For Richard Hatch, November 22, 1963 was more than just a tragic day in the history of America. It was also the beginning of a personal transformation that would lead him, quite unexpectedly, into the arena of the performing arts.
Believe it or not, the Santa Monica, California-born thespian, better known to TV viewers as Captain Apollo on Battlestar Galactica and sidekick Dan Robbins on the final season of The Streets of San Francisco, had no aspirations to be an actor. While he was "always curious" about the performers he saw in high school plays, he thought his calling was athletics -- his "big dream" was to compete in the Olympics as a pole vaulter.
"I never thought of being an actor," admits the boyish-looking, fortysomething actor. "I was far too shy, too insecure."
Going "nowhere" in college, Hatch enrolled in an oral interpretation class when a required English course was booked solid. "It turned out to be my worst nightmare, because I had to get up in front of people and read," he says, laughing. "I found myself flunking the course because I would choke up. I could hardly open my mouth."
Halfway through the course, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, a day that would affect Hatch in ways even he could not foresee. "It struck such a deep chord in me," he recalls. "I remember going home and crying in the bathroom. It was violating; we thought America was impervious to such things." While reading the newspaper. Hatch happened upon an article about the slain President that he decided to bring to class as part of an assignment. Standing in front of his peers that day, the withdrawn and tongue-tied student gave way to a different persona -- a budding actor.
"It was a major turning point in my life," Hatch explains. "As I began to read this article, I got so affected by what I was saying that I forgot myself. My voice started coming out, I started looking at people -- I was expressing feelings and emotions I tended to keep locked inside of myself."
Several amateur performers in the class, impressed by what they had witnessed, encouraged Hatch to hang up his cleats and take to the stage. He didn't seriously reflect on their feedback until a few years later, when he formed a friendship with Elliot Mince, a Los Angeles radio personality and manager who would go on to become Don Johnson's press agent. At Mince's suggestion, Hatch enrolled in the Eric Morris Actors Workshop.
Fortunately for the still-shy Hatch, many of Morris' techniques were based on the principles of Russian actor and director Konstantin Stanislaviski. "It didn't matter if you wanted to be an actor or not," remarks Hatch, "the techniques helped you to open up as a human being, to get more in touch with your feelings and how to express them."
He's convinced that the class "turned my life around. I was a surfer boy-lifeguard at the time, going to college and not knowing what the heck I was going to do with my life. I didn't have an agent, I didn't have anything. I was trying to pass time."
Hatch's casual attitude toward acting changed when he performed a scene in class from the Tennessee Williams one-act play This Property is Condemned. "It was the first time I really connected to the other actor on stage," he recalls. "The teacher said that if I was willing to work hard at it, I could have a career as an actor. That was the first time I realized that I could really be an actor."
In 1969, Hatch and a group of fellow aspiring actors took off for New York City in search of work. They ended up in a "little old theater in Hell's Kitchen on 54th Street," an empty ballet studio where they did one-act plays, slept on the floor and lived on Campbell's Soup. After several grueling months, everyone but Hatch threw in the towel and high-tailed it back to California. Six months later, he won an audition on a new ABC soap opera called All My Children. He read 20 different times for the show's producers before he was awarded the role of Philip Brent.
"Philip Brent and I were alike in many ways. He was a sensitive young man on a search for the meaning of life, a poet. Even though I was athletic, I was a poet at heart. I studied classical piano from the time I was eight until I was 16. I studied ballet for three years. I used to play guitar down on the beach. So here I was, writing songs and singing them on the show, as well as reading poetry, which was great. Once I got All My Children, I was able to support myself with my acting."
When Hatch decided he wanted to take on bigger career challenges, his character was shipped off to Vietnam, thus ending the actor's two-and-a-half-year stint on the show. He returned to LA and guest-starred on several prime-time series, including Hawaii Five-O, Medical Center (as a mentally retarded young man in the "Three on a Tightrope" episode, one of his favorite performances) and The Waltons (as John Boy's cousin, a part he won over Nick Nolte), and performed in local community theater. His next big break came when he was asked to step into the departing Michael Douglas' shoes on ABC's popular police drama The Streets of San Francisco.
Even though he was nervous about replacing Douglas, Hatch took the part of Inspector Dan Robbins largely because he was promised by series producer Quinn Martin that a third of the scripts for the show's final season (1976-1977) would be vehicles for his character. Ultimately, only one or two episodes gave Hatch the opportunity to shine. His relationship with the show further deteriorated when series topliner Karl Malden, initially warm and friendly, began to give him the cold shoulder.
"My agents went our and got me managers, a PR firm -- they created this whole machine. They set up all of these interviews and talk shows. I have a feeling that Karl misunderstood it all. He started being more and more caustic, even cruel. No matter what I did, it wasn't good enough. I used to ask him why he was so mad at me, but he wouldn't tell me. I could only ferret out that he thought I was being Mr. Important."
At this point in his career, Hatch played mostly villains: Murderers, babynappers and the like. More substantial parts, like that of Jan Berry to Bruce Davison's Dean Torrence in the 1978 Jan and Dean telepic Dead Man's Curve and a role in the short-lived series Class of '65, were few and far between. Hatch also accepted an assignment as Mary Kay Place's love interest in the concluding season of the madcap Norman Lear soap spoof, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.
Hatch's career heated up further when he was asked to audition ("along with 50 million other actors") for Battlestar Galactica, ABC's small-screen answer to George Lucas' Star Wars. His in initial response, believe it or not, was a polite no thank you.
"It was Star Wars for television," Hatch remembers. "I thought, 'It could never be as good as Star Wars.' I was very idealistic; I didn't want to do something that wasn't going to be as special as the movie."
Six months later, a limousine pulled up in front of Hatch's house, with Battlestar Galactica creator/producer Glen Larson inside. Larson persuaded Hatch to join him for dinner, where they discussed Battlestar and Hatch's possible participation in it, at length. "He had seen every actor in Hollywood," recalls Hatch. "It's not that I was the best actor [for the part]. What occasionally happens is, after they've seen everybody and they get desperate, whoever happens to walk through the door at the right moment, and fits the bill even remotely, gets the part."
Larson felt that Hatch was the perfect actor for the role of Captain Apollo in Battlestar. "He proceeded to tell me that the show was going to be a combination of Family, Wagon Train and something else -- maybe he said Star Wars. I don't remember. He kept assuring me that, like Family, Battlestar Galactica would be a show about relationships. Combining that with Wagon Train a Western, meant that it would be an adventure show with strong characters and relationship stories. That sounded good."
While his memory of what followed is sketchy, Hatch (who discussed the series 15 years ago in Starlog #18) believes Larson offered him the part that same night. Hatch told Larson he would sleep on it and get back to him. "My agent asked me, 'How badly do you really want the part?' It may sound stupid, but I really didn't want to do the show. I didn't feel it would be a show where I could do my best acting."
Even though the pilot script contained, in Hatch's words, "amazing graphics" that outlined Larson's impressive vision for the series, Hatch passed a second time on the project. Undaunted, the network continued to pursue him, and a series of frenzied negotiations followed. ("My agents had free reign to go for broke," Hatch jokes.)
Hatch learned only an hour or two before the first day's shooting that he officially had the role. "I remember being freaked out my first day. I was trying to memorize dialogue while they were blocking the scene, getting ready to shoot. It was a whirlwind of craziness and activity."
Originally intended to be a seven-hour mini-series, ABC decided to turn Galactica into a regular series after two or three episodes were shot. "At the time, we were the highest-rated science fiction show in the history of network television," Hatch beams. "When we were cancelled, we were in the top 20, yet the network renewed shows that were 16 to 20 places below us. We were not dropped because of lack of success; we were dropped for financial reasons [the show reportedly cost $1 million per episode] and infighting between Universal and ABC over many, many things. We were never fully supported by some powers that be [at the network]."
Acknowledging that science fiction "has always been misunderstood genre" where television is concerned, Hatch is convinced that Battlestar was grounded before it could realize its potential. "It hadn't found its pace yet. We were just beginning, at the end of that season, to start homing in on what worked and what didn't. The characters were still being played with. It takes at least a year before any show can find its niche. Some of the greatest successes on television have been because the networks had the courage to hang in there with the show. We didn't have that kind of support."
With surprising enthusiasm, Hatch takes a moment to outline what made the show so noteworthy. "Battlestar had a unique vision. Everybody has always wondered where mankind came from. Are there ancestors that evolved here and left to seed other galaxies? Were we seeded, or did we hail from other places in space? Battlestar raised a lot of those issues and, I think, touched a very deep nerve in the public mind, just like Star Wars: Who are we, what are we and why are we?"
Hatch believes that, had Battlestar been renewed, it would have become "one of the most successful science-fiction shows of all time. In fact, there has never been a science fiction show with only 23 episodes that has been as successful and well-known as Battlestar. It has played all over the world and has never been off the air. It has been in syndication for 15 years. That's a testament to the feeling about it."
But what about those who felt that Battlestar Galactica was nothing more than a warmed-over photocopy of Star Wars? Surely, TV Guide spoke for some SF aficionados when, in a recent genre-themed issue, it made reference to Battlestar as one of the "low points" in SF-TV.
"Star Wars ripped off ideas too," counters Hatch. "Some of the most successful American movies were taken from Japanese films, like The Magnificent Seven, which was based on The Seven Samurai. You take old books and ancient stories and you evolve them. Whatever part of Battlestar that was triggered by Star Wars was evolved in new directions, and brought in new ideas that were not in Star Wars. On that level, Battlestar became original."
As for TV Guide's comment about Battlestar, Hatch has little respect for such critical perspectives. "I know top reviewers who will put the same film in opposite categories: One will put it in the top 10 and the other will put it in the bottom 10. What makes one opinion more intelligent than another? It's only one person's point of view. I've seen some of the best movies, best stories, best actors, totally misunderstood.
"Which is not to say that Battlestar Galactica was the most incredible show that was ever made. I'm not saying that. I'm talking about Battlestar's potential. Had we had a second season, we would have evolved better and better storylines. Many shows have come and gone and people don't remember anything about them. Why do they remember Battlestar Galactica?
"Why do I travel everywhere and people ask me about it? Why do SF fans still sell the paraphernalia? Why do they still rent the cassettes [of the show] and watch it on TV? Because it touched a deep nerve."
Trying to generate renewed interest in Battlestar, either as a theatrical feature or as a three-parter for the Sci-Fi Channel (which is currently rerunning the show), Hatch has written a script that picks up where the original Battlestar left off. He has sent the script to Universal, which owns theatrical rights to the series, and to the Sci-Fi Channel, and is awaiting word from both.
"It ties up all the loopholes and puts the characters on track to finding their home. My story tells what that journey would really be like, rather than suddenly having them find Earth, which is what they did in Galactica 1980. [While Hatch was offered a role in that incarnation of the saga, he turned it down due to work conflicts.] I think they threw the premise away and it turned into a gimmicky show. The original series had a much different mystical, profound quality to it," Hatch observes.
In the meantime, fans of Battlestar Galactica can look forward to a 15th anniversary, three-day event, to be held in October in Los Angeles, that promises to bring together most of the show's cast and creative players. The reunion will reunite Hatch with, among others, Glen Larson and Dirk Benedict, who played ace pilot Lt. Starbuck.
Hatch is candid in admitting that he and Benedict never really connected off camera. "There was, unfortunately, a certain competitiveness between us that got instilled early on when we would go up for the same roles. I think there was also a competitiveness amongst our agents, who were always trying to wheel and deal to see who would get paid the most, who would have the biggest trailer and all those other things. Personally, Dirk and I never had a problem. We never had fights on the set; we always got along. But we didn't hang out we didn't go places together. Still, I always thought he was a gentleman."
Performing alongside Lorne Greene (Starlog #22), who played his father, Commander Adama, was, in Hatch's words, "very much like working with my father. From the moment we worked together, we hit it off. He was a father to everyone: A very loving, caring, down-to-Earth man. He was easy to talk to and very warm and outgoing. I loved that man dearly. I felt a great camaraderie with him."
Still friendly with Herb Jefferson Jr. (Lt. Boomer), Hatch characterizes him as "very professional. He was one of those guys who was always trustworthy and true blue. I've spoken to him off and on for the past 15 years. He's one of the few people from the show I've maintained any contact with."
Hatch grew up loving science fiction. "In high school, I would buy one book after another and get lost in them. I lived in the world of science fiction. I loved Philip Wylie's The Disappearance. Forbidden Planet is one of my all-time favorite science fiction movies. I loved Silent Running. I thought Blade Runner was brilliant, as was Alien. Ridley Scott is one of the few science fiction filmmakers who has been able to capture SF's visionary quality."
As for his association with Battlestar Galactica, Hatch maintains that "I am very proud of having been a part of that show. I don't care what anybody says about it; I know it has some wonderful moments. My personal favorite episodes were the ones in which Jane Seymour died ("Lost Planet of the Gods"), and one of the final episodes called "The War of the Gods," where I'm killed and then come back to life. Patrick [The Avengers] Macnee guested on that show."
Today, Richard Hatch has his hand in three businesses: Acting (he's working on assembling an acting company that will develop "meaningful properties"), motivational speaking and publishing (he's currently writing a book on "transformational acting".) His 25-year-old son, Paul, also an actor, will be seen playing Hatch's character as a young man in the forthcoming psychological thriller Renaissance, which Hatch senior calls "the best role I have had in 25 years in the business." Hatch also just wrapped up an adaptation of a Eudora Welty short story, The Hitchhiker, co-starring Patty Duke, which will most likely air on PBS this fall.
Summing up, he adds, "To evolve from being a person who was too scared and insecure to get up in front of an audience, to a person who stands in front of thousands of people as a public speaker and speaks from his heart in a way that affects and inspires people, really makes me feel good about myself. I'm proud of my accomplishments as a human being."