Article 120

The Charm Of Chamberlain (Part 1)

It was in September 1961 that a television program called "Dr. Kildare" first went on the air. The clean-cut extraordinarily handsome star of the show was an overwhelming sensation. There were riot scenes wherever he went and he received over 12,000 fan letters a week. Now, twenty years later, and forty-five years old, Richard Chamberlain is still every inch a heartthrob.

His latest major role as the swashbuckling hero of "Shogun", has brought him a new generation of fans in America, and we're betting it will do the same in this country when the film is launched in the autumn. The character he plays is an Elizabethan sailor shipwrecked in Japan -a far cry indeed from the American doctor role, which made him so famous.

Richard Chamberlain has been studying some very modern medical methods lately - the sort of thing young Dr. Kildare would probably never have approved. But Richard feels they have helped him to make a success of what he considers one of his most exciting and rewarding roles ever -that of the swashbuckling hero in James Clavell's "Shogun." The television version, screened in America last year, walked away with Golden Globe awards for best series, best actor, best actress and best director. It was the most successful series ever screened in the States, watched by more than 125,000,000 viewers. The shortened film version can be seen on British cinema screens in October, and the BBC plans to run the full twelve-hour television series after that.

Richard reckons his poise and confidence are a result of the teachings of his friend and guru forty-one year old mystic Dr. Brugh Joy, who holds group therapy sessions at an isolated ranch in the desert outside Palm Springs, California. Richard has studied self-healing, the laying on of hands, colour therapy, handwriting analysis and life after death. Perhaps Dr. Joy is responsible, too, for the fact that, at forty-five, Richard Chamberlain is still every inch a heartthrob. He sports a beard for his part in Shogun and has kept female fans at fever pitch in America - they want to buy his clothes, get a lock of his hair, marry him - anything at all!

"Shogun" tells the story of John Blackthorne, an Elizabethan sailor shipwrecked in Japan. He is taken under the wing of a middle-aged warlord and eventually joins the ranks of the legendary Samurai warriors and falls in love with a beautiful princess.

James Clavell took three years to write the book, a follow-up to King Rat and Tai-Pan. Richard says of "Shogun", "To sail halfway around the world in uncharted waters, and then settle and survive in a country like Japan against terrific odds is a really amazing accomplishment. So far, I have never had to, and I guess, I never will have to face such an experience, but I now have an idea of what it must have been like. Imagine having to face the problem, learn a new language and survive."

"Shogun" will open in London in October to tie in with the biggest Japanese exhibition ever held in the world, to be staged at the Royal Academy and displaying antiquities from the period of "Shogun" - and Richard Chamberlain.

Richard was not the original choice for the role. James Clavell announced that he did not want an American to play Blackthorne and suggested Sean Connery or Albert Finney.

"Keep my hat in the ring," Richard told his agent, knowing that he was third choice and in with a faint chance. Then, to Richard's joy, Finney said he wasn't interested in the part and Connery had just signed for another film. The part was Richard's. "I really thank my lucky stars," he says, because it was an uphill battle all the way. There were many times when I was quite sure that I wouldn't get it."

Once he had got the part, there were many times when Richard wondered just why he had wanted it so much. For the start, the shooting in Japan took place in very hot weather, and Richard sweltered in heavy robes made of synthetic fabric overlaid with silk.

"Then," he says, "There were the complexities and misunderstandings caused by the language and cultural differences. The Japanese were offended by the brisk ordering around that is normal American behavior. They are so deeply into complex courtesy all the time. "And then there was the tedium of working with interpreters. Even a simple demand takes ten minutes in Japanese."

Richard Chamberlain Online