"I would probably be a grape-picker if I hadn't made it as an actor."

David Hedison as a young childHe is one of the most handsome men who ever graced the Silver Screen. His familiar face has also appeared on television screens, the New York Stage, and other stages throughout America and England. In a career that has spanned five decades, he has played everything from an apostle to a housefly--with equal dignity and grace. And in a fast changing world that has seemingly cast aside elegance and gentility in favor of crassness and vulgarity, he has remained a gentleman. He is Ara David Heditsian, better known to us all as David Hedison.


Of Armenian descent, the hazel-eyed, six-foot one-inch Hedison was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 20, 1928. Expected to follow his father into the jewelry business, the young Heditsian had his own ideas about how he would make a living. After watching the dashing Tyrone Power in Blood and Sand (1941) four times, an inspired Ara decided instead to follow the movie star into the acting business. And that he would do--later. First, there was a stuttering problem to overcome, high school to get through, and a World War to finish.


After joining the US Navy shortly after the Second World War, Hedison trained for fourteen weeks in Sampson, New York. For the next few months he was stationed in Jacksonville, Florida. The young man finished up his military career mothballing cruisers and destroyers at the famous Brooklyn Navy Yard. Two decades hence, on television, Hedison would once again find himself in naval attire, this time carrying the rank of 'Captain'; however, upon his discharge from the real Navy his rank was Seaman, 2nd Class.


Hearing that John Ford was going to be shooting a film in Mexico, the former Seaman 2nd Class boldly sent off a letter to the great director asking if Ford would give him a job on the set. He said honestly that he had no experience as an actor, but was sure of his ability. To get a start in the acting business, he was willing to work in any capacity. Hedison enclosed a photo of himself in his Navy whites, his cap cocked on the back of his head. Amazingly, John Ford wrote back explaining that the film was not to be made after all. Even so, Ford generously gave Hedison the names of people in Hollywood to call upon should the young man get to California. John Ford ended his letter with: "And the next time you send your picture to an ex-Navy four-striper, be sure to square your hat, sailor!"


After his stint in the Navy, Ara Heditsian planned to study acting in New York. His father, however, wanted his only child to attend Brown University; the dutiful son agreed, reluctantly, to give college a try. Although his heart wasn't in going to school, Brown was the place where the professional life of David Hedison began, as one of the Sock and Bushkin Players. Three years later, David left the University for good and headed for Manhattan isle, where he enrolled in the Neighborhood Playhouse School for the Theater. During his first year there, Hedison competed against 200 contestants, and won a Barter Theater Award, which sent him south for a summer of stock at the Barter Theater of Virginia.


To eke out a living during his lean, hungry actor days, Hedison took on for a while the job of announcer for WWNC, CBS's affiliate radio station in Ashville, North Carolina. When he returned to New York again, Hedison landed roles in two Kraft Television Shows. He did his share of commercials, too. All part of learning the ropes and putting food on the table. But he was always short of cash. Most of his money went to pay his tuition at the Neighborhood Playhouse. Life for Hedison in those days was difficult at best. "I lived in a five-dollar-a-week room on East 50th Street in New York, with a skylight, no window, 87 layers of peeling paint, a small bedroom with a sink. The bathroom was on the next floor. In Providence we'd had a beautiful home with four bedrooms. My own room had been luxurious, decorated in the best taste. Yet, I didn't mind the horrible room in which I lived. I could even put up with the insects that crawled around the sink and that were so difficult to exterminate. I could do it then because I was finally doing the thing I wanted to do and I was exhilarated."


The fortitude of youth notwithstanding, things started looking grim for David when he went three months without any work whatsoever. Then, in what was surely his darkest hour, David's acting teacher, Uta Hagen, recommended her pupil for a part in an upcoming off-Broadway play called "A Month in the Country". It was just the break he needed. David auditioned for director Michael Redgrave, won the part, and later won the Theater World Award as Most Promising Newcomer. Someone at Twentieth Century-Fox with a keen eye for talent spotted David and signed him to a long-term contract. The foreign sounding 'Ara Heditsian' did not sit well with the powers that be at Fox, so the little Armenian boy from Providence became 'Al Hedison'. Al's first featured role was in the classic film "The Enemy Below" (1957), co-starring Robert Mitchum and Curt Jurgens, and directed by an old Warner Brothers alumnus, Dick Powell.

David Hedison in The Fly

Next came "The Fly" (1958). "The lead character spent a lot of time with a cloth over his head," said Hedison, "and just about every contract player turned the part down. But I read the script and loved it." Although the movie was a hit at the time, and is still beloved by generations of fans, the film turned out to be something of a disappointment to Hedison. David had some interesting ideas for improving the script as written--none of which was taken seriously by the director or the head of production. "This is going to be a wonderful picture, and make a lot of money, but we cannot use a fly mask!" pleaded David. "It's corny, old hat. The right thing to do is use progressive makeup." That of course is precisely how it was done in the 1986 remake. Hedison was simply ahead of his time.


Other films followed, "Son of Robin Hood" (1959), "Marines, Let's Go" (1961), and television also beckoned. Hedison's first spy role came when he was cast as the lead in the series "Five Fingers" (1959-1960). The show lasted a brief 14 episodes. After the fold of "Five Fingers" (where incidentally, Ara's middle name got bumped up to replace the 'Al'), David found himself in "The Lost World" (1960)--Irwin Allen's redo of the silent classic. It was this role that endeared Hedison to Mr. Allen, and led four years later to Captain Lee Crane having the face, voice and body of David Hedison.


David Hedison in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea"I figured that if Basehart ... could play the Admiral, I could play the Captain." Best known for his portrayal of Captain Lee Crane on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-1968), David Hedison actually turned down the role of Crane--several times. First in 1961, when Irwin Allen had asked Hedison to co-star with Walter Pidgeon in the film version of Voyage: "I read the script, and the part was nothing! Crane was a dry-one-dimensional bore. Voyage was an action-adventure film, and the emphasis was on visual effects, so I said 'No thanks.'" In 1963, Allen came calling again ... and again ... and again. This time, for Voyage the TV series. "I still didn't want to be Crane. It would be the same problem of character, with the added burden of a weekly series." Fortunately, the indefatigable Mr. Allen did not give up, and Hedison's friend, Roger Moore, then starring in The Saint, told Hedison he'd be crazy not to take the part. Actors may be artists, but they also have to eat! Hedison heeded the advice and the rest is history.


When the SSRN Seaview returned to port for the last time, a weary and somewhat disillusioned David Hedison headed for London. However, before leaving the land of his birth, he took the time to turn down the part of the dad on a new series that would premier in 1969: The Brady Bunch. Said Hedison, "... after four years of subs and monsters, who needs kids and dogs?" Shall we take just one moment to contemplate what might have been if David Hedison had signed on to play Mike Brady ... Okay, moment over.


While he was in London, Hedison did some of his best work. Starring with Lee Remick in Tennessee Williams' "Summer and Smoke", David received a glowing review from The London Times. The BBC recorded the performance--but not for posterity. In order to obtain the rights for the television showing, the BBC had to agree to erase the tape 48 hours after the airing. What a loss. Probably the most fortuitous thing that happened to Hedison in Europe was his chance meeting with Bridget Mori, the woman who would end his bachelor days by agreeing to become his wife. The couple married in 1968. When David and the new Mrs. Hedison returned to America a few years later, they brought two little daughters with them.


David Hedison in Adventures of the QueenThroughout most of the 70's and 80's, David was one of Hollywood's busiest actors. It is difficult to name a TV show on which he did not guest-star. From "The Love Boat" to "TJ Hooker" to "Fantasy Island", David was constantly on TV. From 1991-1996 David was a regular on the long-running soap opera "Another World". And as all trivia buffs are aware, Hedison happens to be the only man on the planet to have played James Bond's friend 'Felix Leiter' twice, in "Live and Let Die" (1973) and "License to Kill" (1989).


Since the very beginning of his career, David Hedison has always felt most at home on the stage. "When I go back to the theater, I feel good about myself. When I do films or TV, it's to make a little bread to pay my mortgage..." Hopefully the mortgage is paid off by now; but whether it is or not, it is certain David will continue to pursue his first love, the theater. Fortunately, for the legions of Hedison fans out there, David is always appearing in a play somewhere.


With regard to his professional life, Hedison has come to accept the fact that his "level of stardom" has not quite approached the magnitude of his boyhood idol, Tyrone Power. "In your career, you must be so careful, otherwise you get caught in a particular image and it's hard to break. When people think of David Hedison, they think of Voyage." There can be no denying that statement. Nevertheless, David Hedison is a fine actor who for decades has been overlooked and underrated by an indifferent and fickle Hollywood. Producers indeed kept Hedison shackled to his image. They refused to look beyond the Voyage khaki and to examine the depth of Hedison's talents. Take for example "The Return of the Phantom"-- the Voyage episode in which Hedison breaks out of the Captain Crane straightjacket and takes his character to new and frightening dimensions. Playing against type, Hedison turned in a brilliant performance. Incredibly, he was not even nominated for an Emmy.


Despite Hollywood's mishandling of his career, David Hedison is still a working actor; he still has throngs of admirers the world over; he's still married to the same lovely lady after 30 years (quite an accomplishment in Hollywood); and he's the proud father of two beautiful, grown daughters. All things considered, the little Armenian boy from Providence has done all right.

David Hedison visits the UK in 2005