"St. Petersburg Times"
August 30, 1987
Written by MONIKA GUTTMAN
Quote: "Defensive end turned "Hunter"
HOLLYWOOD - The temperature is almost 90 degrees inside the L.A. warehouse that serves as the
soundstage for NBC's Hunter series. Makeup artists flitter through the makeshift police station, dabbing powder on the noses and foreheads of actors in cop uniforms, trying to hide the glisten of their sweat from the cameras. A crew member wires a desk phone to ring on the director's cue.
Into this world of make-believe strides Fred Dryer. His walk, like his attitude, is no-nonsense, direct, precise. At 6-foot-6, he towers over everyone in the room, and the assistant at his side is half running, half walking to keep pace with the series star.
Hunter, now entering its fourth season, is responsible for making the former NFL all-pro defensive end an entertainment celebrity. But, while he admits that he was "always interested in acting," Dryer doesn't cling nervously to the dramatic success that has come his way.
As he puts it, "Doing the show is fine, but it's not my life. When I've had enough, I'll quit."
Standing with one hand placed casually inside the empty gun holster hanging from his shoulder, Dryer explains, "I've had another career. I played football 13 years professionally, four years at the college level, and one year in high school. I know what it did for me and what it did to me."
Dryer admits that "right around the seven-year mark" in his famous football career (he played for both the New York Giants and the L.A. Rams), "I decided I was tired of doing it. When all is said and done, it was wonderful - but I'm not going to let this career dominate my life like that one did."
There are times, however, when despite his resolve Dryer does suffer burnout from working 14-hour days on his weekly cop show - which he says has gradually come to include "more and more behind-the-camera work - more involvement with the stories." But the effort is paying off. Hunter, by his own admission, "started off terribly in the ratings - nobody watched it." But last year, after a new executive producer came on board, ratings began to climb, and this summer Hunter reruns placed in the weekly top 10 shows.
What this means for Dryer, however, is that "it's become more and more difficult to participate in my family life." He reveals grudgingly, "I've sometimes become resentful of the series because of that."
Dryer is particularly protective of his relationship with 4-year-old daughter Caitlin by his former wife, actress Tracy Vaccaro. "I don't want my daughter to feel that she's on the sidelines. She's my priority. I spend weekends with her, call her every day. I want her to know who her dad is. I'm very selfish of that."
The southern California native didn't always have something to tie him down and during several years of his pro football career, Dryer achieved notoriety for living in a VW bus and driving cross-country and throughout Canada many times. But he acknowledges that he was born into a family where "I got to see a positive relationship between my mother and father. You see and set values when you're very young."
Dryer proudly tells of his father, "a self-made guy who worked with his hands. He had a great deal of pride and integrity." He pauses, then adds sadly, "He died when I was 17 years of age. He never saw me play one ounce of football."
When Dryer gave up his football jersey in 1981, he was snapped up by CBS as a football announcer. Although CBS offered him a lucrative two-year contract after just one season, Dryer declined – he wanted to give his acting career full-time attention and began taking acting courses in earnest.
It didn't take long for him to get work. He appeared in such TV series as Lou Grant, Hart to Hart and Laverne & Shirley, made his feature film debut with Burt Reynolds in 1984's Cannonball Run II and appeared in several TV movies. And Dryer was one of three finalists for Ted Danson's role in Cheers (William Devane also lost out).
Even while working on the series, Dryer and his partner, Larry Kubik, are developing TV and feature film projects for Hunter's leading man. Last year he produced and starred as a Marine sergeant in one of those projects: Death Before Dishonor, a big-screen feature made in Israel on a miniscule, $4-million budget.
Dryer doesn’t respond immediately when asked if he ever misses football. "To a degree," he finally says slowly. "I probably always will. But I can't play football anymore, nor do I want to. For now, I want to see how far this career can take me. But my hand is on the faucet - and if I ever want to turn it off, I will."