John Beradino has played the gruff Dr. Steve Hardy on ABC’s top-rated soap General Hospital for so long—18 years—that he might seem to the scrub suit born. But after his performance this Sunday in Don’t Look Back, the network’s movie about the life of legendary baseball pitcher Satchel Paige, Beradino can reestablish his claim to his original professional uniform. Beradino, 64, who convincingly suits up as coach Jake Wells in the TV flick, was previously a big-league ballplayer for 11 years. In 1948—you could look it up—he was second baseman for the Cleveland Indians when none other than Satchel Paige, at 42, became the first black pitcher to make the majors, helping the Indians to a memorable World Series victory over the old Boston Braves.
“The ballplayers welcomed Satch with open arms. We knew he could deliver,” says Beradino, though he well remembers the discrimination, documented by the movie, that Paige once faced. On trips to Washington, for instance, white teammates were quartered at the Shoreham Hotel, but Paige had to room in the “colored” section of the nation’s capital. “That was a fact of life in those days,” shrugs Beradino. “Satch just took it in stride.” The two, later teammates for the St. Louis Browns, “had a camaraderie,” says Beradino. In fact, when owner Bill Veeck insured Beradino’s ruggedly handsome face for $1 million in a publicity stunt, it was Paige who presciently dubbed him “Hollywood John.”
After a 1952 leg injury sliding back into first, Beradino took his modest .249 batting average to the showers but began hitting for a better percentage in L.A. He did TV guest shots and two series, I Led Three Lives and The New Breed, between 1952 and 1962. Then in 1963 he joined General Hospital—and inflicted his athlete’s aggression on the scenery. “John was forever putting his fist through his dressing room door in fits of rage,” remembers co-star Rachel Ames, who plays his Hospital wife, Audrey. “The carpenters replaced a smashed door with solid wood. The next time John tried it, he broke several knuckles.” Explains Beradino: “I had to tape five hard shows a week. Rather than take my frustrations out on a person, I’d use a door.”
John’s second wife, Marjorie (his first wife, a fan he met at the ball park, died in 1962), calmed the Splendid Splinterer, but not without a struggle. “We had a long and turbulent dating period,” smiles Marjorie, 40, a TWA stew when they were introduced in 1964. “On a tennis court a year after we met, he asked me to marry him,” she recounts. “Then I asked why he was paying so much attention to another woman on the court. He said, ‘It’s off. I don’t want to get married to a possessive person.’ ” Nobody’s happier than John that he reconsidered and wed in 1971. “I was a bachelor for a long time,” says Beradino. “I enjoy the closeness, the intimacy that marriage brings.”
Both of Beradino’s careers were instigated by his father, the owner of a meat-packing house in L.A.’s Little Italy. John appeared in Our Gang comedies in the 1920s. Convinced that his son would be a child star like Jackie Coogan, John’s father invested $10,000 in a starring vehicle for him—but it was never finished. “So my father said, ‘That’s it. Go get a ball and bat like the other guys and play in the big leagues,’ ” remembers John. He won a football scholarship to USC, switched to baseball and left for the Texas League after his sophomore year, hustling Hollywood jobs in the off-season. He joined the St. Louis Browns in 1939.
Now his estimated $5,000-per-episode soap salary has paid for a powder-blue Mercedes and a Beverly Hills mansion down the block from Loretta Young and Danny Kaye. Beradino’s main indulgence is playing the ponies at Santa Anita, and there’s no evidence that homebodies John and Marjorie have gone Hollywood. “Thanks to my baseball days, I had a different approach to what my lifestyle should be,” says John. “I never got around to being a Hollywood person. I never went the party route.” Satch, who appears briefly in the TV biography, would approve of that. “Go very light on vices such as carrying on in society,” he once advised. “The social ramble ain’t restful.”