Actor Stuart Damon passed away on June 29th at the age of 84. I was surprised that not much mention had been made of his death as he was well-known by both fans of British telefantasy and American soap operas. So I thought it worth putting together a short remembrance.
The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Stuart Damon was born in Brooklyn NY on February 5, 1937. He attended Brandeis University, from which he graduated in 1958. Damon’s career began in 1962 as a theater actor on Broadway, and this led to him being cast in the 1965 television production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella alongside Lesley Ann Warren. Broadcast on CBS on February 22, 1965, Cinderella was for several decades the highest-rated non-sports special to air on that network, and it provided Damon with a huge career boost.
Damon moved to Britain later that year, and over the next decade he appeared in a number of television and theater productions in the UK. Most notably, Damon co-starred with Alexandra Bastedo and William Gaunt on the spy-fi series The Champions that aired for 30 episodes on ITV between September 1968 and April 1969.
In the pilot episode of The Champions secret agents Craig Stirling (Damon), Sharon Macready (Bastedo) and Richard Barrett (Gaunt) infiltrate a bioweapons laboratory in Communist China. Fleeing by airplane, they crash in the Himalayas, and nearly die, but are rescued by an advanced hidden civilization. The super-science that is used to save the three agents also endows them with a variety of paranormal abilities such as enhanced strength, ultra-fast reflexes and ESP. Returning to Geneva, the three agents use these abilities protect the world from a variety of fascist and terrorist menaces, all the while striving to keep those powers hidden from their superiors.
Although it was filmed on a shoestring budget, The Champions was well-written, and the three leads did a good job carrying the fantastical premise. All these years later it is still well-regarded.
Interviewed in 2011 about his time on the series, Damon stated:
“My character grew because I grew as an actor. I’ve always taken my work very, very seriously. In all the years I’ve been an actor I’ve never worked one day on anything without being excited to be there and determined to do the best job I could. So I was just always trying to improve and to be creative and as imaginative as possible when playing Craig Stirling. Like anything else, the more time you spend acting the better you get at it.”
During his time in the UK Damon also guest-starred twice on the science fiction series Space 1999. In the November 1975 episode “Matter of Life and Death” Damon brielfly appeared as Eagle pilot Parks. Then, in the two-part story “The Bringers of Wonder” broadcast in April 1977 Damon plays Guido Verdeschi, the brother of Moonbase Alpha’s security chief Tony Verdeschi (Tony Anholt)… although Guido, along with all of the other members of the supposed rescue expedition from Earth, turn out to be blobby one-eyed telepathic radiation-consuming aliens!
After returning to the States in 1977 Damon was cast as Dr. Alan Quartermaine on the soap opera General Hospital. Damon would play the role for 31 years. The morally ambiguous Quatermaine, a kindly, benevolent doctor who in his off-time attempted to murder his wife on several occasions and who did actually succeed in bumping off a couple of other characters, as well as committing sundry other crimes, was very popular with viewers.
Damon finally departed General Hospital in February 2007 when his character was killed off. Damon would later reprise Quartermaine in several episodes, alternately, in a dream sequence, as a ghost, and as a hallucination. (Soap operas are, I think, only slightly less ridiculous than superhero comic books!)
Damon was nominated for a Daytime Emmy on several occasions for his performance as Alan Quartermaine. He finally won the award for Best Supporting Actor in 1999 due to a storyline in which Quartermaine, following surgery, became addicted to painkillers.
I have to confess, offhand I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single episode of General Hospital from start to finish. That said, it strikes me that appearing as a regular on a television series for three decades straight is one heck of an achievement.
Damon himself seemed very fond of the role. In a 2010 interview he explained his approach to playing Quartermaine:
“What I tried to do as an actor is I tried to make the character as complete as possible. I wanted to make sure that this character had an edge, that he wasn’t Mr. Good Guy or Mr. Bad Guy — he wasn’t back or white, he was gray. I wanted to make him someone you didn’t mess with.”