THE HOTHEAD OF 'BIG VALLEY' HAS HIS QUARRELS BOTH ON SCREN AND OFF
Lee Majors, our rugged cover cowboy, who plays Heath Barkley in The Big Valley, is rapidly building a reputation as one of Hollywood’s most fiery “hotheads.” Some say Lee is quicker to “blow his top” than he is on the draw. And the stories of Lee’s low boiling point have brought many reports of rows with star Barbara Stanwyck
Lee admires Barbara, who discovered him, but nonetheless they have had a number of behind-the-scenes “tiffs” which have been headlined in the American press. Studio executive Cliff Dexter, who has worked close to both stars, told TV Week: “Actually they only had one quarrel that I know of and that was because Lee disputed the way a scene was done. He said it went against his principles of acting. They didn’t talk for a while. But now they’re the best of friends. It was a very isolated incident.” Barbara, the veteran actress who heads the Barkley clan, personally chose Lee for the Heath Barkley role. At his audition she said: “He’s going to be a real heart-breaker. There’s no doubt about that.”
Despite his occasional blow-ups, everyone working on Big Valley agrees that Lee is nowhere near as difficult to work with as people imagine. They say he makes an effort to get on with people and that, on the whole, he is liked. Cliff Dexter agreed with reports that Lee is detached, moody and uncommunicative (he was launched in television with the label “The new James Dean” — after the young method actor of the “50’s). “There’s this strange thing about him,” Cliff said. “He can be talking to you and listening to you — yet he is elsewhere. He’s always preoccupied and seems vague. Yes, he’s vague — and no one really knows him.” Does this vagueness take away from his acting ability or interest in the show? “Not at all,” insists Cliff. “He’s madly interested in the show and always makes an effort to get home in time to see it. He’s really a damn nice guy.”
Before his TV break, the nearest Lee had been to a stage was in the stalls of a theatre. Now his private life is continually invaded and his working life is besieged by impatient journalists and eager publicity men wanting to interview him. “I don’t know quite where to turn,” Lee told TV Week with a harassed expression on his normally youthful, yet strong face. “I love working on the show, but it has suddenly hit me that being an actor involves more than acting. It involves being nice to everybody, continually answering questions about yourself and your private life, and sometimes I just want to hide.” Away from the show, Lee is a bit of a lone dog. He doesn’t have a great deal of friends and he spends most of his spare time with a very pretty vivacious actress, Pattie Chandler. “She is the one and only girl he dates,” said a friend. “They’re always together.”
Lee has been married before and has a small child. Not caring too much for the good life, Lee rents an almost cavern-like house, which he is thinking of buying, at beautiful Zuma Beach. It doesn’t have the usual facilities that most Americans demand; in fact, it doesn’t even have good plumbing. But the one thing it does have is privacy — and that’s what Lee wants!