Family & Companions
With his slightly wavy, salt-and-pepper brown hair, his medium height and his ordinary-guy brand of handsomeness, Kercheval carved a solid niche for himself on US TV as various professional types, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes devious, usually ambitious. An incisive player, Kercheval has typically played his roles with an intriguing combination of smooth dispatch and flamboyant bravado; the demands of the small screen taught him the former, while his background in stage musical comedy helped him hone the latter. He is most widely known for his fine work as Cliff Barnes, the aspiring rival to J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) and the scheming, perennial loser brother of virtuous Pamela Barnes Ewing (Victoria Principal) on the hit primetime soap, "Dallas" (CBS, 1978-91). Along with Hagman the only principal to stay with the series for its entire run, Kercheval artfully proved that, in the materialist 1980s, an underdog like Cliff, though somehow rather funny and often sympathetic, could be just as sleazy as the top dog.
Before becoming such a delicious foil to primetime TV's favorite villain, Kercheval had enjoyed a successful stage career and had made modest inroads in TV and features. From the late 50s through the 70s, he made over 20 appearances on and off-Broadway. One of Kercheval's earliest New York engagements was in a 1959 revival of Sidney Kingsley's powerful "Dead End." He later acted in the likes of "A Man's a Man" (1962-63), "The Apple Tree" (1966), "Cabaret" (1966) and "Father's Day" (1971). One particular triumph came with his highly appropriate casting as Nick, the seemingly average, clean-cut new college professor, whose encounter with a vitriolic older faculty couple brings out the dark side of his own marriage, in Edward Albee's blistering landmark, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1962-63). TV work, meanwhile, began in the early 60s with a guest spot on "The Defenders" but only really began to pick up in the 70s with roles like the D.A. in the acclaimed TV-movie "Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys" (1976).
Kercheval had made his feature debut in the memorable psychodrama "Pretty Poison" (1968), but despite parts in interesting films such as "Rabbit, Run" (1970) and "Network" (1976), never won more than a very occasional supporting role. Some of his post-"Dallas" work gave him bigger roles, but the straight-to-video "California Casanova" (1991) and "Beretta's Island" (1994) were strictly routine fodder. TV work, though, has given the veteran performer plenty of work in guest stints, hosting duties for CBS coverage of major parades, and a number of TV-movies. His intelligent professional demeanor won him roles as doctors in "Walking Through the Fire" (1979), "An Act of Love: The Patricia Neal Story" (1981) and "Woman on the Ledge" (1993), his sly Cliff Barnes persona made him a natural for "The Demon Murder Case" (1983) and several Perry Mason mysteries, including "The Case of the Grimacing Governor" (1994), and his robust showmanship made him a good Buffalo Bill in "Calamity Jane" (1984). He also recreated his most famous role for "Dallas: J.R. Returns" (1996).
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made first major stage appearance in a revival of the drama, "Dead End" at New York's 41st Street Theatre
Made television debut on an episode of the drama series, "The Defenders" (date approximate)
Played Nick in the acclaimed Broadway production of Edward Albee's drama, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Made feature debut in a supporting role in the film, "Pretty Poison"
Earliest TV-movies included "Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys"; also acted on first miniseres, "The Adams Chronicles"
Starred in a Hollywood stage revival of the play, "Twelve Angry Men", the first production stage at the then-new Henry Fonda Theater
Underwent surgery to remove half of his left lung, which was infected with cancer
Reprised the role of Cliff Barnes for the TV-movie "reunion", "Dallas: J.R. Returns"