Peter Mark Richman: The Quintessential Actor
Peter Mark Richman, whose movie and TV credits are about a mile long, is also a producer, author, and artist. It’s beyond an honor to have been granted an interview with one of the most recognizable, intensely talented character-actors that ever appeared – again and again – on television and in motion pictures from the 1950’s on to the 21st Century.
When did you first get into acting?
I started acting as a kid in school plays and became a radio actor at sixteen in Philly where I grew up, of course never dreaming of Hollywood.
Who were some of your favorite actors when you were getting into the business?
Many actors I admired I eventually worked with… Gary Cooper, Lee J. Cobb, Jimmy Stewart, Barry Sullivan, Judith Anderson, Eli Wallach, Luther Adler and many more. Some became good friends.
Favorite TV roles?
Playing “Nick Cain” in my first series “Cain’s Hundred” was a favorite. It was a helluva series and still holds up. Only shot thirty episodes. And “4 Faces”, a one-man show I wrote years later where I played four-different characters was a highlight. But it has not been released yet. And playing “Joseph” in full beard with “Mary” (Lois Nettleton) on the trek to have the Jesus child in “Emmanuel” shot in NY.
What was your first movie role?
My first feature film was “Friendly Persuasion” playing a Civil War officer in love with Gary Cooper’s daughter. It was old Hollywood.
What was your first breakthrough role on TV, stage and/or motion picture (that really started to get the ball rolling)?
I got hot doing live TV in NY in the mid-fifties after my first Broadway show “End as a Man” and got in the Actor’s Studio studying with Lee Strasberg. I’ve done a lot of theater. Playing Jerry in “Zoo Story” for four hundred performances in NY in the sixties was a memorable experience.
Do you prefer stage acting to acting in front of the camera?
Acting on stage is ALL OF YOU. It is vastly different than film.
You worked on “Rawhide” with Clint Eastwood – how was that?
Clint Eastwood is a nice fellow, was and is. My scenes with an unknown Clint were terrific and powerful. It was the first “Rawhide” shot, I believe, in 1958, filmed in Nogales.
What was your favorite decade of television?
Live TV was a whole other ballgame. Those were exciting and formulative times. It was the golden age of TV and it was fresh and new and tremendous for actors who were developing their craft and technique.
Was there a point where you were called in for specifically playing intense, authoritative, villainous characters?
I got stuck playing bad guys and intense personalities for a lot of my career. I suppose I was good at it, but I’ve played many varied characters because of my versatility, which is a blessing... And, “The Heavy” is usually the more interesting to play.
One of your most remembered roles is “Reverend Snow”, Suzanne Somer’s strict father on “Three’s Company”… How was it working with the late John Ritter and the rest of the cast?
John Ritter was a lovely young man and very likeable. Suzanne Somers went a little nutzo in her salary demands and killed my appearances when she was fired, unfortunately.
Briefly describe your part in the “Twilight Zone” episode, “The Fear”?
“The Fear” is one of the classic episodes of “The Twilight Zone” always shown at TV festival time. It was directed by Ted Post, a dear friend who later directed “4 Faces”. [The particular episode that Mr. Richman starred in, “The Fear”, centers on a cop and a woman who discover what they think is a giant alien.]
Did you meet Rod Serling?
Yes, I knew Rod Serling. An absolute genius. The episodes are as good now as then.
“The Outer Limits” and “Twilight Zone” (you appeared in both), which do you prefer?
“Outer Limits” was a different context but equally as valid and certainly as exciting to shoot. I did the first and last episodes in black and white. Joseph Stefano, who created the show, was a dear friend too. He also wrote “The Black Orchid”.
About what year – or years – or even, decade – did you notice that television shows started to get more “edgy” and “controversial”?
I don’t know when TV got more edgy and controversial. It has always been. I do know when it got more crappy. It has become more of the same and worse and the so-called comedies are an abomination.
“Dynasty”, another great character: the tough but loyal lawyer “Andrew Laird” – how was it working on this show alongside John Forsythe?
“Dynasty” was a helluva show in the beginning. Aaron Spelling had his hand on the pulse and it hit at the right time. It was exciting and rather exhilarating to be part of a hit. John Forsythe and I got along splendidly. A fine actor and gentleman. He would really amuse me with ethnic jokes, which he told very well and we would laugh like hell.
You played an important part as a strict father/chaperone in “Friday the 13th part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan”. Only the last 20 minutes takes place in The Big Apple, the rest on a boat… Was any of it actually filmed in New York?
“Friday the 13th part 8” was all shot in Vancouver. It rained for seven weeks during shooting at night and we froze our asses off. I had four layers of clothes on the whole time. In the eighth week the sun came out because my wife visited.
“4 Faces” – you not only acted but you wrote and produced this… What made you want to move behind the camera?
“4 Faces”, as I mentioned earlier, began as a one-man show. Then I wrote a screenplay when a money man (dear John Crean) presented me with an offer I couldn’t refuse.
What were some of your most challenging roles?
In “4 Faces”, playing the former S.S. officer, “Gerhardt”, whose grandson comes to visit him in South America – and then the 83 year old holocaust survivor, Daniel, who was a singing teacher in Vienna who speaks to a young man in the park played by my son Orien Richman, who at first is indifferent and then intrigued by the old man.
You worked on nighttime soaps – “Dynasty”, “Dallas”, and daytime soaps, including “Santa Barbara”… What are some differences between the two?
Working on “Santa Barbara” was painful for me. Daytime soaps are mostly garbage and time-fillers. Filming evening shows have a bit more quality and the stories are indefinitely better.
Since you’ve been in so many classic TV shows, I am going to list some of them so you can give me a sentence or two about each:
THE LOVE BOAT: Florence Henderson is a doll. Gavin McCloud, dear friend. Earlier he toured with me as “Apples” in a national company of “Hatful of Rain” where I played “Johnny”, the drug addict opposite Vivian Blain.
HART TO HART: Did many episodes. Another friend, Robert Wagner. Humorous guy.
BARNABY JONES: Lee Meriwether, close friend from NY. First met her when she was Miss America and I was doing a Philco Playhouse at NBC-TV. One of the beautiful people.
BARETTA: Bobbie Blake – sorry he got all messed up. He guested on my show “Cain’s Hundred”.
FANTASY ISLAND: I did several different characters. Ricardo was always a warm and respectful gentleman. He also appeared on “Cain’s Hundred”.
How long have you been a painter?
I have been a painter all of my life. I went to art school when I was nine years old. I’ve had seventeen one-man exhibitions and two museum shows. One at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento. I am mainly self-taught.
Who are some of your favorite artists (that influenced your paintings)?
I admire Manet, Degas, Monet. German expressionists. I don’t believe any artist influenced me though. I paint like me. Even if I tried I couldn’t paint like anyone else.
How long were you a football player – and how far did you get in the sport?
I was captain and fullback of South Philadelphia High School city championship team. Couldn’t take scholarships, enlisted in the Navy during World War 2. Came out and played two years in Eastern Pro Conference. (Under an assumed name) I was scouted again. Dartmouth, Duke, University of Maryland wanted me but then I got a serious knee injury that finished my football days. Matriculated at Philadelphia, college of pharmacy and science in 1947, graduated in 1951. I am a registered pharmacist in Pennsylvania and New York.
What is your favorite quality about a director?
I worked with hundreds of directors, including William Wyler, Arthur Penn, Martin Ritt, Ted Post, Mark Rydell, Sydney Pollock, Delbert Mann, Franklin Schaffner, etc. I always liked directors who are prepared and don’t talk too much but are keen observers and can be helpful with just a few words. Confidence builders. Working with actors. It is good when they are pleasant, responsive and who come through no matter what you are doing. They bend and adjust. As in life, you never know what is going to happen.
What is your least favorite quality about a director?
Some actors who play villains will play them as just plain bad – whereas you play villains with some humanity – as if they’re real people… Do you find it important as an actor to give even the most villainous characters some good (and/or human) traits?
I have always tried to give human qualities to a character no matter what kind of bastard I play. We all sweat, eat and get tired… And we all have to go to the john.
Later in your career, after having built up a substantial resume, did you have to audition for roles?
For 35 years or so I didn’t have to audition for TV roles. Later, I refused to audition and it hurt my career. They were seeing thirty people and they all could have played it well. I felt it was an encroachment on my dignity as a professional and it pissed me off.
What conventions have you done (for what movies, shows)?
I’ve appeared at many conventions; “The Twilight Zone” conventions on both coasts, and several more that I can’t remember the names.
You are also a fiction writer?
I’ve been writing a long time. It all started in live TV when I was asked to express what I would say. Paddy Chayefsky asked me, and I voiced a different line in his script, and he said: “Keep it in, kid.” I once had to rewrite a Broadway show out of town because the writer froze and couldn’t deliver a word. That’s the show we opened with in Boston.
What are some of your novels, short fiction, etc.?
My first, “Hollander’s Deal”, is an authentic tale about Broadway and Hollywood. Very sexy too, but for a purpose. My book of short stories, “The Rebirth of Ira Masters” is an engrossing collection of unusually varied stories including: “The Angel Rock”, “Fatty-Cake, Fatty-Cake”, “The Best Burritos in the Valley” and the title story which is weird and fascinating if I say so myself. And I just completed my autobiography “I Saw a Molten White Light”, but completion is one thing and publication is another.
Interview by James M. Tate
Autographed Photos: http://petermarkrichman.com/auto_photos.html
Official Peter Mark Richman website: http://petermarkrichman.com
Peter Mark Richman novels: http://petermarkrichman.com/writer.html
Peter Mark Richman art: http://petermarkrichman.com/artist.html
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