Patrick Duffy is quite literally a "working actor." He's toiled consistently on television since making a splash as the web-footed super-hero Mark Harris on the 1977-78 NBC series "The Man From Atlantis."
After that show folded, he moved to "Dallas" and spent 13 years--minus a hiatus he took during the 1985-86 season--playing J.R.'s good brother, Bobby Ewing, on the phenomenally popular CBS series. For the past three seasons, Duffy has starred with Suzanne Somers in ABC's family sitcom "Step by Step," which is part of the network's popular Friday night comedy lineup.
In this '90s version of "The Brady Bunch," Duffy, 44, plays Frank Lambert, a freewheeling contractor with three kids, who is married to a widowed beautician (Somers), who also has three offspring. Married in real life to Carlyn Duffy, a former ballerina with the First Chamber Dance Company of New York, the Montana-born actor is the father of two sons, Padraic, an 18-year-old sophomore at Princeton, and 13-year-old Connor.
Question: Are you amazed at your longevity on television?
Answer: I've worked consistently for 18 years. Every day, I just consider myself extremely fortunate. First of all, part of my daily routine as a Buddhist is that I chant for an hour and a half in the morning, from 4:30 until 6 o'clock. What's going through my mind is how lucky I am. I truly appreciate my family and the consistency of the work.
Q: You are the only regular from "Dallas" who went right into another series. Did you think of taking any time off between "Dallas" and "Step by Step"?
A: I never wanted to take time off. I guess if I have any theory about working, it's just to keep working. I don't consider myself an "artist." I approach work as a labor--a really joyful labor. I was off seven days from "Man From Atlantis" when I got "Dallas," and I was off 14 days between "Dallas" and the time I signed for "Step by Step."
Q: Do you think this show will become a cult sensation like the '70s blended-family series "The Brady Bunch"?
A: No, for the reason that "The Brady Bunch" was a different kind of show. It was, in essence, the trendsetter. We have our following, but it's not addictive to people who watch it. They watch us because we are part of a lineup that's good family viewing. They feel comfortable watching us. Q: "Step by Step's" young fans probably never saw "Dallas."
A: My wife always jokes that all my fans now are under 3 feet tall. Young people come up to me, I mean really young, and say, "Are you Frank Lambert?" I realize they have no idea I was Bobby Ewing. I can literally, as people approach me, tell what generation of viewers they have come from. I don't feel that old, but I realize I cover three generations of viewers.
Q: "Step by Step" is in its third season and performs well in the ratings. But it's sort of a hidden hit. It doesn't get the attention of "Dallas" and never receives Emmys. Has the lack of recognition been difficult for you after being on such a high-profile show as "Dallas"?
A: Even "Dallas" was a hidden hit. "Dallas" won two Emmys. One was for film editing; there's a biggie. Barbara Bel Geddes won, I think the second year of the show, and that was because she was a great film star doing a TV show. We were the No. 1 show, God knows, for how many years in a row, but you couldn't win an award. So I learned long ago that that kind of recognition, as good as it is, is not why I go to work. I go to work because somebody asked me to work.
If I were to have left "Dallas" and said the next thing I want to do is something that gets that degree of recognition, then you take a whole different approach to what you pick as work. To be quite honest, with rare exceptions, those shows don't stay on the air. My raison d'etre is to work. That's why I looked at everything that was offered me the minute "Dallas" was off the air and I took something. I go to work with the best of what's available and then I will make that my job. This is the best job I've ever had.
A: I get to work with Suzanne. This year, I get to direct 10 episodes. (He also directed 30 "Dallas" episodes.) It's a huge cast show. I think if I had to be really honest with myself, the stars of the show, in terms of the viewing audience, are the young kids. Suzanne and I are like old, well-known warhorses. I think we served a purpose when the show started. When you say Suzanne Somers and Patrick Duffy, then it added credence to the show. But I don't think they consider it to be "The Suzanne Somers-Patrick Duffy Show."
Q: And that's OK with you?
A: Sure. It's a job. It's like golden handcuffs--golden, mink-lined handcuffs. It's like the most regular, wonderful job. I get to be a regular dad. I live in the (San Fernando) Valley. I drive my son to school every morning and the school is five minutes from the studio. I'm home for dinner every single night. I told Suzanne at the first table reading for the pilot, "I'm ordering eight years for this show. At the end of eight years, I'll be 50 years old and I'll be ready to retire."
Q: You want to retire at that young an age?
A: Basically. This is something our family has talked about. I'll retire if there is no work. I don't want to become one of those people who hangs around the industry trying to get something going to match their past successes. We have our place in Oregon and as soon as this show is over, if I have to wait more than 14 days for my next series, I might as well just go to Oregon.