The first thing you shoulf know about Richard Kiel is that he was a scrawny kid just like the rest of us. The second thing you have to know is that he grew out of it. I have the feeling he kept growing because his body needed to be as big as his heart.
There are facts and figures you can know about Richard. In his prime he was a touch under 7’2” and weighed in at a healthy 340 pounds. You can get all these facts from various websites and you can get the whole story from Richard’s candidly entertaining autobiography, “Making it BIG in the Movies.”
You can also see some fantastic images and order signed photos at his great site at
and make sure you tell the lovely Rosemary, I sent you.
So instead let’s just start chatting with Richard because he has a lot of interesting things to say and can certainly tell them to you better than I can.
David: I believe that in 1960 you made your first appearance in the series, Klondike. In this TV series you not only got to act with Telly Savalas and James Coburn, but also to work with legendary figures like Sam Peckinpah and William Conrad. What do you remember most from this series? Do you have any funny or strange stories from these early days?
Richard: The television series starred Ralph Taeger and James Coburn and was produced by the late William Conrad. Telly Savalas was not a regular on the show and although he may have guest starred he was not in the show I did. Sam Peckinpah was not involved with the episode that I was in.
Telly Savalas was a friend of mine and tried to help get me into The Greatest Story Ever Told. I had the pleasure of working with him Cannonball II with Burt Reynolds where I played a driver of one of the cars and Jackie Chan was my co-driver.
Although William Conrad didn't direct the Klondike episode he did cast me in two movies he directed: "Brainstorm" and "Two on a Guillotine."
David: Was this when you got to sign your first autograph? How did you feel? Did you co-sign any photos in these early days? And have you signed with many people other than Sir Roger Moore in the years since?
Richard: I don't remember when I signed my first autograph. I am sure it was before the Bond movies as I went on promotional tours with a couple of exploitation movies "Eegah" and "The Human Duplicators" and would have signed some autographs then.
I did a children's show as Paul Bunyan in 1963 and would have signed autographs as Paul Bunyan.
My first actual recollection of signing an autograph would be while filming "The Longest Yard" with Burt Reynolds. We ate in the visitors’ area outside the maximum security prison at Reidsville, GA. While eating I noticed a mother prompting her little girls to go over and get my autograph which I was pleased to sign for her.
She then had the courage to ask Michael Conrad for his autograph as well and came over to him to ask him to sign. He sent her away crying with a curt "I don't sign autographs." I remember saying to him: "Michael I understand your position on this but don't you see what you did to that little girl?" Because of that incident this signing stands out in my memory.
Another time was while filming "So Fine" in New York City. My wife Diane and I took in quite a few plays. I remember it was in the winter and it was very cold with snow on the ground when we stepped out of the theater and all the tourists attending wanted my autograph. Diane insisted that I sign for every one of them and finally when the last fan left with my signature we were all alone with no more cabs in sight. I said, "Diane, we can't fill every autograph request and end up not being able to get a cab!" She said something very profound and I'll never forget it. "Remember," she said, "when no one wanted your autograph? We weren't doing very well, were we? These are your fans and part of the territory of being a movie star."
Today I am handicapped due to an automobile accident and I cannot stand without a walking stick so it is impossible for me to sign on the run anymore. I do sign in restaurants or other places where I can sit down.
There is a story in my book about people thinking I was Lurch in "The Adams Family" and how they insisted I was him and even after Ted Cassidy was dead people thought I was him and wanted me to sign an autograph. This was during the difficult times earlier in my career and of course it was frustrating to have people so adamantly misidentifying you.
After the Bond films it turned around where people were asking Ted Cassidy (Lurch) to sign autographs thinking he was Jaws. This drove him crazy and he hated me according to some interviews I have read.
I know how he felt but my upbringing taught me to be patient and "my time would come." Which it did!
David: Although you had many roles throughout the 60s did you find it difficult working in Hollywood through these early days? Which film roles do you consider to be your best work in forty years of acting and why? And who have you really loved working with over the years and which female lead do you think would make the best Bond Babe of all time?
Richard: Actually no! I managed to do a lot of interesting roles and the ones that I felt were too stupid or disgusting I turned down. You can only be type cast if you allow yourself to be. I strived to play different characters and turned down doing the same thing all the time. The story in the book about the Wild Wild West and how I wouldn't do any more unless I could talk was a good example of determining your own destiny.
I was offered the opportunity to be, a Jaws like character, on TV comedy shows, etc. But had the common sense to know that without the production values and the James Bond people behind me it would look like a cheap stupid imitation so I just said no.
Because of this I was not type cast and did films like Force 10 from Navarone where I played a great role as a devious Chetnick and Nazi sympathizer who pretends to a Partisan on the side of the Allies.
This and my role as Mr. Eddie in "So Fine" gave me a chance to have some real acting roles playing people far from my own real personality.
Who made the "best Bond babe?"
That's a tough question as all of the Bond leading ladies are very special and extremely beautiful each in their own way.
I can hardly classify Lois Chiles who played the strong female lead as Dr. Holly Goodhead in Moonraker as a Bond babe. Yet she was very attractive and interesting in a more modern concept of the woman.
Barbara Back was particularly sensual and very beautiful in the more traditional Bond lady of the past although she played it as a very capable woman as well. I had the good fortune of doing three movies with Barbara and she is high on my list as a Bond babe.
But from the very beginning with the luscious Ursula Andress to now with Halle Berry all the Bond women are very special. Even Jaws girlfriend Dolly played by Blanche Ravalec was well chosen to be a Jaws babe in her own right.
David: What are some of your funniest and weirdest experiences when being asked for autographs over the years? Did you ever have any really unpleasant moments or did you find that most fans were just a little intimidated by your immense presence?
Richard: This would be covered in my book where the woman I was trying to get directions from thought I was Lurch (Ted Cassidy) and refused to believe that he was dead and that I wasn't him or to give me directions until I finally signed as Lurch!!!
David: Do you collect autographs yourself? If so what are some of your favourites? And if you could meet anyone in history and ask them to sign for you, who would it be and what would you have them say in their dedication?
Richard: I started collecting autographs in the latter part of my career. I have an autographed photo signed by Glenn Ford, one from Burt Reynolds and one from Clint Eastwood.
I have a cast photo from Cannonball II with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Telly Savalas, etc., etc. and wonder why I didn't get them all to sign it. Can you imagine what something like that would be worth today?
There are many people that I would have liked to have met and had a chance to talk to and perhaps got an autograph. I have a personal letter from Ronald Reagan signed by him when he was president and an autographed photo as well; and the same from President Clinton. Both of these were as a result of writing to them about issues.
If I had just one choice of who I would like to meet in person it would be Jesus and I would ask him to sign me into the "Book of Life."
David: What do you do these days to unwind and enjoy life? Have you been asked to appear in any new films in 2004? Would you like to appear as a character in another Bond film someday?
Richard: Diane and I bought a nice home with a heated pool and an in-ground spa. It has 9 huge redwood and pine trees soaring 45' in the air behind and in front of the house. You can't see the neighbour on either side from the back yard as we are on kind of a cul-de-sac. We have about 900' of grassy playground behind our back wall so we have space, quiet and privacy to enjoy our pool. I buy a lot of special plants and enjoy seeing them blossom at different times of the year.
We have a daughter son-in-law and two grandchildren in Hawaii so we try and go there once or twice a year.
Diane and I enjoy doing the autograph shows together as it gives us a chance to travel a lot. We have been all over the USA and Europe during the past few years doing shows in N.Y.C., L. A., Chicago, S.F., Atlanta and Dallas. The shows have also taken us to England, France and Germany.
Diane assists me at the table and enjoys meeting my fans. Just yesterday we got a letter from a fan we had met at several events, and who purchased my autobiography. He sent a photo of our entire family landing at the airport to promote "Moonraker." He wanted Diane and I to sign it and sent an extra copy for ourselves. Two of our now grown children who were in the photograph were at our house for dinner and they signed as well.
Because of my handicap (lack of auto-balance reflex) caused by an auto accident I do not get many requests to be in movies as it is impossible for me to stand unaided by a cane or a walking staff. I was in this current condition when I did "Happy Gilmore" the golf comedy starring Adam Sandler. The movie was extremely popular selling 10's of million videos and the popularity of my character in that film ranks right up there with Jaws.
The producers and the director worked with my handicap allowing me to lean on everything and everybody. They even made it look like I was running after Shooter by pushing me on a dolly while shooting me from the waist up in super slow-mo with my arms flailing while people rans beside me.
It worked for them and for me the youngsters discovered me as a tough hero whom they would like to be if only for an hour to deal with the people bugging them in life.
Today I have to look for roles where I can be sitting down like playing a judge or where the producers and director is willing to work around my handicap. That's the kind of roles that Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) played in the latter part of his career as Dean of the college in "So Fine" and as the Judge in "My Cousin Vinnie."
Would I like to reappear in a Bond movie? Of course! It would require that the producers and director work with me like they did in Happy Gilmore or a role I could play sitting down. My fans keep asking me constantly, "When are you coming back?"
David: These days you are doing some great work with Sir Roger Moore to raise money for UNICEF. How did this project come about?
Richard: What I am doing for UNICEF is nothing compared to what Roger does.
David: From your own personal experience you remain strongly committed to fighting alcohol abuse, particularly in view of the innocent people it often affects. You have even refused money for commercials as part of your stand. Did you find that in the long run that the position you have taken as given you greater strength and peace within your own life as the years pass? Do you ever discuss this on a personal level when you talk to your fans at various memorabilia conventions and other public appearances?
Richard: That's why I wrote the book and have my testimony on my web site. Some of the people who come to autograph shows are in a world all of their own. I am not talking about Star Trek or Star Wars fans who dress up in costumes to go to these shows as that is all in good fun.
I am talking about fans who take these shows as being literally true events! Fans who really idolise characters in these shows.
Some of the horror and science fiction conventions attract a small percent of fans who take the gothic thing way too far. I remember one fan in particular who had either a T shirt or a tattoo that said "Satan is my best friend." I gave him one of my books free in hope that he would read it and that he would be encouraged by the spiritual chapter to seek new idols in the spiritual realm.
David: Before we go Richard, are there any thoughts, advice or other messages that you would like to pass on to your many fans across the world?
Richard: Yes, I would like to say how much I have enjoyed entertaining people over the years and how meeting fans at conventions has helped to give me a new outlook on what this has meant to them. For those considering trying to become an actor or movie star I would encourage them to read my book to find out how hard it can be to do that and how long it can take.
I had to do many innovative things to "Make It BIG In The Movies" and to work very hard at it. I spent money on books, records and other materials to help me with my acting and tens of thousands of dollars on trade ads over the span of my career to bring the special shows I did to the attention of the industry. In spite of my imaginative promoting and selling of myself and all the money I poured back into my career it still took me 17 years of working as an actor to seemingly become an "overnight success" when I did my first Bond film as Jaws.
Seventeen years is a long time! In that amount of time I could have become a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer. In fact, in that amount of time you could probably become all three!
I want young people to stay in school and get their degree. To work in community theater in order to gain experience and with that behind them they may take a trip out to Hollywood to try their luck as an actor.
To have enough money saved first to survive. To get a regular job in sales that would allow them to take a few days or a few weeks off in order to do an acting role.
Too many young people watch shows like "Friends" and say to themselves, "I could do that" only to find out that they can't even get an agent or a membership in the Screen Actors Guild let alone a part in a TV series or a film.
They hitch a ride or take a bus and arrive with very little money and unfortunately some of these young men and women end up standing on street corners on the famous Sunset Boulevard selling their bodies to survive or to buy drugs to dull the pain of failed dreams.
Or working as "models" in the escort business, or the adult film industry so they don't have to return home as failures.
I am not saying you can't make it in the television or movie business. I am just saying that it is hard and can take a long time. Getting my book will give them some tips and ideas on how to "break in" and how to survive by doing other work as well.
There are a few who may have just been lucky and were discovered in a drugstore or something like that. For every one of those there are probably 10,000 or more that aren't so lucky.
My Dad used to say, "The harder I work, the luckier I get!" I found that with 17 years of working hard to become an actor that I might have looked like I was "lucky." When I did the Spy Who Loved Me, people would ask me if it was my first film. After 17 years of struggle I finally did my first James Bond film and found myself an international star and on the cover of People Magazine.
To the film critic or movie host interviewing me it seemed like my first film as I finally had become visible to him and a lot of the rest of the world.
That's why I enjoy meeting people who were my fans way before Bond when I was doing shows like The Monkees, Wild, Wild West, Gilligan’s Island and old cult movies like Eegah.
FROM JAWS WITH LOVE
Article copyright David Priol 2003 and previously published in The Pen & Quill 2004.
Photos copyrighted to their various owners and used here only for illustrating Mr Kiel's autograph and career.