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It was 1962, Buster and Helen Major take daughter Mary Beth to Ohio to visit their favorite son and Mary's favorite brother, who was working at the Akron Beacon-Journal. Among my assignments: going to Cleveland to interview celebrities who appear on "The Mike Douglas Show" (which eventually would move to Philadelphia).

As far as Mary was concerned, the trip was timed perfectly. One of her favorite TV stars was on the Douglas show, while another was in Cleveland to film an episode of his hit TV series. She tagged along with brother me and met both actors. We'd find out later that neither was quite what he seemed, but meeting them was memorable, nonetheless.

Up first, Richard Chamberlain, who was charming and friendly, taking time after the Douglas show to have a quiet, almost private conversation with Mary, who had the perfect celebrity experience, every bit as pleasant as indicated in this Beacon-Journal photo by Ott Gangl.

From there, Mary and I went to a Cleveland estate being used for an episode of "Route 66." There Mary got a taste of the simmering feud between co-stars George Maharis and Martin Milner. Maharis is why Mary wanted to visit the set. He, too, was charming and friendly, though he enjoyed playing to a wider audience, which included anyone within 25 feet, particularly members of the show's crew. Maharis seemed to make a great effort to convince the mostly male crew that he was a man's man.

As filming was about to resume, Maharis advised Mary to take a certain chair along the perimeter of the set. Minutes later Milner arrived and informed Mary she didn't belong in that seat and told her to go elsewhere. His manner was borderline rude, though it softened a bit when we explained why Mary had taken that particular seat.

A few days earlier, I had made my first visit to the set and was told by the show's publicist that I could interview Maharis on condition that I speak to Milner first. The actor was upset because many journalists wanted to meet Maharis, then one of TV's biggest stars, but few were sticking around to interview Milner.

Since I also wanted to meet Milner (whose movie credits include the classic "Sweet Smell of Success"), I readily agreed to the publicist's condition. However, as we were on our way to Milner's trailer, we were intercepted by Maharis who introduced himself and became all friendly and talkative. His purpose, apparently, was to annoy Milner, and he did. Milner was noticeably irked when I met him a few minutes later.

At the time, both Chamberlain and Maharis were considered "heartthrobs," a silly old word that seems even sillier today. Both men eventually revealed they are gay, so the only throbbing hearts that mattered to Chamberlain and Maharis were not the ones their networks had in mind.

My interview with Chamberlain:

Akron Beacon Journal, Oct. 7, 1962

What else are big brothers for, anyway?

Especially big brothers who get the opportunity to meet Richard Chamberlain?

Naturally when I had the chance to meet television's Dr. Kildare during his stop at KYW for "The Mike Douglas Show," I took my sister along.

Teenaged girls usually go ape over Chamberlain, but my sister, Mary, displayed remarkable self-control when she was introduced. (She said something about her shoes being too tight.)

However, ladies in the Mike Douglas audience who rushed Chamberlain after the show made the TV star's younger fans look like amateurs.

One woman – in her 40s – couldn't stop giggling. She extended her right hand, making one simple request: "Just let me touch you."

Another female – about 27 – grabbed Chamberlain around the waist and tossed a camera to another fan. "Here!" she screamed. "Take a picture of us together!" Then she gave the TV doctor a bear hug.

CHAMBERLAIN was unruffled. He's been getting similar treatment everywhere since his show became a hit last fall.

He had a week off from filming recently and made four stops – in Baltimore, New York, Pittsburgh and Cleveland – where "Dr. Kildare's" ratings have sagged below the national average.

Chamberlain's receptions have been wild. During an American Day parade in Baltimore, Chamberlain had to be removed from the reviewing stand so Maryland Gov. J. Millard Tawes could deliver a speech. Chamberlain's presence had created a riot, disrupting the usually dignified ceremony.

So far Chamberlain doesn't mind these junkets ... until he is asked to make video tapes of promotional plugs for local stations. Nothing against the local stations, it's just that these little sales pitches leave the actor momentarily tongue tied.

"I did five of them in Cleveland and surprised myself by getting them done in less than half an hour. Ordinarily I have to do them over and over again."

His explanation: "I'm not a very good reader. I memorize my scripts."

During the reading chore in Pittsburgh, he exclaimed on camera, "I didn't know there was an H in Pittsburgh!" And the commercial had to be repeated.

THE ACTOR'S sense of humor caught the Cleveland crew off guard when he started his message straight-faced by saying, "Watch Dr. Casey every Thursday." ("Dr. Kildare" is telecast each Thursday night at 8:30 over KYW, a point driven home time and time again during Chamberlain's Cleveland visit.)

Chamberlain doesn't mind reference to "Ben Casey," but he's getting tired of comparisons with Vince Edwards, who plays Casey. He says he is more concerned with another medical show, "The Nurses," which will be his competition on CBS this season.

Chamberlain came out of nowhere last year to grab the lead on the Kildare show. His previous experience was limited to bit parts in television films and a small part in the Western movie, "A Thunder of Drums." He also made another feature film, "Secrets of the Purple Reef," which was soon forgotten.

"I auditioned for Dr. Kildare like a lot of other actors," he said, "but I don't know how I got the part. To show you how things work in Hollywood, it was a secretary at MGM who told me I was picked. I think she was the first to know."

A FEW WEEKS later the 27-year-old Chamberlain was a full-fledged women's hero. As such he is subject of a lot of romantic rumors. My sister made sure I checked them out.

"There's a rumor that I'm secretly married," he says, "but that's a lot of hogwash." (He spreads that rumor himself, however, whenever he wants to squelch an eager admirer.)

"There's another rumor that I'm engaged to Carol Burnett, but we're just good friends. Actually, I've only seen Carol three weeks in the last year and that was while I visited New York for my vacation this summer. We went to the Bronx zoo."

Chamberlain says his most frequent date is singer Clara Ray, "but it's nothing serious."

AMONG GUEST STARS on "Dr. Kildare," one actress – Suzanne Pleshette – seems most likely to provide stiff competition for Ray, Burnett and my sister.

"Suzanne's a wonderful actress," said Chamberlain. "I fell in love with her – in the script and out – while doing the show with her. Unfortunately, she's going with Troy Donahue, but I don't think they're in love. I hope it isn't love."

Chamberlain's remarks about his love life made my sister forget her aching feet. After all, she still has a chance.

Chamberlain says the life of a television star – especially an ambitious one – is no bed of roses. He doesn't have much time to go out and meet people, unless he meets them through his work.

"I take singing lessons three nights a week," he said, "and other nights I have meetings with a musical drama group that has just started on the Coast."

Chamberlain is president of an organization trying to give young performers experience in musical comedies. Chamberlain says he is serious about his singing career and would like nothing better than a part in a Broadway musical.

He has a recording contract and his first single, "Three Stars Will Shine Tonight," based on the "Dr. Kildare" theme, became a hit.

BECAUSE HE'S so busy, he spends whatever spare time he has just relaxing.

"I was a physical wreck when we finished last season. Some people on our show went right out and got work during the vacation, but not me. I just went someplace to sit. I was still tired when we began this season. And I won't have any break this time. MGM plans to put me in a movie next summer."

The actor has a seven-year contract with MGM.

Amusing moments provided by co-star Raymond Massey (Dr. Gillespie) help break the monotony of series work.

"Ray didn't have anything to do in one of our shows last year, so he took a role in the movie, "How the West Was Won," which was being filmed across the street from our lot. Ray was playing Abraham Lincoln.

"One day while I was doing a particularly dramatic scene with George Voskovec, Ray strolled over to our set in his Lincoln costume. I didn't see him until he came up behind me in the middle of my speech and tapped me on the shoulder.

"Another show had us welcoming a Tom Dooley-type doctor from India. Ray had a sign made up in the languages saying, "Unfair! Go Home!" And he formed a one-man picket. He pulled his coat up over his face and walked back and forth carrying the sign while we tried to film the scene."

"DR. KILDARE" is filmed on the MGM lot and none of it has even been shot inside a hospital.

Chamberlain is coached by a series of doctors, including specialists on diseases that are included in the scripts.

To complete my role as Big Brother of the Year, I had photographer Ott Gangl pose my sister with Chamberlain for a picture. I moved out of earshot, but could tell Mary and Chamberlainn were getting along pretty well. I asked her later what they had talked about.

"Well, he said it was pretty hard to talk while you're having a picture taken," she started to explain, "so I mentioned the weather and then he mentioned Lake Erie and I mentioned the ocean and the rest is none of your business."

JACK MAJOR

 

 

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George Burns Anthony Franciosa Gene Pitney
Michael Callan Annette Funicello Martha Raye
Richard Chamberlain Zsa Zsa Gabor Della Reese
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Sammy Davis Jr. Jack Lord Clint Walker
Richard Deacon George Maharis Ray Walston
Bob Denver Jackie Mason Betty White
James Drury Raymond Massey Andy Williams
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