Afternoon TV. May, 1977
By Bill Irvin
I like testing myself physically. If I can't do something, I'll keep trying until I can."
It is a long drive from the West Coast studios of ABC to the South Pasadena home of Richard Dean Anderson (Dr. Jeff Webber on "General Hospital"); it is a rather odd place for an up-and-coming television actor to live. But then one should expect this attractive young man to do the unusual - after all, he did climb on his ten speed bike at the age of seventeen and ride six thousand miles!
But that was ten years ago, hasn't he settled down some since then?
The long drive to Rick's was mostly on freeways; off the freeway it was a drive down typical suburban streets to the steep road that leads to his home. Parking was a concern for fear that the car would roll away. It was like San Francisco. The hill was a steep climb for my old jalopie and the long, concrete steps to the front door were as arduous for people as the road had been for the car.
His blue-jean casualness, warm smile, and inviting handshake abruptly made the journey worthwhile. Polite amenities, a quick tour of his sparsely furnished home, a few minutes to enjoy Rick's view of the San Gabriel valley, and then to the backyard. It was late afternoon on a hot sunny day so the breeze of the backyard and the offer of a tall bloody mary were most welcome and immediately accepted.
Rick opted to sit cross-legged on the ground instead of in one of the nearby chairs - and there he remained during most of the interview. That image seemed quite different from his character, Dr. Jeff Webber.
Dr. Jeff Webber is, by the way, Rick Anderson's first big acting part and the steadiest work he has had. When he was asked about any changes he has perceived in his abilities, he said: "It couldn't have gotten any worse!" He continued, "It varies, in the last month or so I'd been working four shows a week and producer Tom Donovan - who doesn't spread his compliments out without credence - came down and said: 'It looks like you might be making some points there's some obvious quality change.' And recently I handled thirty-five pages of dialog in one day - much to my surprise - almost flawlessly. Yes, I'd have to say it's gotten better.
"In the first place, it amazes me that I got hired. I didn't know it was a soap opera when I auditioned and made some comments about it sounding like a soap opera - and I still got hired!
"Do you know what happened with the Mark Dante character? Well, they went through three actors and ended up with Gerald Gordon in the part. Knowing that they can work that way until they find the right guy, it amazes me that I've been on the show this long. I don't know if it's fate or not; or, they want to wait and see if I'm going to come around. It's gotten easier, though. I'm starting to get a rhythm."
"The first basic reality I ever learned: If I'm going to survive, I'm going to have to do it."
Rick was speaking in a mellow manner. He was becoming more and more reminiscent of James Dean; and his attractive physical stature made it easy to imagine this young man turning into another idolized male personality in the way that Brando, York and Travolta have.
"I'm basically very diverse… I have a lot of different things I like to do and the different parts of my personality come out in the different things I do."
Rick's bicycle has now turned into trail bikes that he rides often. His new pick-up truck was bought so that he could transport his bikes to the best hills. He also got into scuba diving a while ago. "When I was working at Marineland, I saw these scuba divers around and how much fun they were having; and all the food they were bringing back - I just had to get certified! So I went out and did it. And I'll be sky-diving soon, for the first time. I've been dying to do it - so to speak."
Rick wasn't quite sure what the motivation was for his adventuring into the sport of sky diving. He did feel, though, that it was more out of his desire to experience new things and his sense of freedom to experiment with his physical limitations - not out of a self-destructiveness, as some magazine writer had recently suggested.
Rick commented on that interviewer. "He wanted to know about the motorcycle, and why I didn't wear a helmet. I emphasized that it was not a death wish - or anything like that. It's just a freedom, perhaps not a sane freedom, but… You see, I like testing myself physically. There's a danger element that excites me - and I've survived. If I can't do something, I'll keep trying until I can. I've had failures, but I just don't take them well. I suppose I'm immature in that sense. But I don't stomp my heels - I just grit my teeth!
"I have a great deal of confidence in myself when it comes down to physically having to do something. I'm very coordinated and I know how to control my body. Like in sports, in high school - I was super-jock, able to do anything - it seemed like I had no limitations.
"That's why 'General Hospital' is very frustrating to me at times; because it's something I can't seem to conquer. I've failed many times on that show, and that's frustrating. I've died on the show - as an actor - and that's frustrating to me. I've always known that was going to happen; I've known there was going to be something that I wouldn't be able to do right away."
Then Rick's mood seemed to change for a moment. "I'm basically a loner; I suppose that's the best way of putting it. All my judgments - how everything comes out in the end - I make by myself when I am alone. I'm pretty hard on myself, and I have pretty high standards for myself."
"I've had failures, but I just don't take them well. I suppose I'm immature in that sense."
The modicum of a smile appeared as he shared his memory of his interaction with one of the show's big wheels. "Tom Donovan called me into his office once, because I was having a lot of trouble with concentration. He called me in because I had just put a hole through a door on the set - I couldn't remember my lines and it seemed to me that it was happening to me too frequently. I got very upset with myself and had to walk off the stage until I got things together.
"After the show, Tom called me into the office just to let me know what I was doing wrong. He said I was working too hard. 'You're just putting too much into it. Go home, read the script, find out what it's about, and come in the next day and work on your lines.'
"It's taken somebody like that to get me over the humps. I would normally rebel against authority, but I don't with Tom. If I were to leave the show tomorrow, I would have gotten more out of talking with Tom than being on the show. I've learned more from him than I did in four years of college - I'll be eternally grateful."
Rick just had to show off his motorcycles and his new truck. The truck is the first luxury purchase Ricky has made since he began enjoying the steady income of an actor, and he almost seemed guilty about having spent that much money. Why?
"Basically because I left home pretty early, I guess. When I got this job, my father said it would be 'interesting to see what you do with your money, because you have spent most of your life impoverished.' My family was not poor - don't misunderstand that - but when I left I had no steady work and I had to fend for myself. Now that the money is steady and good for me, I just don't know what to do with it.
"I still prefer the same life style that I had - a little rustic and a little laid back. Things like buying a truck - that's a monumental move. I like spending money, but I don't have enough money to buy what I really want. I really want land, about sixty acres in Northern California overlooking the ocean - that's all.
"When my time is mine, I'm my own best entertainer. This probably comes from my leaving the family structure fairly early. Then you realize that you have to count on yourself first - to be able to take care of yourself, because nobody else is going to. It's not a sordid or tainted attitude toward life... it's just the first basic reality I ever learned: if I'm going to survive, I'm going to have to do it.
"People help. I am not saying that I have no need for people, because that's not true. I'm not insensitive to other people or what they feel. I'm particularly friendly with women. I like women.
"It's a basic playfulness on my part that if you want to get to know somebody, you might as well touch them first. That requires a lot of self-confidence - or obnoxiousness. If my aggressiveness turns somebody off, then I respect their right to privacy or whatever reasons they don't want to be touched."
With his warm sensitivity, forthrightness, appealing physical presence, his fine acting ability... he may not be able to be "a little laid back" for much longer. It just may be demanded of him that he touch us all.
Irvin, Bill. "Danger Excites Me!." Afternoon TV. May, 1977: p. 62-64.