Article 60

The New Dr. K...

Itís been almost 30 years since Richard Chamberlain sent temperatures soaring as Dr. Kildare. Now heís back in operation.

Richard Chamberlain is sitting in a dismal do-it-yourself warehouse under a sign that says Ďplumbingí. Heís eating what he describes as "some kind of Mexican beans and little sort of green things" as fast as he can before his school-dinner dish of yellow fruit jelly melts.

Outside, the sun is scorching on a shimmering turquoise Pacific but Chamberlain hasnít seen a view since dawn.

Hawaii this may be -but paradise it isnít. Not during the week, anyway, for Chamberlain or the cast and crew of his new medical series, Island Son. Theyíve been slogging away filming the series, in which Chamberlain has updated his bedside manner to play another Dr. K (Dr. Daniel Kulani as opposed to Dr. Kildare).

"These islands get to you," he says softly. "Look at the primitive conditions weíre working in -you couldnít call this exotic or glamorous- but weíre all so happy. The people are unbelievably sweet, the weather is glorious, the scenery magnificent. I love it. Iíve pulled up stakes everywhere else but Iíll never leave here now."

A charming, modest man, Richard Chamberlain has always been reserved and detached, shy and remote to all but a few very close, protective friends.

Now, at 55, heís come to terms with himself and the private agonies that have kept him at a distance over the years. "I feel warmer and more open now," he says, tucking into the jelly. "Much more easy with people and myself."

"The islanders have an openness of heart thatís shocking -in the best sense of the word. I donít mean talking about skeletons in the closet, I just mean openness."

The tabloid press, both in America and Britain, recently devoted pages to Chamberlainís private life, but he is maintaining a dignified silence. At least he can now say he is happy and really mean it.

He has sold his Los Angeles house to Anjelica Huston for $2 million and is now living in what he describes as "my tiny old beach house" until builders finish his mountaintop dream home.

Itís a far cry from the hysterical, sex symbol, supermarket-mobbing days of Dr. Kildare. "I donít find all that as much fun as I did all those years ago," he admits. "I like feeling like a normal person."

"Itís been so long since Iíve been out on the loose that Iíve forgotten what itís like to be mobbed. People donít notice me too much these days. I go round looking like a beach bum and I donít attract attention."

True. He walks quietly, talks quietly -except for his laugh, which is like a naughty schoolboyís- looks impossibly young and moves like a will oí the wisp. "I think 90 per cent of us in this business are starved of attention as kids. I keep reading article about celebrities and theyíre all the same story: lonely childhood, unhappy families and they go out and want to be loved and wanted." Is he talking about his own background? "Umm, somewhat," he says. "I mean, not in any dramatic way, but things were sort of off."

A California brat, he was born George Richard Chamberlain in Los Angeles, the son of a well-to-do businessman. By the age of two George was an adorable Shirley Temple lookalike, with a mass of golden ringlets, but later he became, he says, "a horrible, bucktoothed, petulant child."

Always athletic, the 6ft Chamberlain became a track star at Beverly Hills High School, graduated from college with an art degree, was drafted into the US Army, served in Korea as a clerk and returned with the determination not to work in the family business.

His father, he says today, had a "tremendous personality. He was an almost theatrically powerful man. But I didnít feel acknowledge -only when I conformed to my parentsí expectations."

"And to heal that experience has taken a lot of time, a fair amount of therapy, group work, the good advice of friends and just plain life experience. I donít have that voice in my head anymore and itís very nice to be free of it."

Just when it looked like George Richard was following in the footsteps of James Dean and becoming Beverly Hillsí second rebel without a cause -sportscars, driving bans, family rows- an old school friend, then a film executive, took one look at his blond, blue-eyed surferís sex appeal and told him he should be in pictures.

Dr. Kildare debuted in 1961 and life was never the same again. Time magazine claimed he was more popular than Clark Gable had ever been; his recording of Love Me Tender shot into the Top 20; fans went wild wherever he went.

He stood it for five years then fled to Britain to start all over again on stage, even playing Hamlet with the Birmingham Rep. Confidence regained, he returned in 1971 and has hardly stopped working since.

Now there is Island Son. And next? Well heís been toying with a film idea for some years, based on a book called Goodbye To Sam, about an overpowering father figure and the effect he has on his sonís life.

"It would make a wonderful movie," Chamberlain says. "Especially with someone like Sean Connery playing the father. I met him once, heís just a fabulous guy."

Before he went back to work, Chamberlain was typically modest about his life and career. "Most of us are just slogging away in this life and I feel Iíve slogged a long way. I havenít gotten any place that would be worth writing a book about but Iíve come an awful long way and that feels good."

"There are times when I think, God, Iím really tired of being a public person. One of my fantasies is going to Japan and learning calligraphy, another is learning the art of gardening and the third is to become an excellent sculptor."

"But probably what will happen is Iíll reach 75 and be playing somebodyís grandfather...just as long as itís not Sean Conneryís grandfather!"