This indeed is a strange conflict in a Hollywood marriage, but then Roger is an unusual breed of man. They don't fight, about it a lot, Roger hastens to add, but it is a source of conflict between them.
"Jackie would like to start raising a family and I would like to wait. She says we've waited three years and that's long enough. She has a point, but I know that I'm not ready for the responsibilities of a family, so I think it would be wrong to go ahead with it just to please her. I don't think you should become a parent until you feel you can be more than just adequate at it. It's the most serious responsibility a human being ever assumes, but too many people don't see it that way at all. They have kids to satisfy their own egos, or as love-offerings' to one another, or sometimes even in the hopes of saving a marriage. I think one of the reasons we have so many disturbed kids in this world is because we have so many parents who had children for the wrong reasons."
Roger, who is a friendly, relaxed, open type is convincing on any subject he discusses. One reason might be that pleasing, soft Kentucky dialect which sounds so 'down-home' sincere.
"Oh, I question my own motives for not wanting children now, just as much as I question the motives of many who have them. Am I just being selfish, maybe just wanting to keep Jackie all to myself? Is it just that I'm afraid of the responsibility? Is it reluctance to upset the routine of our lives, to give up a certain amount of freedom? I've questioned all of these things, and I don't think any of them are true. I hope not. I hope my reasons are what I think they are because when I do have a family, I want to be the kind of father kids brag about to their friends. I want my kids to like me as well as love and respect me, and I don't think you can fool kids. I think if you're going through the motions of being a parent, or if deep down you resent them, they pick up on that and it reflects in their behavior." Although there are conflicts like this, Roger works them out like this--reasonably!
He sounds like a student of child psychology. "A study of life," he corrects, smiling. "An observer. I find people thoroughly fascinating. Their pleasures, their hang-ups, what makes them laugh, what makes them cry, how we're all alike and yet all different. Human nature is a never-ending source of surprise and knowledge."
Roger met his beautiful wife a little over three years ago in his agent's office. They went out to dinner and a month and a half later, they were married. Among other acting assignments, she does Breck commercials for television.
Photo Caption: Within a month and a half after they first met, Roger and Jackie were wed. It was one of those cases of perfect chemistry!
"We live a pretty quiet life socially," he explains, "because that's the way we like it. We're not party-goers. We prefer seeing friends in small groups where you can really talk and exchange ideas. Cocktail parties are a joke. People don't really communicate at gatherings like that."
When Roger and Jackie married, he was among a surprisingly large number of talented young actors who could always find work but who couldn't seem to find success. In fact, Roger had come so close to the brass ring so often, a man of less determination would have been ready to give up.
One example was a Screen Gems pilot that at the time (four or five years ago) looked as though it couldn't possibly miss. The series was based on From Here to Eternity with Roger in the Montgomery Cliff role. Darren McGavin in the Burt Lancaster part and Sally Kellerman in the Deborah Kerr role. They went on location to Hawaii to film the pilot and Roger still remembers his excitement at finally being involved in a "sure thing."
"Well," Roger smiled. "I remember Sally Kellerman saying that the only way Screen Gems could blow a sale on From Here to Eternity was to make the worst pilot film ever made in the history of television. Need I say more?"
There were other pilots that did not sell and other times when he was almost, but not quite, chosen for a series. Two of them, ironically, involved Peter Duel. The first was at Screen Gems when they were casting both for the From Here to Eternity pilot and for another, Love on a Rooftop. Roger and Peter were both being considered for both parts. As it turned out, Roger was cast in Eternity; Peter in Rooftop.
The second time was when Universal was casting Alias Smith and Jones. Roger was originally to do Ben Murphy's part. Then when they signed Peter, who was already under contract to them, they decided there wasn't enough contrast between the two men. They replaced Roger with Ben because they felt he had a 'Paul Newman' type sex-appeal the women just love.
On still another occasion, Roger and Pete were both cast in a movie called Young Country (now in release in Europe). Peter was to have played the leading man and Roger the villain. At the last minute, the director switched their roles.
They had become friends with all the path-crossing their lives had taken, so it was a doubly traumatic experience for Roger to replace Peter in Alias Smith and Jones.
In fact, it's still difficult for him to talk about and he remembers the first few weeks on the show as "utter hell."
Photo Caption: They've been married three years now and are starting to talk about having babies. But at this time in his life, Roger feels he is unable to give enough of himself to be a good father--and that's very important to him!
He broke down several times during shooting the first day on the set and had to leave in order to regain his composure.
"I was re-doing scenes Peter had already done, so they had to be exact and we had to watch him on the screen to get positions right. I think that was the worst day of my life. Trying to do comedy while looking at your dead friend up on the screen...he wasn't even buried yet...you know, 'the show must go on' and all that rot.
"There were five shows left to do to finish up last season and I felt Peter's ghost beside me through every one of them. What a waste! What a loss! He had so much talent, and in addition to that, he was one of the nicest guys I've known in this business.
"Everyone on the set felt a tremendous sense of loss, but they all went out of their way to help me. Ben Murphy was a great help. In time of tragedy, you find out what people are made of.
"At first I had such mixed emotions about taking over Pete's role I couldn't sleep. The idea of profiting from a friend's death kept preying on my mind until I was sick with it. Of course, I wanted the role. It's a great part and any young actor would appreciate the opportunity. But I felt guilty.
"When the best break you've had finally comes, to have it come because one of your good friends committed suicide is just horrible. I couldn't stop brooding about it for a long time. But I'm better now. For one thing I know that if Peter were alive and going to leave the show, which he wanted to do, he would have been happy to have me replace him.
"But more important, I've finally accepted that whatever problems and torments led him to kill himself couldn't have come about because of Hollywood and 'the system' in which he worked. They had to have started years before, in his childhood, and instead of being relieved, they festered and grew. The tragedy is that there was no help for Peter, or rather that he didn't find any in time."
Now Roger is looking forward to the new Smith and Jones season and if the show goes off the air after this year, he knows there will be other shows, other opportunities.
"I learned pretty early in my career
to live with disappointment," he says quietly. "Like
anything else it's a part of life. The idea is not to take it
personally, not to let it get you down. I'm always optimistic
about the future." And just as he has worked out the strange
conflict in his marriage, so he works out the everyday problems
that come up.
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