Interview 34

After They Were Famous

Host: Back in 1961 when TV had two colours, black and white, and when aspirin was the drug of choice, pulses were sent racing as the dishy Dr. Kildare started to do the rounds.

RC: Dr. Kildare was a kind of perfect 50's guy. He was sort of everything I wanted to be. He was serious, he was bright, he had a very important job, he did it very well. And occasionally fell in love with his prettier patients.

Host: And the audience fell in love with Richard from the very first episode.

RC: Kildare was immensely popular right away. It felt like I was instantly famous. I was getting what 12,000 fan letters a week and so I loved it.

Host: But remember, despite the clinical performance he is not a real doctor!

RC: All during shooting "Dr. Kildare", I would be approached, in a joking way, on the street, or in restaurants or whatever. Sort of "Hey Doc, I've got a pain." I would say "Take an aspirin and go to bed."

Host: But after 5 years the joke began to wear thin and Richard decided the time was right to move on.

RC: I was dying to get out because I wanted to play all kinds of different things. I wanted to play; I wanted to be in movies, plays and play classics, and young men, old men, bad men, you know, everything.

Host: So Richard checked himself out of the television series. Swapping the operating theatre for musical theatre, he walked straight into a much anticipated version of "Breakfast At Tiffany's."

RC: It Was supposed to be the big hit of the decade. But the audience hated it. They would yell at us. They would walk out. I had a line, something like, "I'll never sing again" or "I can't sing", or something like that. And someone said "You never could!"

Host: Ouch! Got anything for a bruised ego Doc? One heckler wasn't going to beat Dr. Dick though, so he went back to the screen and for the next 40 years starred in some movie and TV classics. Here, in the U.K. he swapped his gowns for a cassock in "The Thorn Birds."

RC: Father Ralph de Bricassart was one of the most unfortunate people that God ever created, I think. He did have a genuine vocation in the church. He did love God and he fell in love with Meggie, with all his heart.

RC: They really, really loved each other. They would have been a great, great couple.

Host: And Richard's own love life was no stroll on the beach either. For he too was keeping a secret of his own.

RC: I was living a double life. And in that sense, the masquerade was faintly similar.

Host: For years heartthrob Richard had been playing a role both on and off screen.

RC: When I grew up in the 30's, 40's and 50's being gay was totally verboten so you couldn't just come out and say "Hey everybody, I'm gay!" You pretended you weren't.

Host: And to save Richard the hassle of telling the world, the press decided to do it for him.

RC: Oh, it was just terrifying to me. And I didn't work for about a year. My agent's phone went dead.

Host: Richard is now in a much happier place both mentally and physically. The lucky chap is now rooted in Hawaii where he lives with his partner of almost 30 years. And it was whilst living here that the burden of his public image was finally lifted.

RC: I felt like an angel had touched my head and said "Enough already, 68 years, enough."

Host: So with an angel's help Richard can live the life he wants. And 45 years after he first appeared on the screen he now makes pictures of a different kind.

RC: It's very different from showbiz, because showbiz is a committee project. On the other hand when you are painting a picture, it's just you and the canvas and the paint and the brushes. That's all there is. I do have some paintings on exhibit at a celebrity gallery in Lahaina and in Wailea. But hey are mostly prints, very excellent prints, but prints.

Host: Would you look at that, a celebrity painter who can actually paint. Time will tell if his art will endure but his film and television career will always be remembered.

RC: Mostly when fans come up to me now they mention "Shogun" and "The Thorn Birds", but some still do talk about "Dr. Kildare." So yes, it has be immensely, immensely good to me. I don't think my career would have taken off the way that is has without it.