If he brings a bristling intensity to the role of Gonzo Gates, the disillusioned Vietnam veteran turned maverick intern on CBS’ Trapper John, M.D., Gregory Harrison is entitled. Three days after enlisting in the Army in 1969, Harrison recalls “suddenly getting this jolt I didn’t want to kill anyone.” When he applied for conscientious objector status, he claims the Army placed him first in solitary, then in a psycho ward. Distraught and frightened—Harrison insists he occasionally awoke to find a duty officer holding a knife to his throat—he attempted suicide with an overdose of barbiturates. “I was only trying to make someone listen,” continues Harrison, who found catharsis in the near tragedy. “In the ward I was surrounded by people who couldn’t control their lives,” he says. “I realized I was a fool to think I was hopeless. When I finally got out of the Army, I never again worried that I might fail at anything I set out to do.”
Fail he didn’t. A decade after his honorable discharge, Harrison, 30, has not only a hit series but also enough distinctive TV movies to dispel his fear of typecasting a la Henry Winkler. “I thought, ‘Uh-oh, the Gonz,’ ” he remembers, “and looked upstairs and said, ‘Please, Lord, don’t do this to me.’ ” His one lingering concern is that producers will write him off as just another sexy 5’11”, 170-pound hunk.
“For a while,” he says, “Trapper was like Charlie’s Angels—they wanted more T and A.” That wasn’t tubes and aortas either. “I was in the Farrah Fawcett role,” says Harrison, who’s seen soaping down in the shower in the show’s opening montage. “I consciously try not to promote myself as a sex symbol.” Off-camera he demands a woman be “interested in me as a three-dimensional guy, not just to lust after my body.” One who qualifies is stunning CHiPs regular Randi Oakes, whom he’s now dating “pretty much exclusively.” Pressed about marriage, he says “not now, but not never.” They met while taping the 1980 Battle of the Network Stars. “It was a game where if I threw a baseball on target, she would get dropped in the water,” Harrison recalls fondly. “She was the kind of lady who would look good wet.”
Greg’s something of an expert on that subject, having grown up on Santa Catalina Island, the son of Capt. Ed Harrison, who runs a glass-bottom boat service, and his accountant wife, Donna. Greg recalls life on the isle off L.A. as “a laugh and a yell, all tourists and bikinis.” After high school he safaried to Mexico, where he “got a lot of surfing out of my system and a lot of tequila into it.” He then enrolled at Orange County’s Saddleback Junior College, but dropped out in three months. After his Army ordeal, Harrison made his way to L.A., where he began a long apprenticeship in films like Jim—the World’s Greatest and Fraternity Row and TV shots on Wonder Woman, M*A*S*H and the lead in Logan ‘s Run (“the low point in esthetic quality”). His more recent TV movie roles include the only even slightly sympathetic man in The Women’s Room, Lee Remick’s younger lover, and the co-pilot in Enola Gay. That docudrama about the Hiroshima bombing didn’t contradict his Viet-era CO stance. “It showed the brutality of war, so I don’t feel the need to justify being in the film,” Harrison says.
Harrison lives modestly in North Hollywood, commuting by 1976 Honda hatchback to Randi’s place in Sherman Oaks. He says he plows much of his income “back into my career, buying books, scripts and properties.” The first from his own Catalina Productions is For Ladies Only, a TV film due this fall, about a scrambling actor who supports himself as a male stripper. “It’s a fascinating phenomenon of our times,” observes Harrison a little defensively. Less loftily, it’ll break up the routine of a series. “One of the reasons I became an actor,” Greg says, “is that I bore easily.”