This article was written by L. Robert Davids
This article was published in 1980 Baseball Research Journal
In the old days when vaudeville was popular, a number of ball players had brief trials as actors or singers. In 1912-13, for example, Mike Donlin and Marty McHale teamed up to do an act where Donlin told jokes and McHale, who had developed his voice and his pitching arm at the University of Maine, did the singing. In the same period Rube Marquard also did some work on stage, but it was primarily in connection with his wife, the well known musical comedy star, Blossom Seeley. None of the three players – Donlin, McHale or Marquard – ever made acting a post-playing career.
There were two players of the more recent era — Johnny Berardino and Chuck Connors – who have had lengthy and successful acting careers. Berardino started his early, having some minor film roles in Our Gang comedies in Hollywood in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He had the advantage of being born and raised in Los Angeles.
Berardino played college ball at USC and was signed by the St. Louis Browns. After a big year at San Antonio in the Texas League in 1938, he was the regular second baseman for the Browns in 1939. The next year he played shortstop, hit 16 homers and knocked in 85 runs, and in 1941 he batted .271 and knocked in 89 runs, both high marks for him. He entered military service in July 1942 and did not play again until after World War II ended. He was again a regular for the Browns in 1946, but played only 90 games in 1947.
In December 1947 he was traded to the Cleveland Indians. Berardino had already been doing some acting in Hollywood in the off-season and when he signed with Cleveland his contract specifically gave him that permission. Bill Veeck noted later that Berardino was the first player he ever dealt with through an agent. That winter he played a trainer in a horse-racing movie called “The Winner’s Circle.”
For the next several years he was a part-time player both on the diamond and in the studio. The Indians won the pennant and the World Series in 1948, but Berardino did not get into the fall classic. He was back with the Browns in 1951 and closed out his baseball career with the Pirates and Indians in 1952.
He tried acting on a full-time basis in 1953 but had a real struggle getting parts. At one low point he hocked his 1948 World Series ring, but was able to get it back later. He concentrated on television, which was coming on pretty fast in the early 1950s and his Latin good looks and wiry form helped land him some substantial roles. He soon was seen regularly on “The New Breed” and “I Led Three Lives.” He made guest appearances on “The Untouchables,” “Cheyenne,” and “Laramie,” and by playing good guy or bad guy showed the same versatility he had displayed in 11 years on the diamond.
On March 20, 1963 he began playing Dr. Steve Hardy on ABC’s General Hospital, which became one of the most popular afternoon programs. Berardino was nominated for three Emmy
Awards for best actor in a daytime drama in the course of this longest running program of its type on television. He has aged very gracefully in the part over more than 17 years and looks much younger than his real life 63 years. The only concession he has made to show business is to drop the second “r” in his name. For many years now he has been John Beradino, matinee idol. On those rare occasions when he can get off for a baseball oldtimers game, he is recognized by more women than men.
While Berardino was a dark-haired Italian from Los Angeles, Chuck Connors was a tall blond-headed Irish kid from Brooklyn. He went to Seton Hall College where he starred in basketball and baseball. He played pro basketball with the Boston Celtics in 1946-48 in what was then called the Basketball Association of America.
The Dodgers signed him to play baseball and he went up the minor league chain as high as Montreal. He did make one pinch hit appearance with the Dodgers in 1949. The Cubs picked him up in 1951 and he batted .239 in 66 games while playing first base. They sent him down to their farm team in Los Angeles, but he batted only .259 for the Angels in 1952.
Realizing that he had little future in baseball, Connors turned to show business in the Hollywood area. Late in 1952 he landed a brief but recognizable part in the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn picture “Pat and Mike.” But it wasn’t as easy as that first job would indicate. He struggled for several years, getting a small movie part here and there. His big break came in 1957 when he landed the Western role of “The Rifleman” on television. That series lasted until 1962 and gave him the name and experience he needed. He alternated between TV and movies after that. Some of the films he appeared in included “Geronimo” 1962, “Move Over Darling” 1963, “Broken Sabre” 1965, “The Deserter” 1970, “Pancho Villa” 1971, “Mad Bomber” 1972, and “Tourist Trap” 1979. He was in the TV series “Branded” in 1964-65 and gave a memorable performance as a mid-l9th century slave owner in “Roots” in 1977.
Connors could play American hero or villain, “his thin smile being adaptable to friendship or menace.” His blond hair and elongated 6’5″ frame became a familiar sight both to TV watchers and movie-goers over the last 25 years. His birth year in some show business source books is listed as 1924. The accurate figure, as reported in the baseball encyclopedias, is 1921, making him a vigorous appearing 59 years old. His full name is Kevin Joseph Connors.