Article 121

The Charm Of Chamberlain (Part 2)

His love scenes were especially difficult. For a start his co-star, Yoko Shimada (who plays Lady Mariko) spoke no English. She wore a wig for the part, so Richard couldn't touch her hair. She wore make up so he couldn't touch her face. And when they were in bed together they couldn't move because they had tiny microphones taped to their bodies. "In one scene," said Richard, "I lay propped on one elbow while they did Yoko's close ups before swinging the camera on me. All this time my elbow was going numb. Then the muscles in my arm began to quiver with fatigue. On screen I just hoped it looks like passion."

Doubt surrounded Richard's selection for the role and he wondered if he looked physically strong enough to make a believably tough Blackthorne. Others worried that audiences would remember him as Dr. Kildare and might not take him seriously enough. Clavell was the first to admit that Richard was the man for the job. "He's as good in this role as any actor could hope to be." He says now. "I was totally wrong to have opposed him." Director Jerry London agrees. "Nothing bothers him. For one storm scene we threw water on him for days. I don't know how he did it." Yes, Richard has proved time and again that he can play any part he chooses - with complete conviction.

He was born George Richard Chamberlain into a comfortably-off California family. Richard entered Pomona College after deciding he didn't want to join the family business. There he studied art although he had always had a passion for acting, and it was at college that he got his first taste of the stage. He was also prominent in athletics.

After leaving school, Richard served two years in the army and spent most of the time in Korea. Always business like with money he emerged with $1,000 and invested it in drama lesson.

He started getting bit parts in TV but nothing very memorable. In 1960 he took the lead in a pilot film for a proposed new TV series which sank before it ever saw the light of day.

Such as the impact that Richard Chamberlain made on the acting world, and the reason why he was asked to read for the part of Dr. Kildare only after thirt-five other actors had been tested!

He was terribly nervous but, because his clean-cut good looks were ideal for the art, MGM decided to let him try the pilot film. It didn't help when he found out that a previous Kildare pilot had failed a few months earlier.

Actor Raymond Massey who was to play Gillespie in the final versions further complicated matters by saying he would only take the part if he approved of the actor chosen for Kildare. "Dr. Kildare is the story of two men and their effect on each other," explained Massey. "It is important that the two be compatible. I'd had my bellyful of these pipsqueak method actors. They're moody, selfish, and a pain in the rear. In the pilot film we made I knew that Chamberlain and I would jell."

The two readily admitted that they were unlikely candidates for Doctors' roles. Neither of them could stand the sight of blood and Chamberlain wasn't even sure he'd be able to stand a tour of Los Angeles County Hospital. But reluctantly he went to watch his first operation. "To me," he said, "The body has always been an inviolable thing. I reject the idea of cutting it. The first surgery I saw was an ulcer operation. I was shocked at not only how hard the surgeon cut but how rough he was with the innards. I felt weak."

In September 1961, "Dr. Kildare" went on the air in America. There followed riot scenes wherever he went. He received over 3,500 fan letters a week. And so a star was born. For 5 years Richard Chamberlain paced the corridors of Blair General in his long white coat, with his hair freshly blonded and his face as well scrubbed as his hands.

"Doing Kildare was hard work and marvelous training, but after five years I'd rather exhausted its possibilities," says Richard. "The image of Dr. Kildare was exactly right for me when I started the series. The difficulty was that as I grew up, he did not."

Richard Chamberlain Online