Actor John Frederick Dryer was born in Hawthorne, California, on July 6, 1946, son of Charles F. Dryer and Genevieve Nell Clark. Raised in Lawndale, California, he attended Lawndale High School and El Camino College. Before acting, he played football for 14 years.
Fred in Day of Reckoning (1994)
Foto: Studio Fan Mail
In college, Dryer played for the Aztecs of San Diego State University, under Head Coach Don Coryell, for the seasons 1967-1968. The 6'6", 225-pound defensive end # 77 was named First Team All-American in 1968 and played in the College All-Star Game, East-West Shrine Game and Hula Bowl in 1969.
A two-year letterman and starter, Dryer received the Chase Memorial Trophy as the school's top defensive lineman in 1968. On September 15, 1967, he was among those players who first stepped onto the brand-new San Diego Stadium (Qualcomm Stadium), when the Aztecs defeated Tennessee State 16-8 in front of 45,822 fans.
In 1988, Fred was inducted into the Aztec Hall of Fame. On May 28, 1997, he was named to the College Football Hall of Fame. He was considered among the most dominant pass rushers in college football history. The induction ceremony happened on August 16, in South Bend, Indiana. On November 8, he returned to San Diego to be honored during night's Homecoming game against the Spartans of San Jose State University. He said at the time:
"Being here (South Bend) today signifies for me that I helped the school's program becoming big time. San Diego now plays Washington, Arizona, USC, UCLA, Oklahoma. I feel good that I'm part of that, and I'm very flattered." (ESPN)
"I'm definitely looking forward to going back to San Diego. I had more fun playing college football than in the pros. You were more free and shared in something unique. Plus, we were young and stupid. My experience at San Diego was a highlight of my life. I was around different people and saw different things. I still keep in touch with some college friends. I keep in touch with very few people from the pros. I was a part of a young program that was exploding. I had the benefit of playing with great players who I thought were better than me but didn't have the size to play professionally. I also had the benefit of playing for a new program, a new stadium and one of the most dynamic coaching staffs in the country." (Daily Aztec)
Dryer started his professional career on the football field in 1969, when he was drafted by the New York Giants in the first round (the 13th pick overall). But as he didn't like New York very much ("Everything is vertical in New York; I'm a horizontal person", he used to say), he left the Giants and returned to California to play for the Los Angeles Rams, which he did from 1972 to 1981, when he retired. (Obs.: Before going to play for the Californian team, Fred was traded to the New England Patriots).
On October 21, 1973, the defensive end # 89 set an NFL record by registering 2 safeties (safety: to make the other team put the ball down in its own goal) in a single game, against Green Bay Packers.
With the Rams, Fred made the Pro Bowl in 1970 and 1975 and played in Super Bowl XIV in 1980, when the L.A. team was defeated by the Pittsburgh Steelers. After the game, Fred declared:
"We had 'em (the Steelers) on the ropes. Nobody on this club is bitter, nobody's sore. We played the hell out of those guys. I guarantee those guys know they've been in a football game."
Dryer was considered a maverick due to his playing style — and was one in his own life. He loved birds because he heard a song of freedom in the sound of flapping wings. For three years, while playing for the New York Giants, he lived in a Volkswagen van:
"I didn't know where to throw the anchor. Driving eventually became a form of therapy for me as I criss-crossed the United States and Canada several times during the off-seasons. Little things stick in my mind from those trips, like watching a Little League baseball game next to a truck stop in a small Kansas town. Truck drivers were heating up hamburgers on the hoods of their rigs and chugging beer next to the diamond while the kids were playing. I miss those days." (The Toronto Star, 06/13/1987)
And he was a joker — on and off the football field. During the drills (and games), Fred played the role of stand-up comic. One of his talents was to do Tommy Prothro's voice, his head coach in 1972. Sports writer Joe Biddle tells the following story:
"One of the real Rams, Fred Dryer of the Los Angeles clan, recalled a monumental game that made the National Football League famous. Dryer, a free-spirited defensive end who played with the ilk of Jack Youngblood, Merlin Olsen and Hacksaw Reynolds, tells a story about being in the huddle at a crucial point when a wild-eyed teammate blurted out, 'C'mon, guys! There is no tomorrow!' Dryer stood up, then walked to the sidelines. Everyone wanted to know what was wrong. 'Nothing,' replied Dryer. 'But if there is no tomorrow, I'm sure not going to waste my last day playing a football game.'" (The Tennessean Monday, 11/01/1999)
Although supporting drug testing and strict penalties for drug use by athletes, Fred admits he once used steroids:
"I took steroids when I was in a junior college. There was all this emphasis on size and I was told if I wanted to get better and gain weight, I'd better use steroids. I went to a doctor and got a prescription, and it worked. But I broke out and was constipated, and after four or five months, I asked myself, 'Is this how I want my life to be?' And I just quit." (The Toronto Star, 01/12/1990)
After stopping playing, Fred did sportscasting on CBS, quitting after 10 games because he felt he had no freedom in that job; besides, he was tired of traveling.
Photo: Autographed Collectibles - CPG Direct
In the 80's, Fred Dryer started acting. In 1979, he began studying with actress and acting coach Nina Foch (An American in Paris/Spartacus/Hunter — episode Acapulco Holiday).
"To put aside (the football career) you almost have to give up the fact of who you were. I couldn't be an athlete in my mind the rest of my life, so I left the football player behind. Within a year, it was like I never played sports." (Time)
"I was a player and enjoyed doing that but my life's work was not to be a football coach, owner or broadcasting football games. I was always fascinated with acting; I like films. I was curious about it — why people act, why they don't. What makes a good actor. Then I got into it and realized, I think I want to do it." (The Toronto Star, 04/09/1989)
With the movies Gus and Prime Time, he got his Screen Actors Guild card. His first important role was in The Starmaker, where he played Melanie Griffith’s stepfather.
"I did good work in The Starmaker and got a lot of positive feedback. I’m one of those people who will work harder if you compliment and encourage him." (The San Diego Union Tribune)
Since the beginning of his acting career, Fred knew what he wanted — and what he didn't:
"They tried to typecast me in typical ex-jock roles, but I turned them down. I could have made a good living. It's like horse manure, it's everywhere. I held out and turned down a great deal of work because I felt that I could be a leading man and carry a show. I turned down a lot of heavy roles designed for a big, tall guy." (The Toronto Star, 04/09/1989)
In 1982, Fred auditioned for Cheers. One of 3 finalists, he lost the male lead to actor Ted Danson. Later, he made several guest appearances on the show as Dave Richards, Sam's former Boston Red Sox teammate turned sportscaster.
In 1984, Fred was chosen to play the leading role of the TV series Hunter: LAPD Homicide Detective Sergeant Richard Hunter, a mobster's son turned cop. Hunter, created by Frank Lupo and produced by Stephen J. Cannell, is TV's version of Clint Eastwood's violent big screen cop Dirty Harry. Hunter's partner is Sergeant Dee Dee McCall, a beautiful and tough widow, known around the squad as "The Brass Cupcake", played by Stepfanie Kramer. Hunter ran on NBC from 1984 to 1991. About why the show was a success, Fred said at the time:
"It hits a theme that people all seem to understand. The characters Hunter and McCall have old-line values: honesty, integrity. They are after the right answers to problems and the way they go about their jobs is very admirable. They are human beings. They aren't automatons. Or maybe it's just that they think I'm cute. Maybe they think Stepfanie is beautiful. It's hard to put your finger on exactly why the show is so strong". (LA Times, 03/15/1990)
Besides running in the USA, Hunter was sold to many countries: Brazil, Japan, Canada, England, France, Australia, Italy, Germany, Spain, Philippines, Korea, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Dubai, Brunei, Iceland, Bangladesh, Kuwait, Paraguay, Israel — 88 overall. In many of these places, the show goes on running till today. Fred is the biggest star in China — millions of Chineses watch Hunter every week.
"It really makes you feel good about yourself to be loved by a race of people. It makes you feel appreciated."
While filming Hunter, he said:
"I've been to France, Canada, Italy, Israel, South America; it's really been a phenomenon. I know that people around the country and around the world like good action shows." (Hollywood Reporter)
But, although being a worldwide hit, Hunter didn't get much recognition by the Hollywood industry and the critics:
"It's probably the quietest success in this town. We don't get critical acclaim, we don't get Emmy nominations. The people in this town don't write about the show. Maybe it's because Steve Cannell's company doesn't have a history of putting out those types of shows that appeal to critics. He puts out entertaining shows that last a long time, but they're not critically acclaimed." (Hollywood Reporter, 02/03/1989)
"We don't even get one Emmy nomination. They don't even call to ask Stepfanie or me to be presenters. I begin to take it personally after awhile. I guess because we come from Stephen J. Cannell's company, they think of it as an 'A-Teamish' type of show aimed at teen-age boys, but our audience is mostly adults — 35 and older. The strong showing in syndication is satisfying to me because it shows us that we're appreciated by the people out there, even if we aren't appreciated by our own industry." (LA Times, 03/15/1990)
Fred directed several Hunter episodes: A Child is Born, The Jade Woman, The Girl on the Beach, Ring of Honor, The Incident as well as produced 44 of them (6th and 7th seasons).
In the beginning of the show, Fred raked in $21,135 a week. Before starting shooting the 3rd season, he demanded a $50,000 paycheck to return to work. Cannell wanted to replace him and threatened with a $20-million law suit, but Dryer stood firm, which turned out to be the wisest attitude, since Cannell caved in after NBC network stated that it would be impossible to shoot Hunter without its star. In the end of the series, he was getting much more than 50G per episode, not only as a star of the show, but also as its executive producer.
In 1991, when they were negotiating the 8th season, Fred wanted to get not less than $7.7 million for another year; as Cannell was willing to give him just $5.6 million, Hunter was canceled. Fred said it wasn't just about the money — he had built Rick Hunter over the years, he had fought for his survival, working 15 hours per day, sacrificing a lot of things because of the show. Thus, when they refused to give him what he wanted, he preferred to quit.
Stepfanie Kramer left the show before it ended, in 1990; McCall quits the police force, gets married to an old boyfriend and goes to England. There were rumors that Fred and Stepfanie didn't get along, which both actors deny. Fred said they became like brother and sister:
"If that wasn't true, she wouldn't have invited me to attend her wedding."
Stepfanie said she left the show to pursuit a singing career. It was produced a Blooper and Practical Joke episode, where we can see that Fred and Stepfanie had a good relationship. In the episode, Fred and crew pretend that Kramer’s new house has to be removed to a new place, which makes Stepfanie almost get crazy...
In the last season, two actresses replace her: Darlanne Fluegel, playing Officer Joanne Molenski (who is shot to death in the middle of the season) and Lauren Lane, playing Sergeant Chris Novak, until the end of the series. Lane played C.C. Babcock on The Nanny.
After Hunter, through his own company (Fred Dryer Productions), Fred returned to his popular role from TV on The Return of Hunter: Everyone Walks in L.A. (1995). On this TV movie, Lieutenant Rick Hunter loses his fiancée murdered on Saint Valentine's Day. More 2 other TV movies were produced (with Stepfanie Kramer in the cast): Return to Justice (2002) and Back in Force (2003), plus a second running of the series, with 5 episodes (2003).
Photo: Skye-Box Sports Memorabilia
Also in 1995, Fred produced and starred on a new TV series: Land’s End, shot entirely in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Before start shooting this new series, Fred stated:
"Land's End will address the needs of the world market. We're going after Baywatch, the highest rated syndicated show in TV history. It will be a prime-time family show, with both humorous and serious elements, like a '90s version of The Rockford Files. After the violence-in-television debate, there's a consensus now about what you can't say or do on television, but none about what you can do and say. That's one of the reasons I wanted to make Land's End for syndication. I don't want to deal with the network bureaucracy. I just want to make a series for my fans... and I know who they are and what they want. If they liked Hunter, they'll love Land's End." (The Toronto Star, 10/23/1994)
In Land's End, Fred plays former LAPD detective Mike Land, whose wife had been killed by a drug dealer before he quit the police. With Geoffrey Lewis (Willis P. Dunleevy), Tim Thomerson (Dave "Thunder" Thornton) and Pamela Bowen (Courtney Saunders), it has 20 pretty good episodes — one season only, unfortunately.
Since Land’s End ended, Fred has been making movies and guest appearances on TV shows.
Fred Dryer has blue eyes, a tattoo on the right arm (wild cat’s head tattooed when he was 17 years old) and enjoys playing golf and working out. When he was a football player, he used to surf and dive for abalone. Since those times, Fred has neither eaten red meat nor drunk soda; his diet is composed of vegetables and chicken.
"It’s funny, but people pay more attention to their shoes and socks than to what they put in their stomachs." (San Diego Union Tribune)
Another thing he very much likes is construction — he says if he wasn't in acting and producing, he would be in construction. Fred and his brother Charlie helped their father Charles build his house. In 1993, Fred built a 5-million mansion in Los Angeles, which was sold few years ago, because he didn't get used to living in such a luxurious place.
"The great thing is I can do other things in life. My life isn't defined by the fact I did Hunter or that I was a football player. I want as many diversified experiences as I can have. If I'm prepared for it, it won't get by me." (Everyday)
His father died on September 14, 1963, and his mother in 1994.
Fred got married in May of 1983 to actress and Playboy centerfold Tracy Vaccaro, who worked with him on Hunter (Case X as Evie, A Child is Born as Stacey Collins, Ring of Honor, Cries of Silence as Linda Conway, Ex Marks the Spot as Linda) and Land’s End (as April in the pilot, A Line in the Sand and Dr. Amoré). He met Tracy at Hugh Heffner's house, one summer Sunday; she was sitting around the pool:
"I walked over to her and told her she looked like she had a lot of tension in her neck and I could do something about it. She said 'let's get on with the program!' So I gave her a neck massage, and we've been together ever since." (US - 11/19/1984)
October 83 Playmate of the Month and July 85 Playboy cover, Tracy was born in Glendale, California, on May 4, 1962. They split up in 1986, but they divorced just in 1988 (after a 5-year marriage). Fred and Tracy have one daughter, Caitlin Nell Dryer, who was born on April 12, 1984:
"I have a child out of a great love for a woman and I don't regret it at all. It's more satisfying than I ever could have imagined." (Philadelphia Daily News, 1989)
"She was born by caesarean and then I was the first to take her in my arms. Then I stayed at the hospital for three days so I wouldn’t have to leave her. She even slept near me rather than near her mother. Since then, there has been a unique bond between us. She is very grown up for her age and we have great conversations. If she wants to be an actress when she’s older, I will help her, but until then, I want her to have a normal childhood." (Télé 7 Jours, 1988)
According to them, they broke up mostly because of Fred’s long-hour-work days on Hunter.
After the divorce, Tracy remarried and moved to Las Vegas with Caitlin and her new husband. In 1989, she gave birth to another child. The fact Caitlin lived away from LA didn't affect her relationship with her dad. Fred said in 1989, while preparing himself to fly to Las Vegas to spend Thanksgiving:
"Tracy's and my main concern has always been our daughter, and we've pushed aside whatever else we've felt. I'm always flying to Las Vegas to be with her — I was there to put her on the bus the first day of school, for the conference with her teacher — and, whenever I'm there, I stay at the house. A lot of weeks, she comes to see me, but I'm just grateful that she has such a good life; I'm thrilled my daughter and Tracy are in such good hands." (Los Angeles Daily News)
Caitlin got married to actor Jason Padgett in Santa Monica, California, on October 2006.
Fred still lives in Los Angeles.
I am the luckiest guy I know. I've got great friends and great people to work with every day and my daughter is thriving and I'm doing what I want to do. (Los Angeles Times, 04/21/1999)