Question: This isn't a bet since we're not betting people, but it is an argument. Wasn't Vega$ Robert Urich's first TV series? I say no. Thank you for helping out. Meredith M., Owasso, Okla.
Televisionary: And you're right, Meredith, in keeping with the grand Televisionary tradition of whoever tends to write in about these things usually having their facts straight. The late Urich, who starred in a whopping 15 TV dramas and comedies over his career, appeared on Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, SWAT, Tabitha and Soap before jumping into the role of T-bird-driving private eye Dan Tanna on ABC's Vega$, which ran on ABC from September 1978 to September 1981.
And it was a long road to that point. After growing up in a small Ohio town, attending Florida State on a football scholarship and getting an M.A. in broadcast management ("When I went home on vacation, the lady across the street, who'd heard about my major, asked me to come over and look at her TV set because she was getting a lot of snow on Channel 7," Urich recalled in 1978), the actor landed a sales job in Chicago. Realizing the life of an account exec wasn't for him, he decided to try acting, but quickly realized he didn't quite have the credits for it.
"Up to then, I'd done only a lead in a high-school play and done a deaf mute in a college production of The Cave Dwellers," he told TV Guide. "So I made up a phony résumé. I'd read plays and then figure out what parts in what productions around the country I could have done. After a while, I started to get roles, and I finally had a real résumé. Being authentic, it wasn't quite as impressive as the original. But I guess it's safe now for the world to know that I really didn't star as King Lear at the Globe Theatre."
Get roles he did, but first there was a divorce and a run of bad luck before he hooked up with actress Heather Menzies, who he credited with helping him through his rough post-breakup period. "[F]or a while my entire life was a mess," he said. "Three years ago, things were going so badly that I had to sell my car in order to pay the rent."
Even the marriage to Menzies couldn't make everything better. After the two moved into a small Hollywood Hills house, the money issues stuck around a while. "We were so poor for a time that I used to put in eight-hour days growing vegetables on the hillside," Urich said. "That kept us from starving, and it kept me busy so I didn't go insane."
Maybe not, but after Urich landed a few TV roles and then hit it big with Vega$, Menzies was willing to admit all the busy work didn't do much for her sanity, which was in better shape once her husband had a set to go to. In fact, a job for Urich meant better days for her mental health, their house and the star's waistline.
"When Bob doesn't work, he gets very nasty," Menzies said. "Generally, he will start building something around the house when that happens. One day I went out shopping, and when I came back he'd chopped a hole in the roof. He had decided he'd put in a skylight. Unfortunately, the next day he got an acting job and had to take off for three weeks in Florida. That night it started to rain, and it rained through the hole in the roof for the entire three weeks. It's when he's not working that he becomes undisciplined and a little crazy. If he's not considering wall-papering the driveway, he's giving in to his compulsion to eat cookies and potato chips and all the rest of that stuff. I've seen him gain 25 pounds in no time at all, and then try to lose it in four days if he gets a job."
Thankfully, Vega$ and all Urich's subsequent TV work (Gavilan, Spenser: For Hire, Lonesome Dove, The Lazarus Man, The Love Boat: The Next Wave, etc.) saved his wife from all sorts of home-improvement projects, one can assume. Not that going to work was always a cakewalk for the actor, mind you.
When a TV Guide reporter found Urich on the Vega$ set, the air conditioning was broken on a 110-degree Las Vegas day. The actor opened the non-working 'fridge to pour himself some orange juice, but found it was hot. Making matters worse was the fact that stuck so far from home, Urich was always where the producers could find him. "When you're on location, it's always open season," he said. For instance, Aaron Spelling saw the early rushes and decided he didn't like my haircut. I had already put in a 15-hour day when I got back to my hotel and got a call from L.A. saying the barber was flying in that night. He arrived after midnight. It was 1:30 before I got to bed. Then I was up at 5 and shooting the whole next day in 120-degree weather. It's insane."
Despite such griping, supervising producer Duke Vincent had nothing but praise for his star. "On screen and in person, Bob's delicious," he said. "He's considerate, dedicated and dependable. You can't ask for better in this business.... On the other hand, let's see what he's like after the show's a hit."
As fans now know, given the many shows and good press, he was just fine.