You regular readers have seen my picture many times on this site. You'll agree that I am about as white as they come. Still, around my good friends from Kokomo I represent the West-side as well as Tupac did back in the day. Because of that, I blame my grandfather.
When I was growing up in the 80's it was the height of the A-team's popularity. My grandfather always (and still does to this day) called me Mr. T. Naturally, as a five year old this confused me because I knew I was not a muscular black guy with gold chains. I think this carried over to high school and gangsta (read: wigga) tendencies. Sadly, Mrs. T-Mill still thinks I don't have street cred. I guess the mean streets of the west-side of Kokomo don't create much street cred.
What does all this have to do with today's Profile in Badassery (and it is a day early)? Well, Mr. T's running mate on the A-Team was Hannibal, a.k.a. George Peppard. I have yet to see Hannibal as portrayed by Liam Neeson, but Peppard was a role model for badassery back in the 80's. He also has a Purdue connection, as he attended college in West Lafayette from 1948-49.
"I love it when a plan comes together."
Peppard's early badassery
Long before he was Hannibal, George Peppard was a Marine. After graduating from Dearborn High School he joined the Marines in 1946. He eventually reached the rank of Corporal before his enlistment ended in January 1948. He then came to Purdue where he was a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity and the Purdue playmakers theatre troupe. Unfortunately, he didn't stay at Purdue long. He eventually transferred to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, where he earned his degree in 1955.
Peppard was a man that women wanted and men wanted to be. No one woman could contain him apparently. He was married five times from 1955 to 1994. He had three kids combined from his first two marriages, but none with his last three marriages. Of coruse, his battle with alcoholism could have contributed to these failed marriages, or he simply was The Most Interesting Man in the World.
Because of his time at Purdue as a member of the Purdue Playmakers he was set on his life's course early on. If you needed a hero to play a role, what better person can you have in that role than a United States Marine? Marines have a reputation not only as badasses, but as being just a little bit crazy. Don't you think Hannibal was a little bit crazy after watching some old A-Team episodes? If we had known there was going to be a formulaic cheesy action series back in 1949 Peppard would have been a cinch for the role even then. He was studying Civil Engineering, so he was an actor that could build a bridge, then blow it up because of his Marine background.
Peppard as an actor
Peppard's acting career really took off in Pittsburgh, where he had his stage debut at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. He then moved to New York and enrolled at the Actor's Studio. After appearing on Broadway he then proceeded to overflow American television sets with testosterone by appearing in The United States Steel Hour in 1955 with Paul Newman.
Steel, Paul Newman, and George Peppard. This was an hour long drama anthology series with no defined plot, but it must have oozed manliness with that cast. Personally, I think this is the sole reason for the baby boom. Women got pregnant in droves by simply seeing all this on their TV sets.
Peppard was never happy with just playing a badass on TV. He did plenty to back up that persona off the set. In preparing for a role in the 1966 World War I film The Blue Max he earned his private pilot's license. This wasn't your leisurely weekend flying, either. He did most of his own stunt flying in that film. This led to him being typecast in most of his roles as the stereotypical tough guy.
Unfortunately, his problems with alcoholism combined witht he fact that he was a bit of a prick on the set. This led to a career in B-movies in the late 60's and 70's. His career appeared to take a turn for the better when he was hired for the role of Blake Carrington in Dynasty, but his acerbic nature on set caused him to get fired after the filming of the pilot episode. John Forsythe took his role, and Dynasty became one of the signature TV dramas of the 80's
Admit it, you're humming the theme song right now.
The A-Team was never a show meant to have deep plots. In fact, most episodes were hermetic in nature. They could stand alone and rarely referenced previous episodes. The A-Team itself was a team of former Special Forces soldiers who were forced to operate as guns for hire because of a crime they did not commit. It was lots of explosions, guns, over the top violence, and humor. Few people expected the show to succeed, but Peppard believed in it from day one. I mean come on, he's a man's man! What man doesn't want to watch cool explosions and gunfire, especially in the 80's before anyone had cable?
Each episode was mostly the same. A victim of some injustice would seek out the A-Team, and the team itself would test them. Many times the victim would be a female that Face would immediately become attracted to. Murdock would escape from a mental hospital and after a few explosions and some gunfire, the A-Team would succeed and justice would be served. How can you go wrong with a formula like that?
The show lasted five seasons, with the fifth season featuring an over-arcing storyline where the A-Team was finally apprehended and had to work for the evil (naturally) General Stockwell. In all, 98 episodes were created, but the fifth season struggled mightily.
The show was incredibly sexist, which is unfortunate because the cast was the epitome of cool. Peppard once told Marla Heasley (a regular in season 2).
"We don't want you on the show. None of the guys want you here. The only reason you're here is because the network and the producers want you. For some reason they think they need a girl."
Dirk Benedict called it the last truly masculine show, and with Peppard in the role of Hannibal, he was the last selfish prick male character on TV. Peppard was a cigar-smoking misogynist that did what he wanted because, dammit, he was a man and that's what men did. As Hannibal would say, "I love it when a plan comes together."
After the A-Team
Peppard took a role in a TV movie series entitled Man Against the Mob. These were not very successful, however. Unfortunately, as happened with other masculine figures such as John Wayne, Peppard was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1992 after a lifetime of smoking. He was working on a Matlock spinoff at the time of his death in 1994. I can somehow hear Denis Leary saying, "Men used to be proud to get cancer back in the day, it was a sign of manhood!"
His life was one of the last Devil-may-care lives in Hollywood. He was a smoking, drinking, hard-living man's man that was once considered as the original choice for Steve McQueen's role in The Magnificent Seven. This was a man that became a Marine at age 17 for crying out loud. Purdue needs some kind of statue of him, preferably standing atop the engineering fountain with the rest of the cast of the A-Team.