Magazine article by Jane Wilkie from PHOTOPLAY (October 1974 -- Vol. 86, No. 4)
SAM AND ANNE MELVILLE: A Marriage ... A Friendship ... And More
a marriage ...
a friendship ...
and something more ...
at home with sam and anne melville
[Photos and Captions: "We're so lucky to finally have our own place," Sam says about the quaint house that he and Anne recently purchased, nestled in the Hollywood Hills. Above and left: "Rookies co-star Kate Jackson helped Sam and Anne move belongings into the house. Right: Lovers of antiques, the Melvilles carefully transported an heirloom mantle clock to their new living room. Below: Work done, Anne, Sam, Kate and a friend cooled off with a fun rap.]
There is much more to "Rookies" star Sam Melville than meets the eye. He is a complex man, who has given and received care and love throughout his life. Sam has always been aware of what goes on around him, and that awareness carried him through a happy boyhood in Utah, a job as a "doctor" in a state mental institution, the soulsearching years of becoming an actor, and, ultimately, a successful career and a joyous marriage.
In person, Sam comes across as today's kind of man -- casual, direct and concerned. But his voice becomes strong and salty when he talks about the things that sadden and irritate his sensibilities -- like the neglect of the mentally ill, which is something that he knows about firsthand from the eight months when he worked the night shift in an institution. Four dozen patients were under Sam's care in a single, crowded and gloomy room. He rages at the fact that his required preparation for the job was only a six-week course in how to give shots and empty bedpans.
"There was no real medical help in the ward at night -- not even a nurse," Sam recalls bitterly. "I was the patients' 'doctor' -- after six weeks of training! Most of the patients had jobs to do -- gardening, baking, etc. -- and were tired enough at the end of the day to take their medicine, eat dinner and go to bed. I remember the baker best, maybe because he was the only one who faced the fact that he was insane. He even had a sense of humor about it. But the others were bored and restive, and for care and comfort, I was it." Sam grits his teeth remembering. "The doctors over-medicated them to keep them quiet. The whole system was a copout." It is the observation of a sensitive and caring man.
Sam's great sensitivities are apparent in his marriage to Anne. Wed seven years, he still verges on the lyrical when asked to describe his wife. "Me and my lady? We share such a close idea of a way of life that she's like an extension of myself. She has beautiful hair, a beautiful face, and a figure to match. Her father was a producer. I met her when I was doing 'Camelot' at her father's theater, in Houston. So, she understands actors. She's a singer, but she'd rather take care of me than have a career. I don't think that I'm a male chauvinist pig. It's just that our kind of life works for us."
The blond and blue-eyed Mrs. Melville is happy to rattle around in their recently purchased house, high in the Hollywood Hills, which Sam describes as "a funky little tinkertoy. We're so lucky," he continues, "to finally have our own place. When we were freelancing, people could tell us when to move in or out." He frequently uses the pronoun 'we' indicative of a happy marriage. It is 'their' house, not 'his,' and it's at the end of a road where the view offers pristine wooded mountains. ("To the south, we can see the whole of Los Angeles spread out beneath us.")
Sam prefers the rural view. He putters endlessly in the garden and is a plant buff, often collecting specimens of growing things, even ferns and moss. Typically, he tries to get seeds insteads of disturbing the plants. Many of these he finds on the backpack trips he and Anne take in the hills. Sam has discovered a spot, not too far from Los Angeles, that is ideal for long weeks of escape from civilization. Its location is a secret so that Mr. and Mrs. Melville can have the area to themselves. They sleep in a tent, commune with nature, and enjoy spaghetti from a can, something they'd never consider when in the city. During the shooting of "The Rookies," which lasts from 5:30 in the morning until 7 at night, Sam spends spends his weekends in the wilds, in an effort "to keep my sanity."
Samuel Gardner Melville grew up in a small town, smack in the middle of Utah. "I wish I could give the advantage of my boyhood to other people," he says. "In one direction was desert, which is always fascinating, and, in the other, pines and red hills and streams. I get my strength from the hills. When I was a kid, I hunted pheasant and quails and ducks -- for food. I never killed a deer because no one in my family could eat venison. And I don't believe in killing wild animals, like coyotes or beavers or weasels. I feel so strongly about this that I won't wear leather from any animal whose meat I don't eat."
"When I was a kid, I had acres of backyard. And a dog named Mortimer, who, when he was 18 and so old, was poisoned by the woman next door. I was in my sophomore year of college and I went back -- for Mortimer's funeral. I never again spoke to that woman. I had my own horse. He used to come to me and ASK me to ride him. Annie's always asking me to take her riding, and we go to the local stables -- where the poor devils are ill fed, dead tired and ridden by people who don't know how to ride. I can't stand it!"
In Filmore, Utah, his family -- parents, brother and two sisters -- were all active in community theater. His mother was "resident leading lady" and the family joined in plays, like "Little Women" and "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm." Sam, as an infant, was carried onstage in his first role, and was bitten by the acting bug by the time he was five. His father, still the purchaser for the University of Utah, was a big wheel in University theater projects. "Dad figures he runs the university," says Sam, "and he refuses to retire. They still live a full life in the community. They are admirable people."
"I remember the first time I left home, waving to my family from a bus that was going to take me all the way to Cedar City. A hundred miles! I was leaving to work at Zion National Park, my first job besides feeding cows and pitching hay for the neighbors. The Union Pacific had a program at all the National Parks, hiring kids to work at the lodges during the day. At night, we would put on shows for the tourists. It was great training, working with new material, a different kind of audience and songs." Does he sing? "Sort of," he says. Pressed for details -- after all, he'd done "Camelot" -- he admits he's a baritone, and then, of all things, blushes.
By the time he was ready for college, he was hooked on acting. But he was aware of the struggle undergone by professional actors and tried to find another field as a career. At the University of Utah, he studied dramatics untils two years of endless boredom in speech classes ("badly taught") began to get to him. He considered psychiatry and a transfer to pre-med but, to make sure, he applied for a job as a psychiatric aide. Then followed his experience at the mental institution, during which he worked from 10:30 at night until 7 AM, and ran to reach his first class at 7:30. Filled with compassion for the men in his ward, restricted by "the system," he decided it was just that, a restrictive system, and, ultimately, he would be unhappy in the medical field.
So he changed his major to art. He still paints, using broad, bold strokes, impressionistic and abstract -- you'd never catch Sam Melville painstakingly painting the veins of a leaf. In the next two years, his grades went from D-minus (we quote Sam) to B-plus, and he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. But artists are famous for starving even fasters than actors, and Sam soon faced the fact. He had already mastered a craft, acting, by which he could support himself. He went off into the world with the blessings of his parents, who were thrilled at the realization that one of them actually had the nerve to become a "real actor."
Sam had the usual struggle, lightened by the meeting with Annie. He tried to be sensible about a wedding -- he simply wasn't earning enough to support a wife. Annie was attending stewardess school, which she disliked. But she was sticking it out until graduation. In Boston, making a movie, Sam decided he couldn't live without her and called her long distance. "Will it bother you not to graduate?" he said. "When's the next plane to Boston?" she replied. She was on the next flight, and the next trip was to the altar. "When we were freelancing," says Sam, "our budget and income were gauged by how much gas we could afford to drive to the hills and live on rations." Tough days, those!
Today, with a steady check from "The Rookies," Sam and his wife live the way they like. With her business hat on (Sam doesn't know a debit from a credit), Anne is his business manager and does the family bookkeeping. When that hat is stowed away, Anne makes quilts, keeps house, does endless word puzzles, and often joins Sam at the studio. Together, they pick berries on their camping trips and then make jam for Christmas gifts. They can a lot of fresh produce, as well. "Corny, maybe," says Sam, "but we beat today's kids to the concept of living WITH nature."
For Sam, there's never enough time. When he has finished with his plants, there's his carpentry. "I come from a long line of woodworkers," he says, and then grins. "My grandfather was a termite." He makes furniture, and has plans to make a full set of dishes. He still paints, and is happiest when he's most occupied. "There's no feeling like it -- that great moment when you can feel the creative process begin to bubble and squeak."
Outdoors, it's like his boyhood revisited. The woods are rife with birds and wild animals, deer and raccoon. Sam and Annie enjoy being "surrounded by all those trees and plants," and the animals that share their terrain know them and are almost tame. "But we don't try to domesticate them," says Sam, going on to express his horror at a friend who bought a Himalayan sun bear as a pet. To make the animal safe around humans, it was rendered helpless by the removal of its claws and teeth. A shudder passes through Sam. "How'd YOU like to have somebody pull YOUR nails out?" he says.
Sharing the house, which is beloved by Sam and Anne because it is constructed entirely of wood, is a dog named Fred! "Obviously un-pedigreed. For Fred, it was either us or the pound."
There are no children despite seven years of marriage. "Don't get me started," says Sam. But he does start. "Zero population -- it's got to be. We haven't the right to add more people to the world. I can't morally justify having a child."
Sam doesn't particularly like to talk about himself. He constantly branches off into other subjects, like anthropology, for example. "I guess if I weren't an actor, that's a field I'd like to explore. I took anthro in school and found it fascinating. Today's kids don't like to study history or what has gone before. How can they know what's going to happen if they don't know what has already happened? Life is a constant duplication of the past."
As a man of today, an actor of today, Sam prefers films as his medium. "I don't miss a live audience. Maybe it's because I'm not enthralled by commercial theater. I'd rather work in film because of the way it is today. It's exciting now, with all sorts of new vistas. Television can't be too creative because of budget and time pressures. But film ... I'd like to make a documentary, about animals or maybe plants."
Sam Melville is up the right alley, for him. When, years ago, he turned his back on a career in medicine, he said to himself, "What if I spend all those years in medical school, finally become a psychiatrist, and then don't like it?" Except for his compassion, he probably would have made a terrible doctor, and, was wise to recognize that. As an actor, he had already made it by the time he hit his teens.
"The gods have been good to me," he says. "I've never really lacked for what I wanted. Wine and bread to make a picnic is enough." But Sam has a lot more. He's a very nice, very talented guy.
-JANE WILKIE, 1974
Transcribed by Doreen Mulman (Thursday, February 7, 2002) for use on
The Official Sam Melville Memorial Homepage: http://sam.mkbmemorial.com
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