Hollywood Flashback: Patrick Stewart First Came to L.A. — in Tights and a Toupee — in 1968
Arriving in Hollywood at 27 for an eight-week run in 'As You Like It,' the future Captain Jean-Luc Picard — he reprises his role for CBS All Access' 'Star Trek: Picard,' launching Jan. 23 — once said he took a liking to Tommy's Hamburgers during his inaugural visit to Southern California.
Fifty-two years ago, The Hollywood Reporter described Patrick Stewart — who stars in Star Trek: Picard, launching on CBS All Access on Jan. 23 — as "dashing" in the role of Duke Senior in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of As You Like It at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre. (THR also noted that Ben Kingsley as Amiens sang the ballads "with delicacy.")
Stewart, then 27, had accompanied the RSC to L.A. for an eight-week run. Gordon Davidson (who died in 2016) was trying to set up an exchange agreement between his Center Theatre Group and the RSC that would also send his productions to London. The Ahmanson run was the future Captain Jean-Luc Picard's first trip to Southern California, and for him a cultural standout was the original Tommy's Hamburgers at Beverly and Rampart boulevards. Also not far from the RSC's Mid-Wilshire hotel was a low-end liquor store. (He once said that burgers and Popov Vodka pints became "the staple diet of the Royal Shakespeare Company.")
Stewart had begun working when he left school at 15 to take a reporting job at his West Yorkshire weekly paper, The Mirfield & District Reporter. Almost immediately he also became involved with regional theater, and in 1966 that evolved into working with the RSC until 1982. For years he was a staple of British stage productions and the BBC, appearing on TVs on both sides of the Atlantic in 1974's Antony and Cleopatra and 1976's I, Claudius.
In 1986, Star Trek: The Next Generation producer Robert Justman saw Stewart at a reading with a UCLA acting class and recommended him for the part of Picard. After watching tapes of Stewart perform, Generation producer Rick Berman says, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry "was extremely impressed — but his attitude was 'I'll be damned if a bald British guy is going to be my new Captain Kirk.' "
But after more actors auditioned, it was decided that Stewart was the best choice, and he went on to read for Paramount TV head John Pike. At Roddenberry's insistence, Stewart did the audition wearing a toupee, which the actor FedExed in from England. (He went bald at 19.)
"Pike was very pleased and gave his approval," says Berman. "He said, 'That's your guy. But lose the wig.' "
This story first appeared in the Jan. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.