Soap Opera Time. December, 1976
By Judy Wieder
He broke both arms playing hockey, cracked up his motor bike and smashed his head on a diving board. Good grief!
RICHARD DEAN ANDERSON ought to be a patient - not a doctor - at General Hospital!
At seventeen, Richard Dean Anderson did something that changed his entire life. The rugged, energetic Dr. Jeff Webber on General Hospital puts it this way:
"I had all this wild energy and I was just hanging out in Minnesota, about to get in trouble. I wasn't exactly a juvenile delinquent, but I could have been," he smiles sheepishly. "I was always trying things. I was a hippie and did the whole rigmarole that goes with that. I hopped freights, camped out on beaches, took odd jobs, hitched to San Francisco, never got involved with the drug scene but certainly lived around it. I sold "The Berkley Barb". You know, your basic transient.
"But at seventeen, with all this energy I didn't know what I would do with, some friends and I took a 5,000 mile bike ride! We left Minnesota and the trek took us through Alberta, Canada, up through the Northwest territories - Yukon, the Canadian Rockies, everywhere. The trip took three months and it was probably the pivotal point of my life. Up until that time I was a real little snot! I used to fight, and I was getting into some pretty ugly things. So I went on this trip and came back pacified. My father just couldn't believe the change in me when I got back. I was just a totally different person. I guess it was a matter of having to survive out there. The physical discipline alone would put anybody through changes. Imagine trying to average a hundred miles a day with sixty pounds of packs! Also, being in the wilderness, not seeing people for days. It's like you and nature. I didn't think of it as a challenge while I was doing it. Frankly, it was just a way to get out of the city."
Indeed, city life, even today with Rick's remarkable success on General Hospital, is not a big love. While he admits Hollywood is a whole lot easier on him than New York, his last address ("Everything was too vertical there!"), it's still not the mountains and the countryside.
"Basically I'm an outdoor person," he says, stretching his handsome frame and digging into some fried eggs and sausage. "I've been working on this show for six months now, and it's such a traumatic change for my body! Look, where's my tan?!" he kids, pointing to his current fair complexion. "I was born in the wilds of Minnesota, swam before I could walk, totally thrived on the outdoors. Today I ride motorcycles and climb the stairs to my house in South Pasadena - that's about it.
"Just recently I bought two dirt bikes," he brightens. "I knew I was going to kill myself if I didn't start taking my aggressions out in the dirt. There's some hills behind my house where I can ride, and I just go crazy. The last dirt bike I was on I broke in half (again the sheepish grin), but I've always been into sports. I was a jock in high school. I did any sport. I was on a championship volleyball team; I was almost a professional hockey player before I broke all kinds of arms and ribs. I was being scouted by professional teams while I was in junior high school, had my future all set for me - before I started breaking my body. Once I broke both arms and was in the hospital for two months, in traction. I haven't been on skates since. I think that's about seven years.
"I went in for swimming, too. My school didn't have any divers, so I went into that and landed on my head on the diving board and had to have stitches." He pauses to laugh heartily at himself. "But I'm not accident prone, really. It's just that I'll try anything at least once. Football, baseball, soccer, anything. That's why this series is such a shock to my body. I've always, always been so active and it's just put a kind of warp in my whole physical progression. In fact," he admits with a smile, "it's kind of put me in my place.
"It's been quite a saga for me," he continues, shaking his blond hair. "I came out here with all kinds of visions of doing this and that in Hollywood. I had photos and resumes and a little bit of knowledge about how to get an acting job, but not what to do once I got the job. I had long hair and a beard and I just walked into this commercial agent's office, and said 'Take me!' And they said, 'Get a hair cut and a shave and come back.' Then, they got me some work in commercials.
"I guess I got pretty lucky, because one of the agents heard about an opening on General Hospital and they sent me over. I was working at Marineland, writing shows with killer whales! Right before I was about to go on vacation for ten days, they sent me to read with producer Tom Donovan. I didn't even know the part was for a soap opera! But I went in, with my long hair and beard, and read with Tom. Then right before I left, they called me in for a screen test. I shaved and got a haircut and came in and did it. Of course I didn't think I was going to get the part, so I split. I went up north and worked on a ranch and just got lost in the Sierras. Then suddenly my agent called me up there and told me to get back fast - I had gotten the part of Dr. Jeff Webber. What a surprise!"
"I guess I haven't had much direction in my life," he says after listening to his own words. "I've always just kind of bounced around. When I think back over the progression, some periods are a little blurry, but I guess I was always evolving. There certainly have been some lean years, I'll admit to that. I'll tell you one thing. This role has been a real discipline for me. It's like throwing a sense of responsibility my way that I haven't really had to face all my life. Getting up at five in the morning and working until five in the evening - this is new stuff for me. I nearly went crazy the first week. Well, I've been on the show six months and it's only just starting to jell. I'm just beginning to get used to this new rhythm in my life. It's getting a little easier, just a little."
As for the future, Rick admits he has his heart set on films, ''I'd love to do films! That's what's in the back of my head. There are a lot of elements that are valuable in doing the soaps and I recognize them. It's incredible training. Everyone will tell you this. You really learn about acting and working with a camera. But the pressure of having to do it straight through and quickly without a lot of takes, that's hard. It's such a luxury to work on a film where you do many takes until it feels right. In a soap, you are putting the whole picture of what's supposed to come out in one shot, which is fine and challenging - but it's just not second nature to me yet. I still get butterflies in my stomach each time."
Watching Rick walk down the corridors of ABC to his dressing room, you can almost see traces of restlessness in his movements. With his solid, athletic body, he definitely looks like a man who should be wandering in a forest, not a hallway.
"Well, we'll see," he winks. "This is what I'm doing now and my contract reads for three years. You never know with me. I don't even have a steady girlfriend. It's just the way I am. It's like my father once gave me his blessing to do whatever I want to do because he knows me. He knows I'd much rather see it first hand than read about it. And I don't regret any of the things I've done."
DR. JEFF WEBBER
Dr. Jeff Webber and his wife, Dr. Monica Webber, are both enrolled in General Hospital's brand-new "Mr. and Mrs. Intern" program. It allows husbands and wives, who are both training to be doctors, to intern at the same hospital, work the same shifts, share the same quarters, etc. But so far, the program doesn't seem to be doing much good for Jeff and Monica.
Jeff has always been the jealous type - but lately his insecurities have begun to interfere with his professional life. Recently, he accused a hospital resident of making a pass at Monica. Only the intercession of Dr. Lesley Williams (who runs the "Mr. and Mrs. Intern" program) helped defuse the situation. But now there's an even bigger timebomb ticking - namely the unexpected return of Jeff's brother, Dr. Rick Webber, who had presumably died on a medical mission in Africa. Rick and Monica, it turns out, were lovers long before she ever became interested in Jeff. Now that Rick's been resurrected and has joined the staff of General Hospital, Jeff can't help but worry. Working so closely together, will Monica's interest in Rick revive? Or are these jealous fits totally irrational? It just may be that Jeff's constant harping on the past, more than anything else, is what will ultimately drive Monica back into Rick's arms!
Wieder, Judy. "I'm Not Really Accident Prone, I'll Just Try Anything Once!." Soap Opera Time. December, 1976: p. 8-11.