Article 96

Dick Chamberlain: "I was a mixed-up teenager"

Inside the small, compact-sized dressing room on the MGM lot, Richard Chamberlain sat propped up on his leather couch, surrounded by the latest batch of fan mail. Awed by the thousands of letters which reach him each week, he tries, whenever possible, to get down to the business of answering them. I watched silently as he read and re-read one particular letter, seemingly unable to set it aside. Then, slowly, sensitively, he looked up and said, "I'd like to read part of it to you, if you're interested." I nodded.

Dear Dick, I never miss watching the "Kildare" show. I think you're just great. (Dick grinned, embarrassed at the compliment.) This may sound stupid because I know you're an actor playing a part, but somehow just watching you makes me think of you as a friend. I have no one else to talk to, so, here goes. You are obviously so smooth and able every situation, but I'm sixteen and everything I say and do seems to be wrong. I just can't get with it. It's hard to explain but this business about how great it is to be a teenager makes me sick. I mean it's for the birds because frankly, I'm miserable...

Dick put down the letter, shook his head, lit a cigarette and stared off into space for a few minutes. Then he began talking. I could see and hear and feel that the letter had touched him deeply, had set him to thinking back to his own teenage days.

"If that boy only knew how well I understand. Every word he wrote could have been written by me a few years back. Miserable? I used to think that word was invented just for me. Most of the time, I felt so out of things... You'd have to know Beverly High to fully understand part of the problem. I only went to one high school, so I have no actual first-hand basis for comparison, but I'm sure Beverly is quite the exception to the rule. When I was there, it was a school with about 800 kids, most of whom could have qualified for the 'too much too soon' tag. It wasn't their fault that their folks could afford to give them more material things than most kids their age get. And I'm not knocking it. I'm just stating the facts."

"The school looks like Grace Kelly's palace. It has big sprawling pink-beige buildings set back against terraces of well-manicured lawns. At one end of campus two oil wells pump day and night. Like I said, Beverly just has to be different from the average school! And there's the swim-gym, you'd have to see it to believe it. The pool is the size of a small bay, with an extra added attraction - an electric eye gadget which silently propels a polished hardwood floor over the water and glass-back basketball posts rise up like whales from the ocean. The parking lots around school were always jammed, mostly with convertibles or low-slung foreign models. What's this got to do with me? Well, I'm not trying to sound like Orphan Annie's brother or anything, but how would you have felt arriving at a campus like that on a bicycle? I did! It was humiliating. I was already pretty shy to begin with, but riding a bike with my books strapped on the back and my lunch bag hanging between the handlebars didn't exactly make me feel like 'one of the gang.' Who can feel like a wheel on a two wheeler?"

"It's funny, how that boy in the letter assumed I've never known what it was to be out of it. Why I had so many problems I could have filled a book with them. In addition to being shy and not having a car, I also wore braces. That wasn't too bad, though, lots of the kids at Beverly had some form of retainer or brace on their teeth. At lunch time, in the cafeteria, you could hear the rubber bands popping by the dozens as we all adjusted our 'metal works' and set about the task of chewing."

"Braces, a bicycle and a personality that made me naturally shy away from most of the rest of the kids - that was Dick Chamberlain, teenager. Miserable? You bet. There was something else, too, my lack of that thing known as being rah-rah. While the others shouted their lungs out at those Friday afternoon football games, I was usually elsewhere, busy concentrating on the things that were important to me. Painting. Drawing. Studying lines for a play. I just did not dig football, which in and of itself made me some form of oddball. I mean, I like the outdoors and sports and stuff, but I never went psycho or waved orange and white streamers like most of the others did. It sounds terribly square but that's the way I was. Oh, I made a stab at going out for sports. I joined the track team, even won a few races, but then I 'retired' to concentrate on what I considered more important. They say misery loves company. Well, I'm sure there were other guys and girls fighting inside not to fold up because they didn't conform or belong - but I was too involved with my own complexes to gather company to commiserate with. That boy is right, the teens can be a frightening time particularly because usually you can't explain how you feel even to those closest to you."

"I'll never forget my freshman year. About the third day of school, I was walking down the hall to my locker to drop off some books. I saw this girl coming down the corridor toward me. She was really cute, all dressed in a fuzzy pink sweater - angora, I guess - with a skirt that obviously had been dyed to match. She had long brown hair that hung softly around her shoulders. I stared so hard I bumped into a door, dropped my books and felt like an idiot. She walked right by me as if I were the Invisible Man. I didn't have the slightest idea who she was. You see, Beverly Hills has four grammer schools, which eventually send their pupils to Beverly High. Obviously she had not gone to Beverly Vista grammer school, like me. She must be from Hawthorne, I remember thinking, mentally surmising that fuzzy pink angora was most likely to be found on girls from that school. For weeks and months I used to go out of my way to walk down the hall just to look at her. We had an English class together but naturally she sat behind me so I couldn't spend that hour staring. It was awful. I almost got up the nerve a few times to say hello but the word never quite came out. Once or twice I managed a smile and I thought she smiled back - but I couldn't be sure."

"While I carried the torch, I did go out with other girls a few times my first year there. It was really mortifying, having my father or older brother, Bill, drive me and my date to a dance. I felt like a three year old. Every time I did go out socially, I'd always look for the girl. Invariably she'd be with one of the BMOC's - a football or basketball player. I used to think, okay, so she likes guys with letterman sweaters and all that junk, so what. I carried the torch for my whole freshman year. Then, just before we were getting out for summer vacation, I looked at her one day and 'it' wasn't there anymore. I mean, I guess I'd gazed from afar so long that she had lost her effect on me. I felt great being able to walk down the halls and not get sort of sick every time I saw her. But you want to know the payoff. The last day of classes she came up to me in the cafeteria and started making conversation. Right out of the blue she walked over to me, smiled and broadly hinted that she'd like me to ask her out. So I invited her to a show and she said yes. On our first date, she suddenly turned me and said, 'Gosh, Dick, why in the world did it take us so long to get together?' Then she giggled and said, 'I've had a crush on you since that day you dropped your books in the hallway. I used to sit behind you in English every day writing your name over and over in my notebook but you seemed so indifferent.'"

"I just grinned and squeezed her hand and kept my mouth shut. Can you imagine! I'd been miserable for a whole year watching her with other guys and all the time she was just waiting for me to ask her out. Is it any wonder I can understand that boy's letter!"

"In addition to the other problems, the fact that I didn't like school also complicated my life. My grades were not the greatest except in art and drama and music. I was frequently getting into trouble for not turning in homework or something, but frankly I just didn't give a darn. I'm sorry now. I missed a lot of things. I did make up for most of my faults when I got to college, but that's a whole other story. The thing that bothers me now is how to answer that letter."

Suddenly he looked up at me and said, "Say do you think maybe we could do a story about this? I mean if lots of the kids who watch Kildare think of me as being so smooth and sure of myself it might be of some help to let them know that I was about an unhappy and mixed-up a teenager as you can be. Maybe if I share this it would help them realize life is a struggle for everybody. Today things are going great for me. I'm happier than I've ever been. Yet those teenage years are still fresh in my mind. I know people can't always profit by other people's heartaches, but I think it helps to know everyone else has been in the same boat."

I walked out of Richard Chamberlain's dressing room, eager to get home and put what he had said down on paper. I thought to myself how hard it had been for him to rehash some of his own problems and difficulties. I also realized how sincerely he felt that somehow by telling me what he had experienced others might be helped. That's why we've done this more or less open letter to all Dr. Kildare fans from Dick, personally.

Richard Chamberlain is a wonderful person, a deeply sensitive, extremely intelligent young man, who has known hurt and humiliation and years of painful shyness and who works constantly, even today, to try and be more outgoing and relaxed with people. He's a boy who should inspire everyone who reads his words because he is living proof of the fact that no matter how costly it is, above all else, one must be true to oneself. For Dick Chamberlain the world of art and acting and music meant more than the rah-rah life played on a football field. He had to remain true to what he wanted even though it set him apart, branded him as being different. I guess what it all adds up to is that being "one of the gang" may seem to be more fun, but working and trying for other goals can be just as rewarding!