Article 47

Richard Chamberlain No Looking Back

As Doctor Kildare, the handsome medic from Blair General, Richard Chamberlain was the sort of clean cut, all-American boy that was supposed to represent all that's good in the youth of the U.S.A. He didn't smoke, didn't drink, and his romancing seemed limited to a hasty peck on the cheek of an equally well-scrubbed and clean-living young nurse.

'Dr. Kildare', the programme, was not so much a television show, more the way of life the American Establishment would have us believe existed all over their land.

"I hated it," stated Richard, fondly stroking a hairy cat, in the elegant office his publicist puts at his disposal during lengthy stays in this country. "All the time I had to behave the way Kildare would have behaved. I was never allowed to be myself, never allowed to have any opinions or feelings of my own. Believe me, those years of Kildare were very, very exhausting. There were publicity and goodwill tours all over the States, meeting people I had to be nice to whether I liked them or not."

The high-buttoned white hospital shirt has long since been discarded in favour of faded denims and trendy shirts, and that over-greasy old hair style is now a groovy cut that flops nicely over his ears and neck. Richard has been resident in Britain for well over a year now, during which time he's appeared in the title role of ‘Hamlet' with the Birmingham Repertory Company, the leading part in ‘Opus 74', the film of Tchaikovsky, and recently completed a television production of ‘Hamlet'.

"It's been a busy year by any actor's standards," he told me, "and I feel it's been a very good year for me. I feel I've been doing worthwhile things, and made a success of them. In England, I feel as if I've been turned on to acting for the first time. That's not to say the rest of my career has been a waste of time, but I seem to have found myself which I hadn't before."

"Working with people like Michael Redgrave and John Gielgud has been such an experience, and England itself has given me that sense of freedom which I needed in order to bring anything that was inside of me outside."

Richard then surprised me by saying that if he could start all over again, he would still jump at the chance of playing Kildare. I don't think it was a mistake at all, even though at the time I was playing him, I began to question the principles that he believed in."

"After the series finished, I didn't look back, I was too eager to start doing other things. I'm still like that now, finish one thing, and wipe it out of my mind. I've now played Hamlet, every actor's ambition, but I'd like to play him again in a couple of years. It's easy to see why Hamlet is a magnet for so many actors, he is so complex, and has so many dilemmas."

Richard made two films and a musical in America after Kildare, then with Julie Christie in ‘Petulia', appeared in a flop in New York, ‘Breakfast At Tiffany's', then came to London to work on the television series, ‘Portrait Of A Lady', followed by ‘The Madwoman Of Chaillot' with Katherine Hepburn in the south of France.

"It was just finding my feet," he said, "making a few good moves, a few bad ones."

If Kildare did nothing else for Richard Chamberlain, it gave him a name, reputation, and a following the world over. Now, he's happy to be just another actor.

"I had my turn at being a pin-up idol," he laughed, "and I guess that's something you have to go through. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. But that has to stop pretty quickly, because it gets in the way of your work. I feel I've accomplished much more since I lost that film star status, and I'm a lot happier. The public don't need the glossy stars any more, and it's proved by the sort of films which are earning the big money."

"You aren't getting the multi-million dollar productions with a host of nobodies built around a big name. Today, it's actors and actresses who are working, regardless of whether they are big names or not."

Does Richard feel that life has been made more difficult for him because of his former super-star status?

"No," he replied, "I haven't felt that. People forget in time, and remember, Kildare was a few years ago. I have been surprised at how easy I've been able to settle in here, and get down to work.

Now, 34, Richard assured me he was no nearer marriage than he's ever been. "I've managed to elude it a couple of times when the going got a bit tough." He smiled, "and once or twice, I might have actually made it, but it eluded me! I don't look upon getting married as an aim in life. If it happens, I'll be pleased, but I've not set myself any target. I won't die if I'm not married by forty!"

"To want a partner for the rest of your life is no motive and no foundation for a happy marriage. I don't want something that will become empty after the initial gloss has worn off. I do want children, and I believe that they should be brought up inside the security of marriage, so I guess I will one day."

I asked him if he needed people around him, and surprisingly for such an independent person, he does. "Yes, I went through a stage where I thought I needed to be alone to sort myself out. Now I know having friends around is very important to me."

© Gordon Coxhill