SURF’S UP FOR STROUD IN NEW ‘GIDGET’ TV FILM
Don Stroud was standing on the Manhattan Beach pier in black sweat pants and a yellow T-shirt. The surf was up, but he hadn’t carried his board to the interview. The surfboard was saved for the photographer later.
However, just in case there was any doubt that he had done his own stunt work in his new TV movie, “Gidget’s Summer Reunion” (airing Wednesday on KTTV Channel 11), Stroud had brought the proof--a bunch of 12-by-18-inch color photos of himself riding the waves.
Hired right off the beach to double for Troy Donahue in “Hawaiian Eye” 22 years ago, Stroud still has sand stuck between his toes. Without any formal training in acting, he has appeared in more than 100 TV shows and 40 movies (including “The Buddy Holly Story” and “The Choirboys”). He plays police captain Pat Chambers in “Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer,” currently in Saturday night reruns on CBS.
Series Fate Undecided
The fate of the “Hammer” series has been up in the air since last December, when its star, Stacy Keach, was imprisoned in England for trying to smuggle cocaine into the country. CBS executives have said they will think about bringing the show back again after he serves his sentence.
“Stacy gets out of jail June 7,” Stroud says. “I can’t really discuss the case. It’s not fair; it’s almost like we’re on trial. I’ve been asked to go on a lot of talk shows and talk about drugs. I know all about drugs, but I don’t touch them myself anymore.”
Stroud, 41, says that his most recent marriage--to American Airlines stewardess Linda Hayes--has reformed him.
“I threw away a lot of the wreckage of my past,” he says. “I would hit the streets every night in Los Angeles; I remember times when the part called for a drunk scene, I’d just get drunk. I made over a million dollars, and I spent it all on good times.
“Now I’ve calmed down my act. Linda and I are on our fourth year together. For the first time, I’m saving money. We have a house in Montecito with a little white picket fence. I don’t think I’ve been in a bad mood for four years. I do charity work for kids.”
Son of blues singer Ann McCormack and vaudeville performer Clarence Stroud, Stroud grew up in Honolulu.
“I never set out to be an actor,” he says. “I thought I’d get into the nightclub business.” His stepfather owned a nightclub.
“Acting just fell in my lap. I didn’t have to hustle it. I walked into Universal and they gave me a contract. I walked into William Morris and they signed me. It was all very easy.”
However, there was a large hiccup between his work on “Hawaiian Eye” and his days at Universal. In order to make ends meet, he worked at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go.
“I started out parking cars and ended up managing the place,” he says. “I hung out with all the rock ‘n’ roll singers. They were my friends. Those were great days for me. I ran with them pretty heavy. At 7 a.m. we’d just be getting home.”
At Universal, Stroud immediately began working in episodic series like “The Virginian.”
“I went from show to show,” he recalls. “That was my acting education.” Because of his big, burly appearance, Stroud was inevitably cast as a villain.
“I think I was just playing myself,” he says. “Not that I was a bad guy, but I had the experience of the streets. People tried to talk me out of doing heavies. I didn’t listen. They’d sit there waiting for the right part while I did 10 heavies. I got parts where you could learn a little about the heavy. But in order to kiss the girl, I had to kidnap her first.”
“Mike Hammer” has helped change Stroud’s villainous image, and his role in “Gidget’s Summer Reunion” shows that he can actually be nice. He plays the Kahoona, the legendary surfer friend of Gidget and Moondoggie.
“They paid me $30,000 for two weeks’ work,” Stroud brags. “I probably would have done it for free. Imagine getting paid to go to Hawaii and surf! However, this isn’t really a surfing story.”
“Reunion,” the fifth Gidget movie to be made, will introduce the girl surfer to a new generation of TV viewers. Sandra Dee played Gidget in the 1959 film, Sally Field in a 1965 television series. Gidget went Hawaiian in 1961, to Rome in 1963. She grew up in 1970 and got married in 1972. Caryn Richman plays her in this version, which deals with her marital problems.
Surfs in Santa Barbara
When Stroud is not acting, he surfs every morning in Santa Barbara.
“Surfing is like messing with nature. There’s a certain violence with it that you have to enjoy. I’ve surfed 15- to 18-foot waves. The wipeout is incredible. When you’re spinning and tumbling in the dark, you’ve got to say to yourself, ‘This is OK.’ If you panic, you’re dead.
“What’s shown in ‘Gidget’ is certainly not the real surfing world,” he adds. “Surfing is a disease, like alcoholism. It shouldn’t be associated with beach balls. Surfers now surf for $100,000 prizes. When I was fourth in the world, I got a plaque.”
He is content with the memory, although he casually mentions that last year he came in first in the celebrity heat of a long board surfing contest in Manhattan Beach.
“The best feelings I’ve ever had have come from surfing. It builds character. When you’re surfing, you don’t think about your tax return or your last love affair. Surfing is like going to a psychiatrist.”