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Robert Ulrich, man of many TV roles

The ”Lazarus” and ”Captain Courageous” star also hawks vitamins on the small screen

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Oh, that Robert Urich, Ultimate TV Man. He could sell me anything: headache medicine, dog food, the hope that there are men out there — for women unmoved by the Sexiest Hunks Alive — who are decent and true and reliable as an old wool sweater. These days, he spends most of his time on The Lazarus Man playing a post-Civil War amnesiac who roams the West looking to recover his identity. But on April 21, Urich takes to the sea as an upstanding fishing captain in Captains Courageous, an adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling story that’s got the star squinting thoughtfully and teaching young boys the value of hard work.

In the Bible, of course, Lazarus rose from the dead. On TV, it’s the upstanding, 49-year-old Urich, Ohio-born husband and father of a teenage son and daughter, who has risen time and again from the graveyard of deceased series (It Had to Be You, Crossroads, American Dreamer, and Gavilan, to name a few), and the morgue of TV movies and miniseries good and mediocre (think Princess Daisy, Mistral’s Daughter, Lonesome Dove, Blind Faith), only to find the next gig, and the next, and the next: Watch for his commercial endorsement of PrimeTime-brand vitamins, coming soon to an ad campaign near you.

What is it with the Urich mystique that gets TV producers saying ”What about Bob?” project after project? More to the point, why is he such a babe magnet? ”What a question to ask a guy!” he aw-shucks. ”I have to tell ya, it’s a mutual admiration society. But I don’t know what appeals to women. And I don’t spend my life speculating on how I act in terms of creating appeal. I just try to stand tall and tell the truth.”

Urich, who lives in Deer Valley, Utah, on the rare nights he’s home, has that sexy-competence thing going for him — that Spenser: For Hire look of a man who can hammer a nail, wash a dish, and kiss like the best of ’em. Only, whoops, the star thinks doing Spenser in 1985 was the biggest mistake of his career, since, he claims, the role distracted him from pursuing a feature-film career. ”I’ve got to be reality based,” he concedes. ”They’re not going to say, ‘Gee, we have a chance to pick between Tom Cruise and Robert Urich — Tom’s busy, let’s go with Bob!’ On the other hand, they brought me this Spenser character and I went, Wow, here’s a guy who’s physically tough, he’s intellectual, he’s got a wonderful relationship with a woman who’s a real adult. How many times do you find that?”

Sure, he’d still love to do a big, fat hit of a feature film — what actor wouldn’t? But, he swears, if the small screen is where the bangaroo jobs are, there’s still plenty for him to do. ”I think I’m just now coming into my own, if you can believe that,” he says, all demure. ”Doing Captains Courageous and Lazarus Man, I think I’m finally bringing a maturity to these characters that I didn’t have before. There was something entertaining about the Dan Tanna character in Vegas [his 1978 TV break], but he’s a bit vapid, you know — he’s worried about his bell-bottom jeans being pressed properly. I don’t much care about that anymore.”

Let other TV flavors of the month make headlines with their Caesar haircuts and their seven-figure movie deals. It’s Robert Urich we want, our TV actor courageous.