Monday, February 2, 2009

FLASHBACK: Clint Ritchie Is Living More Than One Life 1984


By Dean Huber
Sacramento Bee
November 17, 1984

He has ONE LIFE TO LIVE on television but in real life it's a schizophrenic two. At least. Clint Ritchie, you see, claims 14 acres outside of Colfax in Placer Co. which he calls Happy Horse Ranch - as his home. The trouble is he isn't home much. For the better part of the year Ritchie is on New York's upper West Side playing Clint Buchanan, an outdoorsy newspaper editor from Texas, on ABC's long-running daytime soap.

Anytime I get five or six days off, I buy a ticket and come out here, says Ritchie on one of his sporadic flights to the foothills.

ABC closed us down for five weeks during the Olympics. With vacation time, I had seven weeks. That won't happen again. In the last year and a half, I've been coming out every six to eight weeks for a six-to nine-day stretch. I think that's going to change. I've heard about a story line that will keep me from coming out here until March.

Yet it is immediately obvious to the visitor to Happy Horse that Ritchie's bi-coastal commuting is something other than R&R.

There's a hyperkinetic air about both the actor and his spread. Vehicles, ranging from Ritchie's own dark green, classic Mustang to a mammoth Caterpillar earthmover, are everywhere.

Their owners scurry back and forth at tasks assigned by Ritchie. Many of them have to do with the barn that is the actor's current preoccupation - a barn that has gone over budget as wildly as a Francis Coppola movie.

I wanted to build the barn for $11,000. Then I thought it would be $18,000. You're looking at a $40,000 barn out there.

The barn is for the dozen horses he keeps. And they are the reason Ritchie is a sometime rancher.

The horses are being groomed for endurance (50-to 100-mile) races. Half were rescued, Ritchie says, from malnutrition or abuse, or both. One was actually on its way to the slaughterhouse, and Ritchie is proudest of him. He keeps framed before and after pictures - in color.

Ritchie has an affinity for animals in general. A troop of Queensland Heeler pups tumbles out of a shed as he opens the door. In another corner of the barnyard, a lone sheep lazily surveys the hubbub.

The actor, long drawn to the outdoors, was on a trail ride in Nevada several years ago when he met a man sporting an ornate, oversize silver buckle. Where'd you get the buckle? Ritchie asked. I'd like to buy one.

You can't buy these, loftily replied George Blair, the fourth horseman ever to win a buckle for 1,000 miles of endurance racing.

Promptly, Ritchie became an endurance race rider and got his own buckle. It became an addiction.

The granddaddy of all endurance races started in Squaw Valley in '55, he says. It finishes in Auburn. This is kind of the endurance center of the world. It's amazing how little the sport is known - and it's the fastest growing sport, I think, in the world.

I was looking to buy in Auburn but the acreage I wanted was a little prohibitive. So I bought this place - a fixer-upper - and I'll never do another one.

The house was a shack. It was a real toss-up whether to fix it up or tear it down.

Ritchie fixed it up. (And built a small house alongside that he describes as a retreat). Now he stands in the main house on a floor of large Mexican pavers at the divider bar between the kitchen and dining area, looking every inch the cowhand: Levi's, piped Western shirt and down-and-dirty cowboy boots.

Tossing down Bloody Marys heavy with Worcestershire, the 40-ish Ritchie philosophizes about what led him to this hillside and the horses:

When I became an actor, I was attracted to what I thought was the glamour - travel, big cars, pretty ladies, big money - not necessarily in that order.

It was never my desire to be a soap opera actor - or even television or commercials. It was always movies at that time. In 1976 or 1977, I did the Roman Meal bread commercial. I worked seven days and for the next 12 months all I did was go to the mailbox and pick up checks. And at the end of that year I had made six figures.

Then I did some voice-overs and nighttime TV. In 1979, I picked up a script from my agent, a 12-page breakdown on a character and an eight-page test scene. I read it on the freeway on the way home. When I got there, I called the agent and said, 'Somebody's been following me around. This character is me.'

What Ritchie's agent didn't tell him was that it was a soap opera produced in New York:

'Forget it!' I told him. I won't do a soap opera. I had never been to New York and had no desire to go - I've never been a city person. Ever. I don't want to live in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York - any city. But the money they offered - and the character, I couldn't turn it down.

Given his druthers, Ritchie would rather do two movies a year for the same money. Or write.

But you get used to a certain life-style and making a certain amount of money. So I'll probably stay in New York for a while. I could make a living training and showing horses. But I couldn't build a $40,000 barn that's paid for in three months.

As for the horses, Ritchie says they're my way of having something to care for in the absence of a family.

It's pretty hard for me to have a relationship 3,000 miles away. I'm seeing a young lady who works for a station affiliated with another network (in Sacramento). When I leave, sure, we'll talk on the telephone - but it makes it hard. Back there, it's real difficult for me to run into anybody who has the same interests I do.

They're city people. It's pretty hard for city-oriented women to come out here and walk through the horse----.

As for the glamour, Ritchie says, No more. At 20th Century-Fox (where he was a contract player), I thrived on it. The second year it was not as much fun. The third year it was work. Now I'm turned off of it - if I never saw another limo it would be all right.

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