If Ted Sorensen made the Intelligence Community queasy, consider the shock of discovering that the “control” for both of the world’s Cyborgian super-agents, ABC’s Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman, has a Russki background.
Though all four grandparents of the actor who plays “OSI director Oscar Goldman” came from Russia, Richard Anderson (the patronym got Americanized at Ellis Island) is hardly an atheistic anticapitalist. He earned thousands from 26 movie roles in six years at MGM, collected residuals from several TV series including Perry Mason, and then saw two oil wells come in. Meanwhile he put a Bentley Flying Spur in the garage, hung a Matisse litho in the bathroom and acquired a housekeeper, gardener and poolman. Finally, too, after his second divorce in 1973, he found religion. “It was a profound experience that really changed me,” Anderson reports, but refreshingly declines to discuss it further, explaining, “I don’t want to sound sanctimonious.”
For all the melodrama of his 50 years and the hokey implausibility of his two series, Anderson is truly one of Hollywood’s most bookish sophisticates. “I model Oscar Goldman,” he says, “after Chip Bohlen, the former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union—a pro.” At the same time, Richard works famously with the lesser students of diplomatic history who co-star with him. Lee (The Six Million Dollar Man) Majors kids his patrician style, dubbing him “Old Money.” “Lee has a lot of humor, believe it or not,” reports Anderson. “He’s a right guy.” They even hunt quail together in Oklahoma on hiatus. As for Lindsay (Bionic Woman) Wagner, Richard notes, “We’re really getting into it,” which shouldn’t be overinterpreted—she just married actor Michael Brandon.
Old Money’s dad was a hat manufacturer in New York. “I never liked it there,” he says. “All I did was go to movies.” When he was 10 the Andersons moved to L.A., and Richard found himself at Emerson Junior High. Later came a UCLA scholarship offer (which he now regrets turning down), the Army and Actors’ Lab. “Marilyn Monroe was in my class,” he says, “and John Garfield, Tony Quinn…all the real talent of the American theater was there.” Next, he recounts, “I worked with Tracy, Gable, Coop, Bill Holden. The town had style then.”
Richard along the way also was twice married into the business, first briefly, to Alan Ladd’s stepdaughter Carol Lee, then for 12 years to Katharine Thalberg, the daughter of Norma Shearer and the late Irving Thalberg. They had three children in four years (“I changed 4,000 diapers”), and he regards the period as “the most challenging time in my life.” His three daughters, Ashley, 14, Brooke, 12, and Deva, 10, spend six weeks a year in the book-crammed Benedict Canyon house where they lived from birth, and Dad visits them in Katharine’s new Aspen home.
Anderson is not totally reduced to reading now, observing, “There are a lot of beautiful, wonderful ladies. Some of them enjoy being with me.” His other sports include a daily hour of tennis with 1959 Wimbledon champ Alex Olmedo, dining out (his favorites: Trader Vic’s, Le Restaurant and the Bistro), or cooking himself a steak or chop washed down with a vintage from his first-class cellar. “I have a wonderful time now,” he says, then reflects on his past. “Pain is good, too. It makes you change. That’s what life is all about.”