Blond heartthrob Christopher Atkins, who splashed to fame wearing a loincloth in The Blue Lagoon, is joining Dallas this fall in a role that is sure to shock Miss Ellie. As Peter Richards, Atkins plays a college psychology major who works part-time at Windsor Meadows, an ultra-chic day camp attended by John Ross Ewing, J.R. and Sue Ellen’s 5-year-old son. Dallas writers won’t say exactly how Chris gets dragged into the high-powered Ewing family feud. But it’s likely they will capitalize on Hollywood’s current craving for boy-woman romances by throwing Chris into bed with lusty, 40ish Sue Ellen. Chris’ contract requires him to bare his bod on camera. And at an estimated salary of $25,000 per episode, says Dallas executive producer Phil Capice, “You can be sure he won’t be sitting around every week.”
At 22, Atkins has a proven flair for film affairs with older women. In the just-wrapped Heaven, Chris plays a sometime male stripper who beds his college teacher, Lesley Ann Warren. But it was a popular nude feature in Playgirl and a recent provocative cover story in Andy Warhol’s Interview that won Chris the Dallas part. Explains Capice, “That article was not written for a teenybopper, and the centerfold showed us that Chris has an appeal for older women.”
Despite his bubble-gum looks, Chris acts the adult lead, offscreen at least. While Linda Gray and Victoria Principal settled into hotel suites during location filming in Dallas last month, Chris rented a $2,000-a-month four-room condo. Still, he immediately charmed Linda Gray, who pronounced him “adorable.” Chris even made a favorable impression on the behind-the-scenes staff. Remarked one, “My bet is that the crew is going to love him after all these prima donnas we have.”
The show’s producers hope Atkins’ charisma will boost the show’s lofty ratings even higher. Although his character does not show up until the third episode next season, he is signed to appear in 26 of the season’s 28 outings. According to Dallas producer Leonard Katzman, he’s the male equivalent of Farrah Fawcett. Says Katzman, “Both Farrah and Chris are open and approachable. They’re just easy to love.”
His amiability stems from a privileged childhood in Rye, N.Y. After his parents’ divorce when he was 7, he remained close to his father, IBM executive Donald Bomann (Atkins is Chris’ middle name), who lives down the road. Mother Bitsy, 46, a science teacher, is now married to businessman Tony Nebauer.
Like his Dallas character, Chris has found his career influenced by older women. Chris signed with the Ford modeling agency at the urging of a hometown lady. Then a friend saw a notice for The Blue Lagoon’s open casting call and suggested that Chris audition for the lead opposite Brooke Shields. While filming and frolicking in Fiji, the teenagers slept in separate beds in the same bungalow room, and became close friends. “It was a very deep friendship that started out as a romance in the sense of holding hands and starting to kiss,” recalls Chris. “We never did anything else, although I think her mother thought it was time that Brooke got out of horses and into guys.”
He followed the dubious credit of The Blue Lagoon with The Pirate Movie (with Kristy McNichol), a single, How Can I Live Without Her, and an infamous bare-bottomed spoof of a well-known Nastassia-Kinski-with-snake photograph. Such enterprises have brought Chris a two-bedroom brick cottage in Studio City, Calif., a 16-foot sailboat and a green Porsche, but he sometimes makes trips to New York to visit his longtime girlfriend, Search for Tomorrow star Cindy Gibb. They are considering marriage, although Chris admits, “Even my parents think we should live together first.”
Chris isn’t worried that matrimony will hurt his status as a young hunk, but it could dismay his considerable gay constituency. Although Atkins’ own sexual inclinations have sparked speculations, he declares, “I’m completely straight. I’m still too busy looking at girls to think about guys.” Then he coyly adds, “But I don’t want to turn anybody off.” That kind of all-purpose comment should stand him in good stead at Southfork.