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"WACKO: Dwight Schultz, 'The A-Team''s house schizophrenic, is nobody's fool, even when he chokes in the clutch"
Howling Mad Murdock, The A-Team's daredevil pilot and refugee from a mental ward, slips in and out of personalities as deftly as a juggler tosses oranges. One moment he's a suicide squad leader, the next, a "dese, dem, and dose" mobster, then an uppercrust Englishman. His penchant for the perposterous even wears down B.A., played by the formidable Mr. T.
It takes a while to realize that Dwight Schultz, 32, the preppy-looking fellow with the serious expression, wearing a blue blazer with gold buttons and rimless glasses, is the lunatic on The A-Team, the most popular new show of the past TV season.
"As a child, I always loved sound and voices," Schultz says. "Very early on, I'd go to a movie, come back and imitate everything and everybody. I'd sit with a box of clay and make monsters and people, and I'd do the voices for everybody."
The Baltimore native soon outgrew his attraction for clay theater, but his attraction to acting increased. "For one year," he says, "I spent every night listening to Olivier's 'Othello' just to learn how to speak." His admiration for Olivier eventually led to an active exchange of letters between the two. The subject? Theater, of course. Schultz treasures the products of this spontaneous correspondence school course in the dramatic arts.
Schultz did serious acting en route to the wacky A Team, a sort of Robin Hood (George Peppard) and his Merry Men. He earned a degree in theater arts from Towson State University in Maryland, then worked in productions on and off Broadway. He appeared in plays by Sam Shepard, Tom Stoppard, and David Mamet; co-stars included Maggie Smith and Glenn Close. His zanier side began to emerge in a cabaret act he tried out in 1978 in Williamstown, Mass. An NBC talent scout saw him there and soon a tape of Schultz impersonating writer Truman Capote and other celebrities was on its way to Hollywood. "I later heard that the tape was circulating at parties."
What kept Schultz out of circulation for a while was his tendency to choke up in the clutch. "I'm the world's worst auditioner," he says, though he did get parts on Hill Street Blues and CHiPs.
When NBC's A Team came along, madman Murdock seemed like the perfect part for Schultz, the man of a thousand faces: "I looked at the character and said, 'My God, I could do anything with this part!' It was fun, it was witty, and I laughed out loud when I read it."
Howling Mad's invisible dog, Billy, first "appeared" when the show's pilot was being filmed. "Billy began as an improvisation," says the actor. "It just came out. It seemed right that Murdock would have an imaginary pet." In 1971, Schultz concentrated on other animals, not necessarily the man's-best-friend species. "I worked for New York's bureau of pest control." He was also a waitor, sold air purifiers door to door and slept on a couch in a railroad apartment. Then came The A Team, which debuted last Jan. 23.
"All of a sudden, business managers, press agents and other people are coming after you because they follow the money. It's so fast, and you're trying to figure out, What's happening? Where am I? Who are my friends?
"You need time," sighs Schultz, who took time to marry actress Wendy Fulton, 24, last June. They met a few years ago in New York, and, says the bridegroom, "It was love at first sight.
"It's a fairy tale," he adds. "One year we were poor. The next year I was on The A Team and Wendy was in Bare Essence. She played the part of Muffin. A friend of ours was a story editor on St. Elsewhere, so the three of us had back-to-back series on the same network on the same night."
Says prime-time's most popular certifiable lunatic: "I've been very lucky. I'm ecstatic about the part. I couldn't have asked for a better TV role. Murdock can do anything. He can be crazy. He can be serious." But probably not as serious as Schultz is about Murdock's craziness.
Article Taken From On The Jazz Volume 1 Issue 9, written by Glenn Lambert.
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