Actor Richard Chamberlain was THE leading TV heartthrob of the early 60s. As Dr. Kildare, the slim butter-haired hunk with the near-perfect Ivy-League good looks and polite, charming demeanor became a huge celebrity and had all the girls fawning over him—a situation he would find not only exciting and gratifying, but unnerving and haunting at the same time.
Born George Richard Chamberlain in Beverly Hills on March 31, 1934, he was the second son of a salesman Charles and homemaker Elsa Chamberlain. Richard experienced a profoundly unhappy childhood and did not enjoy school at all, making up for it somewhat by excelling in track and becoming a four-year letterman in high school and college. He also developed a strong interest and enjoyment in acting while attending Pomona College. He in fact lost an initial chance to sign up with Paramount Studios, who became interested in him right after graduation, as he was obliged to serve in Korea for 16 months.
Richard headed for Hollywood soon after his discharge and within a couple of years had worked up a decent résumé with a number of visible guest spots on such series as "Gunsmoke" and "Mr. Lucky". With the arrival of "Dr. Kildare" (1961), however, he became an "overnight" sensation, a huge pin-up favorite and source of idol-worship for teenagers everywhere. It also sparked a brief singing career for the actor. The attention Richard received was phenomenal. He subsequently advanced into the usual soap-styled leads on film befitting his image but Twilight of Honor (1963) with Joey Heatherton and Joy in the Morning (1965) opposite Yvette Mimieux did not score for him the screen fame expected. Crossover stardom is elusive and at the time he was considered strictly a TV commodity with a glossy "Prince Charming" image to shoulder on top of that.
More interested in a reputation as a serious actor than the trivial adulation of youthful fans, the actor abruptly turned his back on Hollywood and devoted himself to the stage. In 1966 alone he appeared in such legit productions as "The Philadelphia Story" and "Private Lives," and also showed off his vocal talents playing Tony in "West Side Story". In December of that year a musical version of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" starring Richard and Mary Tyler Moore in the sparkling George Peppard/Audrey Hepburn roles was headed for Broadway. It flopped badly, however, in previews and closed after only four performances.
An important role in director Richard Lester's Petulia (1968) led Richard to England where he dared to test his acting prowess on the classical stage. His bravura performances as "Hamlet" (1969) and "Richard II" (1971), as well as his triumph in the play "The Lady's Not for Burning" (1972) won over the not-so-easy-to-impress British audiences. On the classier film front he portrayed Octavius Caesar opposite Charlton Heston's Julius Caesar (1970) and Jason Robards' Brutus; composer Tschaikovsky in Ken Russell's grandiose The Music Lovers (1970) opposite Glenda Jackson; and Lord Byron alongside Sarah Miles' Lady Caroline Lamb (1972). While none of these three films were critical favorites by any margin, they helped to reshape Richard's image as a sturdy actor.
Richard felt ready to return again to America. While he made a triumphant Broadway debut as Reverend Shannon in "The Night of the Iguana" (1975), enjoyed modest box-office popularity with the action-driven adventure movies The Three Musketeers (1973), as Aramis, and The Towering Inferno (1974), as an cleancut archvillain, and earned cult status for the Aussie film The Last Wave (1977), it was television that made him a TV idol all over again as the "King of 80s Mini-movies". The epic-storytelling of The Count of Monte-Cristo (1975) (TV), "The Thorn Birds" (1983) and "Shogun" (1980), all of which earned him Emmy nominations, placed Richard solidly on the star list again. He won Golden Globe awards for his starring roles in the last two miniseries mentioned.
In later years he devoted a great deal of his time to musical stage tours as Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady", Captain Von Trapp in "The Sound of Music" and Ebenezer Scrooge in "Scrooge: The Musical". Enormously private, Richard moved to Hawaii quite some time ago and at age 69 decided to "come out" with a tell-all biography entitled "Shattered Love," in which he quite candidly discussed the anguish of hiding his homosexuality to protect his enduring matinée idol image. Recently he has shown himself to be a good sport, appearing in the gay-themed comedy film I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (2007) and in TV episodes of "Will & Grace" and "Desperate Housewives".
Chamberlain has starred or appeared in the following:
- Alfred Hitchcock Presents
- The Eleventh Hour
- Dr. Kildare
- The Portrait of a Lady
- Julius Caesar
- Hallmark Hall of Fame
- The Music Lovers
- The Little Mermaid
- The Four Musketers
- The Towering Inferno
- The Thorn Birds
- King Solomon's Mines
- Island Son
- Too Rich: The Secret Life of Doris Duke
- The Drew Carey Show
- Desperate Housewives