dazzling
“That’s why I jumped out of the nest,” he said.
Chamberlain isn’t the first actor to find the struggle more exciting than the final achievement.
“Like everyone else, I dreamed of getting a starring part,” he said. “You want attention and all that nonsense. When I’d gotten it with Kildare, I found it was not as satisfying to me as it is with some other people. There were moments I found satisfying, but not enough of them. At the end in Kildare I couldn’t find anything new to say with the character. I had worn out every facet. What will satisfy me now is being a good actor and having a feeling of being creative again.”
After leaving Kildare, he signed, with much fanfare, for the musical-comedy version of the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
“It was ghastly,” he shuddered. “A complete flop. We were nearly laughed off the stage
He toured with “West Side Story” and with “The Philadelphia Story,” and during the latter tour he was the escort of Joan Marshall, a girl he described as “very similar to Kate Hepburn.” He said they were no longer dating but an astrologer had assured him he would get married at 38 or 39 and have two children. He added that he did not, of course, believe in astrology but since he was Aries, perhaps it would be better for him to have a Sagittarius or Libra mate (and he asked me, almost automatically, my zodiacal sign).
“I’ve always been an Anglophile,” he said, “so I went to England and set up a home, and now I’ve got as many friends there as I have in Los Angeles. The BBC asked me to appear in a serial based on Henry James’ ‘The Portrait of a Lady,’ in which I played an American visitor to London, dying of tuberculosis.”
TV critics like him, and he enjoyed both the role and the anonymity of walking unrecognized in the London streets, mainly because the long hair acted as a disguise. He is impressed with the BBC’s dedication to drama. “When I was touring with ‘West Side Story,’ I’d hear waitresses and others say: ‘What’s happening to TV? What’s the reason programs are become so idiotic?’ They wanted more drama.”
Ideally, he said, he’d like to divide his time between his house and filming in Hollywood, and his flat and the theater in London.
“After this film I’m going back to England to look for more theatrical work. Several repertory companies have expressed an interest in my joining them, but the difficulty is finding American parts in the plays they do. I can’t play Englishmen, at least not yet.”
An English girl who was present disagreed. She said Chamberlain had developed the sort of “mid-Atlantic” accent that enables actors like David Niven to play either side.
“But repertory companies are where English actors start their careers,” I said.
Richard Chamberlain serves tea in large, pink flowered cups. He talks about the strange blue painting he recently bought in France, and the vast wood-framed mirror he picked up cheap in Kensington Church Street. He says do you like the wallpaper and he’s sorry the carpet won’t be down till Saturday. It’s all very relaxed and calm, listening to his gentle, underemphasized American voice in the quiet flat near Hyde Park.
It’s an illusion, He may look at ease in his velvet shirt, jeans, and white American sports shoes, but his slightly too-beautiful face rarely changes expression; he says nothing he might regret later. He is perfectly controlled and well-defended now against the onslaught that success has made on his privacy. So much so that he’s almost in danger of becoming
a bit of a bore.
What saves him – and it’s the secret ingredient of his screen personality, the super plus that gives him stardom – is his incredible charm. He is warm and interested and concerned, and yet with it all he never slips his guard.
A vulnerable man in a vulnerable profession, the blue gaze and the flash of teeth and
the cool are his survival kit. “You can learn” he has discovered, “to present a fairly
He is diffident, surprisingly eager to tell stories against himself. Like meeting Cedric Hardwicke at Ray Massey’s house during the first year of “Dr. Kildare”, and Hardwicke saying to him kindly, “You’re doing it the wrong way round, my boy. You’re a star and you don’t know how to act.” Of course, says Chamberlain disarmingly, “I was the callow youth of all time.”
It was nine years ago that the honest and god-fearing young TV doctor staunchly marched round Blair Hospital. Chamberlain played the part for five years and it virtually deprived him of a private life for that time. “It was brutally hard work but it did sort of fall into
my lap.” False modesty again: he’d made sure he was well enough prepared to grab
the break when it came.
In his third grade at high school – in Beverly Hills where his father is a manufacturer – he played, when he was eight, the lead in the “Pied Piper of Hamelin”, and followed it up some years later at Pomona College, where he was reading for a BA, by being in “Hamlet” and speaking a few lines in “Lear”. As soon as he left college he started taking singing lessons: ”Some nights I have quite a pleasant... bass-baritone.” His teacher told him he didn’t move well, so he started ballet. “That’s still my secret wish. It’s the one thing I envy when I see it.” The training comes through in his movements, for he is a perfect visual mimic:
he has only to shrug in a certain way, to wave a hand or make a gesture, to summon up
“My parents gave me money, then I worked in supermarkets in California, I worked in Ralph’s round the corner in a white coat, boxing and carting. And I did some construction work and collected unemployment insurance.”
The turning point was when he got taken on by the best agents in Hollywood who at that time owned Universal Studios: his audition with them was a scene from “Green Mansions”, pretending their antique-filled office was a rain forest. “The first thing I had was a morning’s work in “Gunsmoke” as a trouble-making young cowpoke. Then I played Raymond Massey’s son.” During the next two years Chamberlain made a film called “Paradise Kid” in which he rode off into the sunset on a large black horse. It was terrible, but got him the intern’s part that was to make him and bring him all those extra pleasures in life – like accountants and lawyers and business managers. And a little bit of real estate and a few shares in an oil company.
After “Kildare” finished he did some summer stock work: “Private Lives” and
“Philadelphia Story”. “I attempted, abortively to be Noel Coward.” He has heroes still: Coward always because he was “so wonderfully sophisticated”. And John Gielgud, and Garbo for her death scene in “Camille” and the way that, giving Robert Taylor the key to her home, she kisses without touching him. “That’s not intellectual showing off, it comes from completely understanding the part. I like to see actors get some inner quality of the character going. I’m not usually bowled over by a lot of surface fireworks unless it’s warranted by inner size.”
It was just this understated quality in his own acting that made director Ken Russell choose him for the tragic role of Tchaikovsky in “The Music Lovers”. Russell put Chamberlain in the lead after seeing him as Ralph Touchett in Henry James’ “Portrait of a Lady”. “There was a certain quiet dignity about him which I felt the character needed. He was good to work with, very gentle and sweet, he did everything we asked him” But one of the chief reasons was that Chamberlain is one of the few actors who can play the piano sufficiently well. Day after day for three months he spent all the free time he could perfecting the miming of massive chunks of music.
Russell has wrought from him a staggering portrait of the composer obsessed by his music and his homosexuality, pursued by affection he doesn’t want and haunted by the death of
his mother. It’s undoubtedly going to be one of the most talked-about films of 1971.
Russell as always lays on his effects with a lavish hand – a technique which would have swamped the actor Chamberlain was in his Kildare days. It’s a measure of his increased stature that he holds his own against both the spectacle and the force of Glenda Jackson’s performance as his wife.
“I would never have been able to do Tchaikovsky without Hamlet first,” says Chamberlain. “The stretch into being able to play very intense material on a high emotional level was a break-through I made with Hamlet.” He played this last year with Birmingham Rep:
“I thought when they asked me, this is impossible. I said no, my agents said no and my friends just laughed. But on the last day I ran to the phone and said yes.” He was chiefly worried by his method acting training: “one was judged on the degree to which one revealed oneself. The self-revelation of young folk has its limitations, and it never occurred to anyone to say, “let’s learn how to speak”. The thing was, if you feel it strongly enough, you can speak it properly. Which isn’t true. So vocally I was very ill-equipped.”
His Hamlet was perhaps too nice, nonetheless it was received with modified rapture, and thus inspired. Chamberlain and business partner George Le Maire, decided to film it for American TV with a cast including Gielgud, Redgrave and Margaret Leighton. “I was”, he says formally, “extremely desirous to do it again, because you’re so involved in learning the lines that it just has to be heavily weighted as a mechanical performance: it’s an extraordinary feat to read it properly, much less act it.”
Between whiles he had fitted in his performance as the young consumptive Ralph Touchett, which is quite the best TV performance we’ve seen from him yet: touching, thoughtful, and as always reserved. Chamberlain says that “I’ve seen actors who’d do anything to get the spotlight but I’d drown myself first,” and he obviously means it.
He’s played other roles which have been competent but not devastating, as he admits himself: Octavius in “Julius Caesar” and the pure and innocent Roderick in “Mad Woman of Chaillot.” His future he hazes over by saying that “he has a hunch “his next job will be in America, but it seems likely that if the backers keep backing it’ll be a “small, gemlike” production off-Broadway with himself as Richard II. If that works he’ll change his appearance again, which he does swiftly and drastically: the blond close-cut doctor has long since given way to a magnificent bearded composer, a ringletted Hamlet and the current image, which is absurdly youthful for his 35 years.
If he does Richard, he’ll have to leave the London flat he hasn’t yet completed, but
then he’s hardly spent any time at all in his Hollywood home, which he adores. It has
a cliff view and a minstrels’ gallery and it’s full of aluminium and wire mobiles he did himself. He paints, too: delicate, romantic country scenes with a wealth of exquisite
and unexpected detail.
Richard Chamberlain has come a long way. He made it to Dr. Kildare on the strength of his vulnerable good looks. He wasn’t much of an actor and he knew it.
But you have to give him credit. After that series died he set out to learn his craft. He went to England, gave himself incredible challenges – even playing “Hamlet” in Shakespeare’s home turf – and today he is an actor, a real, genuine actor.
He just finished playing King Edward VIII in “The Woman I Love”, an hour-long story of the romance between Edward and Mrs. Wallis Simpson (now the Duke and Duchess of Windsor). Faye Dunaway is Wallis.
The program, which will air later this spring, is the pilot of a series of TV biographies
of famous people and /or events.
But Richard Chamberlain has advanced in other ways, besides professional skill. Until he played Dr. Kildare, he’d never been out of California, and didn’t think he ever would travel. He was just a local Los Angeles boy and his goals, then, were modest.
But what a difference a decade can make. Talk to him today and there’s a whisper of a British accent –understandable, because he has lived there off and on for six years –
and he can chat knowledgeably about the world.
He’ll tell you about the fine restaurants in the Loire Valley and how the fog sits on Venice
in the winter and the look of Lancashire in the spring.
It’s nice to see his progress. As he says, he was “ice cold” after Dr. Kildare got the scalpel. For a while he couldn’t get a job – any kind of job – and he was frightened. Then he did
a couple of movies and one, “Petulia”, was pretty good and he got good notices, but nothing came of it. He says he pretty much divides his time these days between
Los Angeles, where he still has a home, and London, where he has a flat on Baywater Road. (He even says, English-style, that his flat is “in” Baywater Road.)
Chamberlain likes the continental life. London makes a convenient base. He buzzes off to Paris for the weekend, to Venice for Christmas and pops down to Morocco for a bit of sun.
That’s when he went to England. After some BBC television work he did “Hamlet” in Birmingham. “I got unanimously good reviews,” he says. “Not great – it wasn’t great –
but good. It was a tough part for me because “Hamlet” is tough for any actor but I had
to effect an English accent. That made it twice as tough.”
He has been pretty much specializing in the classics ever since. In fact, “The Woman I love” is the first non-classical part he has done since he made “The Music Lovers” for Ken Russell, in which he played Tchaikovsky. In the interim he has played Richard II in Seattle and
he’ll open soon in that Shakespearean play here at the Music Center.
When that engagement is over, he’s going back to London to do “The Lady’s Not
He doubts he’ll do much television in the foreseeable future. Certainly not a series –
his post-Kildare experience, when he couldn’t get a job, scared him off TV.
Richard Chamberlain bursts into the room in a flurry of warm smiles and firm handshakes, looking as far removed from the old “Doctor Kildare” short back-and-sides., all-American boy as imaginable. Gone are the immaculately pressed, conservative suits, replaced by
a pair of old blue Levis and a furry jacket which would have done Scott of the Antarctic proud. He declines coffee, flings himself down on the sofa beside me, and chats enthusiastically about a lecture he has been to the previous night. He is hoping to discover more about himself and his friends – but confesses that it has all been wildly academic
and beyond him. When he talks, he stares at you, smiling occasionally – sunny beams revealing perfect teeth; when you speak, he listens intently, again watching with those clear blue eyes which demand total candour.
He’s now so much part of the British scene that it is almost impossible to recall the bad old days- but people do, constantly, forcing Richard to assess them endlessly in relation to his new self. He does so thoughtfully, diligently, but he would rather talk about other things. “I’ve got over the stage of being antagonistic about Kildare,” he says. ”I remember it now as a golden time, like college days, and with great nostalgia. I was never fed up with it,
as the British press liked to make out I was.”
It took longer to escape Kildare’s clutches than one would have expected. In fact, had Richard not started living here where, he says, audiences are much more sophisticated about actors’ identities, he might still be shackled. Absence made American hearts grow fonder, and memories dim. His recent triumph in Seattle with “Richard II” has completed transformation and even Time Magazine climbed off its pedestal and wrote: “For the first time in years, a man capable of becoming a great and serious classical actor has appeared on the US stage.” He will be assaulting the American section again soon in Anouilh’s “Becket” in Los Angeles. Jonathan Miller will be directing.
He arrived in England hoping to make career headway and found that, first of all, he had
to remould himself. “I found to my slight amazement that people were not impressed by
my boyish charm, they wanted something more. Agreeing with everything they said suddenly wasn’t enough. I rather liked that and responded to it.”
If Ken Russell’s “The Music Lovers” has been his biggest box office success to date, his greatest personal triumph was his “Hamlet” in Birmingham. Although assailed by doubts, he agreed to play the moody Dane and it was a resounding success, his performance winning wide praise and recognition. He was the first American to play the role in England since John Barrymore in 1925. Recently the play was pruned to two hours and recorded
for TV with Richard as Hamlet although regrettably not using his Birmingham Ophelia
(the marvelous Gemma Jones). He rates Gemma as the best Ophelia of all time.
His performance in the BBC serial of Henry James’s “Portrait of a Lady” and in the film
“The Madwoman of Chaillot”, led to his selection for Ken Russell’s highly successful film about Tchaikovsky, “The Music Lovers”. Richard may have been exhausted when the film ended but he says he still thinks it is a good film and he would like to work with Russell again. “I have read biographies of Tchaikovsky, and he was like that. His life seems to have been endless agony and misery. Ken is a very demanding director but he is good
to his actors and has a very loyal crew.”
If that’s not enough to banish Kildare from the memory the film Richard is currently making should finally woo the dissidents. He is playing Lord Byron in Robert Bolt’s “Lamb”, starring Sarah Miles and Jon Finch.
“It’s a different concept to the traditional idea of Byron and it’s very exciting. Robert Bolt
is marvelous, a really articulate director – well, of course! I think he has given me more help than anyone else I have worked with.”
Richard admits to having a nomadic soul; he’s never content for too long in one place
(for this reason he is keeping homes in London and Los Angeles). Also his enjoyment for anything specific comes in waves. “I never know how I’ll react to something until
it happens. It’s like love – I don’t know how much I love someone until they’re
not there any more.”
The Renaissance of Richard Chamberlain From Dr. Kildare to Cyrano de Bergerac
By the time this appears in print, Richard Chamberlain will be vacationing in Mexico.
Or he may perhaps have moved on to Peru, the other stop on his scheduled respite between acting projects. Or, if his calendar has become too pressing, he may have returned home to Los Angeles to begin work on a painting he has promised to a publisher for inclusion in an art volume dedicated to graphic works by celebrities.
It takes an international timetable, an up-to-the-minute atlas and a listing of worldwide theatrical events to keep Chamberlain properly positioned.
Since early 1968, when he left New York following the aborted Broadway musical, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Chamberlain has starred on the British stage, played a leading role in a six-part dramatic series on the BBC and in a TV production of Hamlet, appearing in the film versions of The Madwoman of Chaillot in Nice and Julius Caesar in Spain, and in two major English films portrayed the composer Tchaikovsky and Lord Byron.
That’s quite a list of accomplishments for the man whose acting career seemed destined
for the deadly maw of television reruns only a few years ago. As young Dr. Kildare, Chamberlain was accorded the designation of “actor” and “star” before he fully comprehended the true definition of the terms. His personal decision when the Kildare series finally ended in 1966 was to turn to the stage in a belated effort to master his craft. The international acclaim he has since won for his film roles, stage appearances and television work proves unquestionably how remarkably successful he has been.
Visiting New York recently to talk about his role of Lord Byron in Robert Bolt’s new film, Lady Caroline Lamb, Chamberlain was kept busy running the usual gamut of midday television talk shows, radio gab fests, gossipy luncheons and dozens of newspaper and magazine interviews. In his plush Wedgwood blue-and-white suite on the 18th floor of the Sherry-Netherland, with is feet resting comfortably on marble and his arm thrown back behind his head, the youthful looking 36-year-old Chamberlain talked easily, unhesitatingly and with an engaging frankness and total absence of professional artifice. He’s obviously at work doing what pleases him and is in a position to follow his own inclinations career-wise, with no compulsion to prove anything to anyone.
“I am anxious to get back into something that means something in terms of modern times,” he said. “I want to play an American guy. I’m very curious to see what it feels like to do that again, because I haven’t done it for so long. But I hope to continue in the classical stuff. There’s no reason why you can’t do as much as your instrument and brain are capable of doing. It’s very difficult, though, to keep from being stuck in some kind of bag. George C. Scott has managed to avoid it as well or better than anybody. It really makes me laugh when people wonder if I can play modern American people anymore. ‘Can you do American parts anymore, Dick?’ That’s really dumb.”
That reputation for doing the classics, garnered on the home ground of English theater,
was a deliberate operational plan Chamberlain hit upon soon after his disappointment
“I had been in England once and I had liked it,” the actor explained. “I felt at home and
I got on very well with the people and I’ve always been attracted to skill and technique – not because I think you can ride entirely on that, because the English actors who do are boring beyond words. But you need technique to play the classics. So, I was attracted
by that aspect of British training and by the simple fact that they have this level between amateur and professional theater – this rep acting which is marvelous. It’s not your high-powered financial involvement. And I knew the BBC did a lot of dramatic stuff. So,
I was thinking I’d go over and explore.
“Then I got an offer to appear on the Eamon Andrews television show; he’s something like Johnny Carson. I thought, ‘Ah ha! It’s an omen! They’ll pay my way over! I’ll pack my bags and go!’ So, I went. Shortly after I got there my agent mentioned that BBC was doing a television version of Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady and asked if I would be interested in playing Ralph Touchet. I love James and love the novel.
“So, I did that and that started everything else. I did Madwoman of Chaillot in Nice. Bryan Forbes directed it, and it has Katharine Hepburn, of course, and Charles Boyer, Danny Kaye, Dame Edith Evans, Giulietta Masina . . . but it didn’t work. I seem to be in a lot of things that don’t work – and some that do work, but people don’t know they work.”
From Nice, Chamberlain returned home to Los Angeles. A few days later a call came from London from someone else who had seen his Touchet on the BBC; it was Peter Dewes, director of the Birmingham Repertory Company, who wanted to know if he would be interested in playing Hamlet.
“I studied the play like a crazy person with everybody I could find in L.A. – speech teachers, drama teachers, friends,” Chamberlain said. “I lived that play for two months and got more and more in love with it and less and less sure that I could do it. Because
I simply wasn’t equipped technically to handle it. Or emotionally, as far as that goes.
But I suspected secretly that maybe I’d come through in the end. I said yes, provided Peter would work with me for at least eight weeks before we went into rehearsal.
“He agreed, so I came to New York and we holed up at the Maurice Hotel – he was doing Hadrian VII at the time. Then I went back to England with him and his wife, and we worked daily in the neighbor’s garage. We’d go over every morning and lock ourselves in and rant and rave and he’d scream at me and I’d carry on. Finally we began to get some results. Then we went into rehearsal.”
After a Hamlet that brought the London critics down to Birmingham to write glowing notices about the first American in 40 years to play the role on English soil (a direct and flattering comparison with the great John Barrymore), Chamberlain left for Spain to play Octavius Caesar in a curiously conceived and forgettable film production of Julius Caesar with John Gielgud, Richard Johnson and Jason Robards, Jr. He then returned to England to begin work on Ken Russell’s biographical film The Music Lovers in which he played Tchaikovsky.
“Ken had seen Portrait of a Lady and thought I’d look good in the period, or something,” Chamberlain said. “And apparently he liked me. I didn’t really look much like Tchaikovsky, but I enjoyed playing him. It’s a highly emotional part: there was something very gratifying about it.”
Like other Russell films, The Music Lovers had its share of controversy, most of it centering around the volatile scenes between Glenda Jackson and Chamberlain. Basically the story of an ill-matched, sexually-repressed couple, the film contained a honeymoon scene which depicted Ms. Jackson lying nude on the floor of a railway carriage, writhing in a frenzy of desperation following Chamberlain’s rejection. It was a scene that attracted a lot
“I think the idea behind the scene was terrific. It might have gone on two minutes too long. But it worked. I don’t know why there’s all this feeling that a glimpse of the human body is going to corrupt everybody. It’s just so looney . . . really looney. It just proves that we have extremely neurotic ideas about ourselves as human beings. I think sex as a big secret is highly overrated.”
During the 1971 season, Chamberlain speared as guest artist with the Seattle Repertory Theatre in Richard II, an event that prompted Time magazine to refer to the actor as
“a new Barrymore.”
A year later he repeated the role in a different production, directed by Jonathan Miller,
first at the Los Angeles Music Center’s Ahmanson Theater and then at the Eisenhower Theater of the Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. It was
a personal triumph for Chamberlain, with critics hailing him as “a classical actor
of penetration and range.”
“The guy is passionate about doing good things in the theater,” says veteran actor Jack Ryland, who played Bolingbroke in the Miller production. “He doesn’t deport himself like
a star. There’s a total lack of ‘star’ behavior. He has gentility – a likeable quality that comes across strong the minute you meet him.”
Between the two Richards, Chamberlain found time to star in a Universal television drama special concerning the love affair between Edward VIII of England and Wallis Simpson.
“With Edward I was getting closer to the contemporary scene. They wanted to do this series called Biography. We had a little longer production period than most television shows. Close to two weeks. Usually there’s no rehearsal time at all so the first scenes are very tough. A lot of people have enough tricks or bejazz to tread water for awhile.
But I can’t. And it sure is uncomfortable to try to play scenes without knowing fully
how you are coming across.
“You know what I’m really proud of? I’m proud of that final speech because I didn’t try to imitate him – I’d only heard a flash of it on a newsreel – but it really did get a similar flavor somehow. The moment I missed, I think, was when he said something about ‘But I have found it impossible to carry out my duties as King as I . . . I . . . I’ He read it very straight, very unemotionally except for that one word. It was like a scream in the midst of monotone: ‘I . . . I . . . I . . .’ It was incredible! It was in that one slip, that one chink, that he showed himself.”
Chamberlain was less free with his comments about his performance as Lord Byron in Lady Caroline Lamb, a film that has had more than its share of negative comments from the New York Critics. So we chose a safe subject – his makeup in the film, which some critics described as “mascara-laden.”
“Maybe it was bit too visible,” Chamberlain admitted. “It depended a lot on the lighting. You’ve got to light carefully with makeup like that.”
The mention of critics brought up the age-old question of how an actor copes with negative criticism. Once again Chamberlain was completely candid.
“I don’t read them. Everybody’s entitled to a point of view and I like to know people’s points of view and opinions and likes and dislikes. But there’s something about a review
in print that gives opinions too much weight. I don’t dislike critics or anything. I just
think it’s unfortunate that they’re so important, that people don’t do more exploring
on their own.”
Chamberlain’s next project is a production of Rostand’s romantic classic, Cyrano de Bergerac, to be directed by Joseph Hardy and presented at the Ahmanson Theater in
Los Angeles in October.
Is Chamberlain hoping for another breakthrough with Cyrano, something similar to his Birmingham Hamlet? Another increase in his stature as an actor?
“I’m always hoping for a breakthrough in terms of what I can encompass as an actor,” he replied. “But I don’t worry about stature; I worry about ability. There’s a slight difference. Stature is something in other people’s minds.”
Cyrano de Bergerac is a calculated choice, a deliberate switch for the actor whose face (at least at first) was his fortune and a determining factor when roles were being cast. To play the part of a man whose face is malformed but whose spirit is richly whole, is extremely attractive to Chamberlain, particularly at this stage of his career.
“I’m very interested in exploring that psychology,” he said. “Pretty people have it so easy. And I’ve often noticed that people who aren’t pretty are infinitely more interesting than people who are.”
“Five Years of Analysis Helped Me Find Myself - and I Like What I Found”
Confident, smiling, and seemingly uncomplex, Richard Chamberlain presents the image
of the clean-cut, fair-haired all-American film star. Perhaps this is partially because
one still recalls him – dressed in white, stethoscope about his neck – as Dr. Kildare
on the television series.
Yet talking with him, that image is as far removed from his real inner self as his recent
film roles – Aramis in The Three Musketeers (and its sequel), Roger Simmons in The Towering Inferno, the Duke of Windsor in The Woman I Love, Tchaikovsky
in The Music Lovers – are from Dr. Kildare.
All of us are struggling for a better conception of ourselves. Richard Chamberlain
is no exception.
“I had a number of inhibitions and fears,” Richard told me, in Rome between scenes of The Count of Monte Cristo in which he plays the title role. “This was because I was hugely ignorant concerning what makes people tick. I didn’t know how to react to people and
I became terribly withdrawn.
“When I was angry, for example, I wouldn’t admit to myself I had that emotion. Consequently the anger showed itself in another way. I began working with a psychologist. What I expected would be a few months of sessions, lasted for five years. Once a week we’d sit down for a few hours, and the psychologist would point out certain facts as I talked.” Richard adds: “I thought it would be fun finding out about myself, but it turned out to be more work than play.”
At the same time, he enrolled in Jeff Corey’s acting classes.
“With the psychologist, I could discuss my personality, but I also knew I needed to go further. Jeff’s classes gave me emotional improvisation. I was stiff; very formal and polite. I needed to discover my own guts.”
Richard and I are seated in a very large, half-empty room of a fifteenth century palazzo. Most of the furniture has been stacked away to permit the filming to be carried out with greater mobility. A few paintings by minor Renaissance artists have been left on the walls. Los Angeles, where Richard grew up and still lives, seems far, and yet so close.
“At those analytic sessions, I had to do a great deal of the work myself. My problems were concerned not only with relationships, but freedom. Personal liberty. I didn’t have a sense of my own rights. Nor much respect for my talent. For instance, I wasn’t able to stand up and fight for something in a script in which I believed. When you know yourself and
your value, almost no effort is involved in making a move since it is not in conflict
with your character.
“A psychologist can indicate things that make the process of self-discovery easier, but it is merely a jumping-off point. He is like the playback mechanism on a recorder, in a sense. ‘Of course I had a marvelous childhood,’ one says, but in describing it you realize where the weak spots were.
“I spent my entire childhood being bored. Yes, the first sixteen years of my life, I was bored to death. I hated everything at school except acting and painting. I disliked to read too, although I enjoy it now.
“I was in a state of rebellion. I refused to learn anything, from tying my shoes to spelling my name. Basically, it was because I hated authority. With a few exceptions, I couldn’t stand people telling me what to do.”
Yet today, I remind Richard, he is told what to do as an actor, even if those telling him
are such distinguished directors as Ken Russell, Richard Lester and John Guillermain.
How is it different?
“There’s a distinction between direction and command – and there’s always your final interpretation to reckon with. Also, as a child I did not like or respect my teachers. They didn’t care about interesting you in a subject. You were just required to learn it, indifferently. However, I got on fine with those teachers who were the exception.
“I managed to get as good grades as I could without studying because I wanted to go to college. I didn’t know why. Maybe I thought the experience would be interesting. As it turned out, I liked the social side of college.”
Richard went to Pomona College where he majored in art history and painting.
“But I spent most of my time in the drama department. It’s been the dichotomy of my life. Half of me leans towards acting, the other half to painting.
“When I entered the army, I withdrew into a semi-cognito state. I couldn’t bear marching within ranks, or any of the regimentation. And what really drove me crazy was having to fold up my socks in a certain way. For two years, I was forced to relinquish any sort of emotional response. I was a robot. Nevertheless, I did well. I came out a sergeant.
“To me there’s a difference between someone disciplining you and you disciplining yourself. Self-discipline makes sense. We all practice it. For example, I exercise every day and work on my voice. And I come to the film set knowing my lines.”
Looking back, Richard was not an openly rebellious child. Herein may have been the root of his later inhibitions.
“I grew up in a standard American middle-class way. Nothing out of the ordinary.
My parents never spanked me or my older brother unduly. My father manufactured supermarket fixtures. My brother eventually went into my father’s business, although
we weren’t necessarily expected to continue in his line of work. So I was never really constrained by my family, in any way.”
Richard’s family was prosperous. His grandfather was in real estate, and once owned a lot of property in the smart Hollywood Hills. However, he was forced to sell it off during the depression. Nonetheless, in several years, the family was again comfortably well-off.
Not long after Richard got out of the army, he began the first of five years as the immensely popular Dr. Kildare.
“It was always exciting, but the last two years I wanted to expand and do other things.
I was under contract for seven years. The studio was desperately trying to have the show renewed for a sixth year, and I was praying for it to be cancelled.”
When Dr. Kildare finished, Richard, surprisingly enough, missed the show. He explains:
“The first sensation was of a terrific release. Then I came down with the insecurity cramps. For five years, I had been immensely secure, the center of a small but stimulating world, which was now gone.
“For all those five years, I was never bored. Boredom is a very peculiar trait. For whatever reason, it goes hand in hand with a lack of vitality. It’s one of man’s deepest fears, mine and everyone’s. For example, at a party, people make an incredible effort to be amusing and entertain each other so they won’t be boring. I don’t like parties, so this doesn’t concern me. I find new challenges exciting!”
London to Richard was a new challenge. He first became excited about British acting and drama working with Julie Christie and director Richard Lester on the film Petulia. It was Richard’s first movie after the Kildare series ended.
“We talked endlessly about the English theater. But more importantly, I liked their style. London appealed to me as a place where I might obtain the stage experience I was lacking. I had been disappointed at the failure of the musical version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s to make it to Broadway, myself with it. I felt I needed more stage training.”
But Richard’s first appearance in England was again before the television cameras, in an adaptation of Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady with Suzanne Neve. Afterwards followed the movie adaptation of The Madwoman of Chaillot with Katherine Hepburn for British director Brian Forbes. Several years were to pass until he really proved himself to serious theater people. The play that did it was the Birmingham Theater Company staging of Hamlet, directed by Peter Dewes.
“Apart from the terrific acting experience, the part of Hamlet gave me great insight into myself. Weeks before the rehearsal, I worked on the soliloquies in a neighbor’s garage.
I tried to correlate certain aspects of Hamlet’s character with my own, and blend the two.
“Acting is a laboratory in which you examine people’s identities, and their relationship to human problems and values. In doing so, you discover certain truths about yourself. Because of these self-realizations, I believe I was able to achieve a high intensity emotional performance. I really let myself go – and it showed.”
The assistant director comes to fetch Richard. We move into the adjoining room, where several tables with mirrors and light fixtures have been set up. A make-up man is waiting. Richard sits down in front of a table, and examines his face. The make-up man starts his work, as we continue talking.
“I felt at ease in England. American warmth is not as deep or enduring, although I don’t wish to put America down. My home base is still the States. I have a house in Coldwater Canyon tucked away from everything, and with a lovely view. I adore living there.
Richard explains: “I’ve found that in England, people want more personal contact with you. In America, you can get by longer on formal good cheer. For instance, I recently took a trip down the Grand Canyon. My fellow tourists were mostly middle-aged,
western Americans. I found them bright, funny, sweet. Yet we never really got
to know one another.
“This aloofness wasn’t due to the fact they knew I was Richard Chamberlain. They didn’t discover this until halfway through the trip. Then they became less friendly, perhaps because they felt they were now dealing with a formidable person.
“This can work both ways. When I was doing Hamlet, I was so awed working with Gielgud and Richardson, I couldn’t bring myself to talk with them during the pauses."
Despite the outgoing, gregarious appearance, due in part to his boyish looks (in fact
he’s thirty-seven), in part to the roles he played years ago, Richard is essentially an
inward sort of person. The last few years, however, he has become less withdrawn.
“When I was doing Dr. Kildare, I had very little time to myself. Ninety percent of my waking hours were programmed by the studio. People tended to be shut out just by the pattern of my life. Now I’m letting them in, and I’m coming into theirs.”
Does this explain why he hasn’t thought of marriage? Although the handsome actor has dated numerous lovely ladies, he has managed to elude the most viable of social institutions, matrimony.
“In a sense, I’m so deeply involved in my career, which often necessitates racing around the world and living away from home months on end, that I don’t think it would be fair sacrificing a wife and children to it. For a marriage to be successful, it has to effect a certain pattern in the same place.” He smiles and shakes his head. “I’ve been close
two or three times.”
Then he reflects on the type of girl who appeals to him. “I don’t care for the stewardess type. Form without content I find dull. But all content and no form is just as bad. I like a girl with warmth and a nice feeling for humour. The latter is very important, otherwise life becomes serious and consequently boring. And I like a fairly physical girl, one who enjoys camping and water skiing and riding – sports I like.”
Recently Richard has been very close to Joanna Ray, ex-wife of actor Aldo Ray. He says they’re good friends. He’s also said to be involved with young Taryn Power, Tyrone Power’s daughter and Richard’s co-star in The Count of Monte Cristo. Is the real reason that Richard is shying away from marriage because he is afraid of losing his newly found freedom – a freedom he has discovered within himself, in addition to the freedom he now enjoys in his work?
He tells me: “The prospect of a written contract to bind a relationship, I find disquieting. Where true love is, there is also emotional and physical freedom on every level.”
Richard is still searching, however, for a more complete understanding of himself. Within this search he has chosen to ignore religion as a device. He explains why:
“As a child, I went to the Protestant Sunday School at the corner of the block where
we lived. But I loathed every second, because young as I was, I knew they weren’t
telling the truth.
“Many years later, visiting such magnificent European cathedrals as Notre Dame and Chartres, one has the longing to believe because they are so impressive. I guess one can still appreciate the beauty religion inspires, even if one doesn’t believe in the myth.”
He has developed an interest in Far Eastern religion, and in particular, the teachings
“I find Krishnamurti interesting. As a philosopher, he is maddening because he offers no answers. He’s almost like my psychologist. He lets you work out your own answers.
He feels that problems are best solved by confrontation. Rather than denying them or covering them up, you should embrace them. Obviously something has already occurred to make you aware of them, and by embracing them, you are bringing them a step
closer to their resolution.
“After I finished playing Cyrano de Bergerac on stage in Los Angeles, I got into a deep depression that lasted for several months. The show received extraordinarily good reviews, and I’d never enjoyed doing a part so much. Each evening I developed a strange sort of love relationship with the audience. It was as if I could almost reach out and touch them. Then it was gone. Suddenly, it was a terrible letdown.”
Richard could have fought the depression, but he chose the alternative means, based on the Krishnamurti teachings.
“I might have taken tranquilizers and pulled myself out of it. But I realized it would pass sooner or later. After all, I told myself, life is made of these ups and downs. There’s no need to be happy if you don’t feel it. Just because you see another person smiling, that’s no reason why you should. Rather I decided to ride it out, and analyze my feelings in regard to the play. Again, this self-examination led to new discoveries about myself which enabled me to better deal with my life.
“For a long time, I was only offered roles of young clean-cut leading men, although I yearned to portray more complex parts. After Dr. Kildare, I wanted a character with a problem instead of being the sounding box for people with problems, as he was. Nowadays, I’m as often the villain as the hero.
“In The Towering Inferno, I’m responsible for the fire that traps everyone on the top story of the tallest building in the world. Aramis, in The Three Musketeers and now The Four Musketeers is not only a cop-out, but also a hypochondriac. As for Edmund Dantes, he’s in great danger of losing his soul in the process of retribution. It’s not dwelled upon in the script. Rather he’s portrayed as an ultra-powerful figure who conquers his enemies.”
We go by a mirror, and Richard catches a glimpse of himself in it. His own handsome face is almost unrecognizable beneath the aging make-up.
He smiles. “Good looks are definitely out of fashion in movies. Gone is the 1940’s type of leading man. However, period films still seem to survive all the trends, so occasionally my even features are a help.”
By an odd coincidence, we’ve made a full turn and arrived back at the make-up room. We go in and sit down. The hairdresser comes over to adjust Richard’s wig, even though it is almost perfectly set on his head.
“The crew is so attentive in Italy, you feel you’re almost being pampered like a child. One has a sense of being loved because you are who you are, rather than having earned it.
It seems a false set of values.”
But wasn’t Richard accustomed to this by now? No, he admits, he never takes anything for granted. Nor does he try to push things.
“I like to take life as it comes. I hate to force my will on events. Anyway the really interesting opportunities are those which materialize by themselves, although you must
be well-prepared. It’s like being a painter. Only by outgrowing one style can you move
on to another.
“It would be wonderful to take a year off, perhaps do some plays or go live in San Francisco. I love that city. When I was last there, I never saw so many happy and open faces among young people anywhere. Especially on the hippies. Hippiedom is a great fantasy – love and peace and just enough work to get by. There’s something unreal about their life. But they’re so vulnerable, in their innocence, to bad people.”
Richard is also an idealist, one who cannot always reconcile the forces of good and evil in the world and who is still trying to cope with them.
“I open myself up as much as possible to achieve the widest awareness. But you’re in constant pain when you’re terribly aware, and it can be off-putting. Yet a lack of awareness limits your freedom, the very concept for which I’ve fought for so many years.
“Alas, there are a lot of unscrupulous people in the world trying to limit other people’s freedom for their own benefit. Politicians maintain that restrictions are necessary
for the welfare of their nations. Oil companies manipulate a shortage. There are
There is an intensity and purpose in his clear blue eyes that give him an air of determination. No doubt about it. Richard has come a long way both psychologically and emotionally since he acted as Dr. Kildare.
He reflects: “If we ran an old Kildare, I would be very astonished to see that curious, caged, trapped being called Richard Chamberlain up there on screen. A girlfriend once
said to me it was like watching a gazelle caught in a net.”
Richard is still far from being an extrovert. He admits that he has conquered many of his hang-ups through his acting as much as through anything else. He says that he still has a long way to go, but with a glance backwards, he never would have lived it differently.
“Acting is fascinating because it’s a human laboratory in which you examine yourself and other people.”
Richard Chamberlain at 41 After Years of Unhappiness, The Good Doctor Has Healed Himself
Richard Chamberlain was always beautiful and a bit of a bore. In the early 1960s, he was contracted to MGM, who bleached him blond and made him the star of the Dr. Kildare TV series. For five years, Chamberlain was admired and adored. He loved it, took it all in and gave precious little back – because he had precious little to give.
Today, at 41, Richard Chamberlain is still beautiful but not the least bit boring. He is also a self-made star as opposed to the studio-type variety of blond hair, blue-eyes and blandness. Upon the “death” of Kildare, Chamberlain, aware that he was viewed mainly as “the good doctor,” took off for England and other parts unknown to learn about acting – and himself. He knew little about either initially. “There was just this dogged persistence . . . this belief that I could be an actor,” says Chamberlain. “I knew I had to totally reverse my image but I had no idea that it would take so much time and energy.”
He found England hospitable but not exactly keen on worshipping at his famous feet. “Where here, in the states, I could get by on good-looks, youth and manners, in England, within ten minutes, people would fall asleep on me. They simply were not impressed. My manners were as impeccable as my appearance but the British, contrary to what we think, are simply not impressed unless there is considerably more to offer. They talk to one another there. And although they admire beautiful people, it is a brief rather than lasting admiration. In other words, there’s got to be a book beneath the cover.”
There was not much to read beneath the Chamberlain cover. Not then. Not that he was uneducated or dull but because he was “terribly unsure of myself and thus very guarded.” Throughout Kildare, he had sought help, but the psychologist with whom he worked for four years had only minimal success in helping Chamberlain to free himself. “I was a taker,” he explains, “which is true of most Aries. Our attitude is . . . love-me-or-leave-me. So a lot loved, and just as many left.”
In England, he threw himself into learning his craft, believing that development might lead toward greater self-esteem. He took enormous chances for an actor. Despite no training in the classics, and despite the derisive laughter of most, he decided to portray Hamlet. He threw himself into three months of private rehearsals prior to the formal rehearsal time of the British company itself. “I heard the snickers . . . but not too clearly,” says Chamberlain. “I couldn’t allow myself to hear them. I had too many doubts of my own. But I’m a hard worker. I’ve always been that. Combined with a strong sense of discipline, it allowed me to brave it.” But not bluff it. When the London critics viewed his Hamlet, they raved. For Chamberlain, it was the shot heard round the world. He returned “home” to Hollywood a hero; repeated his triumph for television; and then went on to star in assorted films, TV dramas and stage plays, the most recent being that of the defrocked-and-demented minister in Night of the Iguana, a smash both in L.A. and New York.
To Chamberlain’s credit, and joy, he didn’t stop at just developing his craft but entered gestalt therapy. In addition to private hours with his therapist, he participated, although reluctantly at first, in a group experience. “I was initially terrified,” he explains. “When you have been as private as I have been, it is difficult to then be thrust into an airless (or so it first seemed to him) room, with no place to hide and with people being honest and demanding honesty of you. I had never learned how to relate to people. In England, I saw actors, actresses, people, talking to one another. It mystified me. We didn’t do that in Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Or did we? Was I too self-involved to see it? I was always lonely, always wanting to communicate but . . . I was stopped. By me and no one else!”
The change in Dick Chamberlain is near dramatic. It is the difference between plastic and rubber. He bounces. If you hit the ball to him, verbally and/or emotionally, he hits it back, adding his own spin to it. He laughs more. He says he also cries more. “The group experience taught me it is okay to feel. Funny how at a very early age we are taught so subtly to mask our feelings, hide them, and use good manners as a replacement. So we shut off our feelings and eventually we shut down. The group experience taught me the obvious – most people have the same fears, hurts, angers, hopes, joys and dreams.”
TV’s one-time “Dr. Kildare” prescribed a radical change of image for himself, a neat bit of career surgery that changed him from a pretty boy star to a fine, mature actor. He’s now riding a crest of newfound fame and fortune.
There is an aura of composure about Richard Chamberlain. Darkly handsome, sitting in the expensive Oak Room of New York’s venerable Plaza Hotel, his hair carefully groomed, his voice deep and even, he seems to measure out everything he says in spoonfuls of words. At the front of the paneled dining room, the violinist never seems to hit a single note head on or accurately. Waiters wearing cummerbunds glide among the tables and talk to each other excitably in Italian. Chamberlain, wearing a tweed vest and matching jacket, seems an imperturbable idol, even when a waiter unexpectedly summons him to a telephone. He returns, apologizes smoothly, and sits occasionally sipping a bit of Perrier water or nibbling a peanut. Nothing seems to reach into his private inner core of reserve.
Ironically, Chamberlain has risked more and taken more chances on his personal voyage of discovery than most other actors with a reputation for dash and splash. “After I got into acting, I needed to make a name, to pin a plaque on myself – an accomplishment I could point to and say, ‘That’s me!’”
He achieved that “rather quickly” with Dr. Kildare, whom he played in the weekly TV series from 1961 to 1966. “But I still felt empty,” he added, “felt uncomfortable with myself, so I got into therapy.” That experience has led him to seek out a considerable variety of roles. “That’s the fun of the game to me. I could have gone on forever being light and charming.”
Oddly enough, it was playing Kildare which opened up for Chamberlain the chance to play Hamlet in England. “I could never have worked in England without Kildare. British Equity wouldn’t have allowed it unless I were well known. The role was offered to five big box office English actors. None of them wanted to do it, so it was offered to me.”
Working on Hamlet proved a phenomenal growing experience for Chamberlain.
“Peter Dews at Birmingham Rep gave me an incredible crash course in Shakespearean acting.” They worked together out in a barn, shouting, fencing, analyzing. “I’ve probably solved more problems with Hamlet than any other role I’ve ever played. I had no idea how to keep one of those soliloquies in the air, fencing, pulling that energy out of myself.
I learned more about the mechanics of acting then than in anything I’ve ever done.”
Acting was not always that rewarding. Though his first director, “a wonderful, frail old woman” at Pomona College in Claremont, California, instilled in the Beverly Hills bred boy a feeling for the importance of theater, the classics and integrity, he was “too frightened” later when he worked with Jeff Corey in Hollywood “to do the kind of personal investigation he encouraged.” He reflects for a moment, and adds, “Funny, I had the same experience with a young actor in Williamstown where I recently directed The Shadow Box. I can remember the same experience.”
He is candid about his former unwillingness to dig inside himself and the effects of that reluctance on his work. “I’ve been lousy lots of times. I’ve gotten away with it. They clapped and told me I was wonderful.”
Not everybody told him he was wonderful. He recalls, somewhat ruefully, a critic on the Los Angeles Times saying that several of the scenes in his performance as Cyrano de Bergerac weren’t deeply felt enough. “I agreed with him,” he said. “I know I haven’t been decisive enough about my various characters’ wants and needs,” he added. “So you take the medicine and you don’t like it, and you grow.” He paused for a moment. “Hopefully
I’ll grow up and that won’t be the case as my security grows.”
Working on a new role is always an anxious time for Chamberlain. “I read the script hundreds of times looking for clues – hints about what’s going on inside: what the character wants, what he’s trying to make people do, what he needs. If, God forbid, it’s
a historical character, I read as much information about him as possible.”
He acknowledges that he “slid through” his role as the Duke of Windsor, a 1972
TV movie in which he starred as the abdicating King Edward.
“I have trouble with written words,” he confesses. “They take on life very slowly for me.”
His own shortcomings as an actor were emphasized for him in his recent directing experience in Williamstown. “Watching actors work and trying to help them draw a character – it’s almost like having children, urging actors to stay with the reality of
what they want, what activities. It was directing this play that showed me I haven’t
done enough of that.”
Chamberlain’s personal discoveries have been “piecemeal,” and the process has been full of frustration. “Every year I feel, ‘Oh if only I knew this then.’ I feel I’m only just catching on.” He sums up his philosophy: “You don’t have to be great. All you have to do is discover, make progress, learn. People have to learn to respect their own growth, their own progress.”
Right now, Richard is excited about directing. “There seem to be directions that have this great momentum in my life and I don’t question them too closely. Like the whole directing thing has just opened up and I know that’s going to be important for me. I have a feeling I’m going to end up teaching. I’m getting so excited about the process of acting.”
Chamberlain has just finished work on Neil Simon’s film The Good Doctor, with Simon’s wife, Marsha Mason. A new film, The Last Wave, which Richard shot in Australia with director Peter Weir, is scheduled to open in New York as soon as the newspaper strike ends. The maturing actor is teeming with plans, projects and ideas. “There’s a possibility of directing a national company of The Shadow Box, and I’m going to talk to them at Stratford, Ontario. I want to do a couple of hard seasons there. To do two big roles a summer is my idea of hard work.”
With residences in both Hollywood and London, Richard frankly admits that he “always felt he needed to make a certain amount of money each year,” but now he wants to work at Stratford “and do it, and do it, and do it – moonlighting in the classics.”
However, he doesn’t plan to abandon his work in either films or television. “Ideally I’d like to get a 50-50 split between stage and film, but there are TV things I have my eyes on, adaptations of The Thorn Birds and Shogun.” And he did score a smashing success as the trader McKeag in the big-budget fall series, Centennial.
Richard confesses now to feeling “a little tired and a little empty. I just want to go away for a while and think, perhaps to Hawaii. Hawaii does it to me instantly.” He’d also like to make mobiles, paint, sculpt, work in stained glass, travel, and lie around on the beach.
The leading man of “Shogun” and “The Thorn Birds” looks beyond romantic roles
to the new and greater challenge of producing and playing in his own television
dramas about real people
For Richard Chamberlain, the last few years have been a time of tremendous personal and professional growth. “A time of questioning old assumptions, of pursuing various courses aimed at an expansion of awareness, of opening up as I’ve come to like myself better,” the actor says between takes of “The Thorn Birds” at Burbank Studios in Hollywood. He is in “age” makeup for filming of the final scenes in the nine-hour ABC miniseries based on Colleen McCullough’s best-selling novel, but the gravity lent him by a gray wig and latex wrinkles is belied by his boyish lankiness, clear, animated blue eyes and expressively rangy voice. In fact, it’s hard to believe he’s in his mid-40s.
Playing Father Ralph, the protagonist of “The Thorn Birds,” is surely something Chamberlain could not have done comfortably without questioning some old assumptions.
“Father Ralph,” he explains, “is a Catholic priest who’s sent from Ireland to Australia as a kind of punishment for having lost his temper and insulted a bishop. In Australia, he serves the owner of a giant sheep ranch, Mary Carson (Barbara Stanwyck). She engineers a situation that forces him to choose between receiving her estate on behalf of the Catholic Church, which would restore him to their good graces, or allowing it to go to the Cleary family, whose daughter, Meggie (Rachel Ward), he has fallen in love with. “Ralph,” the actor summarizes, “is, in fact, torn between three incompatible loves. He is very taken by the power and glamour of the Church in Rome. He is deeply in love with Meggie. And he is deeply in love with God – he’s a priest with a genuine vocation.”
As a boy growing up in Los Angeles, Chamberlain had gone to Presbyterian Sunday School, but he says, “That really didn’t take, and as an adult, I’ve never felt the urge to become part of an organized religion.” As well, he admits to having had “some negative preconceptions about the priesthood and about the Catholic Church as an organizational structure.” How, then, could he portray a priest with the kind of commitment and understanding necessary to involve an audience in his plight?
“We’ve been fortunate to have as our technical advisor a Jesuit named Father Sweeney,” Chamberlain answers. “Father Sweeney just blew me away. He’s so – well, for real in his love of God and his wanting to open people to God’s love, which is his basic reason for being a priest.
“He set it up for me to spend a couple of days at a Jesuit novitiate in downtown Los Angeles. I got to speak to these young and not-so-young novice priests and watch them work: They pray and study and meditate in the morning and go out to work in the community in the afternoon – at the county jail and some really tough, low-down places. They bring hope to people who are really hopeless and not otherwise cared for in human terms. What the Jesuits were doing – they were the only order I observed – was profoundly spiritual and apparently very effective in the community.”
While “The Thorn Birds” project has changed his concept of organized religion, it is not the first movie role to alter his perceptions and tastes. After filming “Shogun” for the hit TV series based on James Clavell’s novel, Chamberlain developed an appreciation for the Japanese lifestyle, and after returning from several months of shooting the epic miniseries in the Orient, he began to find much of Western domestic architecture oppressive. As a result, for more than two years now he has been drastically altering the interior of the ranch-style Beverly Hills bachelor house where he spends most of his time. (He also has an apartment in New York and a vacation hideaway in Hawaii.)
“The previous owners of my house had made various additions to the basic structure that really didn’t make a great deal of sense spatially,” says Chamberlain. “However, what began as a minor job of renovation to accommodate the tokonoma” – a flower- or scroll-decorated corner platform – “and a few other pieces I acquired in Japan became something much larger. It was: ‘Well, if I’m going to do this, I might as well do that, too – and that and THAT and THAT, as well.’”
Things eventually became so chaotic that the actor moved to the house next door, which just happened to be for rent, and from there supervised the continuing renovations. “A strange way to live, to put it mildly,” he laughs. “But when everything’s finished, which will be soon, I’ll have an open, airy house that’s very much mine – it’s the most personal house I’ve ever lived in.
“I built an area in my office especially for painting,” adds Chamberlain, who had studied art at Pomona College before scoring in student theatricals changed his career plans.
“The problem has been to set up and take down every time I had the urge to paint,
so I figured if I had a place where I could set up and leave stuff, I might get to it more often. Finding the time and the focus is a problem, though, as I’ve learned I can only spread myself so thin.”
Actually, Chamberlain’s life has opened out so that it tends to accommodate more and more activities. As busy as ever on stage (last year he was Wild Bill Hickok in a new play called Fathers and Sons) and screen (the thriller Bells will be released soon) as on TV, he has also identified himself with a political issue for the first time.
“I’d never been directly approached about lending myself to anything political, except for one local candidate who I had to turn down because of scheduling conflicts,” he says. “And I haven’t had the time to do the kind of research that I feel one should do before getting behind any particular movement or candidate. But then I recently went white-water rafting down the Tuolumne River through Yosemite. It’s a perfectly balanced river at the moment, with a certain amount of dams, a certain amount of water for agriculture and a certain amount of water for rafting or fishing. But now the city of San Francisco wants to put up another dam on the river.
I told the guys who ran the rafting trip, who are very ecologically minded, that if they wanted a spokesman, I’m willing. The only thing they’ve asked me to do so far is host a pro-Proposition 13 art sale in Los Angeles, which I did.”
The conservationist Proposition 13 was defeated in the November 1982 election, despite support from the powerful Los Angeles Times. But Chamberlain is undaunted, offering himself up to “anybody who has a sensible plan for water management in California.”
Travel is another means by which Chamberlain is branching out and reaching out.
Of course, he has probably traveled in the line of duty as much as any contemporary actor. In addition to the Japanese sojourn for “Shogun,” he has gone to Australia to shoot "The Last Wave" (but not “Thorn Birds,” which was filmed in Hawaii and Simi Valley, California); to Spain for "The Three Musketeers" and its sequel; to Italy for the TV film
“The Count of Monte Cristo” and to England for numerous film and TV assignments and
the 1969 stage production of Hamlet that cinched his transformation from the pretty boy
of the “Dr. Kildare” TV series to serious actor.
But even in his private travels, he has rarely had the opportunity for the anonymous, in-depth study of another culture that he did last year when he went to South America.
“A bunch of us – 20-odd people, mostly from outside of show business, but all interested
in feeling out a place on more than just a tourist level – went for six weeks,” he relates.
“We sometimes stayed overnight in monasteries, and I was able to enjoy, immediately, the kind of person-to-person contact that takes longer to establish when you’ve got
to get past my public ‘identity.’
“By that, I mean both the qualities that people rightly or wrongly project onto me and
the feeling on my part that I have to keep pumping energy into upholding some kind
of public image or persona. In Lima,” he laughs, “a photographer chased me around
a hotel lobby trying to take my picture, but that was the only event of that kind in all
the time in South America.”
Professionally, Chamberlain has expanded his horizons by forming his own production company. The plan is for the company to produce and Chamberlain to act in a number of two-hour television movies for CBS. The first is to be By "Reason of Insanity", a drama in which he will play a writer who murders his wife while in a state of mental incompetence, then recovers and has to deal with the consequences of his act.
“I wanted to take the responsibility, at least in part,” he explains, “of providing myself with material I found exciting to act and of having a bit to say about the actual production of it instead of being somewhat at the mercy of another producer. Then, practically speaking, I had the opportunity to do so because ‘Shogun’ put me in a rather nice position. But
I can’t point to a particular moment when I had an amazing insight and suddenly went
out to be a producer. I rarely have gigantic breakthroughs – a slow, steady growth
is more my process.”
To a significant degree, Chamberlain attributes his recent growth to the teachings of
Dr. William Brugh Joy, a physician turned holistic doctor who teaches at a retreat in Lucerne Valley, California. Chamberlain learned about Joy from a friend and spent two weeks at the retreat to acquaint himself with Joy’s precepts. There he learned of
the doctor’s amazing story.
“He’d been a medical doctor with the absolute best training and a stupendous talent for his work,” Chamberlain relates. “But all his life, he’d had certain sensitivities to other aspects of existence – spiritual things, things that are not part of traditional medicine. He began to find he could feel people’s energy with his hands. He himself could transfer energy to people – be a kind of conduit of energy. He could relieve pain, for instance. The use of morphine went way down on his ward – mostly terminal cancer patients.”
According to Chamberlain, Dr. Joy was eventually questioned about his unorthodox holistic methods in a staff meeting at the hospital with which he was affiliated. Opting for full disclosure when he could easily have skirted the subject, he received an ultimatum from his chief of staff: “If you wish to continue here, you must practice in the prescribed way.” Joy decided to follow his own lights, but Chamberlain says that “he’s primarily a teacher now; he doesn’t do a lot of healing. He’s written a wonderfully articulate book called Joy’s Way.
For Chamberlain, subscribing to some of Joy’s precepts does not necessarily preclude consulting traditional medical practitioners – or even untraditional ones, such as acupuncturists. In fact, Chamberlain numbers an acupuncturist among his friends and has even visited one, though he says it’s impossible to tell if the treatment was effective because he was not in excruciating pain, as were friends who have claimed to be helped.
Chamberlain’s eclecticism extends to the areas of diet and exercise. “I do a certain amount of exercise every day,” he says, “because I don’t feel good otherwise. Sometimes I run, sometimes I play tennis or ride, sometimes I do calisthenics. I once took dance, so
I know a lot of stretching exercises. Because I travel and live in hotels so much, I’ve figured out how to turn my room into a gym – do pull-ups on the door, lift chairs. I eat
the usual American balanced diet: quite a lot more meat than most of my friends” – beef stew for lunch on the day of this interview – “plus vegetables, fruit, whole-grain breads
and rice. Varied but not strict.”
Chamberlain has probably acted in more period pieces than any of his American peers, and he admits that he, personally, has felt the pull of the more romantic eras of history. “But there’s an element of escapism in intense romanticism,” he says. “I’m now more and more interested in the life around me. One reason I was attracted to "By Reason of Insanity" is that it’s a contemporary story with a hero who’s not romantic in any way.”
After By "Reason", Chamberlain hopes to produce and act in a TV movie with a contemporary setting but a hero that could be said to be romantic in his way – William Brugh Joy. “Because Brugh’s story is really an inner journey,” he says, “dramatizing it has been rather difficult. But after several years’ struggle, we’re finally coming up with a wonderful script.”
Is there not a sense of things coming full circle in Chamberlain playing the maverick
Joy when his first fame as an actor came from his portrayal of the very conventional
Richard Chamberlain – “Fame isn’t the answer.
The answer is allowing yourself to be who you are.”
“I’m not interested in being a multimillionaire; I want to do the kind of work that interests me. When I was beginning, I wanted to do everything: films, TV, modern things, period things, classics, musical theatre, I wanted to make records and I also wanted to paint. I’m medium with occasional goods. I took dance lessons, and I have discovered that you can’t do everything, but I’ve done a lot of it.”
In a company town, Hollywood, where a favorite indoor sport is to trash everyone, it’s almost impossible to find anyone with a sour word to mutter about Richard Chamberlain.
The erstwhile Dr. Kildare, perhaps unintentionally, has made a secondary career of winning friends. He is Mr. Nice Guy wherever you turn.
He is therefore going against casting in his current role as Father Ralph in the ABC-TV miniseries, The Thorn Birds. For those unfamiliar with the best-selling Colleen McCullough’s supernovel, Fr. Ralph does just about everything a priest isn’t supposed to, from having money of his own – courtesy of the character played by Barbara Stanwyck – to no being obedient or chaste.
In fact, there are those who might consider him a bit of a rotter. Not so Richard. We’re sitting in his offices at the Burbank Studios just a few months after he has finished production on this massive film. He is about to don another hat: that of executive producer on a TV movie for CBS, hence the office setting complete with a round black glass conference table and comfortable chairs. Only successful executive producers rate such perks. But enough business talk. We are here to discuss The Thorn Birds, how he feels about yet another blockbuster following his so-successful Shogun and his real life.
First of all, Richard doesn’t believe that Father Ralph behaved in such a reprehensible manner. “He followed his destiny,” he states. “That process brought him to a kind of humility he never would have found otherwise. He needed to do that. He needed to fall from grace. I’m not saying all priests do; Ralph was too in love with the image of a perfect priest, with the glamour,” he explains.
Those sentences are a clear indication of what makes Richard Chamberlain tick. He’s a perfectionist, although certainly not a bore – far from it – but he does get inside the characters he plays. That’s what makes him such an outstanding actor.
For this part, he researched Catholicism with Father Terry Sweeney, a Jesuit novitiate and stayed over with the young novices. “I had never before been involved with organized religion, and I got the feeling of what it’s like to be part of a group of people who put the love of God and humanity before personal happiness. It is unusual and rare. The novitiates I met are in the process of doing that,” he learned.
The painstaking research aside, working in The Thorn Birds was a grueling six-month assignment. A large portion of the nine hours was filmed in the Simi Valley, north of Los Angeles, where an exact copy of the Australian Drogheda landscape had been built. And it was hot. Richard’s priestly garb, donned in layers, must have been well nigh unbearable.
With a boyish grin, he acknowledges that it wasn’t an actor’s dream come true, commenting that the plastic collar cut into his neck a lot. Just another of the ordeals that an actor goes through for the sake of a great role.
And a great plum it is. “I wanted it when I first read the book four years ago. I salivated over the part; it was such a wonderful love story. I chased after the part of years. I told my agents I wanted to do it; at that time, it was to be a feature movie and it went through the hands of numerous producers. They had Robert Redford at the top of all their lists.
So I waited it out, like I did with Shogun. When they realized it couldn’t be a film and Warner Bros. decided on a mini-series, then I knew I was in a good position. The producers – David Wolper and Stan Margulies – wanted me – and it became a dream
come true,” he says comfortably.
The dream realized, Richard was in the same position as all other actors when a role is complete: he was out of a job. “I have the actor’s habit of thinking once a job is over
I’ll never be hired again. I can get very anxious about not working. It doesn’t go into anxiety attacks, but there is a sense of fickleness about the business. If I allow myself,
I can worry a lot.”
He didn’t allow himself to this time. Instead he took off for two and a half weeks to his little house in Hawaii. He has what he describes as, “a place on the beach in the toolies, where there is nothing to do except eat.” Or so he says. It doesn’t show on his trim waistline two weeks after he has returned.
“I had forgotten what it was like to spend a day doing nothing. I kept saying I must be doing something wrong, this can’t be right. I had a vague guilty feeling. So I just lay there on the beach and I didn’t do anything,” he laughs. “I find it an incredibly healing experience to go there. It’s a wonderful change from the madness around here,” he motions to indicate Hollywood. “I’d like to go there more often. As it is, I get there twice a year if I’m lucky.”
The house has a live-in caretaker who looks after the property while its famous owner is gone. It is also rented out, through an agent, so the tenants never know that they’re sleeping in Richard Chamberlain’s bed. Pity.
It would appear that Richard is indeed the golden boy we all envy, whose life has been comparatively uncluttered with the “stuff” that make most of us miserable. And looking at him, handsome, trim, relaxed, just a few flecks of gray in the beard and mustache he has grown for his next part, he reflects total peace and tranquility. He’s sipping a cup of herb tea from a delicate Japanese cup, NOT imported from Japan as were many of his household furnishings. Shogun did leave an impression on him.
He admits to being happier with his life as it is today than in previous years.
“As I look back, one of my big motivations for working so hard in this business in the early times was to find for myself a kind of self-worth which I imagined I would see reflected from the world when I became famous. It didn’t work.” He laughs shortly. “Being well-known has worked in other ways, but it didn’t make me particularly happy. When
I realized that wasn’t gonna work, I found other ways to work on myself, through Gestalt therapy, and working with Dr. Brugh Joy (a world-renowned metaphysician who gave up his medical practice to work with groups at his establishment in California’s Lucerne
Valley. Richard bought the film rights to Dr. Joy’s book, Joy’s Way, three years ago,
and has a contract to produce and star in the story for CBS. He hopes to get it under way
later this year.)
“Fame isn’t the answer. The answer is allowing yourself to be who you are. I grew up at a time when certain values were deeply impressed upon children: in school and at home. There was a certain image to be maintained and a certain goal to be achieved.”
One must bear in mind that Richard was born and raised in the rarefied atmosphere of Beverly Hills, where most of his friends at school were super-rich. His own father was
first a salesman for a market fixture company, and then took over the firm. But he still wasn’t raised in an atmosphere of wealth. He became interested in acting while he was in college, but recalls, “My family wasn’t enthused about my going into show business.
They’d seen me in some college productions,” he laughs. “I did want to go to college,
but in my senior year I made a decision to take the gamble and get into acting. They didn’t say ‘don’t do it’; they were supportive and they helped me, even though they
didn’t say ‘Oh boy, this is terrific.’”
His career proceeded normally: He studied with noted acting coach Jeff Corey, he got minor roles in a dozen TV shows, and in 1961 he got really lucky with Dr. Kildare. By the time that show had finished its run – there were 132 one-hour shows between 1961 and ’65 and 58 half-hour episodes the following year – Richard Chamberlain was a big star. So big, he wondered if he’d ever live down his reputation of being the noble young doctor who did everything including make house calls.
He did what was then considered a rash step: he moved to England and worked
“I went to England because I felt it the best place to go and study. I had this real powerful hunch that I should go there and study. I was attracted to British theatre and I had amazing luck.”
Indeed. He got raves for his role in a six-part adaptation of Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady on the BBC. He appeared in The Madwoman of Chaillot, Julius Caesar, and played composer Peter Tchaikovsky in The Music Lovers opposite Glenda Jackson. There was more Shakespeare, other classics, and when he played Aramis in two versions of The Three Musketeers, followed by Cyrano de Bergerac, no one made any more jokes about the boyish Dr. Kildare.
Richard Chamberlain had arrived, as a serious actor of the theatre and films.
He is, of course, delighted that he listened to that powerful hunch, as he terms it.
“I always try to listen to my inner voice. That seems to be one of life’s most ironic essences: that very soft little voice of intuition is so easy to ignore, yet it’s so often accurate. I almost always choose my roles intuitively. They appeal to me for reasons
I couldn’t say. I always have an answer as to why I choose a role, but the answer really
is that it has a magnetic quality. Now, as a producer, I know that I read scripts looking for ways to make scenes work, and ideas that come up seemingly come from nowhere.
They just spring into my mind. It’s not an intellectual process. Oh, it is to some extent, but it is largely emotional and intuitive.”
As noted, here is a man who is comfortable with himself and he doesn’t have to prove anything anymore. He’s done that. So, when asked how he can top the role of Father Ralph, he says easily, “I don’t think in terms of topping things. Everything is different and real to me. My next movie, titled By Reason of Insanity, is for my own production company. I play a man named John Balt, who murdered his wife, spent years in an institution in therapy and is now back in society as a contributing member. In fact,
he wrote his own life story which this is. This story goes into areas I’ve never touched upon, so it’s a vast challenge.
“After Shogun and Thorn Birds, I find my interests are turning back to more ordinary parts – not that the John Balt story is ordinary, it isn’t. He’s an ordinary man who gets caught in an incredible vortex. Yes, I have leaned towards larger-than-life roles and that might have something to do with the fact that I have a very romantic nature. I didn’t find life terribly interesting when I was a little kid. I hated school and I didn’t like sports. I didn’t like anything that anyone else liked. I felt out of it. It isn’t that I didn’t have friends. I did. And I had a pretty good time, but I was always fascinated by adventure movies.
Especially Errol Flynn.
“But the other night when I couldn’t sleep I turned on an old Errol Flynn movie and it was boring. It just didn’t hold up. The Three Musketeers and that kind of swashbuckling does, but not the one that I saw,” he mock mourns.
Every actor has a dream role, and Richard has played such variegated parts – has he played it already or is his dream part still in the future?
“I think John Balt is as fascinating a part as I’ll ever get. What are dream roles? Roles that call for words like depth and complexity, people who want things passionately and have to overcome tremendous obstacles to get them. My theory about John is that he wanted a wholeness in his life that he unconsciously felt wasn’t there. I think murdering his wife was unnecessary, but who am I to say that? He was living a life complying to images. He had an image of manhood, an image of the writer, of the husband and father, and he never said ‘Who am I, what kind of man am I, what kind of father, do I love my children?’
“Who am I?” Richard repeats the question. “I’m beginning to get answers at long last. What I am is an everchanging alive being, who is not an image, who is not consistent, and I’m beginning to allow myself to BE instead of trying to be consistent and trying to comply to images. Images, such an American hangup. And so here I am in a business where images are more powerful than almost anyplace else except sports. I have found that I have warmth and lovingness and creativity. I might have doubted that before. I’m much more comfortable with people, much more willing to speak my mind. I don’t have to try to manipulate people into liking me. I don’t. I thought that I did.” He is very thoughtful now and seems to enjoy looking within.
What are his long range goals these days, after 20-plus years of a good and
“I’ve done some very satisfying work in the theatre, and I’d like to do more but I find it difficult to find the time. I want to continue along the lines I’ve been pursuing. I really like what I’ve been doing, I like my mobility in TV, I want more emphasis in films. I think
I’m ready for that.
“And I like my life. I’ve finally created a home that I really love. I’ve had several houses, but I just remodeled this one – in a quiet canyon street, and it’s just perfect for me. It’s slightly Oriental, slightly Japanese. I brought back a lot of stuff from Shogun.”
And who lives in this perfect house?
Just Richard Chamberlain and his pals. “I have two dogs,” he says with all the love in the world in his voice. “Two Dalmatians: Jessie the Bandit Queen and Billy Boy.”
And what does Jessie steal to merit that colorful name?
He Gets No Awards From His Peers, But The Public Hails The King of The Miniseries
In a year stocked with stinkers like Princess Daisy, the Thorn Birds not only drew the highest rating of any TV miniseries of the ‘80s but established Richard Chamberlain as the king of the genre. With Centennial (1978) and the smash Shogun (1980) behind him, Chamberlain cinched the title – and hypnotized his fans – with his portrayal of a priest tortured by lust for a comely Australian lass played by Rachel Ward. About 110 million viewers tuned to ABC in March for at least part of the tempestuous 10-hour series, and its star was jubilant at reaching such a throng. “I was very hyped up,” he recalls. “I felt the energy of all those millions of people watching me on TV.”
Learning that his work had earned a third Emmy nomination in eight years was another high – albeit a briefer one. Tommy Lee Jones (The Executioner’s Song) was to beat out Chamberlain. But he was a good sport, declaring, “Awards – good grief, they’re not even the icing, they’re a candle on the cake. You can’t be in this business for awards.” Still,
the loss stung. When Jones’ name was announced, Chamberlain admits, “it was like preparing for opening night and they decided to cancel the performance. It’s like
careening into this black pit.”
Disappointment aside – with all his Emmy nominations, he has never won – Chamberlain, at 48, has had more hits than misses in his career. Fame struck at 26, when he became TV’s young Dr. Kildare. After five years in the series, he shook off the pretty-boy stigma of that role by moving to England, where he studied drama for three years. Lauded there for his portrayal of Hamlet, he returned to the States in an acclaimed production of Richard II and bolstered his credibility with the general public in movies like The Last Wave.
Television, of course, is still his staple: Last week Chamberlain was set to appear as explorer Dr. Frederick Cook in the two-hour CBS movie Cook and Peary: The Race to the Pole. In the course of the six-week shoot, he learned why those two explorers found the Arctic so alluring: “It must have been like walking into God’s house,” he says.
Now back in his Japanese-style home in Beverly Hills, Chamberlain is weighing more wide-ranging projects: a film, another miniseries, a play and a four-hour television romance. “I’ve been looking for a good love story,” he reports.
Why Richard Chamberlain’s Co-Stars Can’t Help Falling in Love With Him
Mini-series king Richard Chamberlain weaves a special magic that his leading ladies say makes them fall in love with him.
Alice Krige, who stars with Richard in his latest mini-series, Dream West, has nothing but words of praise for the handsome star.
“Richard is a wonderful actor, and working with him was like a dream come true,”
“I used to watch him on TV when I was a little girl growing up in South Africa and I always thought he was handsome and debonair.
“He is brilliant in Dream West as John Fremont, the 19th-century explorer who turns politician,” says Alice, 30.
This isn’t the first time she’s co-starred with the charming, 50-year-old leading man. They worked together last year on NBC’s two-part drama, Wallenberg: A hero’s Story.
“During the making of Wallenberg, I became enormously enamored of Richard,” she says. “Not only is he a splendid actor, but he’s a delightful man. He’s a charming person, and he can be wildly funny on the set.”
Richard Chamberlain first became a household name in the early 1960s during his
five-year stint as TV’s Dr. Kildare. He has since starred in some of TV’s most
In 1983, he played Father Ralph deBriccasart in the sizzling drama The Thorn Birds, with Rachel Ward and Barbara Stanwyck.
Beautiful Japanese actress Yoko Shimada co-starred with him when he played John Blackthorne in the 1980 epic Shogun; and sultry Barbara Carrera, now of Dallas, romanced him in 1978’s Centennial.
Other leading ladies have included Diane Venora, his co-star in the 1983 TV movie Cook and Peary: The Race to The Pole, and Sharon Stone in last year’s feature film, King Solomon’s Mines.
“Richard was a very charming man,” Yoko Shimada recalls. “Everyone fell in love with him. He was a real gentleman.
“He was very interested in Japanese culture and traditions and wanted to learn more
“We spent six months on location in Japan, and he became very respectful of the Oriental philosophy and way of life. We often had lunch together,” says the actress, who’s in her late 20s. “He was sincerely interested in finding out about my childhood and what it was like growing up in Japan.
“We even went to a Buddhist temple together, and he was fascinated by the ceremony.
“Later, I helped him buy a home in Japan, which he still visits a couple of months a year.”
Thorn Birds co-star Rachel Ward, 28, confides that she was surprised at Richard’s sense of humor. “Before I met him on the set of The Thorn Birds, I assumed that because Richard has done so much Shakespearean acting, he would be a very serious and moody person,” she says. “But in fact, he was very jovial.
“He even played practical jokes from time to time with the cast and crew. During our wrap party, Richard and some of the cameramen threw pies at each other.
“He didn’t yell or lose his temper on the set like many other actors I’ve worked with.
He was confident about the work he was doing, but he didn’t become high-strung or
“There was a lack of tension on that set which is something I’ve never experiences before in moviemaking. I guess it’s his casual charm and charisma that makes people enjoy working with him.”
Thorn Birds matriarch Barbara Stanwyck, 78, who’s now starring on The Colbys, adds:
“I love and adore Richard. Working with him was a highly unusual experience.
He’s terribly handsome and is my idea of what a leading man should be all about.
“During the so-called Golden Age of movie-making, which I was a part of, actors had
to be charismatic and handsome as well as talented. These days, most actors have
neither looks nor talent going for them.
“I never cared for the mumbling, pimple-faced boys in Hollywood, but Richard is truly the exception. He’s dashing and charismatic, and he’s very talented. He can take any major role and make a success out of it.
“And he’s vulnerable as well. He showed his vulnerability as Father Ralph in The Thorn Birds. He’s got an amazing acting range. Whether he’s showing anger or happiness on camera, he always does a wonderful job.
“I can fully understand why he’s called the king of the mini-series. He has the charm
that actors like Clark Gable had. He stands apart from the run-of-the-mill crowd in Hollywood these days.”
Alice Krige, Richard’s co-star in Dream West, says: “Working with him was truly a learning experience. He’s so dedicated to his craft that it amazes me.
“American actors aren’t always that way,” chides the South African-born actress. “They could take a lesson from Richard.”
Alice and Richard put in long, hard days together, filming on location in California, Oregon and Washington, D.C.
“He’s used to very rugged conditions, and he’s extremely hard-working and dedicated to any project he’s involved in,” she says.
“He’ll work 20 hours a day if necessary in order to make sure his role is done perfectly on camera. When it’s a historical role that he’s doing, he studies it intensely so he can get
the feel and atmosphere of the times.
“Richard isn’t a pampered or spoiled actor,” adds Alice, who plays the dynamic adventurer’s strong-willed but loving wife, Jessie Benton Fremont.
She adds: “He does his very best and expects everyone else to do the same. He’s
a no-nonsense type of guy. He is a brilliant actor.
“He can do anything well, from Shakespeare to serious drama. I’ve never worked with such an intense actor before.
“We got along quite well during the filming. He was willing to help anyone with their lines, and he made us all feel comfortable. He doesn’t make childish demands like some famous actors. Richard started out doing Dr. Kildare, but he’s come a long way since then, and now he laughs about those early days of his career.”
There’s no question that Richard also admires his current leading lady. In fact, he lobbied for her to play the female lead in Dream West.
“I fell somewhat in love with Alice when I saw her in Chariots of Fire,” the actor admits. “I hadn’t seen an actress who glowed on film like that for a long time. Working with her in Wallenberg – and now Dream West – is a dream.
“She’s a superb actress and so serious about her work. She’s the kind of actress I can work with. If I do something new, I see her adjust.
If she does something new, I adjust. “I think we work great together. I feel wonderful with her. Not to mention that she’s so beautiful.”
Sexy Barbara Carrera, who is now starring as sinister Angelica Nero on Dallas, says of her Centennial leading man: “Richard is one of the sexiest men I’ve ever worked with.
“The sexy thing about him is the fact that he’s not afraid of anything. He’ll endure the desert heat or freezing conditions to finish a movie.
“He’s very courageous and fearless, and to me that’s an attractive quality in a man.
“He’s also very kind and considerate. During the filming of Centennial, I celebrated my birthday and Richard had a big birthday cake sent to my dressing room and arranged a little party for me.
Richard Chamberlain Masters Success on Stage and Screen
Time After Time
The good life – he’s always had it. The perfect kid from Beverly Hills gets into acting on television and makes it big – fast. He experiments with the stage; he succeeds again. Critical comment varies, but the public loves him. People gush when they talk about him.
Life has been good to Richard Chamberlain for 51 years. But don’t expect him to tell you much about it. Not only is he extremely quiet about his personal thoughts, he also maintains a luxury of the rich and famous: He has no regard for time.
Richard Chamberlain is late. But you still wait, fidgeting with nervous anticipation. When he does arrive, it’s as if Dr. Kildare has miraculously cured an illness – he’s here; everything’s okay.
Dr. Kildare began Richard Chamberlain’s odyssey in acting. From 1961 to 1966, it drew more fan letters (12,000 a week) to MGM Studios than its competition’s stars: Ben Casey, Hazel or Mr. Ed. Chamberlain felt pressured to act like a star, and he found freedom
from that pressure in typical Hollywood fashion: by driving his flashy Stingray so fast
and so often that a judge eventually banned him from using the freeways in Los Angeles
for six months.
The Sixties were strange years for celebrities. “It was sort of the fashion at that time
(for the public) to turn out and scream,” Chamberlain remembers with a smile. “It was amazing to come to airports and have thousands of people screaming. Now it’s much different. I’m older. I’m not a kid anymore, and now when I meet people I detect
a genuine warmth and it really pleases me. There tends to be less hysteria and a bit
more friendly respect.”
Shogun and The Thorn Birds brought him that respect, although Chamberlain would have preferred if it had been garnered from a Shakespearean play or one of his heftier roles,
like last season’s Wallenberg. That’s not to say people don’t vaguely remember something about how Richard Chamberlain was the first American-born actor since John Barrymore
to conquer the English stage in Hamlet, two years after he escaped the frenzy of Kildare
for more serious acting pursuits abroad.
Yes, the public knows enough about that triumph to throw a couple of scattered facts into cocktail conversation. But if it’s a hardy discourse on Chamberlain, they’ll be taking Shogun or Thorn Birds all the way. After all, 200 million TV watchers spent a week with Blackthorne and Father Ralph, and they think they now know Richard Chamberlain.
“Actors aren’t necessarily anything like the people they portray. They don’t need to be,” says Chamberlain, defending his privacy. “It’s all a matter of imagination and illusion.”
What’s behind the illusion?
Richard Chamberlain is late a second time and you’re waiting again, but you don’t mind. He’s already told you that he’s impractical (“That’s why I got into acting”) and he doesn’t relate to time for some reason. “I never remember what year something happened and I’m slightly phobic about the past.”
He said all of this in his real voice, which is softer, warmer than Blackthorne’s. It waves up and down, high and low, and some of the important words are emphasized with a punch of emotion. Other words are whispered. It’s a lively voice, peppered with words like “kind of” and “sort of” and “stuff” that seem odd coming from a man who was F. Scott Fitzgerald, Peter Tchaikovsky, Octavius Caesar and The Man in the Iron Mask. It’s a much more personable voice than that of any of his characters.
“I just cleared out a garage and found thousands of photographs from the past 20 years. Going through them was very eerie,” he said slowly. “I know some people put all that stuff on the wall, like when they met Queen Elizabeth or spent a day with Judy Garland, but
it tugs at me when it’s out in sight and I’m slightly phobic about it, although I’m very glad
it happened. Someday I’ll probably enjoy them enormously.”
Of course he was talking about the time he met the Queen and spent the day with Judy Garland. A lot has happened in his 25 years of being a celebrity. Richard Chamberlain has made 12 movies for TV, 18 feature films and two albums (“nothing serious,” just a part of the vast merchandising of Dr. Kildare). He’s brought Cyrano de Bergerac, Hamlet and Richard II to the stage. He’s traveled to Asia, Africa, Australia and Europe for his work and on as many personal adventures as he could: a six-week sojourn to South America, staying in monasteries and generally avoiding publicity; a white-water rafting trip down Yosemite’s Tuolumne River; a trek to Antarctica, where the white, peaceful glow of the land had him comparing it to “God’s house.”
He’s here. Apologetic and always polite (he was voted Most Courteous at Beverly Hills High in 1952), he stands before you with his arms hanging at his sides, as if to say it was out of his control. Something about the car.
He isn’t wearing a watch.
That’s okay. In the next hour, Richard Chamberlain will relax and unconsciously spill a few guarded thoughts (“I do think that the less known an actor is, the better, so I try not to be very public”). He’ll be serious and quiet and candid sometimes (“Maybe I’m getting too old to have a camera that close to me”). And for one spectacular moment, you’ll get to see the artist at work.
It happens this way: Richard Chamberlain has embedded himself into a deep overstuffed chair. He looks smaller than 6 feet 1 inch. His curled position and his reading glasses make him suddenly look older, not at all like the dashing, self-assured man in a tuxedo you met two days before, who thought nothing of exercising his star power (“Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I throw things, or I just look at the person with cool displeasure”). Today,
he’s not on show, but the power to create a character still rests within the man. At any moment, the public Richard Chamberlain could spring forth. But not yet. Now, he’s
so unusually motionless that it looks as if he has stepped out of his body, leaving
the shell to rest alone in the chair.
Strange thought? Yes, but Richard Chamberlain would probably not think it too strange. He’s open to any kind of eclectic thought. His own comments are sprinkled with pop-psych theories he’s picked up along the way.
“I’ve done all the California stuff – all sorts of new modes of thought about what life is all about and all forms of therapy: mental, physical, psychological and spiritual. And as with everything, a lot if it is a waste of time, but some of it is very worthwhile.”
The one most worthwhile? That would be Brugh Joy’s “energy transformation” retreats that Chamberlain says open up people’s minds to “the vast possibilities of life. We’re conditioned through school and family to be a good boy and all that, and it very much limits our horizon. The book Joy’s Way teaches that life is boundless with possibilities and that inner exploration is as challenging and as endless in its possibilities as space exploration. How rich it is just depends on how much time and attention you want to give those areas.”
Time again. It’s happening to Chamberlain again. He’s going to be late for another appointment. He tried to do too much in a too little time, and then he got thinking about endless possibilities, and the restriction of time is absorbed by thought. He’ll make it known that he has to leave at a certain time, but if the conversation is good, he’ll sit with you long after his deadline.
He gets sidetracked.
He talks about a night in Colorado, where he was trying to relax before he faced a new day of filming Dream West, the John Fremont story. He was watching a PBS show about handicapped people and their relationships. In the middle of his re-telling, his body melts into the movements of a palsy victim – the woman on the program he was describing. He moves so convincingly that it isn’t strange, but seemingly real. No one would have guessed the person in the chair was Richard Chamberlain.
And Chamberlain would like that. He intentionally takes on different roles so the public can’t predict his next one. Sure, you can guess it’ll probably be on TV (although along with finishing plans for a mini-series on Casanova’s romantic escapades, he’s negotiating for a part in a play). But you won’t know who he’ll be until he does it.
The Public Loves and Private Life of Richard Chamberlain
TV’s most famous bachelor tells why he’s avoided marriage for all these years
Richard Chamberlain has finally come home to Hollywood – to his private world behind locked gates and to the confirmed bachelorhood that he has made as famous as his image as a screen lover.
“I’ve let a lot of friendships languish,” says the handsome, 51-year-old star.
“Now I want to be in one place. I want to nurture friendships . . . plant something
and watch it grow.
“I don’t want to take any assignment outside of Hollywood for three years.”
The star of such hit mini-series as The Thorn Birds, Shogun, Wallenberg and Centennial – which brought him from Australia to Japan – Chamberlain has now promised himself that he will stay for awhile in one place. And that place is his secluded mansion high in the hills of Los Angeles’ Coldwater Canyon.
Typically, the intriguing king of Hollywood bachelors is choosing solitude and privacy. And he is turning his back on one developing relationship which seemed promising during the filming of this week’s CBS miniseries, Dream West.
Talking about the making of that series, both Chamberlain and his co-star, Alice Krige, had nothing but words of praise and admiration to lavish on one another.
It was the second time Alice had worked with Chamberlain – the first being when she starred with him in Wallenberg.
And, in fact, Chamberlain admits that he pushed hard to get her as his co-star for Dream West.
“I fell somewhat in love with Alice Krige when I saw her in Chariots of Fire,” he says.
“I hadn’t seen an actress who glowed on film like that for a long time.
“Working with her was a dream. I would be happy working with her if I had to play all the rest of my love scenes with her, for the rest of my life.
“I can’t account for why we look so good together on screen. The chemistry is an absolute mystery.”
Alice herself explains it this way: “During the making of Wallenberg, I became enormously enamored of Richard. Not only is he a splendid actor, but he’s a delightful man.
“There is a foundation of trust and confidence between us that makes it a joy working
In the same way, Chamberlain’s co-star in The Thorn Birds, Rachel Ward, glowed with affection for the onetime Dr. Kildare after they worked together.
And in an interview at the time, Chamberlain said of her: “We established perfect harmony – even love – during our work. I felt a great affection for her.”
But that affection carried the couple no further than a working relationship – just as Chamberlain has with Alice Krige.
Chamberlain seems uncatchable. Although he admits he is very attracted to Alice, he just won’t allow himself to be tied down.
Clearly, Chamberlain’s longest-lasting known relationship with a woman has been with Linda Evans, and if he is ever persuaded to walk down the aisle with anyone, the Dynasty star is still widely considered as his most likely bride.
But Chamberlain hasn’t bitten yet. “She is only a dear friend and nothing more,” he says in a recent interview.
“I’ve never felt capable of being a ‘stable companion’ for any woman.”
But he is not totally against marriage, either.
“Marriage makes a lot of sense in terms of permanence in a relationship, and for the distribution of property in case of an accident or death,” he says.
“And I’d get married in a second if I wanted kids. I enjoy other people’s children, although I’m not sure I want any of my own. I don’t have room in my life for them.”
Then he added: “But I wouldn’t gravitate to the idea of marriage because I have an uneasiness about contracts.”
Expounding on why he has never become a father, he adds in a recent interview: “Until recently, I’ve had old personal problems to resolve and I didn’t want my children to have to suffer the consequences of them.
“Having said that, I prefer to keep my affairs confidential. Actors have to protect their most intimate secrets.”
There are two distinct sides to Chamberlain – the public TV sex idol, watched and adored by millions, and the private, reclusive philosopher he would prefer to be.
He insists that, despite his lack of companionship, he is happier now than at any other time in his life.
And a lot of that peace of mind has come from the help of several philosophical teachers during the last few years of his life.
“I’ve had some wonderful, superb teachers,” he says. “When I grew up, society was geared to making good little citizens according to certain definitions of ‘good little citizen.’
“It wasn’t geared to opening people creatively and personally in terms of their hearts
“My life felt empty. When I was about 21, I found myself to be extremely unhappy, and
I hadn’t the faintest idea why.
“Unhappiness is a sign that you are doing something against your nature. And I think that getting in tune with your nature is the key to everything.
“Unfortunately, the Christian ethic is that our nature is corrupt, and I think that is a criminal misrepresentation. I think our basic nature is, in fact, divine.”
Chamberlain says that through his guru, Dr. Brugh Joy, he has found that
“my regrets, my secrets, my desires are basically the same as other peoples.
“With age, I’ve learned to trust myself, and now I want to be loved for what I am, and nothing else.”
And so television’s most famous 51-year-old bachelor is returning home – still alone.
Home is a large three-bedroom house in a leafy corner above Coldwater Canyon – a house he spent three years stripping of fixtures and furniture in favor of a spare, wide-open Oriental motif.
There he spends many hours alone riding his horses, painting landscapes and reading biographies. A perfect evening for him, he says, is cooking a quiet meal for a small circle of visiting friends.
He attends no Hollywood showbiz parties, mixes with none of the glitterati – although
he surely could, and would be welcome.
In the 25 years he has been at the top of his profession, Chamberlain has steered clear of any scandal or romantic links that were more than gossip writers’ imaginations.
Every now and then, he disappears to somewhere like Peru, where he can be alone and anonymous, often staying at monasteries in remote villages.
He makes no apologies for his sometimes hermit-like behavior.
“If I told everyone about my private life, it wouldn’t be private anymore, would it?”
he has said.
He’s played Kildare, Casanova, and now does Coward on Broadway. And this TV icon yearns to make ‘em laugh.
His fans call him Father Ralph mostly. Or Dr. Kildare. “To be recognized as Richard Chamberlain is actually rather refreshing . . . and rare,” he says with a knee-melter of a smile that’s vividly reminiscent of the sexy young TV doctor who made him a star. But then, stardom has never been Chamberlain’s thing. Acting has.
He’s been practicing his craft ceaselessly since the enormously successful Kildare series began in 1961, moving on when it ended five years later to feature films, American rep,
a flop Broadway musical opposite Mary Tyler Moore, a stint in England that yielded a triumphant television Hamlet here with John Gielgud and Michael Redgrave, the Musketeers movies, more stage work and films, including Peter Weir’s quirky The Last Wave. And then came the TV miniseries, a form that has made Chamberlain familiar to anyone in the country who owns a set and isn’t dead. Centennial. The Man in the Iron Mask. The Thorn Birds. Wallenberg. Shogun. Dream West.
And, most recently, Casanova. Whether he likes it or not – he doesn’t – Chamberlain has earned the title King of the Miniseries. And it would take some doing to convince us, after all these utterly persuasive characterizations of steely, heroic men, that he’s anything more or less than a TV icon. That he’s even human!
Chamberlain loves a challenge, so after a 10-year absence, he has returned, in the flesh,
to Broadway, to star in, of all things, Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. “I know people think
I have no sense of humor. But I do find many things funny,” he says with mock sincerity. “Really. I remember playing Hamlet in a college Musical revue that was genuinely hilarious. I learned then that knowing you can go out and make people laugh, that
sense of power, is wonderful.”
He adds that the frothy Coward play appealed particularly because of its dream cast – Geraldine Page, Blythe Danner, Judith Ivey – and “because it’s absolutely an ensemble piece; we rely heavily on one another. This sort of comedy is so slight, the tone and style have to be perfect. In a way, it’s harder than Shakespeare.”
At least the travel requirements on this job haven’t been as harrowing as for many of his projects. In addition to his Los Angeles house and a retreat in Hawaii, Chamberlain keeps an apartment in New York City that he’s returned to for the play’s run. And Coward’s Charles won’t take the background research Chamberlain has diligently done before
when playing great, historical figures. “For those roles, I read as much as I can.
The more information you have, the more likely you are to find a good detail you
can use in the acting.
“For instance, that Casanova loved women’s feet.” Warming to his subject: “He loved everything about women – the game of flirtation and love, their wit, the construction of their undergarments, the smells. He never talked about a good screw. And he wasn’t terribly good-looking. But he had enormous style and energy; his ultimate goal was pleasure in a society that was very much geared that way. I loved reading about
18th-century Venice; it was a 100-year-long party.”
Would Casanova’s technique still work? Are there any contemporary Casanovas? “Yes, I’m sure there must be such romantic men, especially in Europe,” he says. “I suspect Baryshnikov is that way. I remember meeting Frank Sinatra at a party in the Sixties and I’ve never witnessed such devastating charm. Well, Olivier has that kind of charm, too.”
A man who in real life dresses down for comfort, Richard Chamberlain heartily believes in the capes, breeches, and lace-cuffed shirts that his roles have demanded. “Costumes have intrinsic power. In TheThorn Birds, when I was dressed in a cardinal’s gear for the Vatican scenes, it was just plain weird. I never got used to it. For Casanova, when I was being instructed in the courtly postures and gestures so important to that era, I found that I couldn’t even walk like Casanova out of costume.”
Swimming and gym workouts keep him in trim for his swashbuckling roles, which have in turn developed his abilities as a swordsman – “I don’t fence as a sport at all, but I’m very good at the choreographed stuff” – and as a horseman – “I’m pretty good at riding,
once I get to know the horse.”
He suggests that it’s shyness rather than an allergy to tinsel, say, or snobbism, that keeps Richard Chamberlain from being a player on the Hollywood social scene. “First, I’m not here long enough to get in it. But I’m not terribly good at parties. I’m often panicked that I’m supposed to know what everyone is up to. An innocent ‘What’s happening?’ is lethal in this town. Once, at an awards dinner, each time I said I had been on a six-week, nonworking trip to South America, I could see my price in the questioner’s eyes dropping by the second.”
Chamberlain gives himself better marks as a host: “The few parties I’ve given have been pretty good. I really like having people over. Eight is perfect.” And a medium rating as a date: “I tend to start very reserved, to feel out slowly how the interpersonal balance is going. But I can be amusing, especially if I have a couple of Scotches.” Being, as he says, “California healthy, makes drinking wicked and fun.”
Though never married, he has mentioned in past interviews an interest in raising children. But he says now, “I’m so dedicated to my work. I don’t know if I have the patience or the time for fatherhood. I do have a sort of nurturing aspect. But people either turn me on, with their imagination, their spirit, or they don’t. And I don’t know how to deal
with those who don’t.”
Chamberlain, who was born in Los Angeles and graduated from Pomona College, relates several experiences – a bit of stage directing, sitting in on acting classes, speaking at his alma mater – that have really moved him: “To facilitate the creative process. To help people become better and better, bigger and bigger, righter and righter. I get very turned on by young people who care. Maybe I should teach. Or adopt a college-age kid.”
He’s clearly not a loner. “I don’t long to be in a garret, painting. I like the messiness of show business. The clashes of personality, the squabbles. I love groups of like-minded people because I believe they can deepen any experience.” He’s completely unabashed about discussing the various theories and therapies he’s investigated to arrive at his own “very eclectic belief system. In my case, I’ve learned that it was a misdirection, not a lack of energy that I needed to overcome. I spent years pretending to be happy, bright, and loving, pretending to like people more than I did. Anyone who’s grown up mistrusting himself will know what I’m talking about.
“I’ve never followed one guru or teacher,” he adds before describing a group that meets with a Gestalt therapist: “We meet every few months. Our goal is to increase the use of intuition along with intellectual training. Most of us tend to ignore our subtler, intuitive instincts in the face of the swiftness, the flashiness of life today.”
Flashiness, he’ll have us believe, hasn’t ever tempted him. “Obvious gold chains (he wears two discreet ones) wouldn’t feel right. I don’t live lavishly.” But what does he do with all the money? “With 70 percent going to the government, paying for two houses and an apartment, the mortgages, and then paying agents, lawyers, managers – there aren’t oceans of money left over,” he sighs.
Twenty-plus years of acting have dealt him an impressive array of costars. About working with Katharine Hepburn (in the Madwoman of Chaillot) he recalls, “We were shooting our own riot scene with non-actors at the time of the real student riots in France. She was very down on the actual protestors, thought it kids’ foolishness. But when we got into shooting our scene, revved up and throwing rocks and things, she said, ‘You know, riots can be fun!’” Of Faye Dunaway he says, “She was brilliant as Wallis Simpson, alluring in Towering Inferno, super in the Musketeers. But she’s not always easy; it’s a challenge to hold your concentration in her presence.”
Of Blythe Danner – they’ve co-starred before Blithe Spirit – “I could easily fall in love with her if she weren’t married to such a handsome man. She’s sweet and warm and very serious. She doesn’t go glibly into anything. She’s very beautiful and splendid to work with.” And of Glenda Jackson: “She’s in the force-of-nature category – like a storm or trees. She’s connected up with some elemental emotions. It’s extremely challenging to work with her; when she takes off, you’d just better keep up.”
The king of the mini-series is tired and yearning for his beach house in Hawaii. ''I don't handle complexity very well,'' Richard Chamberlain says. ''I'm very simple-minded. It's so simple in Hawaii -watching the sunset is the big event of the day.''
Even though he is sitting in a restaurant a few blocks from his Beverly Hills home, he has reason to be tired. For the last eight years he has been traveling, moving from one exotic location to another as the lean-jawed hero of one mini-series after another: ''Centennial,'' ''Shogun,'' ''The Thorn Birds,'' ''Wallenberg,'' ''Dream West'' and now a four-hour series carved from Robert Ludlum's novel ''The Bourne Identity.'' This suspense thriller, an unusual subject for the mini-series genre, will be shown on ABC next Sunday night at 9, with the conclusion the following evening.
From the English sailor Blackthorne washed up on the beach of 17th-century Japan in ''Shogun'' to the amnesia victim Jason Bourne washed up on the beach in the south of France in 1988 in ''The Bourne Identity,'' Richard Chamberlain has become the
Robert Redford of the living room, finding a stardom in prime time that has eluded
him on the silver screen.
That no other actor has managed to push Mr. Chamberlain off the top of the mini-series
hill is not accidental. Although a good actor is a good actor whether he's making a movie-of-the-week for television or a $30 million epic for Academy Award consideration, performing in a mini-series makes specific demands.
''You need an actor who can maintain a character over a long period of time,'' says David Wolper, the executive producer of ''Roots,'' ''The Thorn Birds'' and ''North and South.''
''If you have a weak actor, it won't be obvious in two hours, but you'll begin to see his weaknesses over four or five days.''
''It's like the difference between speaking Pinter and speaking Shakespeare,'' says
Mr. Chamberlain, whose handsome face won him the starring role of the young intern
in the ''Dr. Kildare'' television series in 1961.
At 53, he seems almost as handsome, Arrow Collar-ad crisp in a button-down white shirt with his long blond hair curling down to his shoulders. ''To speak Shakespeare, you have to sustain huge arcs of poetry. It's a very special knack to keep the ideas clear through a whole soliloquy with qualifying asides and pick up the line again. A 10-hour mini-series is similar. You must keep the overall design in your mind while shooting totally out of sequence.''
Today, starring in a mini-series demands physical stamina as well. Rising production costs and lower network ratings have changed the world of the mini-series actor since
Mr. Chamberlain was able to tour Japan on his weekends off from making ''Shogun.''
''A five-day week is unheard of today,'' he says. ''The shows are done in an almost painful way. They get crews for a flat rate, and they work them to death. The hellish schedules are kind of a survival game. You work 14 or 15 hours a day six days a week, and you have to be extremely careful about your health. I can turn any hotel room into a gym in two minutes. I jump around to Aretha Franklin tapes and do pull-ups on doors. If there is ever a break during the day, I run to the dressing room and take a nap. You learn to sleep shallow and wake up instantly.''
''The Bourne Identity'' was shot this past winter in Nice, London, Paris and Zurich. ''I had four colds, and Richard never even had a toothache,'' Alan Shayne, the executive producer of the mini-series, says admiringly. The actor was even smart enough to dress defensively. ''Zurich in January, shooting at night, is not too hospitable,'' says
Mr. Chamberlain. ''I had mountains of electric socks sent over.''
In ''The Bourne Identity,'' Mr. Chamberlain plays his first contemporary role and the first
in which he may not be a hero at all. Shot in the head and thrown into the sea,
Bourne wakes into a world of terrorists and United States Government agents, all of
them shooting at him, and with no memory of his past. Is he Europe's most vicious terrorist? He knows only that he is capable of violence. There are numbered Swiss bank accounts, chases down dark streets and a steamy romance with Jaclyn Smith. Although
his television career has been a costumed tour through the centuries, Mr. Chamberlain seems to belong in this paranoid world of 1988 as convincingly as he belonged in feudal Japan, the America frontier and the Australian outback.
He grimaces at being called ''king of the mini-series'' but agrees that his success is not accidental. ''It's such a funny medium, it's quite possible that Robert DeNiro and
Jack Nicholson wouldn't make it at all,'' he says. ''An arrogant or intellectual person
can't work as the leading character, although arrogance can work wonderfully for a
number of parts. I don't mean you should pander to the audience. I never tried to make Bourne likable when he was violent and scared and in his killer mode. But when he takes
the character played by Jaclyn hostage and roughs her up, there's a kind of
reluctance about it.''
If Bourne isn't always likable, Mr. Chamberlain evidently is. A meditative man who is described by others as ''spiritual,'' he has run the gamut from Rolfing to yoga and even had his own guru, a holistic healer, for half a dozen years. To David Wolper, being ''a pleasant and nice man'' is one of the essentials for a mini-series star.
''You spend months and months filming,'' says Mr. Wolper. ''If you spend six months in northern Siberia, you don't want heartache. For a two-hour movie on a 20-day shooting schedule, it's O.K. to have an actor who's a pain in the neck.''
A random sampling of producers and network executives turns up the names of fewer than half a dozen actors who have proved they are bankable stars in the specialized field of the mini-series: Peter Strauss, Jaclyn Smith, Valerie Bertinelli and, at the top of every list, Richard Chamberlain and Lee Remick.
''We're dealing with intangibles,'' says Christy Welker, vice president for mini-series at ABC. ABC developed ''The Bourne Identity'' because Mr. Chamberlain was interested in playing the title role. ''That was icing on top of the cake,'' Ms. Welker says. ''Richard has the ability to grab the audience's attention and keep it. The more the audience gets to know Richard, the more they like him.''
''You have to like the people you invite into your living room,'' says Susan Baerwald, the vice president for mini-series at NBC, who refuses to make any other generalizations. ''What's fascinating about Richard is that his range is enormous. His ability to be different each time out is what makes him such a valuable property. And once you've received a 50 share for 'Shogun,' the audience is familiar with you.''
Says Stan Margulies, producer of ''The Thorn Birds,'' in which Mr. Chamberlain played a Catholic priest consumed by carnal love, ''Richard didn't get where he is by being lucky. If you run into an early 'Dr. Kildare,' you won't believe it's the same actor. He rarely gets credit for all the risks he took - going to England to train, playing 'Hamlet.' ''
After ''Dr. Kildare'' went off the air in 1966, Mr. Chamberlain, who had felt uncomfortable being considered just another pretty face, turned down other television series in order to learn his craft in summer stock and, a few years later, in British repertory theater. He was the first American actor to play ''Hamlet'' in England since John Barrymore. From his role as the brutal husband of Julie Christie in the 1968 feature film ''Petulia'' to American stage performances as ''Cyrano de Bergerac'' and ''Richard II,'' his reviews were excellent, although there was always a general reluctance to believe that anyone so handsome could be a serious actor. Pretending to be a bewildered critic, Mr. Chamberlain shakes his head with mock surprise. ''I keep getting reviews that say, 'He's really good this time!''
In ruffled shirts and pantaloons, he was ''The Count of Monte Cristo'' and ''The Man in the Iron Mask'' on television and one of ''The Three Musketeers'' in Richard Lester's movie. What he was not, at least in the mind of the author James Clavell, was the hero of ''Shogun.'' Mr. Clavell wanted Sean Connery for the role. Mr. Chamberlain has said he was ''grudgingly'' chosen after Mr. Connery turned it down.
The 10-hour mini-series went on the air in 1980. Its exotic world heightened by the use of Japanese dialogue, ''Shogun'' was wildly successful. It still ranks as the fourth most-watched mini-series. Mr. Chamberlain waited for fame and fortune.
''Nothing happened,'' he says. ''No offers at all. I was stunned. Finally, because I wanted to remodel my house, I took a film in Canada, 'Murder by Phone,' a pretty dumb movie in which you sent electricity through the phone and killed people.''
Since ''The Thorn Birds'' in 1983 confirmed his appeal to television viewers - it earned a 59 percent share of the audience and is second only to ''Roots'' - he has had to fend off offers. Although the star of major theatrical films can command at least a million dollars, even an actor with a track record like Mr. Chamberlain's is not likely to earn more than $700,000 for a four-hour mini-series.
''At last they listen to me,'' he says happily. ''It's a wonderful feeling to be listened to.
For a long time, no one did. I would tell the producers of 'Dr. Kildare' that I was sick of doing dumb things and being excessively naive, and I would mark script after script and nothing changed. Needless to say, they didn't listen to me at all.''
Although he turned down six or eight other mini-series after ''The Thorn Birds,'' he did accept the roles of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved 100,000 Jews during World War II, in ''Wallenberg'' and of the American explorer John Charles Fremont in ''Dream West.''
''A mini-series has to seem special,'' he says. ''We were worried about 'Shogun' because so much of it was in Japanese. But it caught on for that very reason. 'Thorn Birds' verged a bit on soap opera, but it was filled with compelling issues, like what withholding love
does to people. And the production values were exceptional.''
''The Bourne Identity'' also has top-level production values. Directed by Roger Young, it was photographed by Tony Pierce-Roberts, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer of
''A Room With a View.''
''There's a very odd balance between action, mayhem, suspense, surprise and the love story,'' says Mr. Chamberlain. ''Ludlum's plots are so convoluted and complicated that
he's notoriously difficult to translate. You have to simplify cleverly so you don't lose the surprise. You never know until you see it put together, but I think it works.''
To better understand amnesia, Mr. Chamberlain consulted a psychiatrist and discovered that the condition ''is seldom exclusively a mechanical difficulty. More often it is a subconscious choice. The conscious man can't deal with what's going on and takes the first excuse to forget. That helped me to be the character. I felt I knew him.''
Mr. Chamberlain sighs. ''Sometimes I long for the leisure that you have - or I imagine
you have - in films,'' he says. ''I do have a third eye trained on features because everyone takes features more seriously. And you never know. Look at Tom Selleck and 'Three Men and a Baby.' In Jason Bourne, I am finally playing a contemporary character. Who knows what producer or director is going to see 'The Bourne Identity' and say, 'By Jove, he'd be
a perfect fit.' ''
Meanwhile, Mr. Chamberlain is going to stay home for a while, straddling his houses in Beverly Hills and Hawaii. ''If I never see another hotel room, I'll be happy,'' he says fervently. ''That's been building up for several years. I did 'Blithe Spirit' in New York last year. None of us were quite right for our parts, and Noel Coward isn't the right playwright for a long run. His people are fun to spend a night at a dinner party with but not to spend six months with. That was when I started to feel acutely unhappy being away from home.''
His homesickness was not helped by having to trudge around Europe in the dead of winter for ''The Bourne Identity.''
As to the future, Mr. Chamberlain shrugs. He has a series in development at CBS. He would, he says with a smile, play a doctor. And the series would be shot in Hawaii. Right now, he says, he is ''in a bit of a quandary. I'm in one of those churned-up periods.
Where will 'The Bourne Identity' lead? I don't lead my life, you know. It leads me.''
Richard Chamberlain, The “Master of the Miniseries,” talks about inner wounds, anger, success, and happiness.
“I never felt that I belonged in the human race.”
A frank talk with actor Richard Chamberlain about his struggle for acceptance.
Richard Chamberlain's lush baritone voice is neither hushed nor hesitant. It lilts with
the combined power of clarity and the strength of confidence. Thoughts about himself aren't kept to himself. They explode extemporaneously from his inner reaches and
tumble forth, unedited.
One of the milestones in Chamberlain's life is his great victory over a combination of what he calls “hidden rage” and a gnawing lack of self-esteem that was rooted in his childhood struggles. All that's finished, and gone. Chamberlain, 58, tall – blonde - handsome, brags that he has swung, like a pendulum, from painfully shy to “almost garrulous”. Now he speaks uninhibitedly about past wounds. He is armed with the lucidity of hindsight. We are talking on the telephone, two voices passing in the night. Chamberlain is at home, in Hawaii. I'm in Boston. The geographical gap seems nonexistent. Chamberlain's words ring with such fierce honesty that the impersonal telecommunication is humanized. Listen: “I have faced everything that I had repressed about myself. I found a good shrink. I was lucky,” he says quickly. He catches his breath. “This is the truth: I had always tried to be a perfect person. Perfect people don't get angry.” Now his voice skips into a smile. “I had always felt slighted. Ignored. I was angry at not being noticed. I was angry at my own inability to be comfortable with my real self. And, oh yes, I was angry with people in the business who were incompetent.”
Chamberlain's tone is as calm, assured, and cavalier as that of the legendary Prof.
Henry Higgins of My Fair Lady fame. This is the role he plays in the revived Lerner and Loewe masterpiece headed for Broadway in November. A Boston newspaper critic suggests that Chamberlain's 1993 Higgins is as good as Rex Harrison's 1956 Higgins, maybe better. It is uncanny that the updated musical's inspiration, derived from the George Bernard Shaw Pygmalion concept of re-inventing oneself, should apply so aptly to Chamberlain. It took four years of psychotherapy - and several courses with internist-turned-holist Dr. Brugh Joy of Sky Hi Ranch in Southern California - for Chamberlain
to open up like this.
Now, through this new facet of security, He can even discuss his late father,
Charles Chamberlain, a well-to-do manufacturer of supermarket fixtures. As a boy,
a teenager and an adult, Chamberlain craved his father's approval. He didn't get it.
His father, consistently cold and aloof, had always kept his iceberg distance. “That's just the way it was. I have learned to accept that,” he says.
Chamberlain studied art at Pomona College in Claremont, California. His father wanted him in the family business. The year he graduated from Pomona (1956), he discovered acting. His father still wanted him in the fixture business. Years later, Chamberlain invited his father to New York to watch him play Wild Bill Hickock in Thomas Babe's play, Fathers and Sons (1978). A reference to that incident is recorded tersely in the book, An Actor's Life: Richard Chamberlain (St. Martin's Press) by Barbara and Scott Siegel.
“The elderly Mr. Chamberlain,” it reads crisply, “had little to say after the curtain
Chamberlain explains his feelings about his father in this interview and, unintentionally, a chilly note invades the velvety tone of his voice. “I have purposely taken an opposite tack from that of my father. I did not want to be like him. I took a more androgenous posture. I had spent too much of my life trying to be perfect. And you can't be perfect. No one can.” In the distance I hear a small sigh, Chamberlain's.
To talk with Chamberlain is to acknowledge that he knows firsthand and up close an awful lot about patriarchal chauvinism, an underlying storyline of My Fair Lady. The updated, Broadway-bound version suggests a modern feminist twist. Eliza Doolittle, cockney turned lady, is amazingly independent, and seems in the last scene, to be set on teaching Higgins about equal ambitions and equal rewards. Higgins appears receptive, subtly so. What Chamberlain says next about Higgins, “the-control-freak-character” (his phase) that he brings to vivid life, may be directly connected with his sorry relationship with his father. “Higgins established himself in a bastion of masculinity. Men do that, you know. Higgins was always in perfect control. But Eliza is, on an unconscious level, a scrapper. When she shows her independence, she threatens Higgins' way of life. That is the source of Higgins' rage. He either has to control Eliza or get rid of her. Like most men, he rages against any infringement of his own sense of perfectionism.”
What he reveals next of his own volition, intimates that some of his old memories may
be squelched, but not erased. “I disapprove of barricaded masculinity. Men,” he says, perhaps referring to an indelible recollection of his father, “can terrify children into behaving.” The next words tumbled. “I never felt like I belonged in the human race,
or even on this planet. As a boy and as a teenager I had a problem of low self-esteem.
I didn't think I merited attention. But . . . but I knew early on, that I could be someone
in this business.” The baritone voice, with its’ built-in singsong, collapses into soft,
What made a shy, retiring, insecure, lonely Richard Chamberlain think that he could get on stage, or in front of a whirring camera, and transform himself into someone else convincingly enough to garner audience applause and the accolades of critics? Chamberlain's laughter rises gently and falls into a sigh. When he speaks again, his voice is resonant. “I had a troubled family,” he says. Pause. “Acting is a counter balance to shyness and low self esteem.” Pause. Acting gives you a place to be wild and wooly, a safe way to experiment with getting to the outer limits of yourself.” Pause. “You can do things you wouldn't dare do in real life. Your extroverted self can get out at last.” The pauses are timed theatrically. They have a planned rhythm and are executed with the expertise of crisp elocution. Chamberlain has made a point.
But a bigger more central dilemma remains: the temporariness of pretending to be somebody else. Was it enough? Did the adulation and applause, ever make up for his dad's decided indifference? Chamberlain is taken aback. At first the questions are met with dead silence. Initially his answer is indirect, vague. Then it hits its' target. “Something wonderful happens when an actor has direct contact with an audience,”
he says. “To an actor, the stage is home.”
His tongue lingers on the word home. No one seems to understand this better than Chamberlain's mother, Elsa, referred to in the Siegel book on Chamberlain as “the power in the family”. “She went to England to see him perform in Hamlet (1969) and afterward, rushed backstage, eyes brimming with tears. Chamberlain, basking in the afterglow of
his curtain calls, asked if she were moved by the powerful death scene? She said no.
It was the applause that moved her.
He has often laughed at his mother's reaction, telling it like a long-standing joke. Only
it wasn't funny. She knew her son was starved for the actual sounds of approval and admiration. “In the beginning,” he concedes now, “I needed acceptance desperately.
I felt worthless. But success is success. It is not happiness. Being lionized hasn't
made me happy.
Chamberlain says his stardom has often gotten in the way of friendship. “Sometimes, when I meet people for the first time, they go bananas. In their eyes, I am a star.”
There is an urgency in his voice. “They can't relate to me as Richard Chamberlain, person. It takes time to get past the parts I've played. It takes time to build relationships.”
What changed things for Chamberlain? How has he come to be such a remarkable actor
in full power? His answer is deceptively simple but, for him, it has been a long time coming. “I have opened up. Free of old fears, I am receptive to life. Now things happen to me that are better than things I could have dreamed up for myself. Oh, I can be terrified and think I'm going to forget my lines,” he admits. “But I do not abandon the character to my petty insecurities.”
The ‘Dr. Kildare’ and ‘Thorn Birds’ star reflects on his career and reveals his love for the island he’s made his home
His baby-blue, wide-spaced eyes and clean-cut good looks made him the darling of women in the Sixties when he played the lead in the TV series Dr. Kildare, as an eager young intern who took advice from an older doctor. Years later, he gave a memorable performance as a priest in TV’s The Thorn Birds, starring opposite Rachel Ward. Amazingly, Richard Chamberlain is now 60, and looking only a little older than he did in his heyday. Currently appearing in the film Bird of Prey, premiered in Los Angeles in June, Richard is optimistic about his future. We talked to him at his Hawaiian island home on Oahu, where he has settled permanently. There he has become passionately involved with the environment and the Hawaiian people, whose health and way of life have been seriously threatened by the increased pressures of tourism.
You look very fit and youthful. What are your reflections on turning 60?
“My intention is to become a Hawaiian beach bum who paints and occasionally acts. Seriously, I keep thinking my life has just begun. It still seems to be ‘happening’ and that is a great feeling. I have never been happier. I have always been a very controlled person and I have finally learned to loosen up. Professionally, for better or for worse, there are quite a number of acting jobs – both theatre and film – coming up that I am trying to sort out. It’s good to know there are all these possibilities.”
If you had to choose, which do you prefer, theatre or cinema?
“I can’t really say. When I am working in the theatre I think it’s a great place to be. The adrenalin of having a live audience helps. At the same time I feel an obligation not to let people down and especially when they have paid so much to see me.
“On the other hand it tends to go on and on. I did a year’s run of My Fair Lady in 1993. It was big hit, but I was ready to leave by the end of the year. Eight times a week for one year is a lot of repetition.”
What roles do you really enjoy playing?
“That’s a hard question. I think what I look for in the theatre now is something new. There are very few good new plays and unfortunately Broadway has become so commercial, so expensive.”
Is there a characteristic that has helped you achieve success more than any other?
“Probably being single-minded about my career. It was definitely the most important thing in my life for years and years.”
Even to the detriment of your own personal life?
“Oh certainly that’s absolutely true, unfortunately. But I think it’s something I had to do in order to get going on a personal level. I had to accomplish certain things before I could have the ease and confidence to really look into myself for self-improvement, which all Americans seem to be interested in.”
I was surprised to read that despite your good looks and charm you were quite shy and introverted as a young man – a loner really.
“I wasn’t exactly a hermit but I was psychologically very withdrawn and had very little self confidence. I couldn’t even tell you why. But it’s not uncommon for young actors to enter the profession with low self-esteem. You want to acquire the fame and fortune that you think will make you a worthwhile person. This gives a tremendous drive and then you discover after you have achieved some measure of success that it basically doesn’t make you worthwhile at all. Real self-worth needs a deeper process.”
But you were attracted to the glamour for a while?
“Of course. There are areas of show business which are very seductive. The glitter of power is very attractive when you are around it but very unattractive for some reason when you are away from it. Eventually I lost interest in the celebrity lifestyle.”
Did growing up in Beverly Hills influence your choice of career?
“Not really. And I hasten to add that I grew up in the normal part of Beverly Hills not the wealthy section. My family lived on the other side of Wilshire Boulevard where your average family still lives.”
Is it possible to lead a normal life in Hollywood?
“It is possible, but difficult. When I lived in Los Angeles, most of my friends were not in show business at all. It wasn’t anything calculated on my part – it just happened. They helped to keep me level-headed.”
You spent almost five years in Britain in the late Sixties and early Seventies working as an actor. What did you gain from that experience?
“The general flavor of working in Hollywood is very tough, very power-and-wealth-oriented. It matters very much who you know, where you are seen, what you drive, where you live. There is an awful lot of hype to the Hollywood scene. Conversely in Britain the only thing that really matters to anybody is the quality of your work. Nobody cares where you live or what car you drive and that is refreshing. My English experience was well-timed because it happened after the Dr. Kildare TV series which I starred in became a huge hit. Had I stayed in Hollywood my values might have become distorted because of my new-found fame and popularity. In England I was exposed to more
Did you discover any other significant differences between British and American culture?
“One in particular has to do with the importance of language. British culture is a culture of language. Not only are children in the United States no longer taught how to write, they can barely speak in sentences. I was impressed by the ability of English children to
You are currently appearing in Bird of Prey, which premiered in Los Angeles in June. What can you tell us about it?
“It’s a murder mystery of sorts. It was filmed in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria: a lovely
city in a fair degree of shambles, having been overrun by the Turks and everybody else, including the Communist party. I don’t have a huge part – I play Meg Tilly’s father – but it’s an important part. I discovered new aspects of acting while doing it, so it was a very good experience.
There is an ongoing controversy about the violence in American films. Do you think there is really too much violence and sex in the movies?
“I think American culture on the whole is on the skids. When people no longer think with any subtlety, then you’ve got to hit them hard to get their attention and you do that with
a lot of basic stimulation like murder, mayhem and sex. TV has tended to make us dull. Nobody talks at the dinner table anymore. The only thing that can wake us up now is violence and that’s why it’s successful. Unfortunately, we are exporting this culture to
the whole world.”
Can you name a TV show you were in that you feel proud of?
“I would have to say The Thorn Birds – that was a good one.”
You live in Hawaii now. What made you settle down in the islands?
In "Shattered Love," the 2003 confessional book in which he "came out,"
actor Richard Chamberlain shares his thoughts on homosexuality,
aging and stardom. His career was launched playing the dashing
Dr. Kildare on TV in the early '60s. Today the 72-year-old actor
lives in Hawaii with his partner of more than 25 years.
He returns to television in the Hallmark Channel miniseries
movie "Blackbeard," premiering June 17.
Q. What do you think it was about your personality that
propelled you into acting? A. It's a fairly usual showbiz story. I was a shy kid, kind of withdrawn
and not with a ton of self-esteem. I didn't very much like real life.
I hated going to school when I was a kid, and so a life of fantasy
seemed very attractive [laughs].
Q. Were you attracted to the celebrity lifestyle? A. Yes. But not the lifestyle. I was very attracted to the idea of being
Q. Did it live up to your expectations? A. Yes and more so. With the sudden success of "Dr. Kildare,"
it was so astonishing. And I loved every second of it. Young people
can have a lot of trouble with success, but I was working so hard
it didn't really ruin my character. But, oh, God! I loved being famous.
I needed it so badly because, as I said, I had a self-confidence
problem of major proportions. It really helps on a superficial level.
Now the time comes when you realize that no amount of fame
or even money, though both are wonderful, will solve the
Q. When did you realize that? A. It came over a long period of time. I did a lot of therapy.
I did a lot of spiritual workshops. So gradually over time I became
less of a control freak and less worried that if people really knew
me they wouldn't like me.
Q. Do you think being a "control freak" goes hand in hand with personal insecurity?
A. Yes, oh, yes, absolutely. In relationships, for instance, I always
had to be right. I always had to be in control. It was because
I was basically afraid that if I relaxed and was just myself,
I would sort of be overwhelmed in some way.
Q. It seems you were acting most of your adult life
-- and it wasn't all on the stage. A. Yes, I was acting in real life as well as on the stage.
I wrote a book about all that ["Shattered Love"]. It wasn't really
until I was 68 years old that some of the fears that I had disappeared.
Q. Do you have any regrets about writing "Shattered Love"? A. Oh, no, not at all. It was a marvelous experience. It's a wonderful
way to focus your being on whatever it is you want to focus.
In writing the book, I discovered so many things that seemed
true to me.
Q. Knowing what you know now, would it have been OK to
come out earlier? A. No, because my career demanded that I keep all that as secret
as possible. I was playing a romantic leading man most of my life.
So you don't go around saying you live with a guy when you are
playing a romantic lead. A lot of people don't get over it.
Even today. We who live in more liberal areas feel that times
have changed a lot, but the fact is society moves glacially.
Very, very slow. Prejudice lives on.
Q. You have a very interesting philosophy on homosexuality.
You see the masculine and feminine being balanced. A. Oh, I think it's very true, maybe not in every case.
I think it's often true with homosexuals that there is a kind of
androgynous quality. You know the word "androgynous"
is not a happy word in America. I think it's wonderful to have
a balance of male and female in the same person. It doesn't
necessarily lead to homosexuality. A person can still be straight.
I think all my friends have this balance, gay and straight.
The masculine is tempered by the feminine. I think it's a very
creative combination also.
Q. At some point we all have to deal with aging.
Being a teen idol and a romantic leading man, how have
you faced the years? A. Oh, my God! Well, to begin with, I stayed young miraculously
until 60. I mean well into my 50s, I still looked young, I felt young;
I thought I was young. I do take care of myself, and you know
there's no surgery or anything involved. My parents were like that,
too, and my brothers were all like that. Getting old -- What a shock!
You know I'm 72 now, and, no, I don't look and don't act it,
but one's energy begins to diminish and it's a pain in the ...
After 25 years in Hawaii, Richard Chamberlain is very happy to be back home in Los Angeles, loving it, he tells me, with a lot of work coming at him, looking as gorgeous as he ever did. We met up at the Ken Russell lunch and were equally ecstatic to see each other again after so long, which involved a lot of hugging.
Richard was a client of mine during my CMA years in London and we have some adventures to remember - The Music Lovers, the movie about Tchaikovsky directed by Ken Russell; Hamlet on stage; and the antics involved with the Salkinds and The Three Musketeers,
the movie which surprised us all at the Paris Premiere when we discovered it had been turned into two movies....a nice challenge for agents and lawyers....and one of
the funniest post premiere parties ever, with my other client Oliver Reed having
a ball stirring things up.
Richard really enjoyed living in London and was always more a good friend than just a client. I took him to see The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, and met through him the eccentric astrologer Patric Walker, who gave me my first ever 'reading' and introduced
me to Mark Burns - then my husband Douglas Rae to Sally Ann Howes, and there
went a marriage.
Richard is a perennial, who brings light and passion to everything he does. We're lucky he's back and I hope he gets some wonderful starring roles and lots of awards.
With Richard in this picture is Johanna Ray, who is the casting director of tons of very
successful popular movies.