With jet-black hair and boyish good looks, Mr. Hatch got his start in television like many rising actors: daytime soap operas. He played Phillip Brent on the ABC series, All My Children, for two years before making guest appearances on a who who’s list of shows such as Alias Smith and Jones, Kung Fu, Barnaby Jones, Hawaii Five-O, The Waltons, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, touching on several different genres. Hatch mentioned in a 2012 interview with Scott Holleran that moving from one role to the next, he “learned that [he] was always a character actor at heart.”
His next lengthy role as Inspector Dan Robbins was on the hugely popular cop show, The Streets of San Francisco, starring veteran actor Karl Malden. Hatch replaced the outgoing Michael Douglas during the 1976-1977 season for a total of 24 episodes. As a rising star, it must have difficult to step into a very successful series in which Malden and Douglas had very good chemistry. In the Holleran interview, Hatch did talk about struggling initially to remember his lines as well as the pressure of being on a primetime show. Regrettably, Hatch joined in the fifth and final season of the show, however, the best was yet to come.
In 1978, I remember watching a very good made-for-television movie called Deadman’s Curve about the surfer musical duo, Jan and Dean. Hatch starred alongside another young, up-and-coming actor, Bruce Davidson, and together, they did the story justice. It was later the same year that Hatch found his passion that would remain for the rest of his days: Battlestar Galactica. Set in space in some faraway galaxy, a group of people of a “rag-tag fugitive fleet” (per the closing narration by Lorne Greene as Commander Adama), were on a quest to find Earth, a lost tribe of humanity, and where they hoped to find a new home. The struggles, the hopes, and the journey of the Galactica endeared itself to a generation of viewers who identified with the characters. It was a story that took root in Hatch’s heart and imagination, in spite of his initial decision to turn down auditioning for the series. Fortunately, that decision was reversed after he looked at Ralph McQuarrie’s artwork (Holleran interview). The rest was television history, so to speak.
Cancellation came swiftly after one season; a letter-writing campaign brought fans a fleeting Galactica 1980 series, but without Captain Apollo. Instead, Hatch returned to guest roles and continued to hone his affinity to character acting. He worked on Dynasty as Dean Caldwell, Hotel in three separate roles, and by 1990, Hatch had returned to daytime television programming as the character Stephen Slade on Santa Barbara for 12 episodes. While Apollo and Galactica may have faded from public, Hatch had not let the character or the story go.
In 1999, that rag-tag fleet was brought together through the monumental efforts of Hatch for his short film, Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming. Along with reportedly re-mortgaging his home, he co-directed with Jay Woelfel and co-wrote the script with Sophie LaPorte and starred as Commander Apollo. Fans probably recognized John Colicos as Baltar and Terry Carter as President Tigh. It was Hatch’s campaign attempt to revive the beloved series. Instead, Universal diverted to a remake model rather than the sequel concept that Hatch had pitched. Any hard feelings must have been put aside, because Hatch was extended the opportunity to play the recurring role of Tom Zarek, a politician with a terrorist background. The role also gave Hatch the distinction of being the only original actor to appear in both the original and the remake.
In writing this obituary, it came to my attention that Hatch explored the Battlestar Galactica universe by penning several novels – seven in all and released from 1997 through 2005. The novels continued where the original television series left off, and all of the covers featured Hatch as Apollo, with Dirk Benedict’s Starbuck often on the covers, as well. In the Holleran interview, Hatch mentioned that his publisher died and the license was lost. He also stated there needed to be an eighth book, but sadly, none came.
Additionally, I was also unaware that Hatch had a difficult childhood; he grew up in a home with an abusive stepfather. That pain eventually led him to teach motivational / self-confidence seminars. Hatch obviously had a giving spirit. When asked if he was more like Tom Zarek or Captain Apollo, he replied, “with Tom Zarek, he was courageous and he was punished..I just found him to be a wounded, damaged idealist. Tom Zarek’s closer to the real me. I see people refusing to see the big picture. That’s why I teach. I love to empower people to stop being abused and claim their rights.”
It’s been a hero’s journey, both on and off screen for Hatch. A truly giving and kind soul who will be missed by many.
Stock photo from Google Images. Personal photograph courtesy of author, poising with Richard Hatch, in October 2009.