Article by Louise Farr, August 31, 1985 U.S. TV Guide
He Made A Lot of Enemies
With his drinking days behind him, George Peppard of The A-Team is still living down his reputation as a difficult man around the set.
"George was before his time. Men were sissies then," Mr.T says. We're in his trailer dressing room in Culver City, California. It smells of vitamins and cologne. T gives one of his fierce looks. It's easy to see what he thinks of sissies. Won't find any of those on "The A-Team," NBC's hardy little band of prime-time mercenaries led by George Peppard playing Col. John "Hannibal" Smith.
"George was seen as a troublemaker because he stood up for his rights," T declares. "Everybody would like to be able to say what they feel without kissing anybody's behind."
T is talking, of course, about Peppard's bad-boy reputation, which stems from his drinking days, and from his contract disputes with studios and squabbles with executives over
directors and scripts. Hollywood can tolerate a certain amount of drinking. But it doesn't like the rest of it.
"George is my leader," T is saying. "Where there's unity there's strength. If George don't like it and I don't like it, then they're dealin' with the A-Team."
As T strolls to rehearsal, he thumps on Peppard's motor home with a fist. "Is my leader there?" he yells. If he is, he's not answering. T raises both arms in a salute and strolls
It's a Friday lunchtime in the Polo Lounge at The Beverly Hills Hotel. Soft-spoken executives consummate cutthroat deals over salmon and raspberries. And George Peppard, rosy-cheeked and freshly shaven, immaculate in navy blazer, his silver hair shining and perfectly combed, is in the middle of a silken-voiced monologue praising God and thanking "A-Team" executive producer Stephen J. Cannell for hiring him when he was a Hollywood
untouchable. "George is old school. He looks good. He's well manicured. He's clean," Dwight Schultz, who plays Howling Mad Murdock, has said on the phone. "Don't try to outfox him," he's added. "He sees everything in terms of strategies."
In fact, within seconds Peppard has ousted me from his favourite seat in his favourite booth, the strategic one in which to see and be seen. But he's managed it gracefully. And now he's admitting that in the 1970s he was known around Universal Studios as "that sonofabitch Peppard." More politely, he was known throughout his career for being difficult.
"An appellation I really don't feel is entirely justified," he says, lighting a cigarette. "They think they're paying you a great deal of money and you should do as you're told."
That wasn't his style. Lurking beneath the image of the WASP gentleman was a rebel nurtured in the '30s on kelp and the idea of karma by Christian Spiritualist parents in Detroit. His style now is to speak of personal matters, if at all, with an ironic detachment. It's a mask, but so what? For a life that's been lived publicly and to a chorus of criticism, perhaps a mask is necessary.
"I learned a long time ago that if I was going to predicate my feelings on other people's opinions, I'd have no life at all," Peppard says. "So basically I do what I think is the right thing and let them think what they please."
He wanted simply to "make a good living" when he came to Hollywood in the late 1950s after training at the Actors Studio in New York.
And then in the 1970s he quit two Universal series, "Banacek" and "Doctors Hospital." "I've had worse experiences, but it wasn't easy," says "Banacek" executive producer George
Eckstein, an old friend of Peppard's from his days in summer stock. Eckstein, whose own decision to leave "Banacek" ("because I was burned out") prompted Peppard's departure,
remembers 3 A.M. calls from his star, who would demand script changes and complain about directors. Eckstein used to hang up swearing. But he says he was better able than other executives to tolerate Peppard because of their long friendship. "He made a lot of enemies in those days," says Eckstein. "He was always his own man and damn the consequences."
"In the network mind, in the studio mind, you cost them millions of dollars," Peppard says, poking his fork into a piece of sole. "That's more than being difficult. That's being a sonofabich. You also cost yourself millions of dollars, and that's insane. It's the same thing as dropping a baby out of a 40-story building as far as they're concerned."
Peppard nods. "The man who does that has no ethics." Later, expanding on the curious morality of Hollywood's attitude toward someone who gives up millions, he says chuckling, "You can't be bought and that renders you totally untrustworthy."
"I thought it was self-destructive," says Monique James, who watched him walk from "Banacek." She was Peppard's agent before she became co-head of new talent at Universal. "It was very difficult to through to him in those days. You were talking to the bottle."
In 1972, he told TV Guide that he had "a troubled spirit." What troubled him he didn't say and doesn't now. Although he does say that he was never much of a George Peppard fan. And he may not simply be talking about his acting. "He said to me once, 'I'm not a
nice man'," says a friend of his. "The fact is he is a nice man."
"One could always wish one had the charm of David Janssen," says Peppard. "It was hard not to like David. He was outward going. He always had a new joke to tell. I'm not that way. I don't know a lot of jokes."
In 1979 he stopped drinking cold turkey and his "load of angst and depression" lifted. "I think my pattern's about as ordinary as you can get," he says. "You have problems, you think drink helps, and then you have two problems."
But sobriety didn't help his career. Six years ago he was forced to lease his Beverly Hills house after sinking his capital into producing the film "Five Days From Home." He was living in Marina del Rey, contemplating a future acting in dinner theatres.
"The temporal quality of all things was being firmly impressed upon me," he says with his habitual amused detachment. Yet when he was hired for the "Dynasty" pilot, he argued with executives over how to play the Blake Carrington role and left the show.
"Everyone thought I was crazed because of my career being in the dumps at the moment," he says. "I'm so glad I wasn't drinking. I bet a lot of people thought when I did certain things, I'd been drinking, and now they found out it wasn't the booze at all-it was me."
Shortly after the "Dynasty" debacle, Peppard was expecting to be cast in the Alan Jay Lerner-Charles Strouse musical "Dance a Little Closer." "I hadn't heard a word from them since the time Lerner said to me, 'I want you terribly'," Peppard says. Then, to his surprise,
he read in the New York Times that Len Cariou had been cast instead.
"I had voiced...some doubts about certain plot points that I thought needed fixing," he says. "It may have been that they didn't want to hear anything from me about it." The surprising thing is that this still surprises Peppard.
"His beliefs haven't changed," says Monique James. "He was always fighting for what he felt as an actor was important. He's still fighting for the same things. It was just so out of hand
"A lot of people in this business play a lot of games. But I know them all." George Peppard smiles. "There's always the new wrinkle. One must keep one's eyes always open. But some things are done in context with producing a series, certain positions are..."he hesitates discreetly, "not exactly what they seem. They are a strategic move."
It's another Friday lunchtime in another show-business restaurant. "Use my name. We'll get a better table," Peppard said on the phone. He now watches people come and go. I sit facing a wall and Peppard, who is, if possible, more immaculate than before in fine-chord jacket, tan slacks and cream shirt.
"I do not make the rules of the game," he says. "Nor do I play games that I initiate. However, other people do. And if you can't recognize them as such and deal with them strategically, you'll get yourself into hot water."
To illustrate, he launches into the tale of an A-Team director, whose methods the actors didn't like. There was a bit of conflict on the set. "If you want to call it a war, you may," Peppard says helpfully.
So what happened to the director? "He's no longer with us", Peppard says. He's grinning, with his cigarette clamped in his teeth the way it so often is. And what did it take to get rid of him? "Quite a bit," he says, gliding smoothly on. "I really don't think that's very important. We're talking tactics here."
Mr. T explains the usual tactics. "George is our leader. And I say, 'I'm leavin' with my leader.' Boom-boom. And we'll hold up production."
Stop production? Stephen Cannell is horrified. Never.
Well, maybe once for half an hour. And he would never shove a director onto his stars, he says, adding: "Why should I put a director in that position to go down there and be brutalized by four actors?"
Of the director who left, Peppard says: "I imagine he's walking around saying, 'George Peppard is a bastard.' My reputation grows and grows."
Cannell gets upset when he thinks Peppard is telling stories against himself. "I would say to anyone who wants to go to work with George, 'Do it,' Cannell says. "He's a total pro...I told him when we started I'd always listen to him. If he has a bad idea, I just stonewall him."
"I think he goes over the script with a magnifying glass," says co-executive producer Frank Lupo, who describes Peppard as being "like the captain of the tug-of-war team."
Dwight Schultz thinks the producers like "the turbulence" of working with Peppard. "Conflict is the source of the best things you do in life," he says.
Two seasons ago, ad-libbing got a little out of hand, though. "I called George," Cannell says. "I said, 'If that's the way it's going to be, you're not going to see any more scripts out of me'." Peppard apologized, according to Cannell, and there's been no ad-libbing since.
Peppard has not stopped calling the production offices. "If he's floating around in Europe or Vegas or New York and he passes a street sign and it gives him an idea, boy, he'll find the nearest phone and he'll call you up so he doesn't lose the thought," Frank Lupo says,
laughing. "Sometimes," says Cannell, "he calls just to see how I'm doing. And that's great."
At 56, Peppard admits to a certain amount of pleasure at the thought of his old enemies gnashing their teeth over his comeback.
There's a line of A-Team dolls, and he and his 17-year-old son, Christian (from his marriage to his second wife, actress Elizabeth Ashley), have discussed the endless possibilities of what might be done to the Hannibal Smith a k a George Peppard model. "'OK, take that',"
says Peppard, imitating a vengeful Hollywood executive. "'Snap its little head off. Rip off its arms and legs.' When I get a twinge in my hip socket, I think perhaps...."
Last December, Peppard married Alexis Adams, 31, who now calls herself J.J. Peppard. It's her first marriage, his fourth. He met his first wife, Helen Davies, at the Oregon Shakespearean Festival.
She's the mother of his two other children, Bradford, 30, and Julie, 26. His second wife, Sherry Boucher, was a former Miss National Physical Culture. They married in 1975 and were divorced four years later.
"Some people do better on their own. I don't. It sounds stupid to say, but it's true. I like women. I like them when they're little tiny babies, and I like them when they're old ladies, and I like them all in between. They please me."
He's always been attracted to creative women. "I don't think I could live with someone for whom just married life was enough," he says. "Unfortunately, three times I picked actresses who really wanted to be actresses." Luckily J.J. has given up acting and is now an artist.
It's taken Peppard a long time-and four or five therapists-to learn certain things, he points out. One of those things is that he's difficult. About 20 years ago he told a group of friends about something or other that had happened to him. "Well, you know me," he said. "I'm easy going." He got no further. Everyone began to laugh. One friend laughed so hard that he slid from his chair onto the carpet. It hurt Peppard's feelings then. Now it amuses him.
"There's nothing easy going about me at all," he says.
He has to leave to pick up his son. I've made arrangements to have the check taken care of (gracefully, I think) without any fanfare at the table.
"What do you mean, All taken care of'?" says Peppard. "That's tactics." He turns to the waiter. "I understand the lady has outwitted me." He looks back at me. "There," he says. "Feel better?"