Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Note: this is a much updated version of my original post back in October, 2011.
Deeply closeted for most of his life, actor Richard Chamberlain was outed by the French women’s magazine Nous Deux (We Two) in December 1989, and the American tabloids took up the story, plastering the news on their front pages. But Chamberlain steadfastly denied his homosexuality. It wasn’t until 2003, at the age of 69, that he publicly acknowledged the truth in his memoir, Shattered Love. The press generated by the book gave Chamberlain a boost in popularity, and he was greatly relieved to find his fans supportive and positive.
Those of a certain age might remember a TV show called Dr. Kildare (1961-66; clip at end of post), which made Chamberlain an overnight sensation. He played a young intern who wrangled with the medical and personal problems of his patients. He also recorded the song, "Three Stars Will Shine Tonight" (clip at end of post), with the music from the show's familiar opening theme.
After the hit TV series ended, he went to England to pursue a successful stage career. In 1969 Chamberlain performed the title role of Hamlet with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, becoming the first American to play the role there since John Barrymore in 1929. He earned excellent reviews and reprised the role the following year for television, for The Hallmark Hall of Fame.
Chamberlain had a significant live-in affair with a younger TV actor, Wesley Eure (pronounced “your”), who went on to appear on the NBC soap opera Days of Our Lives for almost ten years. Eure was fired from the show when his homosexuality became known to his employer, even though Earl Greenburg, head of NBC Daytime, was himself a gay man. In those days being outed as gay meant no work as an actor.
Wesley Eure recently spoke of the social atmosphere at the time he was dating Chamberlain. “We'd go to parties at private homes, because we couldn't go anywhere in public. I remember being told about set designer Jacques Mapes (Singin in the Rain) and movie producer Ross Hunter. They were at a big private party in pre-1950s Hollywood. One was Tyrone Powers' lover, and the other was Errol Flynn's lover, and they were the two handsomest boys in town on the arms of important closeted celebrities.” Ross recounted to Wesley, "I remember I was at the top of the stairs, and there was Jacques. Our eyes met, and we left the party, dumped our famous boyfriends, and we've been together ever since." Wesley added, “There was this whole subculture, a hidden culture of gay socializing. I used to go to those parties, and the most famous people you can imagine were there. If the public had any idea...”
Soon after Chamberlain ended his relationship with Eure, he took up with handsome actor-writer-producer Martin Rabbett, who became his partner for almost 40 years. Chamberlain had legally adopted Rabbett to protect his assets. In the spring of 2010 Chamberlain moved from Maui to Los Angeles because of work possibilities, leaving Rabbett behind at their luxury home in Hawaii (above, listed for sale in mid-2010 for $19 million). Later that year, responding to gossip about a split, Chamberlain said in an interview with Advocate, “Well, we haven’t really split. In other words, we’re still very, very close. The essence of our relationship has remained the same; we just don’t happen to be living together. I went home for Thanksgiving and had the most wonderful time, and we’ll be spending Christmas together with friends in New York. So we’re not split, really. I just moved to L.A. because I wanted to work more. Martin, unfortunately, doesn’t like L.A. at all, but he’s thinking of moving to San Francisco.”
In the film Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986), a bearded Chamberlain and his real-life lover Martin Rabbett played brothers. In this still, a kneeling Chamberlain has a firm grip on Sharon Stone. Rabbett is in white.
In May, 2012, Chamberlain appeared in a Pasadena Playhouse production of The Heiress (left), taking the role of the unyielding Dr. Austin Sloper, who was portrayed by Basil Rathbone in the original 1947 Broadway production.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Two decades after Dr.Kildare, Chamberlain appeared in some of the most widely-seen television miniseries in history, including the epic Shōgun (1981) and The Thorn Birds (1984). Around 110 million television viewers watched The Thorn Birds (nude clip at end of post!). In the period spanning the years from 1975 to 1989 he was nominated for four Emmy Awards and six Golden Globe Awards, winning three of them. Chamberlain received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2000.
His more recent television appearances include Desperate Housewives, Chuck, and Leverage. At the age of 76 Chamberlain signed on to take a role as a gay man on Brothers and Sisters (2010).
In early 2013 Chamberlain published "My Life in Haiku," and on July 13 (next week) he will sign photographs, dedicate books and pose for photographs at the Westin Los Angeles Airport, 10 am - 5 pm. If you're in Los Angeles, this will be a great time to meet Chamberlain in person.
To learn about his career as a painter (a talent he shares with Tony Bennet, Duke Ellington and Henry Fonda), and for up-to-the-minute updates on Mr. Chamberlain's current projects, visit:
Dr. Kildare: Flaming Youth
A clip from Dr. Kildare. Richard Chamberlain appears at the 1min 40sec mark, and this is fairly typical of the series, which made Chamberlain a star.
Red Skelton Variety Hour: Haven't We Met?
TV clip from 1967, as a guest on the Red Skelton variety hour. This was just after Dr. Kildare ended its run, and it was the custom at the time for TV and film stars to be invited as participating guests on variety shows. He sings (sort of) and dances (sort of), but he is handsome as hell throughout, as everyone agreed.
“You Are the Most Beautiful Man I Have Ever Seen...”
This clip from the 1984 miniseries The Thorn Birds is beyond creepy. The best part is that Richard Chamberlain is naked and wet. A much older Barbara Stanwyck paws a nude priest, sending millions of TV viewers straight to confession.
Richard Chamberlain sings!
He had several hits albums and singles in the 1960s.
Three Stars Will Shine Tonight (1962; theme song from Dr. Kildare)