Ask most Hollywood actresses about poaching, and they’ll say they prefer their eggs scrambled. Ask Pamela Bellwood, best known for playing the slightly schizoid Claudia Blaisdel Carrington on ABC’s Dynasty, and she’s likely to hold forth on the threat illegal hunting poses to the African rhino.
When she is not having breakdowns in front of the Dynasty cameras or filming made-for-TV movies—she appeared in five last year, including Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction and Choices of the Heart—Bellwood, 34, travels to Africa and other exotic locales with her boyfriend, British photographer Nik Wheeler, 43. “Travel has done wonders for us,” she says. “It creates a bond, a shared frame of reference.” That frame—Bellwood often writes about the subjects Wheeler shoots—has included documenting poaching in Kenya, elephant roundups in Thailand and tribal life in Burma. The couple also traveled to Africa in 1983 so that Bellwood could be snapped by another photographer romping seminaked with Masai tribesmen for a Playboy spread. “My father [a San Diego stockbroker] didn’t speak to me for a month after it happened,” says Bellwood, who adds wryly that he later changed his tune and told her she was crazy when she turned down what she claims was a $1-million offer to pose for Hustler.
Bellwood’s Dynasty character is, by contrast, timid and vulnerable, not to say irrational at times. In fewer than four seasons, Claudia has had two nervous breakdowns, endured the deaths of her husband and daughter, and thrown what she thought was a baby off a roof. (Fortunately, it was only a doll, but poor deluded Claudia was too crazy to know the difference.) Of late, Claudia has found sanity and happiness in the arms of the formerly homosexual Steven Carrington. “I think the writers took Claudia as far as she could go with her depression and crying,” says Bellwood, who is happy that the character made a comeback from the sanitarium. “I got letters from people who had had severe emotional problems and breakdowns but had gone on to lead productive lives. I wanted to bring Claudia back, even if only for one show, just to prove people can recover from mental illness.”
She has no serious complaints about the series. “I don’t see how anyone could complain about being on Dynasty for the amount of time it involves. We have a very large cast, the story is always rotating, and the time involved is really minimal in terms of the benefits you get.” Among the benefits is her five-figure weekly paycheck.
Among the drawbacks is the pressure to do publicity, to which Bellwood has only recently acquiesced. “I don’t know why anyone should know what I think or what I feel—or should want to know,” she says. A characteristic pragmatism, coupled with Wheeler’s prodding, has made her open up a bit. “I have pushed her to be a little more career-oriented than she was,” says Wheeler. “Travel was always a way for her to escape the humdrum side of Hollywood. When she got Dynasty, she knew that was the time to give her career a big push.”
Bellwood put in two years as a psych major at Radcliffe before dropping out to study acting at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Her time there was cut short when her father became ill, and she returned to New York City and acting classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse. By 1972 Bellwood was on Broadway, taking over for Blythe Danner in Butterflies Are Free and appearing with Dallas’ Barbara Bel Geddes in Finishing Touches.
In 1975 she headed to Los Angeles and began racking up minor TV and movie credits. She met Wheeler while playing Jimmy Stewart’s daughter in Airport ’77. Wheeler was shooting stills on the set. “I rushed in late, saw this terrific-looking guy and made an abrupt detour to the ladies’ room with a hairbrush to make some sense of how I looked,” she recalls. They’ve been together ever since. “Nik is the single most important element in my life,” she says. “He’s not a typical Hollywood spouse, he’s not a typical anything. He’s probably the most moral person I’ve ever known.”
When the couple is not tenting it in far-off places, they live with Wheeler’s 14-year-old son, Adam, in a three-story Spanish-style house in the Hollywood Hills. It boasts a pool where Bellwood swims up to 75 laps a day and an indoor weight room where she works out to keep her 5’5″ frame at 102 pounds.
It is, admits Bellwood, a “very comfortable” life, but such luxury is “truly not essential” to her happiness. She says her travels and work with Wheeler have convinced her that, if her acting career collapsed, she could get by. “If it all ended, I’d buy a bus, put on a knapsack and travel around with Nik,” she says. “If we made enough money from assignments to get to the next place, that’d be plenty.”