George Peppard, Jr. (October 1, 1928 – May 8, 1994) was an American
film and television actor.
He secured a major role early in his career when he starred alongside Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), and he played the title role of the millionaire sleuth Thomas Banacek in the early-1970s television series Banacek, but he is probably best known to younger audiences for his role as Col. John "Hannibal" Smith, the cigar-chomping leader of a renegade commando squad, in the 1980s television show The A-Team.
George Peppard, Jr. was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of building contractor George Peppard, Sr. and opera singer Vernelle Rohrer. He graduated from Dearborn High School in Dearborn, Michigan.
George enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at 17 and rose to rank of acting Gunnery Sergeant in the artillery, leaving the Marines at the end of his first tour. From 1948 to 1949, he studied Civil Engineering at Purdue University where he was a member of the Purdue Playmakers theatre troupe and Beta Theta Pi. He then transferred to Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1955.
George made his stage debut in 1949 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. After moving to New York, George enrolled in The Actors Studio, where he studied the Method with Lee Strasberg. His first work on Broadway led to his first television appearance, with a young Paul Newman, in The United States Steel Hour (1956). Peppard’s Broadway appearance in The Pleasure of His Company (1958) led to an MGM contract. Prior to a strong film debut in The Strange One (1957), he was discovered playing the illegitimate son of Robert Mitchum's character in the popular melodrama Home from the Hill (1960).
His good looks, elegant manner and superior acting skills landed George his most famous film role as Paul Varjak in Breakfast at Tiffany's with Audrey Hepburn. This role boosted him briefly to a major film star. His leading roles in that film's wake included How the West Was Won in 1962, The Carpetbaggers in 1964 and The Blue Max in 1966.
George developed a tendency to choose tough guy roles in big, ambitious pictures where he was somewhat overshadowed by ensemble casts; for example, his role as German pilot Bruno Stachel, an obsessively competitive officer from humble beginnings who challenges the Prussian aristocracy during World War I in The Blue Max (1966). For this role, George learned to fly, earned a private pilot's license and did much of his own stunt flying, although stunt pilot Derek Pigott was at the controls for the famous under-the-bridge scene.
Due to Peppard's tendencies toward alcohol, his career devolved into a string of B films, except for a brief moment of notable success with the highly successful TV series Banacek (1972-74), (part of the NBC Mystery Movie series), and one of his most critically acclaimed, though rarely seen, performances in the TV movie Guilty or Innocent: The Sam Sheppard Murder Case (1975).
Among the disappointing films was the 1970 Western, Cannon for Cordoba, in which George played the steely Captain Rod Douglas, who has been put in charge of gathering a group of soldiers on a dangerous mission into Mexico, and 1967's Rough Night in Jericho in which he co-starred with Dean Martin. George appeared in the short-lived (half a season) Doctors' Hospital (1975) and several other television films. He was in the science fiction film Damnation Alley in 1977. With fewer interesting film roles coming his way, he acted in, directed and produced the drama Five Days from Home in 1979.
In a rare game show appearance, George did a week of shows on Password Plus in 1979. Out of five shows, one was never broadcast on NBC (but aired much later on GSN) due to a rant where he expressed dissatisfaction with NBC executives watching "as if you're some sort of crook." George was never asked to return to the show again.
In 1981, George was offered, and accepted, the role of Blake Carrington in the TV series Dynasty. During the filming of the pilot episode, which also featured Linda Evans and Bo Hopkins, George repeatedly clashed with the show's producers, Richard and Esther Shapiro; among other things, he felt that his role was too similar to that of J.R. Ewing in the series Dallas. Three weeks later, before filming was to begin on additional episodes, George was fired and the part was offered to John Forsythe; the scenes with George were reshot.
In the early 1980s, George Peppard re-emerged as a television star for his role as Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith in the action adventure series The A-Team, acting alongside Mr. T, Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz. In the series, the A-Team was a crack squad of renegade commandos on the run from the military for a crime they did not commit while serving in the Vietnam war. The A-Team made a living as soldiers of fortune, albeit only helping people with a just grievance.
"Hannibal" Smith was the leader of the A-Team, distinguished by his cigar-smoking, black leather gloves, disguises and catch phrase, "I love it when a plan comes together." The show ran five seasons on NBC from 1983–1987. It made George known to a younger generation and is arguably his most well-known role. The role was reportedly written with James Coburn in mind, but went to George when Coburn had to pull out.
This George Peppard Biography Page is Copyright © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub