Handsome and serviceably talented, George Peppard was groomed for big things by a waning studio system, and the way in which his career as a leading man was led astray is a testament to the decline of the studios’ anemic star-making power.
Born on October 1, 1928 in Detroit, Michigan, George Peppard Jr. followed-up a stint in the Marines with work as a radio performer and stock player. Tall and good-looking, he found work on Broadway and in TV while studying his craft at the famed Actor’s Studio.
Peppard made his screen debut in 1957’s The Strange One, and continued to scale Hollywood’s heights in Pork Chop Hill (1959) and Home From the Hill (1960).
He won his biggest role yet with the lead opposite Audrey Hepburn in Blake Edward’s Zeitgeist-capturing Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). Though the part was overshadowed by Holly Golightly’s beguiling Bohemia and costume changes, Peppard was suitably empathetic, easy on the eyes, and confident– and his career as a leading man looked just as assured.
However, he followed up this romantic comedy by playing tough guys in big, prestigious pictures where he was somewhat overshadowed by large, killer casts– How the West Was Won (1962), The Victors (1963), The Carpetbaggers (1964). In the latter he was a charismatic Howard Hughes type, and his on-screen romancing of actress Elizabeth Ashley was apparently successful enough that she became his bride two years later.
His promise as a romantic leading man was nowhere in evidence in the largely forgettable action films, thrillers and Westerns that compromised the rest of his film career. He fared better on television where he wound up in many TV movies, a soap opera (“Doctors Hospital”), and the star of his own series, “Banacek” (1972-74). Peppard’s likely best known to television audiences as Mr. T’s cigar-chomping cohort in “The A Team” (1983-87).
After years as a heavy smoker, he had a tumor removed from his lung in 1992. Though he quit smoking, sadly Peppard still passed away two years later in 1994.
Married five times, Peppard himself acknowledged that he had “turned into his own worst enemy” and in 1978 courageously conquered what had been an ongoing problem with alcohol. In fact, Peppard spent much of his last decades working to help alcoholics and several charitable organizations. Though he once told NY Post Columnist Cindy Adams “Mine isn’t a string of victories.It’s no golden past. I’m no George Peppard fan” it’s fair to say that his solid screen performances and diligent good works with fellow addicts have earned him our genuine and ongoing appreciation.