As a jet-fighter jockey in CBS’s recent Red Flag: The Ultimate Game, actor Barry Bostwick was challenged less by the role than the rolls. “I’m not a good sailor, I don’t like twisting mountain roads and I avoid carnivals like the plague,” says Bostwick, 36, who—not surprisingly—found flying mock dogfights in the backseat of a supersonic F-4 more exciting than he could stomach. “I got sick every 30 seconds,” he recalls. “Chuck Yeager [the first man to break the sound barrier], our technical adviser, told me, ‘Flying a jet is just like making love to a woman.’ Well, it is great—if you like getting ill after sex.”
Still, through suffering comes art, or at least a gripping TV movie about sometimes fatal war games at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada—and perhaps some long-overdue recognition for Bostwick, who still awaits a major success. “I’m one of the ‘Oh, that was you!’ people,” says Barry, who originated the John Travolta role in Grease on Broadway, won a Tony for 1976’s The Robber Bridegroom and recently starred in Pirates of Penzance in L.A. with Andy Gibb and Pam Dawber. He also played the square in the cult movie hit The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and has enlivened TV movies from here to Scruples. Yet Bostwick laments, “I wish people could see pictures of me from the last six things I was in. Then maybe someone would know me.”
Relative anonymity can only have aggravated his frustration when better-known co-stars Gibb and Dawber each skipped many of their Pirates performances, pleading sickness or prior commitments. “I don’t begrudge them their illnesses,” says Bostwick, a veteran trouper who didn’t miss a curtain. “But the result was a problem. We had to work harder the first 20-25 minutes to win over a hostile audience expecting to see them.”
Barry, son of an industrial developer and a housewife, began learning his craft during his childhood in San Mateo, Calif. “My parents brought me up with the philosophy that nothing was impossible; I was never told that I might fail,” says Bostwick, who first performed as a high school folksinger and later studied drama at California Western University in San Diego and at NYU. He graduated into regional theater and a Vegas stage show before fetching up on Broadway in half a dozen plays and musicals. Next January he’ll star in PBS’s adaptation of Studs Terkel’s 1974 best-seller, Working.
Steady employment has allowed Bostwick a novel substitute, at least, for becoming a household word: He acquires households. He owns a two-bedroom home in Benedict Canyon, leases and sublets four lofts in Manhattan and now shares a rented Malibu Beach house with his sweetie of 18 months, actress Lisa Hartman, 25, who’ll appear in CBS’s Valley of the Dolls next week. “We don’t usually live together because her clothes won’t fit in my closets,” quips Barry. Then, too, they differ in their pleasures—he rebuilds vintage cars and cherishes a 1953 Mercedes convertible; Lisa claims she “loves driving in demolition derbies” and has risked whiplash in a celeb event at the Astrodome and in a dirt track near L.A. Both Barry and Lisa are health-conscious. “I do yoga and go to Jane Fonda’s Workout for exercise, and I also use a sensory-deprivation tank,” says Bostwick, a vegetarian and reformed smoker. “Sixty minutes in the tank and my body gets the impression it has had eight hours sleep.”
The great awakening of his career could be imminent. “My ‘preppie’ look hurt me in the 1970s,” says Bostwick. “That was an era of street movies—dark Italians, shadowy-looking actors. The market for tall, blue-eyed ail-American types was slow, but it gave me a chance to learn how to act. Maybe the ’80s will be my time.”