By Julie K.L. Dam
September 06, 1999 12:00 PM

Former Battlestar Galactica heartthrob Richard Hatch had no desire to attend his first sci-fi convention in 1995. After all, Battlestar, a Star Wars-inspired series in which Hatch played Lome Greene’s space-pilot son, had been yanked for revamping in 1979 after just one season on ABC. Since then, Hatch’s career had wandered off the fast track, held together by TV guest shots and obscure flicks with titles like Iron Thunder. “I was embarrassed to go,” Hatch, 54, says of the Pasadena convention. “I thought, ‘No one will remember me!’ ”

He was wrong. Thanks to reruns on cable’s Sci-Fi Channel, Battlestar has gained a new cult following—and apparently never lost its old one. “This huge line formed basically to meet me,” he says. “I was crying because I never realized what an impact this show had on people.”

He was moved to more than just tears. Buoyed by the fans, Hatch set out to relaunch the franchise. With the blessing of Universal Studios (which produced the show and still owns the merchandising rights), he wrote Battlestar-based comic books and cowrote novels, and last September he shot a slick four-minute film presentation designed to persuade the studio to let him make a movie. To finance the short, “he mortgaged his house,” says Hatch’s friend and ex-Battlestar actor Jack Stauffer. But last March, Glen A. Larson, the show’s creator and executive producer, announced that he’s planning to make his own Battlestar movie. Universal will have to choose between Hatch and his old boss.

Hatch claims not to be worried. “If you really love something and go after it, there will be a lot of people who try to stand in your way,” he says. “You have to be willing to stay true to your vision.” Which is exactly what Hatch, between acting gigs, has been preaching since 1987 as a motivational speaker for institutions such as the UCLA Extension program and the Learning Annex. “I teach how to really unlock the power inside you,” he says.

For the Santa Monica native, the magic key was acting. “I was excruciatingly shy,” says Hatch, the younger of two sons of Elizabeth and John, both 79 and retired, who divorced when he was a year old. “Acting freed me from my inhibitions.” After attending Los Angeles Harbor College from 1963 to 1965, Hatch became a regular on All My Children in 1970. Six years later he leaped onto The Streets of San Francisco, succeeding Michael Douglas.

It took Battlestar, in 1978, to catapult him into Luke Skywalker visibility. “The fame felt unreal,” Hatch says. Once, when leaving a talk show taping, “a hundred girls attacked me as I was going to the limo. They were kissing me, pulling at my clothes. I felt my hair being cut!”

But the ratings soon sank, and in 1980, only Greene returned in a short-lived new version called Galactica 1980. Hatch, meanwhile, blew an audition for a CBS project (“I was scared to death and clammed up,” he says) and turned down other roles, including the lead in Vega$. “I was so hungry to do something more meaningful,” Hatch says. “After a while I wasn’t getting auditions at all.” His personal life was grim too. In 1994, as his eight-year relationship with casting director Karen Cooper was ending, Hatch developed a painful jaw disorder. “I wasn’t suicidal, but very depressed,” says Hatch, who entered therapy.

“He’s the most resilient man I’ve ever met,” says girlfriend Sophie LaPorte, 32, a freelance writer. Indeed, Hatch, who’s also close to his son Paul, 32, from a previous relationship, isn’t just beating the drums for a Battlestar flick. There’s also a Battlestar-themed card game he has developed. And if those ideas flop? “We’ll make something else successful,” he says. “There comes a point in your life when fear doesn’t stop you anymore. So you just get on with your life. I believe that with all my heart and soul.”

Julie K.L. Dam

Paula Yoo in Los Angeles