I first met Robert Wolders a few months back, when he and co-star William Smith were appearing at an autograph show in
– Peter Brown was supposed to be
there as well, but had to cancel. When I
interviewed Robert a couple of weeks ago, I explained to him the sort of topics
I cover in the Round-up. “A lot of it is
about current production, and a lot of it is about classic stuff as well. Like Burbank .” LAREDO
ROBERT: (laughs) It’s fun to hear of
referred to as classic. LAREDO
HENRY: I remember so well watching it with my sister; we were both big Western fans as kids. And it’s funny – your wardrobe was always so distinctive –
R: I’ll say it was.
H: -- that my sister, to this day, whenever she looks at elegant jackets, says, “That’s what I want: an Erik jacket.”
R: You know, it was actually based on the
Carnaby Street fashions. A lot of people in their late teens,
especially in London, and here, and in Haight-Ashbury, were wearing very colorful clothing. Officer’s jackets and old uniforms.
H: It always looked ratty on
but very elegant on you.
R: Thank you. It happens sometimes that someone, especially a ladyfriend has seen one of those shows. She’ll say, “I wish I had one of those jackets.” And they ask me what happened to them, and I have no idea. They went back to Western Costume, perhaps. But they were specifically designed for the show.
H: I’m sure they were. What everyone else wore – I’m sure they could pull something off the rack for the other guys – for Neville Brand particularly.
R: Well, in the second season, to match, somewhat, the outrageous clothing that I wore, they gave Bill Smith something made of chamois, with the fringe hanging from it.
H: And all of those Indian necklaces.
R: Right, right – and boots to the knees, and so on. And Peter had something not as colorful or extravagant. And Neville always looked the same. He was a good man. He actually became my neighbor – or I became his neighbor, I should say, because he had been living in
for many years. Then I moved two doors away from him, after
the show. I must tell you that the best
thing about that show was the friendships that we developed with one another.
And I was especially appreciative of that because I came in the second year, as
you might know. And I expected that they
might be resentful, you know, new fellow coming in. Because it meant, in a way, that the show
needed new vigor. But they didn’t show
any resentment whatsoever. They were
extremely helpful. Especially as I’d
never done a Western, in fact I was a novice altogether to acting, you know. And they really helped me along. They were extremely cordial. Malibu
H: That’s really nice to hear, because frankly that’s not what I was expecting.
R: Especially Bill. You must remember that I had never ridden a horse, and I never held a pistol -- I had about two weeks to learn to ride a horse. Fortunately I had a stuntman for when they required it. In the first show I was to impersonate somebody who was the fastest draw in the West. And I really did not know how to handle that – I thought that they would fake it somehow. And they weren’t prepared for that. So Bill took me aside. He had done many of those types of shows, and in the space of half an hour, which is what you had between (camera) setups, he tried to teach me how to draw. And of course I didn’t succeed very well. So then he said to me, “Take off your pants.” I thought he was being funny, I said, “I hardly know you.” But I realized he was serious. So I took off my pants. He made me take off my jacket. Once Bill had my clothing on, they went to close-up, to the holster, and from the chest down, and he did the draw. Then we put the clothing back on me, and it worked extremely well. Except that Bill had very skinny legs, which he always complained about, because he was a body-builder. His upper body was very built up. I had stout legs, and so if you look very carefully, if you know the two of us, you can see the difference. And I thought it was so sweet of him, because as I say, that was the very first show, I hardly knew him, and he wanted me to look as good as possible.
LAREDO cast pre-Wolders: Philip Carey, Peter Brown,
Neville Brand and William Smith
H: That’s very nice.
R: Yes. With Peter, I think it took a little longer for us to become friends, because he had been the lady’s man in the first year, and then in the second year, they gave me at least two ladies to have love scenes with in almost every episode. So I think he was a little resentful of that, and perhaps also because of the clothing that I wore, which I thought silly. After about three months of shooting, on Friday night, they kept us until ten o’clock in the evening, and everyone wanted to go home. But we are waiting for one of my costumes, (laughs) so that took even longer. I knew how fed up they were all getting, huddled around, waiting. And I had had a drink at cocktail time, and was a little more belligerent than usual. So once my jacket arrived, I threw it into the horses’ trough, which was full of water, and so we had to stop shooting. And Peter really seemed to have appreciated that, and his attitude towards me became extremely kind. So I have many good memories of the show. It was forty-eight years ago, so it’s not something that I dwell on a great deal, but those are a few of the things that I remember.
H: You were born in
. How did you get involved in show
business? Was your family involved? Rotterdam
R: No, no one in my family at all. No, I came to the
States in the ‘60s, to attend university at . I wanted to go into psychodrama, a branch of
psychotherapy. And I was rather timid or
reticent. Maybe just shy, I guess. One of my professors told me that I should
join the stage society of the university.
I became involved in play production, and I realized that I rather cared
for it. After I finished at the
university I applied to the Rochester American Academy of Dramatic Arts in , fully expecting to go back to
my studies, to finish my doctorate. And
instead, as soon as I finished at the Academy I got an offer from Universal to
come out for a test. I thought it was a
lark, and I’d never been to the west coast, but I did have a few friends here
that I’d met in New York City Europe, and I thought it was a
nice opportunity to come over, (expecting) then to be sent back with my tail
between my legs. Because I wasn’t much
of an actor, which I proved on . And instead, the day after doing the test,
before I had a chance to go back to the airport, they told me that I would
start in two weeks. I was somewhat
reluctant to accept, but then when they told me what they were paying, I
accepted readily. I had just enough time
to go back to LAREDO
and close my apartment, and prepare to come back here. And somehow I stayed with it for about three
years. But I did several pictures at
Universal before I did the series, and that I rather enjoyed, because there
were wonderful people. The first picture
I did was did a remake of BEAU GESTE with Guy Stockwell and Leslie Nielsen,
Telly Savalas. Then I did TOBRUK, with
Rock Hudson and George Peppard. I greatly enjoyed that, and was somewhat
resentful of being put in a series, because by that time I’d had a number of
people who were in a series – David Jansen, who was in THE FUGITIVE, and John
Forsythe -- all counseled me to try and keep away from them, because on
television I’m typed. New York
H: While BEAU GESTE was not a Western, it was in fact shot in
. Yuma, Arizona
R: That was quite amusing. We went to
, to this miserable little motel, and we
were there for about seven weeks or two months.
Then I came back, and I had one week here, and they said I was in
another picture, with Rock Hudson and George Peppard – I said fantastic! Where do we go? To Yuma ! We went back to the same place, I think I had
the same room at the motel, and I spent another six or seven weeks there,
H: That’s so interesting, because I had read that TOBRUK was shot in
. Almeria, Spain
R: The part that I was in was all done in
Then the remainder they went to the Yuma Salton Sea,
and they went to other places, but I wasn’t part of, so I don’t know what their
H: On television you did a JOHN FORSYTHE SHOW.
R: I did one of the Ben Gazzara things, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE. They don’t want you to be idle, so they push you into those things. They loaned me out to MGM for THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. David McCallum, the one who played the Russian, was suspended because he was asking for an increase in salary, which they wouldn’t give him. So they just changed the name of the character and gave me his part. They made me into a Greek, Andreas something. So I did a few things like that. When I gave up acting altogether many years later, I was living in
and Grant Tinker, who was producing his wife’s show, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW,
offered me a part in one of the shows.
He described it, and I wasn’t eager to take it on. But it was one of the best experiences I ever
had, because it was such a generous group of people, and we rehearsed for two
or three days, and shot it in front of a live audience. That I enjoyed greatly. But apart from that, acting for me was a
hardship. I had no confidence. Malibu
was your first Western. Were you ever a
fan of Westerns before being in them? LAREDO
R: Yes, the John Waynes and the Randolph Scotts, all those pictures of my youth, and Gary Cooper.
you’ll agree, a different kind of Western.
It wasn’t the rough, gritty Western we were used to. (It was) more lighthearted. LAREDO
H: How did you get cast for the show?
R: The day I came out of the second picture, TOBRUK, they called me in to be tested for that. I think they tested all the people under contract. In fact Horst Buckholtz told me they had been tested for it. One of the sons of John Wayne, Patrick Wayne, was tested for it. I think I got the part, in part, because I was under contract. If they got somebody from the outside they would have to pay him much more. I think you are well aware of how Universal worked in those days. But the contract system doesn’t work, doesn’t fly anymore.
had a shorter run than many series, just 56 episodes. But it’s still very fondly remembered, and of
course they’re running it on Encore Western Channel. What do you think was special about LAREDO that it still has a
following after all these years? LAREDO
R: It’s hard for me to define that. Perhaps because it was lighthearted. Many of the shows at that time tried to be. It was the time of GET SMART, the quick riposte and the witty comeback. I think Jimmy Garner, who’s become a great friend over the years, he sort of set the style for that with MAVERICK. The lighthearted anti-hero, that type of individual. I’ve been to two of the autograph shows. I went to one in
, because Bill and Peter were going,
and a friend of mine, Barbara Luna, persuaded me to go as well. I hadn’t seen the fellows in so many
years. And I was very pleasantly
surprised by the people who remember the show.
In fact, I was extremely touched.
This one man, who was probably in his sixties, came over. And he started to cry. I said, what’s the matter? Are you alright? And he explained that as a child, he had
leukemia. And he was either at the
hospital, or at home, not able to go out, and the only release he had was
watching Westerns, and Memphis
was his very favorite. He was so
grateful, and he said, I want to thank you guys for helping me through this
ordeal. And other people came up who
loved the costumes, and they related how they begged their parents to stay up
after nine o’clock so they could watch the show. One of the problems of the show was that it
was Friday night at ten o’clock. And
against a lot of other shows of the time.
I don’t know what they were. LAREDO
H: I can’t remember offhand, because I didn’t watch the other shows: I watched you.
R: You didn’t mind the love scenes? Because I had people come to the autograph shows who said their parents wouldn’t let them watch because of the love scenes.
H: That was not a problem at my house. You said that Neville Brand was a friend in later years. What was he like off-camera?
R: He had great difficulty with himself, as you know, I’m sure. He was the second most heavily decorated Veteran of the Second World War. Having been in the theatre of war, he tried to drown the memory of what he had to do, because he had to kill people, by drinking. Actually he wasn’t that secure as an actor either, so he would show up drunk, when he’d come to the studio, after having his all-night binges. In fact, in the middle of the season Claude Akins, you’ll remember, came in (to possibly replace him). I saw Neville in later years, he wasn’t acting anymore, and he was much easier to take. He was very introspective. I enjoyed him a great deal. He had issues. He was gruff, and in general when he was drinking he was hard to take. I remember one of the promotional shows, THE TODAY SHOW, with Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs. The other fellows and I were already there, and we were ready to start, and Barbara said, ‘Where is Mr. Brand?’ And just at that moment he was coming in. He hadn’t gone to make-up or anything, and he yelled out some obscenity, and ‘I’m right here!’ And that sort of behavior is unconscionable. He’d had one of his all-night binges. I think I understood him, and he knew that, so we had a good relationship, which was even better in the years after the show.
H: How did William Smith, Peter Brown and Neville Brand get along together?
R: Not competitive. I think both Pete and Bill would grow impatient with (Neville), but it was hard to dislike Neville. He never really offended anyone intentionally. Well, I’m contradicting myself because he surely offended Barbara Walters intentionally, but that’s because he was under the influence. But I don’t think that he ever struck out at any of the fellows in the show, or the crew or anyone. He did some things that were disturbing, because they had just started at Universal with those trams that go around. They used to pass our dressing rooms. They’d stop and give all the names, ‘This is Alfred Hitchcock’s room,’ and he disliked that more than anyone else. So on one occasion he came out with a tray of peanuts, and he started to sell peanuts to the people, and that didn’t work. He’d been drinking, and the next time the tram came by, he came out, and I’m sorry to be vulgar, but he stood outside the dressing room and pee’d. But there were kids on the tram; that wasn’t quite considerate of him. And that was reported to the
, so I’m sure he got
Hell for it. Black
H: The format of the series always seemed like GUNGA DIN, very Kipling-esque. Was there much awareness of that?
R: I think in the sense that in GUNGA DIN the Cary Grant and the
character were always teasing each other, trying to best one another. And that existed very much especially between
Peter and myself. That was kind of an
irony, especially in that he had been a lady-killer, and this guy comes in and
he gets the better of him, where he was left with egg on his face. But in a kind-hearted way, never in a mean
way. It was a comic Western, if that’s
the right term. Fairbanks
H: Speaking of the GUNGA DIN comparisons, I can certainly see the similarities between Victor MacLaglen and Neville Brand.
R: Very true, yes.
H: Neither you nor any of the other Rangers ever wore anything that looked like a Texas Ranger uniform. No one ever wore a badge. Did anyone ever talk about that?
R: That’s a good point. One of the people whom I met at the autograph show in
sent me a Texas Rangers badge. She is quite an expert on the Texas
Rangers. And I said, I was never given a
badge, and I couldn’t remember anyone else wearing a badge, not even Phil Carey,
the captain. And she said they would
have this badge as an I.D., like the police carry an I.D., I suppose, a
shield. And they would show it to
identify themselves, but they didn’t wear it on their clothing. And she says that the early Texas Rangers
just wore civilian clothes. Memphis
H: So it’s more accurate than I would have guessed. What was Philip Carey like to work with?
R: Oh he was very kind. He was especially considerate. I remember when members of my family would come, two of my sisters, and my mother, he was so extremely courteous, even though he didn’t owe me that, because we didn’t know each other so very well. And he invited me to his home for dinner immediately. He was very philosophically inclined, and we would have great talks. And after I got to know him somewhat, he was a very fine man. I don’t think he was always the happiest person. I can’t be sure but I think he might have been somewhat resentful of not having had a greater participation in the show; with five guys, it was difficult to give everyone an equal part. And of course Phil had a promising film career. He did some major films. So he might have felt that doing television was a bit of a comedown. He never complained, but sometimes I sensed it.
H: Do you have favorite episodes of the series?
R: I do. It’s the one where I look, perhaps, least self-conscious. And it was an excellent script with a wonderful director, R. G. Springsteen. It was called COUP DE GRAS, and I impersonate one of Maxamillian’s officers. Everything between the fellows and myself is extremely well-written, and went very smoothly. And then the two people whom I had most of the other scenes with were Barbara Luna, and I’m sure you know Barbara – we have remained great friends -- and a
stage actor called Arnold Moss. He had
this great vibrant voice. And even though
we were doing a comedy, he played it so beautifully; he played it the way
comedy is supposed to be played, as if it’s a serious matter, never laughing at
the material. And if you ever come
across that show, you will see why it’s my favorite. New York
H: I’m sure if I wait a couple of weeks I’ll get it on the Encore Western Channel.
R: They sent me from a couple of years ago the DVDs of the show. I hadn’t known that they were available up until then.
H: Any particular favorite co stars other than Barbara Luna, or any favorite directors?
R: Oh God, as I said, it was forty-eight years ago. But I do remember people that I knew from films, like Gene Nelson, who had become a director by that time, and he was superior to the other directors because of his experience, and also because of having been an actor-dancer. People like that I enjoyed working with a great deal. And Jack Kelly, from MAVERICK. What I’m shocked to find out is that so many ladies from the show are no longer with us. You know, they were younger than I. Like Maura McGiveney, who was in the first show. Or Ahna Capri, she was killed in a car crash last year, I believe.
H: You worked a bit with Claude Akins. How did you like him?
R: Oh, he was wonderful, very dependable, very professional. In the shows that he was in I didn’t have that much to do, and I never had the type of scenes with him that I had with Neville, because I would always be sort of teasing him, which was kind of horrible because of the kind of character he portrayed. But Claude Akins didn’t play him as a bumbling character – at least not as much.
H: Why do you think
didn’t have a third season? LAREDO
R: I think it was in part because of the timeslot. Ten o’clock Friday nights is not a very good time. I guess it’s always a matter of ratings. So I don’t know. I’d like to think it wasn’t because of me.
H: Certainly not because of you. I think you invigorated the show.
R: But what I think they expected was that because there was new blood in the show, that suddenly the ratings would increase tremendously. I learned from a number of people at these signings, that they didn’t see the first shows, but that they would be told about the show, by word of mouth they heard that it was something enjoyable, and they started to watch it. But I think what the people at Universal Studio went by was the initial reaction.
H: Now, after
you did an episode of DANIEL BOONE, and that’s the nearest thing to a Western
that I’ve found. LAREDO
R: Oh I did, with Maurice Evans, yes. I remember that well because he too became a great friend. That is the most rewarding part of my brief acting career is that I formed so many great friendships. He’s gone too, now. I would be absolutely dumbfounded that these people whom I’d known about, and who I had seen on stage in
, that they would be doing Westerns;
that I would be performing with them.
It’s a very odd sensation. New York
H: Was the part of Erik originally written for a European, or was that something that was adapted for you because they liked you best?
R: No, I think they made him a European because of my accent. And even the name…he was called Paul. I said Paul is…I couldn’t say a weak name because the producer was called Paul Mason. But it’s kind of a weak name. And I said, what about Erik? And they accepted it. And then they added Hunter, Erik Hunter, sounds kind of nice. Has a spring to it. If any other actor had been chosen, he would have been an American.
H: Over the next few years you had guest shots in a lot of top shows. THE NAME OF THE GAME, F.B.I., BANACEK, BEWITCHED, MACMILLAN AND WIFE. Were any particularly memorable?
R: No. The BANECEK and MACMILLAN AND WIFE were because of having worked with Rock Hudson and George Peppard. I would see them socially in the years afterwards, and they got me involved in those shows. But there wasn’t anything memorable that I did. In MACMILLAN AND WIFE I played a tennis star based on Ilie Nastase, who gets killed, I believe. But I only did this for two or three years after leaving Universal. And then I left the field of acting altogether.
H: In 1973 you starred in INTERVAL, where you costarred with, and later married, Merle Oberon. How did that one come about?
Robert Wolders and Merle Orberon in INTERVAL
R: Merle and I had met and fell in love. And she was about to do this picture. A lot of other people had been considered. And she proposed that I read for it. And Daniel Mann, who was the director at the time, after I read, said, ‘Great!’ The problem with the picture is that he didn’t have a finished script when we started shooting. And that really showed in the final product. And the funding left something to be desired. And Joe Levine, and Embassy Pictures made many, many promises that he didn’t live up to. So it turned out to be a disappointment, but it didn’t harm our relationship.
H: Well, that’s more important than any movie.
R: Exactly, yes. But I wish we hadn’t done it, or I wish that I had not done it with her. Because there are people, who are far better actors than I ever was, being considered, one of them being Ryan O’Neal. It’s a love relationship between a younger man and an older woman. By necessity. It was, perhaps, a mistake.
H: And after that you pretty much gave up acting. Do you miss it?
R: No, except on occasion now, especially when I recognize bad acting, and I say to myself, ‘I could have done better than that.’ But you know, I’m 75 years old, so it’s a little late. I know that I’m not really qualified.
H: Do you keep in touch with anyone from your Universal LAREDO days?
R: Well I just saw the fellows, Peter and William, but there are not that many left to be honest. I developed great friendships with many people in this town. And part of the reason that I keep coming back here, because I lived back in Europe for sixteen years, until fourteen years ago, in
. Because I lost Merle in ’79. And two years later I became involved with
someone who had been a great friend to Merle, as you know quite well, Audrey
H: Yes, as I think I told you, my daughter is named Sabrina after her.
Robert Wolders with Audrey Hepburn
R: But Audrey had always lived in
since the beginning of her career, and she didn’t want to move to the United States; her life was in Europe. So I decided that if we wanted to be
together, then I should move back. I
returned here every two to three months, because I have a part of my life
here. After I lost Audrey I came back
here because I had so many friends from the early years, from the ‘60s, when I
first came here. Unfortunately many of
them have died, but because of Merle and Audrey, I met so many people. And then, several years after I lost Audrey,
one of my great friends had been Hank Fonda and his wife, who I met when I
first came here. And Shirley, his widow,
and I started living together fourteen years ago. And the odd thing is that Shirley was a
great friend of Audrey, and a great friend of Merle. In the same circle. Maybe it sounds odd. They were friends, each one, and I knew that
Merle would have approved of me being with Audrey certainly, instead of
becoming the extra man. And Audrey would
have approved of Shirley. So now I’m the
step-father to Jane and Peter. (laughs)
I’m kidding, I’m kidding, because Shirley and I are not married. But in a sense; Jane’s son calls me
LAREDO stars William Smith, Robert Wolders and Peter Brown today.
Picture by Boyd Magers, Western Clippings
H: What should I know about you that I didn’t know to ask?
R: That I was a terrible actor. (laughs) Perhaps about my involvement with UNICEF. Because Audrey and I traveled for UNICEF for eight years. Audrey became their Ambassador to the world. And we have a foundation in Audrey’s name. The Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund. Please tell Sabrina that I’m very pleased that she’s named after one of Audrey’s films.
If you’d like to make a contribution to The Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, please go HERE.
HATFIELDS AND MCCOYS – THE FIRST TRAILER
Here’s the first look at Kevin Costner’s mini-series for The History Channel.
LONE RANGER DEJA VU
As happened with DARK KNIGHT, Dwight Yoakam, citing scheduling conflicts, is out, and William Fichtner is in as the lead villain in LONE RANGER. Thus far the character has no official name, so we don't know if he's the Masked Man's old nemesis Butch Cavendish, or some other bad man.
PETER BRECK, NICK OF ‘THE BIG VALLEY’ DIES AT 82