After Years as a 'Dallas' Also-Ran, Steve Kanaly Is Finally Over the Hump
05/10/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT
After four years J.R. may still be the s.o.b. of Ewing Oil, but there's evidence at Southfork these days that another type of son also rises. He's Steve Kanaly, 36, who started out in the smash CBS series playing macho ranch foreman Ray Krebbs. It was a living, but Kanaly's fortunes improved markedly when it was "discovered" last season that Krebbs was the illegitimate offspring of clan patriarch Jock Ewing. Playing J.R.'s half brother put him at the Ewing dinner table, where the klieg lights shine brightest, and Kanaly's salary jumped from $3,500 to $20,000 per episode. "I'm grateful to be working steadily," says Steve. "I'm in a hit show. I'm known around the world. I'd be a fool to complain."
The change grew out of an off-hours encounter with Larry Hagman. "After a game of racquetball," Kanaly recalls, "we had a few beers and came up with the idea of making Krebbs the bastard son." The writers fleshed out his character this past season with some bad business investments that drove him to cynicism and to drink. "I didn't like the idea of turning him into a bum," Kanaly admits. "But I realized it was an opportunity to show other aspects of my acting ability." Still, he's relieved that the writers are now getting Krebbs "back on track" as the closest thing to an ail-American cowboy Dallas offers.
Kanaly's background prepared him to take such career turns easily. The eldest child of an appliance salesman, Steve grew up in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley. There he learned a healthy skepticism about show business from the minor-league talents and big-league burnouts he saw in the neighborhood. Setting out to be an artist, he enrolled in the fine arts department of Cal State at Northridge. But in 1966 the draft interrupted; Kanaly spent two years in the Army, one of them as a radio operator in Vietnam.
Returning to Northridge, he earned spending money working at a nearby gun club. Among the members were actors Robert Stack and Michael Ansara and writer John Milius, who became a pal and told Kanaly about a script he was working on called Apocalypse Now. He wanted Kanaly first as technical adviser and then to play a part on-camera. The film was made a decade later (without Steve), but before that Milius wangled a small role for his friend in another film he had written, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, as well as a large part in 1973's Dillinger. "Up until the end of that film," Steve recalls, "I was still thinking of myself as an artist who was doing some acting." He then trained for two years with acting coach Victor French. After that, he says, "I realized I could spend the rest of my life acting out various fantasies and get paid well for my fun."
The only catch was his future wife, Brent Power, now 31. Her father, a land speculator, had introduced them at the gun club and they had been courting for four years. "Brent didn't like my detour into acting," says Steve. "She was still hung up on being with a struggling artist, which appealed to her reverse snobbery about all her daddy's money." When he asked Brent to join him in Spain while shooting his third Milius film, The Wind and the Lion, she refused. But finally Brent relented and spent a month traveling with Steve in Europe. "I told her the honeymoon was such a success, maybe we should get married," Steve says.
On March 27, 1975 they tied the knot in Hawaii. Steve's promising career promptly dried up. "I waited for the phone to ring," he says. "I built shelves, bookcases, painted a little. But mainly I waited." A few small film roles helped some, but it was his foray into TV guest spots (Charlie's Angels, The Love Boat) that finally won him a crack at Dallas.
These days the Kanalys live with daughters Quinn, 3, and Evan, 8 months, in an antique-filled $400,000 house on a Valley hillside. On his return from Israel, where Dallas is the top-rated show, he took off for Alaska to make a film about polar bears for the American Sportsman series. "I want exposure," Steve says. "But after talking to pals like Tom Selleck, who works almost every frame of Magnum, P.I. and who is exhausted, I realize Dallas allows me to pace myself so I don't burn out." And what if the Ewing saga runs another four years or more? "I'll get good syndication money and then I can be choosy about parts. And if I don't want to work again, I don't have to," he adds with a smile. "That's a hell of a position to be in."