|Born||Joseph Peter Breck
March 13, 1929
Rochester, New York
|Died||February 6, 2012
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
|Alma mater||University of Houston|
Joseph Peter Breck (March 13, 1929 – February 6, 2012) was an American character actor of stage, television, and film. The rugged, dark-haired Breck played the gambler and gunfighter Doc Holliday on the ABC/Warner Bros. television series Maverick but is best known for his role as Victoria Barkley's (Barbara Stanwyck) hot-tempered, middle son Nick in the popular 1960s ABC/Four Star western, The Big Valley. Breck was also the leading man in an earlier ABC/Four Star Western television series entitled Black Saddle.
Breck was born in Rochester, New York. He grew up living with his grandparents in Haverhill, Massachusetts, because they felt they could provide a more stable home environment than his father, who often traveled as a jazz musician. He attended the University of Houston, where he studied English and drama.
Breck was the son of Joe Breck, "a popular show business figure of the 1930s." His parents divorced when Peter was 8. Peter went with Joe, while his younger brother George accompanied their mother, resulting in a decades-long separation. In 1959, an Associated Press photograph showed the brothers reunited after being out of touch for 22 years. The caption explained: "George told newsmen he saw Peter on television and recognized a resemblance. He went to the actor's studio and the relationship was confirmed."
After United States Navy service on the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42), Breck studied drama at the University of Houston. He made his debut in a film that was eventually released under the title The Beatniks. As well as performing in live theatre, Breck had several guest-starring roles on a number of popular series, such as Sea Hunt, several episodes of Wagon Train, Have Gun – Will Travel, Perry Mason and Gunsmoke. In 1956, he and David Janssen appeared in John Bromfield's syndicated series Sheriff of Cochise in the episode entitled "The Turkey Farmers". He appeared in another syndicated series too in the episode "The Deserter" of the American Civil War drama Gray Ghost, with Tod Andrews in the title role.
When Robert Mitchum saw Breck in George Bernard Shaw's play The Man of Destiny in Washington, D.C., he offered Breck a role as a rival driver in Thunder Road (1958). Mitchum helped Breck to relocate to Los Angeles, California. As Breck then did not have his own car, Mitchum lent him his own Jaguar. Mitchum introduced Breck to Dick Powell who contracted him to Four Star Productions where Breck appeared in the CBS western anthology series, Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater. He also appeared with fellow guest star Diane Brewster in the 1958 episode "The Lady Gambler" of the ABC western series, Tombstone Territory, starring Pat Conway and Richard Eastham. That same year, Breck appeared in an episode of the syndicated Highway Patrol, starring Broderick Crawford. He was also cast in an episode of NBC's The Restless Gun, starring John Payne. He also appeared in a 1958 episode of "Gunsmoke" playing the role of murder suspect, Hoyt Fly, a cowboy working a Texas cattle drive.
From January 1959 to May 1960, Breck starred as Clay Culhane, the gunfighter-turned-lawyer in the ABC western Black Saddle, with secondary roles for Russell Johnson, Anna-Lisa, J. Pat O'Malley, and Walter Burke. Unlike in The Big Valley, in which Breck played an easily angered rancher, he is low-key, restrained, and considerate as the lawyer Culhane.
Breck was later a contract star with Warner Bros. Television, where he appeared as Doc Holliday on Maverick, a part that had been played twice earlier in the series by Gerald Mohr and by Adam West on ABC's Lawman. Breck appeared in several other ABC/WB series of the time, such as Cheyenne, 77 Sunset Strip, The Roaring Twenties (as trumpet player Joe Peabody in the episode "Big Town Blues"), and The Gallant Men. He was cast as a young Theodore Roosevelt in the 1961 episode "The Yankee Tornado" of the ABC/WB western series, Bronco, starring Ty Hardin. "The Yankee Tornado" features Will Hutchins of the ABC/WB western series Sugarfoot in a crossover appearance.
Breck's first starring role in a film was Lad, A Dog in 1962. The next year, he played the leading roles in both Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor and the science fiction horror film The Crawling Hand. Between 1963 and 1965 Breck made three guest appearances on Perry Mason, including the roles of defendant William Sherwood in the 1964 episode, "The Case of the Antic Angel," and defendant Peter Warren in the 1965 episode, "The Case of the Gambling Lady." During this time, he also appeared on episodes of such television series as Mr. Novak, The Outer Limits, Bonanza, and The Virginian.
Breck claimed to have been considered for leads in two successful television series produced by Quinn Martin The Fugitive (1963) and 12 O'Clock High (1964) with Breck commenting that "If you are a leading man in Hollywood you either draw $250,000 like Steve McQueen or you had better be in a series".
The Big Valley
From 1965 to 1969, Breck starred in The Big Valley, having portrayed Nick Barkley, ramrod of the Barkley ranch and son to Barbara Stanwyck's character, Victoria Barkley. The second of four children, Nick was hotheaded, short-tempered, and very fast with a gun. Always spoiling for a fight and frequently wearing leather gloves, Breck's character took the slightest offense to the Barkley name personally and quickly made his displeasure known, as often with his fists as with his vociferous shouts. Often this proved to be a mistake and only through the calming influence of his mother and cooler-headed siblings, Jarrod (Richard Long), half-brother Heath (Lee Majors), sister Audra (Linda Evans) and Eugene (Charles Briles; written out after season 1 when he was drafted into the Army), would a difficult situation be rectified. Having been a Barbara Stanwyck admirer since the 1940s, when he was teenager, Breck developed an on- and off-screen chemistry with her, practicing longer lines and even being a ranch foreman on the set. After the show was canceled, he stayed close to her until her death.
After The Big Valley
In 1969, Breck was cast in an episode of The Donald O'Connor Show. Most of his roles in the 1970s and 1980s were television guest-starring performances on such series as Alias Smith and Jones, Mission: Impossible, McMillan & Wife, S.W.A.T., The Six Million Dollar Man (again with Lee Majors), The Incredible Hulk, and The Dukes of Hazzard, as well as roles as himself on Fantasy Island, and The Fall Guy which also starred former television "brother" Lee Majors.
In the mid-1980s, Breck moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with his wife Diane and their son, Christopher. He was asked by a casting director to teach a weekly class to young actors on film technique. That once-a-week class became a full-time acting school - The Breck Academy - which he operated for 10 years. In 1990, Breck appeared in the Canadian cult film Terminal City Ricochet.
On January 20, 1990, while teaching at the drama school, Breck was notified of Barbara Stanwyck's death. She requested no funeral nor memorial.
In 1991, he appeared as Sham-Ir, the chief of all genies, in the NBC-TV movie special I Still Dream of Jeannie, the second reunion film which reunited I Dream of Jeannie TV series co-stars Barbara Eden and Bill Daily, along with Al Waxman and Ken Kercheval.
In the 1993 movie The Unnamable II: The Statement of Randolph Carter, Breck played Sheriff Hatch.
In 1996, he appeared in an episode of the new version of The Outer Limits.
In June 2010, Breck's wife Diane announced on his website that the actor had been suffering from dementia and could no longer sign autographs for fans, although she said that he still read and enjoyed their letters. Despite this diagnosis, she said he was still physically healthy and did not require medication.
- Breck's obituary in The New York Times has his wife's name as Diana rather than Diane.
- Gates, Anita (February 10, 2012). "Peter Breck, TV Actor Known for ‘The Big Valley,’ Dies at 82". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 17 July 2017. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
- Thomas, Bob (March 7, 1959). "TV Star Peter Breck Finds Brother After 22 Years Separation". Newport Daily News. p. 6. Retrieved April 21, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "TV Star and Brother Reunited". The Morning Herald. March 7, 1959. p. 12. Retrieved April 21, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Barnes, Mike (February 10, 2012). "‘Big Valley’ star Peter Breck Dies at 82". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 17 July 2017. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
- "Lad: A Dog (1962)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved October 22, 2009.
- Crosby, Joan Warner Bros Can't Afford Peter Breck Ocala Star Banner p. 12 26 July 1965
- Ethan Minovitz, Ethan (12 February 2012). "Peter Breck, Nick in "The Big Valley," dead at 82". Big Cartoon News. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
- Breck, Diane. "June 2, 2010 Update". The Official Peter Breck Website. Aithra Productions Ltd. Retrieved 2010-07-11.
- Barnes, Mike. "‘Big Valley' star Peter Breck Dies at 82". The Hollywood Reporter.