Richard Chamberlain sat back in his studio chair, looked up at the four reporters standing around him, and said: "I know it wonít be easy. It never is. But I think I can do it. Certainly, in "The Charge Is Murder," Iíve got off to a good start."
He was answering a question -perhaps the most important question put to him by the bunch of journalists visiting the studio that day.
One of them had said: "Mr. Chamberlain, we know youíre a star on television, through the Dr. Kildare series. But can you become a star on the big screen? Other TV personalities have found the step too big."
The reporter was right. Many actors who have become household names through television, and become known as TV stars, have failed miserably when given the chance in films.
Some have met with moderate success -but few have become as popular in films as they were on TV. James Garner is, or course, one of the few exceptions. But even he, after the tremendous success of "Maverick," had a sticky time when he first decided to try his luck in pictures. It is only in his recent films, "The Thrill Of It All" and "Move Over, Darling," that he has really emerged as a top star.
His partner in "Maverick," Jack Kelly, hasnít been nearly so lucky. Yet, when the TV series was on, he was just as popular as Garner. That is the way it goes. And that is why the reporterís question was all important.
"I know that because you are a TV star it doesnít mean to say you are going to hit it big in films," went on Chamberlain. "If I fail to make the grade I know I wonít be the first actor to have that misfortune. But Iíve got to try. After all, I canít go on playing Kildare all my life. I owe him a lot but there are many other things to try. Itís terribly dangerous to sit back while things are going well."
The interesting thing is that the other famous doctor, Ben Casey -Vince Edwards- has also been given a big chance in films recently. Edwards has a starring role in that important production, "The Victors."
His performance, for my front-circle money, was satisfactory rather than stunning. He still has to prove a lot of people that he can hold his own in pictures. It wonít be easy.
Neither will it be easy for Chamberlain. People have come to know him so well in the role of Kildare. And that is his problem. They like him in his doctorís coat, stethoscope around his neck, soothing and helping. He is everyoneís idea of the perfect doctor.
But once Chamberlain throws the white coat, stethoscope and Kildare script to one side he is walking fresh ground. If he made a feature Kildare film I have no doubt people would queue to see him. But in a completely different role it could be another matter.
Of course, Chamberlain has a lot on his side. To begin with he is a fine actor. The Kildare series ahs only scratched the surface of his talent. He has a lot more to give and, on the big screen, he will have a far better chance to show what he can do.
Also, he is a strikingly good-looking man, with personality-plus. He is also a real professional. Ask anyone who worked with him on "The Charge Is Murder."
And a word about that film. The first starring role a TV actor takes in a production is all important. If he fails in it he will have to wait a long time for a second chance. Producers have long memories and they remember a failure long after they have forgotten a success.
Chamberlainís role in "The Charge Is Murder" couldnít, it seems, be better. He plays a lawyer, Owen Paulk, appointed to defend Ray Priest -played by Nick Adams- who is charged with murder. Owen is apprehensive of the assignment because he hasnít touched criminal law since his wife was killed in a car accident three years earlier. However, he takes on the case.
"It is a great role," says Chamberlain enthusiastically. "The script was just what I was looking for. It is intelligent, it has plenty of punch and it keeps moving. I didnít want to end up with a weak script when my chance came and, you can take it from me, I havenít."
Other people concerned with the picture are equally happy. They rave about Chamberlainís performance.
So it looks as if he will get off to a good start. That is half the battle. Letís hope, like James Garner, he manages to stay the pace.