Mark Interviews 1970+

Mark Hamill

It was 3 o'clock or so when Mark Hamill pedaled up to our pre-determined meeting point - his manager's Malibu Beach abode. For a guy who had travelled millions of miles by spaceship, a bicycle somehow seemed so primitive. And with the release of his new hit, one might expect Mark to at least zoom up in a corvette. But here he was, on a ten-speed. Could the exercise it provides be Mark's secret to keeping his great-looking body great-looking?

The middle of a now-retired U.S. Navy captain's seven children, Mark grew up in San Jose and San Diego, California; Annadale and Williamsburg, Virginia; New York City; Yokohama and Yokosuka, Japan. As a matter of fact, he's a graduate of Yokohama High School.

In 1970, Mark made his television debut in an episode of The Bill Cosby Show. For nine months, he was a regular on the ABC day-time soap General Hospital. From providing voices for the cartoon series Jeannie, to playing opposite Linda Blair in Sarah T.: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic, to guesting on episodic TV shows like The FBI, Night Gallery and Room 222, Mark has chalked up over 150 television credits.

A chat along a rustic stone wall, a walk along the beach, and then we went inside. Mark broke out a couple cans of fruit juice. The house cat crept into his lap. It was time for us to get down to some serious questions and answers.

Corvette Summer is Mark's second film and latest hit. But it was his motion picture debut in STAR WARS that earned him international fame. And so it was on that subject that we began our talk...

STAR WARS was a phenomenal box-office hit, Mark. Did you ever think it would be that big?

Absolutely not. I thought it was going to be as big as Goldfinger... I thought that it would be in the top-ten or fifteen grossing films of the year.... I thought that it was going to be a big hit with lines in front of the theatre in weekends. I knew that what we were doing was so special and so good that there was definitely a solid audience out there for it... college people that like the National Lampoon, people that like fairy tales. It was multi-level in its appeal. But I had no idea that it would be this big!

Looking back, do you see...?

I still don't understand it. It was an interesting thing. They were so unsure how to promote this movie... whether it was like Planet of the Apes or what. We didn't even have a poster for it when it opened at the Chinese. It just had photographs from the movie outside the theatre. It's one of the greatest examples of a movie that was discovered by the public. It wasn't a pre-sold hit book. It wasn't based on anything that anyone knew anything about. And it didn't have any stars in it, except for Alec Guiness.

Did you do anything special on the day it opened in Hollywood?

I went to the studio to dub the monaural prints.

Are you kidding?

No. Can you imagine? The movie opens and George Lucas (the director) calls me on the phone and says, "Hey, kid. You famous yet?" I said, "No, George. What do you want?" He says, "You want to come down and dub the movie?" I thought that... George has a funny sense of humor and I thought that maybe he was kidding and so I just laughed and said, "Oh, yeah. That's funny, George. What do you really want?" "No, I'm serious. We are working on the monaural print and it's going to be even better than the old one." I thought that this man was definitely driven! The movie is open, this is the opening day, and he is in the studio, dubbing the monaural prints of the movie. And so I went down and dubbed.

And after you were through dubbing?

We drove by the movie theatres and there were lines around the block.

How did that make you feel?

I wanted to lean out the window and say, "Why are you here? Why did you do this?"

In spite of the success of the film and the attention you and the other actors have gotten, some people have said that the actors, except Guiness, weren't really very good. I'm sure you heard comments to that effect. How did that affect you?

I have all of this background and all of this stage experience and I got defensive when the picture first came out. I'm not saying that I was a great actor, but I felt that I did my job and I did what George wanted me to do and I felt very pleased because the movie seemed to work. I felt that I fit in. It was the most important thing.

Especially in this type of film.

A lot of people really couldn't see beyond that.

That must have bothered you, huh?

I started getting nervous and getting very aware because it seemed like the critics saw me for the very first time... as some kid from Idaho that was picked up and put in front of a camera. I wanted to tell them, "Oh, no. I understood, too." For the actors, STAR WARS was very much a stylized sort of acting job.

Since you're speaking so honestly now, I guess you don't feel quite as defensive. True?

Now I think that no one is going to please one hundred percent of the people, anyway, so stop worrying about the people that don't like you. They're not going to like you, anyway.

By the way, did you get a percentage of the film?

Originally, no. But George gave us a percentage as a gift, after we finished it, which I thought was extraordinary. The only thing I remember that being done on before was American Graffiti.... with George Lucas, again.

Obviously, you enjoy working with him. Will you be doing the sequels?

I am definitely going to do two more and they have asked me to do a fourth one and at this point, I can't see any reason why I wouldn't. I haven't signed for it, yet, but it is a really exciting thing for me and I think for everybody involved.

Considering that STAR WARS was very much a hit... was it a downer when you started filming Corvette Summer?

Oh, no. I was really excited, because as a picture, it has a lot more... I mean, I had a lot more input. You see, STAR WARS is more of a director's movie and it was really more a set piece. A fantasy always is. Corvette Summer on the other hand, is a people's movie... a low budget where you get to know the people and could show a little more of what I can do as an actor. You know, show another side of me.

You mean it could really open your acting career?

I think so, yes, I really do. I think a lot of the real hard core fans who have watched me on television already know... I'm not saying I'm Olivier... far from it... but I do have a certain amount of versatility and I can play many styles.

Did anything unusual happen while you were filming Corvette Summer?

I had two accidents and went to the hospital twice.

What things were you doing to deserve that?

Oh... things like trying to ride a ten-speed bicycle while holding onto the back of a Winnebago which was going about 45 mph. Now I'm going to think twice before doing my own stunts.

I'm really surprised you'd do it because of... well, the accident.

Oh, yes... that.

If you don't want to talk about it...

No, that's okay. I'll talk about it.

(Not every Hollywoodite is as honestly open as Mark was now and I appreciated it. He could have been angry for my having brought the subject up, but he wasn't.) What exactly happened?

I'm not really sure. I had a concussion and I had forgot almost the whole thing. I don't remember even getting into the car.

I understand. I had a motorcycle accident once and I don't remember ever getting on the street where the accident occured.

Yeah! Isn't God wonderful, the way He works? Because He lets you forget that.

But what about the circumstances of your car accident?

I was in a bad emotional state with that whole thing over Eight Is Enough. Now... I'll talk about this as long as there is no slander involved because Lorimar was always on my side. Their attitude was, "God bless you. Go. Have a wonderful time and we hope that STAR WARS is a success."

So you did leave Eight Is Enough to do STAR WARS then?

Well, I did the pilot for Eight Is Enough. Then I did STAR WARS when my option on Enough was within three weeks of lapsing. You see, it was a year after filming that the Eight Is Enough pilot was picked up. I asked to get out of the series and Lorimar said okay... but Fred Silverman and ABC didn't want to let me out of my contract... probably for legal reasons. It was probably much more a business decision on their part.

That makes sense.

It seems funny... but people have raised that question... if I had this accident to get out of doing the series. If people knew what a coward I was, they would know what a lie that has to be because I wouldn't have the guts!

Suggesting that you've had an accident on purpose so you could get out of Enough with STAR WARS bound to be a big hit doesn't make any sense, either. I mean... how could you do STAR WARS if you were in the hospital or dead?

Right. Plus, an actor has a certain amount of vanity to the point where they don't want to mess up their body, right?

Exactly. But, anyway, then the accident happened around here?

No. What happened was that I was on the wrong freeway. I was way out in the sticks somewhere and there were no cars and no traffic, thank God. I was going about 65-70 mph... I was speeding, going too fast... and what happened, I think, was that I tried to negotiate an off-ramp and lost control, tumbled over, and went off the road. I fractured my nose and my cheek.

Sounds like a pretty traumatic experience.

Yes. It's such a monumental kind of thing that I can't even put it all together in my head.

It must have been very strange... reading about it, about your accident, in newspapers and...

Yeah! I read in magazines, "Mark Hamill almost killed in auto crash." And what prose... "As he dragged himself from the wreckage... the flames were higher"... you know?... "his nose slid off his face." And I'm going, "Wow, this is great! But I don't remember it!"

When did the reality really hit home?

I just woke up and I was in the hospital and I knew that I had hurt myself very, very, very badly... but I wasn't really sure. And then someone held a mirror up to my face and I just felt that my career was over.

How did you deal with that? What were your thoughts and feelings?

I was so upset to see how badly I had hurt myself.

Yeah, I sure would be if it happened to me.

Yes, but I was feeling sorry for myself... poor me... getting hit right in the face and the whole thing. Besides... the next day I was supposed to go do pick-up shots of the land scenes in Death Valley, for STAR WARS. They had a whole crew out there. The real professional in me felt that I had let down all of those people. And the Eight Is Enough series was going to start soon and the whole thing.

Those are difficult feelings, emotions, to deal with.

Yes... and then into my hospital room came Diana Hyland and her little boy, Zak, and we had of all the... if you ever see the pilot for Eight Is Enough again, there was a very nice scene between Diana and me... we had this connection where I felt that I was real close to this lady. She made me stop this whole self-pitying sort of thing. It was like, "Hey, jerk, what's the matter?" And that was a big turning point for me. Now, when I put it into retrospect... she knew that she was not long for this world... and when I think of how awful and self-centered it was of me to be thinking of me... and she didn't even mention that she wasn't feeling well or anything.

You didn't know of her cancer?

I didn't know. She didn't confide in me at all. I knew that she had some sort of back problem or something, but, of course, I had no idea that it was cancer or anything like that. She died about eleven days later. And you know... she was the only one to visit me out of that whole cast!


Lani called me on the phone, and the little boy, Adam Rich, sent me a card. But not one of the rest of the cast, not even to this day. And that hurts.

Gee, I mean, that seems sort of insensitive on their part.

I don't know what went through their minds. Maybe they thought I ditched them or something.

When you've felt this kind of disappointment in your fellow actors... it probably makes you more appreciative of a relationship... when you have someone in your life that cares about you. Obviously, I'm referring to Marilou York. You've been together quite a while now, haven't you two?

It's a year, today.

Hey, happy anniversary. Are there any wedding plans?

No, not really. We're sort of happy the way we are now. And also, it's incredibly hard.

Because you're often away working in a film?

Yes. And she's a professional, too.

What's she do?

She's a dental hygienist.

Did you go to her to get your teeth cleaned? I mean, is that how you met?


Love at first sight?

Lust at first sight. [He laughs] It's funny... but she works on more stars' teeth than the number of stars I know. She'll come home and say, "Guess what? I did Olivia Newton-John's teeth today." And I will go, "What is she like, is she nice?" And people think it would be the other way around.

I guess there's always a fascination with actors, singers, personalities... you know, stars. I guess that's why some people would do anything to become one, if you follow me or have heard stories.

Yes, but... I might be naive about things like casting couches or... I don't know. This is mostly a business and people don't have time for that.

But did you ever worry about those stories you hear about, whether they're true or not?

When I came here in '69, I said to myself, "If it ever gets real weird..." But I was convinced that you could go to Hollywood and not do anything that you wouldn't be glad to report to your mother and still make it.


And I did it! I have never done anything that is leery or weird. It's really encouraging to know that you can just go out... and you can do it!

You're the proof of the pudding, which we're happy to have... considering what other people dish out... but anyway, what's next on your agenda?

The Big Red One, with Lee Marvin. It's a war movie.

Shot on location?

Yugoslavia and Israel. I've never been to either of those places before. And no, I'm not driving over in a corvette! [He laughs]
Gossip Magazine, 1978


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