Article 135

Chamberlain's '90s 'Lady'

Whatever you do, don't suggest to Richard Chamberlain that "My Fair Lady" - opening at the National Theatre tomorrow - is out of step with the politically correct '90s. The perennially tanned, exceedingly polite icon who stars as Prof. Henry Higgins just won't buy it.

"Yes, he gives a certain polish, opens up some opportunities in certain superficial social ways," he says of Higgins's relationship with Eliza Doolittle. "But then she finds herself and eventually tells him to go [expletive] himself. Know what I mean?"

He's just warming up. "It is totally a contemporary story," he insists. "It's actually the dilemma of American males who are so exclusively male and illiterate in terms of females and having to deal with something they can't control in a woman - intuition, emotions, sex."

Chamberlain has clearly given his role serious thought - and it's a good thing. Early reviews of the production, which opened in Florida and is heading to Broadway, had him a bit awkward. "No... no... don't tell me," he blurts, "I never read them."

He does acknowledge, however, that even for the man who conquered Dr. Kildare and a host of hugely successful miniseries, and is considered a serious Shakespearean actor, a travelling musical was initially a bit of a reach. "What I wasn't prepared for was that so much rehearsal time was devoted to the musical. The scenes get short shrift," he says. "I felt very under rehearsed."

Chamberlain lives in Hawaii these days, spending his time hanging out with friends, painting and having fun. And brace yourself: The man who will forever be an intern at Blair General Hospital in our minds is 58!

"The hard point was turning 40," he says candidly. "That was my tough time. I had to turn around and say goodbye to youth, and my youth was productive. I was scared. But as it turned out, the forties were intensely interesting - and the fifties have been even better. One does not like the sense of an aging body. But it happens to all of us."

As to whether he regrets never having married or having had children, he says: "I didn't feel I had a lot to give to children. I was shy and insecure, very inhibited and uneasy in my youth - not a legacy to leave a child. It took me a long time to pull it all together."

Asked if he is excited about heading to Broadway, this veteran says: "I'd just as soon play Chicago - or any other city. What's Broadway? It's just another street."

Richard Chamberlain Online