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My Heart Belongs to Clint (Part One)

Clint RitchieI’ve been gushing on and on about James Gandolfini. I even said he was the greatest actor ever in the history of television.I admit that I should have qualified my assessment. Gandolfini is the greatest actor ever in the history of primetime television.

Daytime television? Different story.

The greatest actor in the history of daytime television is none other than my very dear friend, Clint Ritchie.1

Things just haven’t been the same since Clint decided, in December 1998, not to renew his contract with ABC and left the role of Clint Buchanan that he created on “One Life to Live” back on September 10, 1979.

Clint RitchieClint returned to his signature role a few times over the next several years, but was never willing to come out of retirement and return to New York City on a regular basis.2

Having been to his beautiful Happy Horse Ranch here in Northern California many times, I understand. It is like being at summer camp. We have spent some lovely evenings sitting on the lawn in front of the main house, enjoying the cool breeze. The only sounds are the occasional contented whinny from one of his 35 or so contented horses (hence the ranch’s name) or the occasional bark from one of his several spoiled dogs. I once asked him, as I stared up through the tall pine trees at the stars, how he brought himself to get on the plane and head back to the ABC studio in the heart of Manhattan. He got a big smile on his face and said, “They pay me a lot of money and it buys a lot of hay.”

Eventually, even the paycheck couldn’t lure him over the property line and back to the Sacramento airport.3

I also naively asked him the first time we visited the ranch, “Why 35 horses?” He looked at me in complete seriousness and responded, “Why not?”4

To Clint, pure joy is being able to sit in his house and gaze out any window at a group of well cared-for horses grazing in a nearby pasture. And that’s precisely what you can do at Happy Horse Ranch.

But I miss the days when Clint used to call my office to tell me how things were going at the Clint Ritchiestudio, share a joke or story he had heard that day, or tell me about some of the tamer practical jokes he and his co-stars, Phil Carey (“Asa”) and Robert S. Woods (“Bo”) played on each other.5 He knew, of course, what time the show aired and also provided me in advance with the dates on which the episodes in which he appeared would be shown. So I planned, as much as possible, to stay in my office on those days to watch his performances while eating lunch. It would be downright surreal to get interrupted by the receptionist announcing, “Janie, Clint’s on the line” at precisely the same moment I was watching him on the television screen. I used to tell him, “Jeez, I’ve got you in stereo here! And tell wardrobe that brown sport coat looks horrid! When are they going to get you a new one?”

There was one day in particular that I was unable to watch during lunch. That afternoon, I began getting phone calls and e-mails addressed to “The Woman from Lodi”. I was baffled.

When I got home that night and watched the videotape of that day’s show, I was flabbergasted. Clint Buchanan, in discussing his past love affairs with his little brother, Bo, mentioned “that woman out in Lodi, California.” Clint gave an ad-libbed “shout-out” to me and Lodi — to the shock of his co-star, Bob Woods, who kept his composure because he knew exactly what Bucky (Clint’s nickname) was up to and why.6

When I want to be reminded of Clint’s wonderful performances, I just pull out my extensive videotape collection7 and watch a couple of episodes.

My favorites — and Clint’s — are from the Buchanan City 1888 storyline. Clint Ritchie, the real-life cowboy, got to portray Clint Buchanan in an Old West setting — and loved it. He even took six of his own horses to the location shoot in Arizona. Clint Buchanan’s horse on the show, “Okie,” was actually Clint’s own “Okie Dokie,” a horse he literally rescued from the dog food factory and nursed back to health. Like “Bunny” (pictured above), he lived nearly 30 years and is buried at the Ranch.

Clint should have won many daytime Emmy awards for Best Actor. But he never even submitted his name for consideration, although his costar collected six such awards during the years that they worked together as one of daytime tv’s all-time greatest super-couples, “Clint and Viki Buchanan”.A number of years ago, Michael Logan wrote TV Guide that some roles should never be recast because the actor who originated it embodies the character in such a memorable fashion.So it was and is with the role of Clint Buchanan.

Clint was under contract to Twentieth Century Fox for a few years (with, among others, Tom Selleck) and was enjoying a successful career in films and television when his agent called and suggested that he read for the daytime role.8 After reading the script, he called his agent and told him that if ABC didn’t cast him in the part, they were making a major mistake because he saw himself depicted on the page — “I am this guy!”

Fortunately, the ABC casting director also saw the resemblance. The character of “Chris Logan,” for which Clint was called to read, was rechristened, with Clint’s permission, “Clint Buchanan” in recognition of the uncanny similarities.

The most striking difference is this: Clint Buchanan is a family man in love for all time with one woman. Clint Ritchie has remained single and childless in large part because he is a self-professed loner who prefers the company of his beloved animals to that of most human beings.

Gandolfini may be the greatest actor in the history of primetime, but my heart has belonged to Clint — Ritchie and Buchanan — since September 10, 1979. And always will.

  1. Clint is retired, so I no longer get to watch his handsome mug on my television screen on a regular basis which explains my “senior moment”. []
  2. That’s Clint’s very first scene on “One Life to Live” with Lee Patterson who portrayed Joe Riley. []
  3. Have you seen “One Life to Live” in recent years? Who could blame him? []
  4. The truth is that he set out to breed and sell horses, but then couldn’t bear to part with any of them so they all stayed. Basically, any animal that needs a home finds one at Happy Horse Ranch. []
  5. Many of them cannot be recounted in polite company! []
  6. That’s a photo of me with Bob at the ABC studios in New York City in December 1998 []
  7. I am slowly converting all of my videotape to DVD, but it is a slow, time-consuming process. []
  8. Among Clint’s other credits are “Patton,” “The Saint Valentine Day’s Massacre,” “Bandolero,” “A Force of One,” and “Centennial” (miniseries) with legends such as Dean Martin, James Stewart, George C. Scott, Clint Eastwood, and Jack Nicholson. []

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