Thursday, August 8, 2013

Birthday Tribute: Richard Anderson

Today is the 87th birthday of our still-living cast member Richard Anderson! I wanted to get this post up earlier in the day, but it’s been hectic and I wanted to be relaxed to write it.

I hope Richard has been having a thoroughly wonderful day and that the rest of it will also be grand! He certainly deserves it.

Over the past year, I have been greatly enjoying continuing to find Richard in assorted guest-spots, as well as to watch as much of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman as I can get my hands on.

Oscar Goldman is definitely a great character, so serious a lot of the time, but capable of relaxing, and he’s really a big softie. I was just watching an episode the other day, One of Our Running Backs is Missing, and a bookie who knew Oscar back when he was a public prosecutor said that once his mother was very ill in the hospital and Oscar bailed him out with his own money so he could go to her, even though Oscar was prosecuting him. Awww.

I admit, I previously had the idea that Oscar was more stern and serious and bureaucratic until he met Steve Austin and started learning Steve’s way of thinking. Maybe to some extent that’s true. But that episode clearly shows that Oscar has always been softhearted, even before ever meeting Steve.

One of the great things about Richard being a main cast member on two immensely popular series is that he’s in just about every episode. Another great thing is merchandising. I think Richard is the only one of my favorite classic television actors to have his likeness on an action figure. Two, actually—the original Oscar Goldman figure from the 1970s, which I’ve never seen in person, and the newly released one out this year (after a delay of six months). I can’t fully say how accurate the original figure is, but I got hold of the new one as soon as I was aware it was out, and it really does look like Richard! It currently stands just to the side of the computer.

I also have a shirt that features Lee Majors and Richard on it. And I’m aware of a shirt with Richard that lists some of the shows he’s appeared in. I intend to get hold of that one, too.

Another show in which Richard is a main cast member is Dan August. As far as I know, it hasn’t been officially released on DVD at all. And I have to wonder why, since the titular character is played by Burt Reynolds. You’d think that would cause it to be released for sure. Of course, Richard is the main attraction on that series for me, and I want very much to see it!

Among my favorite of the new guest-spots I’ve discovered is definitely his Wagon Train episode, in which he plays a Quaker vowing never to fight. His reason is that he feels he was responsible for a man’s death in the past, when his temper got the best of him. It’s a very intense and dramatic episode and has a happy ending, unlike some Wagon Train episodes I’ve stumbled across. (Two of H.M. Wynant’s are absolutely heartbreaking.)

Richard has been in so very many things that it seems I’m always discovering something I didn’t quite notice before when I examine his credits on IMDB. The other day I found that he was in an episode of Alias Smith and Jones, a show I’ve meant to try sometime anyway. Well, that cinched it, and I found myself watching it later that day. I can’t say I cared much for the episode (or the show, if it’s always as off-the-wall as that episode), but it was definitely a treat to see Richard (even though he was the bad guy and unfortunately died).

Another off-the-wall thing I saw a while back is his episode of The A-Team. I haven’t quite figured out what to make of that show yet, and I wish they had given Richard more screentime, but as he always does, he made the best of what he was given. And his character was central to the entire plot, as he was the psychiatrist for one of the main characters and was abruptly abducted by some creeps. So rescuing him became the goal for the episode. Awesome.

Last year I mentioned longing to see his second Rifleman appearance, The Lariat. As I predicted, MeTV got to that episode before Netflix was ready to send the disc. And it was so worth waiting for! Richard turned out a glowing performance as an old friend of Lucas McCain’s, a professional and honest gambler. I’ve seen all six of his Rifleman appearances now, and The Lariat is by far my favorite.

He also does extremely well in Flowers By the Door, probably the most disturbing episode of the whole series. He plays a madman, a bookseller who gives out flower seeds and seduces and kills lonely women. It’s very chilling to see him in the part, especially since he makes it so believable. In a complete turnaround, he masquerades as the easy-going bookseller, entrancing Mark McCain by telling some of the stories found in the encyclopedias he’s selling. He made the stories so fun that I couldn’t help thinking it would be awesome if he had released an album of storytelling, like Andy Griffith did a couple of times.

The only episode I was rather disappointed with is The Bullet, his final appearance, and my reason has nothing to do with his performance (which was outstanding, as always). Rather, it’s because I felt the episode totally underused him. His character was a plot device just to get the guest-starring sheriff to test his theories of ballistics. He did have a good amount of screentime, but I definitely felt that the script could have been better and should have utilized him more. Instead it’s all rather contrived, with Richard’s character just acting out things as the sheriff predicted he would, right down to eventually trying to kill Lucas and being shot in a quick, anti-climatic scene. He doesn’t even get to talk in that last scene.

Other favorite guest-spots include some more of his Big Valley characters, particularly in The Long Ride and also in Fall of a Hero. He interacts a bit with Lee Majors again in the latter, if I remember right. It’s always interesting to see actors interact in shows long before the main interaction that made them famous as a team.

I’ve also seen Richard appear in shows ranging from Gunsmoke and The Virginian to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy (where he plays Ronny Howard’s father; epic). And I’m greatly looking forward to upcoming guest-spot discoveries and more episodes with Oscar Goldman in the upcoming year.

Happy Birthday, Richard!

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