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He was just an electrician's son from New Jersey but everyone wanted to make him a star. While still a teenager, Greg Evigan scored an ensemble role in the Broadway hit "Jesus Christ, Superstar" and a year later was heading the Chicago run of "Grease." Rock impresario Don Kirshner spirited the strapping newcomer to Hollywood with the promise of a starring role on a Normal Lear sitcom but "A Year at the Top" (CBS, 1977) fizzled after four episodes. Evigan rebounded with "B.J. and the Bear" (NBC, 1979-1981), winning over Nielson families and Middle America as an independent trucker with a chimpanzee copilot. Lead roles followed on a number of short-lived series, most famous among them the family-oriented "My Two Dads" (NBC 1987-1990) with Paul Reiser, while Evigan proved his movie star mettle in the entertaining B-films "Stripped to Kill" and "Deepstar Six" (both 1989) and on William Shatner's sci-fi series "TekWar" (syndicated, 1994-97). Maintaining his athletic build and youthful aspect well into middle age, Evigan navigated easily between screens big and small, contributing character work to such popular weekly series as "Melrose Place" (Fox, 1992-99), "CSI: Miami" (NBC, 2002-12), and "Desperate Housewives" (ABC, 2004-12), while taking the lead in direct-to-DVD programmers on the order of "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (2008) and "6 Guns" (2010). With more than 40 years in the business, Evigan proved himself a sustainable Hollywood lifer, able to forfeit ego to get the job done, and revealing substantiality beneath the beefcake.
Gregory Ralph Evigan was born in South Amboy, NJ on Oct. 14, 1953. The son of an electrician, Evigan grew up in suburban Sayreville and attended Sayreville War Memorial High School. Too short as a preteen to play sports, Evigan instead became something of a musical savant, mastering classical piano, organ and saxophone, and gigging with a number of local garage bands. An interest in acting brought him into the fold of a local repertory company. Following his 1971 graduation, Evigan had lined up a job in a shoe store but took a gamble on auditioning for the upcoming Broadway production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's rock opera "Jesus Christ, Superstar." After more than a dozen callbacks, Evigan was cast as the Jewish high priest Annas and spent nine months on tour before joining the New York production, in which he appeared onstage in a number of roles, among them an apostle of Jesus Christ, one of his Roman tormentors, a merchant, and a cured leper. Evigan fared better in the Chicago run of "Grease," playing Danny Zucco for nine months opposite Marilu Henner and a fledgling actor named John Travolta.
Matured to a strapping 6'3" physique, Evigan was taken under the wing of rock impresario Don Kirshner, who brought the actor to Hollywood in 1974 to star in a proposed musical sitcom executive produced by Normal Lear. Based on the Faust legend, the series pilot cast Evigan opposite Canadian keyboardist Paul Shaffer as a pair of Mutt and Jeff-style struggling musicians who make a desperate deal with the Devil's son for a year of success. Before the pilot aired, Evigan was short-listed for a role on the high school sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter" (ABC, 1975-79), but due to contractual obligations, the plum role of the recalcitrant Vinnie Barbarino went instead to Evigan's former "Grease" castmate John Travolta. Growing frustrated by the snail's pace of his career, Evigan nonetheless took a $1,200 film job in Seattle. Hikmet Avedis' low budget crime caper "Scorchy" (1976) starred fading Sixties ingénue Connie Stevens as an undercover cop out to ankle a heroin ring, with Evigan in the role of her occasional bedmate. "A Year at the Top" made its debut on CBS in August of 1977, with its premiere tied to the release of a novelty pop album recorded by Evigan and Shaffer for the Casablanca label. A ratings nonstarter, the series was axed unceremoniously by the network after only four episodes had aired.
On the day the show was canceled, Evigan had to be forcibly stopped from making a scheduled appearance on entertainer Dinah Shore's syndicated talk show as he suddenly had nothing to promote. Dejected but determined, Evigan stuck it out in Hollywood, living from paycheck to paycheck with guest appearances on such popular weekly series as "One Day at a Time" (CBS, 1975-1984), "Dallas" (CBS, 1978-1991) and Buddy Ebsen's long-running "Barnaby Jones" (CBS, 1973-1980), in which he played charismatic opportunist Blue Simpson, whose scheme to grab the deed to a gold mine depends on the early death of Jones' young niece. He also appeared in ex-Beatle Ringo Starr's mind-bending made-for-TV vanity piece "Ringo!" (1978), alongside a cavalcade of Hollywood veterans, among them Art Carney, Angie Dickinson, Vincent Price and Carrie Fisher.
Evigan's big break came when he was chosen to play a carefree independent trucker riding the nation's highways in the company of his pet chimpanzee on the NBC series "B.J. and the Bear" (1979-1981). Influenced by the success of "Smokey and the Bandit" (1977) and the decades fascination with big rigs and CB radio, the series turned on the conceit of the long-hauler running into trouble in whatever backwater town he happened to stop for fuel. A regular antagonist was added in Claude Akins' mendacious small town sheriff, Elroy P. Lobo, who received his own spin-off series seven months later. Though "B.J. and the Bear" lasted but three seasons, Evigan enjoyed a meteoric career spike as a Tiger Beat teen idol. Success bought the actor a home in the Hollywood Hills and a bride in talent agent Pamela Serpe, to whom he was married in the garden of the Bel-Air Hotel, with his TV co-star Sam the Chimp a tuxedoed member of the party.
With the cancellation of "B.J. and the Bear" in 1981, Evigan returned to the life of a jobbing actor, playing the beefcake love interest of nebbishy Valerie Landsburg in an episode of "Fame" (1982-87) and killed off in a surprisingly poignant coda. The promise of another regular paycheck for Evigan came with his casting in "Masquerade" (ABC, 1983-1984), created by producer Glen A. Larson and starring Hollywood veteran Rod Taylor as an American intelligence operative drafting untrained civilians into the fight against international espionage. An unlikely mash-up of "Mission: Impossible" (CBS, 1966-1973) and "Fantasy Island" (ABC, 1977-1984), the hour-long adventure series paired Evigan with Kirstie Alley as a comely field agent and featured a conga line of industry troupers as guest stars, among them Ernest Borgnine, Cybill Shepherd, Richard Roundtree and Oliver Reed. Closer in spirit to Sidney Sheldon than Ian Fleming, the series offered ostensibly exotic foreign backdrops and an over-easy approach to the spy game, but fell victim to network caprice after a single season.
After kicking around in a slew of made-for-TV movies, Evigan rebounded as one of the stars of the successful and harmless NBC sitcom "My Two Dads" (1987-1990), pairing with comic Paul Reiser as former boyfriends of a single mom whose untimely death leaves them with the onus of raising the woman's young daughter (Staci Keanan). During his hiatus from "Dads," Evigan returned to features with starring roles in Katt Shea's sleazy "Stripped to Kill" (1989), as undercover cop Kay Lenz's wisecracking LAPD partner, and in Sean S. Cunningham's sci-fi shocker "Deepstar Six" (1989), taking the hero's role in blocking an alien invasion under the sea. After the cancellation of "My Two Dads," Evigan was again tapped by Glen A. Larson, this time for "P.S.I. Luv U" (1991), in which he and Connie Sellecca played a cop and a con artist forced into service for a Palm Springs security agency. Again unemployed after a single season, Evigan fared better as the star of William Shatner's "TekWar" (1994), playing a disgraced 21st Century cop who emerges from cryogenic suspension to clear his name of a murder charge. The ongoing adventures of Evigan's embittered Jake Cardigan comprised three additional telefilms and a series that ran on the USA Network from 1994 to 1996. In the Family Channel disaster flick "Earthquake in New York" (1998), Evigan fought to get his wife and children out of harm's way after the Big Apple was stricken by the Big One.
Firmly entrenched in middle age but still boasting movie idol looks, Evigan jobbed from project to project through the new millennium, appearing as a semi-regular on Aaron Spelling's "Melrose Place" (Fox, 1992-99) and surfing through a line-up of short-lived series, among them Spelling's "Pacific Palisades" (Fox, 1997), "Family Rules" (UPN, 1999), and the Canadian "Big Sound" (2000-01). Past 50 years of age, Evigan's workload only intensified, with appearances in a range of projects as far flung as episodes of "Reba" (The WB, 2001-07), "CSI: Miami" (NBC, 2002-12), and "Desperate Housewives" (ABC, 2004-12), as well as roles in such films as the inspirational "River's End" (2005) and "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (2008), a pinchpenny take on Jules Verne's hollow earth adventure classic from LA-based mockbuster-makers The Asylum. Later gigs included the western "6 Guns" (2010), a family project for the progeny of Dick Van Dyke, and the holiday-themed romantic comedy "My Dog's Christmas Miracle" (2011).
By Richard Harland Smith
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