Article 132

The Girl He Will Never Forget

A few years ago when Richard Chamberlain, TV's "Dr. Kildare", was an unknown actor, living in an unfashionable apartment house at the poorer end of Hollywood, he met a girl who helped him to understand life. A girl whose name he doesn't know to this day.

It was a warm night and Richard stood away from the crowd at a film premiere. Hugh spotlights sliced the darkened sky and music blared from loudspeakers as the Master of Ceremonies interviewed arriving celebrities.

Richard often wandered around the night spots of Hollywood in those days, gazing in at the fashionable night clubs, or standing outside a cinema watching the famous actors and actresses going in.

"I didn't have two dimes to rub together," he remembers, "and I used to long to be part of the Hollywood night life. Sure, I know I've changed my mind since then; nowadays I shy away from it all, and take off in my car for a drive and a hamburger at some pull-in café. But most kids dream, and in those days before I got my break in films, all I had was dreams. If it hadn't been for that beautiful girl, whose name I don't even know, I guess I'd have stopped dreaming abruptly."

That night Richard watched as glamorous girls and their suave escorts made their way into the premiere, sighing autographs and smiling for the crowd. Suddenly the spotlight focused on a young actress and her escort, and the Master of Ceremonies handed them the microphone.

"My chick and I are having a swinging time together," the man said, as the woman squeezed his arm with a show of affection and whispered, "With you, darling, I always have a swinging time." Dick detected the insincerity of it.

"Those kind of people are a bad advert for Hollywood," a girl standing next to him said quietly. They began to talk and Richard told her of his own acting ambitions.

"Don't give up your ambitions because of a couple of phonies," she told him. "You must remain sincere and help to give other young actors faith in Hollywood. My father was a film director here and I was brought up with film people. There are good and bad in Hollywood as everywhere else."

Watching the premiere festivities, Richard and his companion continued to talk. "All you have to do is want to be sincere," she said. "There are two kinds of people everywhere, among every walk of life. Some are good and some are bad."

Richard found his faith in the human race and in himself being strengthened with every word the girl spoke. He told her about his plans for the future and she listened intently, as though she really cared about this boy she had met by chance outside a cinema.

"How about your dreams?" he asked.

"My dream," she said softly, "have all come true. I go to New York tomorrow to get married to the most wonderful man in the world." Before Richard could ask her name, or thank her, or even wish her luck, she disappeared into the night.

Richard Chamberlain found himself among the Hollywood stars when he won the part of "Dr. Kildare" against thirty-five other Hollywood actors some months later. He did not forget the advice of the girl whose name he will never know. They would never meet again, and she would never know that his dream, like hers, had come true.

Now, with a contract in his pocket and a whole new world opening out before him, Richard didn't have much time for dreaming. The TV schedule for "Dr. Kildare" only left time for work. On his first day at the studio, Richard was there at 6 a.m., and the sun was still hidden behind the horizon. At the studios, make-up men and technicians rushed around briskly. Richard was handed his script. Everyone waited.

Laboriously he read through his part as the producers glanced anxiously at each other, wondering if they had chosen the wrong actor. Then the first ‘take' of the pilot film started, and as Richard faced the cameras his personality came through. His wholesomeness, his talent ‘caught fire' and registered on the screen.

The director dashed into the producer's office. "Quit worrying, the Chamberlain kid's going to be just fine." How right he was.

The Chamberlain kid put MGM's "Dr. Kildare" among the top rating TV programmes in Britain and America. But it took great effort as well as talent to perfect this role, Richard had to look like a real-life doctor. He started touring hospitals with leading specialists, studying how they handled their patients.

"I still work closely with the local hospitals," Richard says. "Although many of my problems are over now, I still have to keep up to date with hospital routine. One of my greatest headaches was my hands. A doc's hands should convey tenderness, strength and efficiency. When I started this series, mine felt like I was wearing boxing gloves. I worked on mobiles, making them of finest wire, to exercise the muscles in my hands. It takes me back to my days at Pomona art college."

The wistful note creeps back into his voice when he speaks of his college days. The busy, successful actor, who works fourteen hours a day, must sometimes miss the freedom of the boy who went to Pomona.

"I read aloud to myself, from basic text books on all kinds of medicine. That way I not only learn how to say the words, but I understand their meaning, too." Richard says. He also has to practice handling medical instruments.

Much of his studying is done in his apartment, which has antique wooden walls and sloping floors. Outside are the Santa Monica mountains, where Freeways balance on top of canyons, and houses and chalets perch beside them. Beyond them is a vast expanse of open country where wild purple flowers grow out of rocky crevasses and clash with the blue sky.

Whenever there is a break between takes, Richard wanders round the studio, observing, questioning and learning. He has greatly impressed studio workers by his earnestness, sincerity and willingness to work hard and correct his mistakes.

"This lad is not afraid to admit he's learning," one studio official says. "He's unspoilt, too, and we think he'll be a really great star."

During last summer, while everybody else holidayed for two months from the "Dr. Kildare" filming, Richard starred in his first feature film, "Twilight Of Honour". He plays an aggressive young lawyer and already has won praise from preview audiences.

Richard lives by a rigid schedule. He gets up early, cooks his breakfast, then drives off to the studio. He gets back late, and after dinner and some bar-bell exercise or a sprint through quiet streets or swimming, singing practice, and learning his lines for the next day, watching a TV programme, it is time for bed.

When he has time he likes to go to a concert, or visit the art galleries. His only extravagance is a collection of paintings.

Does Richard have any thoughts about marriage?

"Well, right now I'm married to the studio and the series," he says. "Anyhow, a wife would have to be out of her mind to put up with my schedule. Playing Kildare is only part of it, you know. There are lots of obligations connected with the show. And I have to have dancing, singing and other lessons plus recording sessions.

When would he like to get married?

"I'm asked that question so many times that often I dismiss it by saying about 6:30 in the afternoon! Seriously, though, I won't get married unless I love a girl so much I'll want to toss out of the window things I'd hate to give up today."

"I have no desire to marry yet. What I do have is a kind of medieval knight-in-shining-armour complex. By that I mean I believe strongly that before getting married I should have a certain something to bring to marriage. For me, marriage is not something you plunge into because you've found a girl you love."

Supposing that one day Richard eventually marries, what kind of home would he like?

"It will be a fantastic home!" he says. "On the top of a hill, and full of paintings, garden sculpture and thick carpets. I think there should be an air of mystery about the place, not room after room in the usual architecture. Not that I mean it should be horribly plushy. I don't want that! It should however have a character of its own."

A few years ago, Richard was an unknown actor. Today the world sees him as a rising star, flashing across countless TV and cinema screens, winning the hearts of millions of girls.

Richard Chamberlain Online