04-07-2011, 11:07 PM
TV didn't need a new cop show. The airwaves were already filled with policemen of all kinds. ABC decided to start a new show called Starsky & Hutch. "It's going to be a big hit," they kept saying.
Surprisingly, they were right. Within a matter of weeks, Starsky & Hutch had become TV's hottest new team. They hit the screen with tires squealing and guns drawn. And they haven't slowed down much since then.
The two men are plainclothes policemen. "I'm glad you guys work the street," their captain tells them. "You look lousy in uniforms."
What does this show offer that other cop shows don't? Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky) and David Soul (Hutch) are often asked that. To them, the answer is clear. Paul says, "What we have is a special chemistry between two people."
Starsky & Hutch get along. They are alike in certain ways. They are also quite different. Dark-haired Starsky looks like a street fighter. Tall, blond Hutch looks like a surfer.
Starsky is the one who drives the red Ford at high speeds. Sometimes he goes the wrong way on one-way streets. Once when this happened, Hutch yelled, "Hey, didn't you see the arrow?"
"I didn't even see the sign," Starsky answered. Somehow he managed not to kill them both.
I met Paul and David last summer just before their show went back into production for a second season. Both had been busy working on other projects. Both were eager to get back to Starsky & Hutch.
Paul came into the interview wearing a yellow leather-like jacket and sunglasses pushed up into his dark hair. Paul is intense and intelligent. He has been called - and has called himself - "an angry young man". But unlike many actors, he is also compassionate, concerned, and very aware of the people around him.
"I think our show has many strengths," he stated."Obviously a big part of its attraction is the relationship between Starsky & Hutch. Here are two people who care for each other very much. They would lay down their lives for each other. You put people like that in the throes of danger - and you can come up with some very exciting stories.
"I think people are looking for examples of the nobler aspects of man's behavior and existence. They see that in this relationship between Starsky & Hutch. You put two heroes like these in exciting situations - and you are catering to people's fantasy and imagination."
When you're talking about police shows, the question of violence invariably comes up. What is violence? Should it be shown on TV? How much is too much? Paul doesn't pretend to have the answers, but he's given the whole question a lot of thought.
"I don't condone violence," he said. "You shouldn't go around punching everyone. When I play Starsky and have to punch someone, I try to do it in a very theatrical way. That raises it above a common street fight.
"But it's a very delicate situation," Paul continued. "More and more, people are suppressing their feelings. They want to be accepted by society. The more we suppress our instincts, the more we neutralize ourselves. The more robot we become." Paul paused. It wasn't easy to put his thoughts into words.
"I guess the gist of what I'm saying is that I believe violence on TV, when it's handled the right way, can be a real outlet for people. Starsky & Hutch isn't the 'end all and be all' or the greatest thing ever in TV programming. But we do the best we can," Paul stressed. "TV's main goal is to sell soap - or whatever. But it is available to millions of viewers, and they fantasize through it. We believe that because we have washing machines and computers and cars that go 100 mph we're not primitive. But in many ways we ARE stll primitive!"
In some ways, Paul had a rough first year on Starsky & Hutch. "My first season could be divided into two parts," he said. "At first it was very scary as to whether people would understand me. I did fight a lot - not physically, but for the things I believed in. Then, through a series of events, I came to realize the limitations of the medium - and the fact that everyone was working together. I began to trust my fellow workers more. I began to learn what I could expect from them and from myself. I began to relax."
"What were some of the battles over?" I asked Paul.
"We weren't really fighting over the characters of Starsky & Hutch," he replied. "Mainly we were quarreling over differences of opinion on the development of stories and ideas. I had to learn that everyone was working together. You constantly have to learn. Probably the best thing about doing a show like this isn't what you see on the screen. For the actor, it's the communication that exists among everybody who puts that show together. I had to learn that."
There may have been some disagreements behind the scenes (there are on most shows) - but Starsky & Hutch became a runaway hit. "What it was and is is a lot of work," Paul pointed out. "But I'm so much more in touch with myself now than I was before. It's incredible! When something like this happens to you, all of a sudden you're in the public eye. You have to take responsibility for what you're doing and how you express yourself. You find yourself being much more selective with your life."
Being a TV star can have its drawbacks, but they don't bother Paul. "Probably the only thing you sacrifice is a degree of privacy," he said. "I don't worry about that. At the end of the day I'd just as soon be alone anyway. It's been a marvelous, amazing experience," he added. "You smarten up a lot! You learn about people - what they can do and can't do - and then they don't disappoint you."
Paul was born in Cambridge, MA, on March 25, 1943. "I was a very angry kid," he recalled. "As a child, I never really fulfilled myself in terms of expressing who I was, how I felt about things, how the world affected me. I went to a coed boarding school, but I commuted and I kept very much to myself. I commuted back and forth in sort of a hot rod. It wasn't considered a hot rod back in my hometown, but it was in the environment of that school. 90% of the kids were walking around with long hair and guitars. I had friends at school and at home, but I never had really close friends."
Paul, I learned, doesn't grant many interviews. He's tired of talking about himself. He had granted this one because it was for young people.
"One thing I'd like them to know," he emphasized, "is that I had a very painful childhood. I'm saying to THEM: you have a painful childhood and I know that. If I were a teacher I'd relate to that - to the loneliness and anonymity. So many teachers know NOTHING about kids. Now I've given a child a chance to grow up - that's what Starsky is all about.
"Some young people are too proud - or too unaware - to admit the pain. Even them I understand. We're all children. Once you stop realizing that, you're dead. I have just finished doing a film about Houdini," Paul continued. "When I started it, I was very cocky. I said, 'Oh, I know how to do all of this.' And that first week was terrible! I DIDN'T know it all!
"We're always growing. The lies perpetuated on children by society are horrible! We say to them, 'Don't be a child. Be an adult.' What does that mean? People define adulthood as a station in life, a place you arrive at and stay until you're dead. CHANGE is the only constant thing in life! The idea that you've become an adult and have it made is nonsense. You're always a student!"
Paul had been deeply intent on what he was saying. But suddenly he turned to the ABC publicist sitting beside him and asked, "Are you all right?" He, and no one else, has noticed that she had turned pale. The room was very warm. He helped her off with her jacket. Then he continued.
"Not long ago I went to Atlanta to do Luther," he said. "While I was there I got a letter from a girl who had written a paper in school comparing Starsky & Hutch to Romeo & Juliet. The teacher gave her a C minus on it, but told the girl that if I approved of it, she'd give her a B!" Paul looked disgusted. "That teacher was stifling the creativity of that girl! I understand what young people are going through. When I see kids today, I say, 'Do you have any good teachers?'
"I had three good teachers in high school. Then I decided to go to college because it seemed to be the thing to do. My father was an architect. He had gone to college. My sister had gone to college. I didn't have the maturity, the emotional legs, or the understanding of who I was to leave school. So I went to college and it was a phenomenal waste of time and money.
"But I obviously needed that experience," Paul said thoughtfully. "Often in life we can't really perceive what we need."
Paul attended Tulane University in New Orleans. "I jumped back and forth between theater and English," he said. He graduated as a theater and English major. From there he went to Boston University, where he earned a Master's degree in acting and directing. While attending Boston U., he did 5 seasons in summer stock before starting his career in NYC. "I went through 6 years of college," he pointed out. "I had very few really good teachers, but it was not all their fault. I was still a pretty angry kid."
He first appeared on stage when he was 4 years old. "I got up on a pillow in the living room, turned on the radio, and conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra," he recalled with a smile. "Then I did Amahl and the Night Visitors when I was about 14.
"I don't think I ever really decided to be an actor," Paul said. "I looked for a college with a good theater arts department, but I don't think I'd really made the choice. It was a dream. I loved Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper and Clark Gable. I watched a lot of TV. I spent a lot of time with myself and my fantasies. I went hunting a lot and spent the day walking through the woods. I wasn't thinking about being a star. Fantasies are interesting things. Sometimes...I don't know," he shrugged and grinned.
"I used to think that if I counted to 26 every night when I went to bed, then when I got to be 26 years old, I'd never get any older. In my fantasies, I would be famous. I'd walk through the woods and want to be a great hunter. I wanted to be a great everything! I wanted attention, love, adulation, affection - all of that went along with my fantasies."
Once he decided to be an actor, his parents were like many others. "They were very skeptical," he admitted. "They were afraid it was not a lucrative or secure profession - or even a respectable one! Actors are still looked upon as freaks. If you do anything human, they are surprised. Society only respects actors when they become politicians or heads of government." He laughed.
But Paul stuck with it. He appeared in numerous off-Broadway plays after making his New York stage debut in Joseph Papp's rock version of Hamlet in 1968. He was a regular in the daytime TV series Love of Life for nine months and in Love is a Many Splendored Thing for seven months. He appeared on Broadway in Butterflies Are Free and The Man in the Glass Booth.
And today? "This is a happy time," Paul said. "I have a lady I love, and all of this is just the beginning of what I hope to do. I'd like to direct an incredible feature film. I'd like to create something that will reach the masses and pick them up. I've written two screenplays, but nothing's been done with them. I wrote one script for Starsky & Hutch, but it was rejected. It was too foolish for them. I do hope there will be more humor in the shows this year."
And what about all the fancy driving on the show, I asked Paul. Does he do any of it?
"I enjoy driving a good car," he replied. "I'd like to get a new car but my business manager won't let me. When I was a kid, I drove a lot. I guess that's where I got the ability to drive in the series. Yes," he said, "I do a lot of driving on the show. They won't let us do any of the physical stuff, though - like the falls and the crashing around. There's no reason for us to do that. They pay other people to do the stunts."
When he's not working, Paul said, "I go to the beach or to the movies. I play tennis. I take my two dogs for long walks. And recently," he added, "I sang for the first time at a benefit with David (Soul). Was that fun!"
David Soul: The Covered Man
David Soul, who plays the tough, soft-spoken Ken Hutchinson in Starsky & Hutch, was born David Solberg. He is the son of a Lutheran minister, professor of history, and former religious affairs advisor for the U.S. State Department.
"My father never had a parish," David told me. "We lived in South Dakota. He filled in. There were a lot of parishes out in the wilds that didn't have ministers. Dad taught college during the week. On weekends he would go to three or four different churches. The family went with him - the churches were all within 50 miles of home."
Twice the family went to Europe to live. "That was when my father was religious affairs advisor for the government," David said. "I was 6 the first time we went - and about 12 the second time. There was a real feeling of adventure in my family, and I think that was what was terrific about the whole thing. We were a big family and we always moved together. Those two opportunities to go to Europe were fantastic. I made friends very easily."
There were 5 children in the family. "All of us are doing something different now," David said. "One of my brothers is a research physicist, another is a minister, one sister is the head of a publishing company in New York, and one recently finished college as a music major."
The only thing his parents stressed, David said, "was that whatever I do, I do it well. And for a long time," he added, "I didn't do much of anything."
David attended Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the University of the Americas in Mexico City, and the University of Minnesota as a political science major. "As a kid, political science, German, baseball, and teaching were my interests," he said. "I wanted to teach political science and history."
But somewhere along the way, he recalled, "someone gave me a guitar and I learned to play music and sing." Music began to be more and more important to him. "Finally, I decided I had to get out of the midwest," he said. "I'd done everything I could in terms of music. I'd done college concerts and so on. I'd gone through three years of college. The first two years I got straight A's; the third year I failed every course.
"Nothing in me wanted to study. I wanted to sing and to act. I was at the University of Minnesota then."
The Big Apple beckoned. "I was headed for New York," David said. "I had no friends there and little money. I look back," he added, shaking his head, "and think, 'The nerve of that kid!" I can't believe I did that! I had worked as a cowboy in Montana that spring, so I had cowboy boots and short jeans. I arrived in New York looking like the Midnight Cowboy. I had a suitcase and a cardboard box with a string tied around it. Someone had told me about an attorney, so I called him. I slept on his couch for two months while I tried to get started."
His way of trying to break into show business was most unusual, to say the least. He'd gotten the idea before he'd left the midwest. It was a brainstorm of sorts - or at least it was different! He'd call himself The Covered Man, he'd decided. "It was a gimmick I used," David said with a smile. "I put a bag over my head and cut out two eyes and a nose. Then I took my picture and sent it to New York along with a tape recording of my singing. I didn't take the bag off for the first four months I was in New York - not for anybody."
Did the gimmick work? "You'd be surprised how much this business is run by curiosity!" David replied. He ended up making 26 appearances on The Merv Griffin Show.
"I also worked as a stand-in for game shows," he noted. "I made enough to pay for acting lessons and for my $80-a-month apartment. It was a great time! A casting director saw me on the Griffin show and I was signed to a contract at Columbia Screen Gems. I came out here to California on their New Talent Program, which doesn't exist anymore. The idea had been to develop a corps of new talent through workshops and so on. I think the scene studies were fine," David said. "But there was nothing I learned that I couldn't or didn't learn outside the studio. There was not enough interest in the program. There was no follow-through. The program became cumbersome for the studio. It didn't make money for them.
"The only way to develop yourself, as my parents said, is, 'If you do something, do it well. Do it thoroughly.' You must seek out the best places to study and the kind of study method that suits you. If you want to be an actor, you must do plays, scene work, everything," David stressed.
Several years ago, David landed a starring role in an ABC series called Here Come the Brides. "I played a lumberjack," he said. "Then, after that, I couldn't get a job for two and a half years. I guess that was because people identified me with the role I played on that show. It was a very enjoyable experience, but the role didn't give me a chance to show I had any ability other than to smile and be charming."
So he had a couple of tough years. "But I stayed here," David said. "That's the only way to do it. I built a little theater. I wrote music. I did three or four plays. I did a lot of homework!"
Finally, a veteran Hollywood writer-producer named William Blinn wrote a screenplay for an ABC Movie of the Week. He called it Starsky & Hutch. The two heroes were to be "two interesting guys, dressed like a couple of drop-outs, racing around in a bright red customized car who, despite their manner and appearance, were very good cops working the roughest, toughest beat in town".
Executive producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg signed David Soul to play Hutch. Finding Starsky wasn't that easy. Dozens of actors were interviewed and auditioned. Paul Michael Glaser was finally chosen for the part. The producers had the team they wanted. "Actually, I wanted to play Starsky," David admitted.
"As an actor, I've always found it easier to work behind the facade of a character. Hutch is much closer to me than Starsky. The character of Starsky is quite different than me. He's a little more brassy."
David doesn't quibble with the success of the team that was selected, however. He and Paul Michael Glaser have known each other since 1967. They agree wholeheartedly on the direction in which they'd like their show - and their characters - to go.
"It's hard to define where you want something to go," David said. "But whatever it is, Paul and I agree on it. We want the show to continue to grow and develop new dimensions. We'd like to see more humor in it."
Has success spoiled the lifestyle of the former Covered Man? David smiled. "I guess so," he replied. "People are always changing. But I think it's marvelous! It's allowed me to be more selective and to have faith in what I believe in. Before, I might have backed off if I had an idea. Now I don't. It's like someone told me about my music. If you're going to sing someone else's stupid lyrics, you might as well sing your own stupid lyrics! All of this has given me confidence in the way I think. It's allowed me to be more selective.
"You've got to avoid the traps, though," David pointed out. "I'm in a hit series now. Everybody is patting me on the back. I have to make sure my work is good enough, deep enough, varied enough, so that I can continue to do what I love to do - and not be limited by a show that may be hot and then cold. I want to develop as an actor.
"Listen," David continued intently, "a series is here today and gone tomorrow. What's left then is you. You've got to do what you can now to buy time and space down the line. I chose to be an actor 12 years ago. In doing so, it became my whole life. All I've done up to this point is make myself ready for this moment. I hope there will be other moments which are the result of continuing growth."
David didn't spend much time loafing while the series was out of production. He'd been in an ABC movie called Little Ladies of the Night. "And I just finished my first album," he said proudly. "All the songs on it are my own. I'm very serious about my music," he added. "I know one reason I got the recording contract was because I'm in a hit TV show - and I want to make the music as strong on its own as I possibly can. As soon as the album comes out, I'd like to take a show out on the road - a kind of multi-media musical.
"There is still so much to do," David said enthusiastically. "It's like I really can't wait for every day to start."
But when he's not working? "I skin dive, water-ski, ride horses, play tennis, run a lot," he said. "I'm going to Baja California for five days to do all of that. I'm in the worst physical shape I've ever been in. I need a rest!"
A five-day rest, maybe. But chances are, David Soul will be ready to go back to work before the five days are up. He's had to work hard - and wait patiently - to reach this point in his career, and there is still much to be done.
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