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Beradino’s medicine show runs 30 years

Today, John Beradino, who has played the stalwart Dr. Steve Hardy on the ABC soap “General Hospital” for 30 years–the longest engagement of any actor in a role on the West Coast–gets his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

It is a day of glory, and poignant ironies, for the 75-year-old actor who started as a child in the silent “Our Gang” comedies, quit showbiz for sports and attended USC on a football scholarship, switched to baseball and played second base for the World Series-winning Cleveland Indians, began acting after a career-ending leg injury and had to hock his World Series ring to keep going, was forced out of a meaty role in TV’s “Untouchables” because of death threats, and was nominated for three Emmys, but has yet to win.

Even Beradino’s career on “General Hospital” is something of a fluke hit. He had just co-starred on the ABC series “The New Breed” when he was offered the pilot of “General Hospital.”

“I figure they wouldn’t make it, but I might as well get some money. They had already made a pilot called ‘The Emergency Hospital,’ and they didn’t pick that up. That pilot had flopped. So they rewrote the show, called it ‘General Hospital,’ and recast it with me and Emily McLaughlin. And it hit. It caught on right away. And I had signed a five-year deal. That was unheard of.”

To the inevitable question about the major changes in 30 years, Beradino replies, “They have so much more money to work with now. Now when you are on the sound stage, you think you were at (the old) MGM or Fox. Everything has become a big money factory.

“But the money does not necessarily buy better material writing-wise, and writing has got to be the key ingredient for a soap opera. It makes you a success or flop. Writing. Because the world is just full of actors who can handle these soap parts.

“We always had good writing the first 10 years or so. Then we had a lot of changes in producers and writers. I was doing a scene with my wife on the show, Rachel Ames, where she said to me, ‘Do you regret having been a major-league ball player.’

“So I had to go upstairs in my white jacket, and I said, ‘John Beradino was a major-league ball player, not Dr. Hardy. Hardy was born in China. My mother and father were missionaries who were killed during the Chinese revolution. I was brought back to the States and raised by relatives, who sent me to medical school. It was the first time the writers had heard of it.”

John Beradino’s mother was not a missionary but a somewhat movie-struck Los Angeles housewife. Through a neighbor she got her son cast in bits in the silent “Our Gang” comedies. She also convinced his father, who was in the meat-packing business, to invest $ 10,000–then a small fortune–in a silent film, just as sound came in. “And that was the end of my acting career as a child. My father said, ‘Here’s a baseball bat. Go out and play.’ Because the ball players were his idols.”

Beradino played football in high school, but his school didn’t have a baseball team, so he played on a local semi-pro team called the L.A. Croatians. “They changed my name to Beradinich. That’s how I got my baseball experience.” He got a football scholarship to USC, switched to baseball and made the majors in his sophmore year.

“But I always wanted to do some acting, even when I was a kid.” In 1947 both he and his father invested in a movie called “The Winner’s Circle,” and this time they made a little money.

When he was traded from the seventh-place St. Louis Browns to the eight-place Washington Senators, Beradino was going to quit baseball and go into movies. But manager Bill Veeck enticed him into joining the Cleveland Indians, who won the pennant with Bernadino at second base in ’48. One of the proudest trophies in his Beverly Hills home is a black baseball bat, the signed 1948 World Series bat.

“But I wasted five years after that playing mostly utility, getting hurt a lot.” After the ’52 season and two operations on his left knee, he quit baseball.

He had been studying and working at the Pasadena Playhouse during the off season. “It went slow for quite a while, and it even got to a point where I had to hock my World Series ring to stay in action, which was a death blow to me.

“But the pawn broker on Santa Monica Boulevard looked at the ring, saw my name on it, and the World Series crest, and said, ‘I normally would give you 60 bucks for this, but I’ll give 80, because I know you’ll come back for this.’ Two weeks later I got a job and went back and got the ring.”

The role was on the ABC-TV series “I Led Three Lives,” with Richard Carlson. “One day producer Lou Breslow came out of the rushes and said, ‘Johnny, you’re finally a better actor than you were a ball player.’ Then I got lucky and did three ‘Untouchables’ for Quinn Martin. I did the pilot.

“My career with ‘The Untouchables’ ended when I attended a Sons of Italy banquet in Los Angeles, and this big fellow comes up to me and says, ‘Are you Johnny Beradino?’ I says, ‘Yeah.’ ‘You work on “Untouchables.”‘ ‘Yeah.’ ‘You no gonna work on “Untouchables” no more.’ And he walked away.

“So I called Quinn Martin and told him what had happened. And he said, ‘Johnny, we’ve been getting death threats. No more Italians on this show.’ They could be Polish, or Jewish or Irish, you understand, but no more Italians. Capice? That was it.”

Master raconteur

Like many veteran actors, Beradino is a master raconteur, his anecdotes punctuated with rich ironic laughter. But when asked who have been the most memorable characters on “General Hospital” in 30 years, he ponders a long time and comes up with a thoughtful analysis.

“It’s hard to separate, because what happens is that the most memorable characters become a team. It’s like Luke and Laura, Scotty and Lucy. One without the other doesn’t seem to work. When Tony Geary is not with the original Laura, it’s not the same person. She is not the same person without him. If they’re not together, they’re not as interesting.

“The girl who played Lucy, Lynn Herring, went over to ‘Days of Our Lives’ for a year, and it didn’t work for her. So she came back. She needed the guy who played Scotty. And Scotty needed her, because his part was beginning to disintegrate as an interesting character. They have to feed off one another. That’s the way it works. The chemistry between individuals.”

After 30 years as the ultimate good guy in soaps, Beradino longs for a walk on the wild side. “Dr. Hardy’s character goes around kissing women on the forehead. No human being in the world is as good as I am. This guy is like a saint. Let’s see the dark side of this guy…”

His current contract has him appearing only once a week. “Maybe they’re grabbing onto something this year. My wife being raped. And I go berserk when I confront the guy who raped her. Then I deck him, and he bangs his head against some metal. He ends up in the hospital and dies, and I’m up for murder. Wouldn’t that be nice. That’s what I’m trying to sell them on. That’s all I’m dickering for. One more big storyline, and then I’ll call it a day.

“When I got into acting and ‘General Hospital’ I really wanted to win an Emmy. I was nominated three times, but I never got the brass ring. I’m still hoping I get one more good storyline. But everything is so youth oriented now.”

Still, there is today’s star in Hollywood of which to be proud. “I’m going to dedicate my star to my mother. She’s getting in the last lick up there, I know. When I became a major-league baseball player, my parents went back east to watch me play, and my father nudged my mother and said, ‘I told you he was going to be a baseball player.’ Then when I got into ‘The New Breed’ series, she said, ‘I told you he’s gonna be an actor.’ Now I’m sure she’s up there, and she’s going to say to my father, ‘He didn’t make the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he made the Hollywood Walk of Fame.’ “

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