Richard Chamberlain hasn't been home in eight months. He's been too busy touring as Captain Von Trapp with The Sound of Music, a role he first played on Broadway for four months.
If you lived in Hawaii, you'd count the days away, too. "I'm missing the islands a lot at the moment," he says. "I thought the captain was a sort of secondary role and that I'd have time to do some painting and learn some Italian on the road, but I found out that it's a really major role and all-consuming." (The 21st Century Gallery, 235 Fillmore St., will show Chamberlain's paintings during the run of the play this week.)
Best known for Dr. Kildare and his 1980s reign as king of the miniseries, Chamberlain has recorded albums in the past, but still surprises audiences when he launches into Edelweiss.
"Nobody's ever thought of me as a singer, because I haven't sung professionally very much," he says. "Especially with The Sound of Music, where I really sing, I get a lot of surprised reactions after the show."
There are two months left of the tour, and Chamberlain already seems to be sniffing the ocean breezes.
"I'm pooped," he says. "The show's still wonderful, and still thrilling to do, maybe because the audiences love it so much, but the incredible discipline of being on the road is a little tiring."
With The Sound of Music, Chamberlain is meeting a third generation of audiences. For those who came in late, he looks back over memories of productions past:
Dr. Kildare (1961-66): "A lot of actors took television a little more seriously in those days. We had Gloria Swanson, for Pete's sake, and John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands, Lauren Bacall. All kinds of fascinating, fascinating people did that show ... "Also my relationship with Raymond Massey, who was a second father in a way."
Towering Inferno (1974): "Being cooped up in the hotel set with all kinds of superstars. Paul Newman and Jennifer Jones and Fred Astaire and William Holden. "The producer was extraordinarily good at keeping the peace. And most of them were good friends.
"O.J. Simpson was on that one. He was incredibly sweet, and very charming, and very friendly. He's the only person who's autograph I've ever asked for. It's hard to imagine him doing other things."
The Three Musketeers (1973): "Oliver Reed was a terrifying presence. Extremely dangerous man. He could be very sweet, but if he turned on you, he could make life terrible for you. He was up all night, drinking, eating goldfish out of the aquariums, then coming to work the next day and being fine."
Shogun (1980): "Being six and a half months in Japan was a wonderful, wonderful experience. We had our Tokyo weeks, we had our Nagashima weeks, in towns where locals had hardly ever seen Caucasians."
The Thorn Birds (1983): On Rachel Ward: "There were rumors that we were fighting on the set. That was absolutely untrue ... She had that glow of just having fallen in love with Bryan Brown."
On Barbara Stanwyck: "She was just astonishing. Totally professional. She was tough and vulnerable at the same time, which I think is one of the things that makes a star."
© 2000 Lisa Bornstein