PLEASE NOTE THIS SITE IS NEITHER AFFILIATED WITH NOR AUTHORIZED BY CHARLES SIEBERT
I had not originally intended to put any biographical notes about Charles Siebert on this website. I expected, and I highly encourage, those who are interested in Mr. Siebert to look at his authorized website, www.charlessiebert.com, which contains a succinct and gracefully written account (the writer, I am told, is Kathleen M. Cummings, with Mr. Siebert’s input). Additional biographical information is available on Mr. Siebert’s Wikipedia and IMDB pages. These three sources are generally the top three results if you put “Charles Siebert Actor” into your search engine.
If, however, you are willing to march down the multitudinous byways of the internet, a lot more information is available. Just as interesting, to me, is what is not available. If you are not at all willing to march down the multitudinous byways of the internet, then allow me to march you in linear fashion through a completely unauthorized biographical listing. I will not include any National Enquirer-style details, though Mr. Siebert has had his share of attention from the National Enquirer (including the infamous 1984 death rumor).
All of the information below is publicly available on the internet with the exception of one old-school hard-copy resource, Contemporary Theatre, Film & Television, which can be found in the reference section of some libraries or over at my place. Note that the 1985 version contains errors in Mr. Siebert’s listing, as does the IMDB credits listing. (Update August, 2012: The gentleman who lived the life kindly corrected many errors.)
A Brief History of Charles Siebert
Charles Siebert was born on March 9, 1938 in Kenosha, Wisconsin to Donald and Hannah (Rosenblum) Siebert; he is the eldest of four sons. His parents lived until 2011 and 1994 respectively, which bodes well for our having Mr. Siebert around for some time, in good shape and continuing his work, we hope. I would infer that there may have been a gap of three or more years between Mr. Siebert and his next sibling, though I can’t say for sure, as I have no justification for checking up on other members of the gentleman’s family. (Charles Siebert alone and no other Sieberts show up as enrolled at Kenosha High School in 1955, so we can infer a gap, though there may have been another high school or vocational school in Kenosha at the time.) Some personality theorists suggest that being a first-born child with several years as ‘only child’ tends to create a confident and secure individual. (Mr. Siebert confirms the age gap between himself and his next sibling, and validates the personality/birth order theory just mentioned.)
The actor rarely fails to mention his children in interviews and has a reputation for being the consummate ‘family man’, but I find no record of him mentioning his family of origin other than the information he provided to Contemporary Theatre, Film & Television, which is a sort of Who’s Who of performers. One of Mr. Siebert’s brothers, Ron, has had a successful acting career, though their relationship is noted only in a one-line news brief in Variety when the two performed together in The Changing Room (1974). Ron Siebert played his brother’s character, Charles Francis Adams II, at a younger age in The Adams Chronicles; he is credited in the titles, but not on the IMDB listing.
Mr. Siebert graduated from high school in 1955. If my math skills are holding up, which they probably are not, he would have been on the young side of seventeen at graduation. (Mr. Siebert informs us that he had skipped the third grade and so was only seventeen and three months at graduation.) In high school, he participated in varsity football for a time and was on the staff of the school newspaper. Hence, at some point he began studying journalism at Marquette University in exotic, cosmopolitan Milwaukee (well, exotic and cosmopolitan in comparison to Kenosha. Despite having enjoyed living in London and New York City, the actor describes himself as still a “small town boy” ). Mr. Siebert has often stated that he knew fairly soon that journalism was not for him, and that he switched to theater in his sophomore year: “Although he had never seen live theater before he entered Marquette, Siebert signed up for [Father John J.] Walsh’s introduction to theater course, and it changed his life.” (6/11/2000, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Damien Jaques). “I was lucky enough to come under the influence of an inspiring teacher in college. He was a Jesuit priest named John Walsh and he instilled in his students a sense of purpose and an understanding of the need for hard work and dedication. I owe him my career and the wonderful life I’ve had because of it.” (9/23/2011, Greg Palmer interview)
Mr. Siebert’s entry in Contemporary Theatre, Film & Television states that he graduated from Marquette in 1962 with a B.A. in Speech (a theater degree from Marquette’s School of Speech). The five or six year period between Mr. Siebert’s high school graduation and attainment of his four-year degree remains unexplained; the dates may be incorrect, or he may not have gone directly to Marquette after high school, or his change of major may have required additional courses. Or perhaps he was just enjoying himself too much. “It was like being on an athletic team…We thought about little else [but theater]…Father Walsh was like a great coach who demanded everything we had to give and more. He was a great teacher and a great leader – the first one to jump out of the plane. He was like John Wooden or Knute Rockne,” as Mr. Siebert told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer when interviewed during a 2006 Marquette celebration in honor of Father Walsh.
Father Walsh’s story itself is an interesting one, and more information can be found via Marquette University, where Walsh founded the theater program in 1951. The university also produced a documentary about Father Walsh which was shown on public television, but does not seem to be available for private viewing.
While at Marquette, Mr. Siebert met fellow drama student Catherine Mary Kilzer; they performed in the 1961 televised version of The Coventry Mystery Cycle. It is notable that Ms. Kilzer portrayed the Virgin Mary. Catholic readers understand that in a Catholic school, dramatic requirements count less than the character of the girl or woman called upon to play this role; so, perhaps we have an insight into the woman who was described by her husband as a “sweet, caring beautiful woman who only did good in the world.” (8/25/84 UPI “Tragic drama for Siebert”, Vernon Scott). The couple married in 1962, leaving only days later for England, where Charles Siebert would study at the London Academy of Music and the Dramatic Arts (LAMDA).
I note that Mr. Siebert’s role in the Coventry Mystery Cycle was ‘the devil’. I’m not sure what we should make of that, other than that the actor generally did quite well with slimy roles during his early career. (Mr. Siebert reminds us that he not only played the devil in this production, he also played Judas and Herod. I had the opportunity to ask the actor about his frequent association with sleazy characters. He assures us that he is “loveable” and “cuddly” in real life. He followed this with a deeply ominous chuckle. We will take his word for it, yes, we will, sir.)
Various interviews state that Mr. Siebert served in the US Army, with one account stating he arrived in England ‘in uniform’. (Mr. Seibert says this is not true, though the information appears in one of his early interviews.) Contemporary Theatre, Film & Television lists Mr. Siebert’s military service as the US Army Reserve, and the actor himself tells us that he spent his six months of active service teaching English at Ft. Leonard Wood (Missouri). He was technically still a reservist while he was in England, but presumably this is not the same as being AWOL.
Mr. Siebert has given quite a few interviews in which he describes his London experience, most notably his efforts to extend his visa by pretending to be a jazz dancer. (I can’t quite get the last few moments of that 1979 ‘Good Times’ episode out of my head.) Among his London accomplishments: He made his stage debut as ‘messenger’ in Euripides’ grim little ditty The Bacchae (I assume they put the first and second messenger parts together, which would have made this a substantial role indeed), and, in 1964, the first of his three children was born.
Mr. Siebert has stated many times that the family wished to stay longer in England, but were obliged to return to the States, settling in New York City, where Mrs. Siebert got a day job while Mr. Siebert worked nights and auditioned during the daytime. In one interview (Kiester, 1981), Mr. Siebert reminisces about he and his wife passing the baby off between them as they changed shifts. That baby was soon joined by a second child.
During this time, Mr. Siebert had begun working on daytime television and doing voice-over work for commercials. As the second half of the decade progressed, he began working in theater with Joe Papp’s Theater in the Park (his New York debut, 1966), the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut, the McCarter in Princeton, and Baltimore’s Center Stage. He was also part of the founding cast of the American Conservatory Theatre before it moved to San Francisco. He made his Broadway debut in 1967 in Berthold Brecht’s Galileo. Further details may be found in the Theater section of this site. Meanwhile, the Sieberts added their third and final child to the family. (Please note, the names, birthdates and occupations of the Siebert children are readily available all over the internet, including in some of Mr. Siebert’s interviews – he is justly proud of them – but I still don’t think this is anyone’s business but theirs.)
Mr. Siebert continued to work fairly steadily on the New York and surrounding area stages through the mid-1970s. At that point, he has stated that the demands of his growing family and a desire to “test [himself] in both [stage and film] arenas” (3/2/12 interview with Charles Sepos, ‘Curtain Call’) led him to relocate the family to California in 1976. Charles Siebert quickly became the ‘go to’ guy on television through the rest of the decade, appearing in nine television movies and thirty-eight television episodes, as well as seven theatrical films. The gentleman, at this point, is the perfect image of the “hard-working actor”.
In one of my favorite of the actor’s quotes, he sums up his experience in coming to the West Coast: “One day I was on the set [of Panache, 1976] and thought to myself, here I am at Warner Brothers, dueling with Errol Flynn’s sword…and I was having more fun and making more money than I had ever made in my life. As soon as I could, I went back to Westchester [NY] and said, we’re moving to California…” Accounts from Mr. Siebert’s peers and mere observation of the man when he is performing live on stage indicate that he does, indeed, enjoy what he does. However, it wasn’t all fun and games; he put in a lot of hours in those early days, paying his dues, working at trivial roles or in second-rate material. “My television career didn’t often give me the leading role but it gave me a very nice living which enabled me to put a lot of kids through college.” (9/23/2011, Greg Palmer interview)
In 1979, Charles Siebert began playing the role with which he has become most closely identified: Dr. Stanley Riverside on the series Trapper John MD, which ran through 1986, going into syndication in 1985, running in syndication in the US through most of the 1990s, and still running in Europe currently. Mr. Siebert has always been gracious about the character, probably in deference to the passionate and sometimes decidedly odd Riverside fan base, or perhaps due to his intrinsically kindly nature, but some evidence indicates that the actor came to find the role irksome. (See discussion on the TJMD portion of this site). In 2012, Mr. Seibert reiterates that he found working on TJMD to be a lot of fun, and that he has been told that he’s one of the few actors who never complained about being “stuck” in a long-running series.
Sadly, just as Charles Siebert the actor was achieving his greatest popularity, the Siebert family suffered a terrible blow. Between the second and third seasons of Trapper John MD, and just as they were planning a return visit to their beloved London, Mrs. Siebert became ill, and succumbed to her illness on November 4, 1981. Mr. Siebert speaks very movingly of the experience of his wife’s illness and death in a series of interviews he gave in 1984. The amount of time that elapsed before he was able to give these interviews suggests what a difficult adjustment the family had to endure. I, again, do not feel that these personal details belong here, but for those who are interested in Mr. Siebert’s family life, I recommend reading both his 1981 interview with TV Guide’s Edwin Kiester, Jr. (an interview that was given in his home probably not long before his wife’s diagnosis) and his 1984 interview, which is not included in my bibliography: “Tragic drama for Siebert is not on TV but in life,” 8/25/84, UPI (Vernon Scott).
Mr. Siebert states that TJMD kept his role ‘light’ during the final stages of his wife’s illness, but refers to one particularly difficult episode. Internal evidence points to this being the “Mother Dearest” episode 8 in Season 3. His role in that episode was hardly ‘light’ as his character was featured throughout.
Editorial note: When I began putting this site together, I wondered idly whether Charles Siebert the good actor was also Charles Siebert the good man. Although I didn’t incorporate them into the site, which was to be concerned only with Mr. Siebert’s performances, I read many an interview that referred to the gentleman’s personal characteristics, and it was at that point that I began to admire the man as well as the performances. I do wish that Mr. Siebert would write about his life, himself, and not leave a ham-handed tyro like myself doing it.
During the run of TJMD, Mr. Siebert did very little additional work other than a couple of episodes of Love Boat, serving as MC of a Thanksgiving parade, some game show appearances, and a Christmas narrative during a concert of the Los Angeles Chorale in 1985. The actor’s family situation, combined with the Trapper John schedule, probably limited his activities. (Mr. Siebert informs us that he was also busily involved in courting the present Mrs. Siebert. This suggests that she must have put up a fairly strong resistance.) He also began directing episodes of TJMD.
Mr. Siebert was well enough regarded by his peers to serve as a board member of both the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (now merged into SAG/AFTRA).
Mr. Siebert remarried in 1986. For details, I direct you toward the National Enquirer. However, I will say that there are some people who, when you meet them, strike you immediately with a radiant sort of goodness. Lost children and stray animals readily approach them. You think to yourself, “Gee, this must be a really nice person.” Mrs. Siebert is like that.
Perhaps it was his limitation to the Riverside role for seven years, or perhaps it was the ‘M*A*S*H curse’ by which no one involved with that television show ever had a successful series again, or perhaps Mr. Siebert was simply going through an awkward transition with his physical appearance, but he would never again reach the level of acting activity that he had in the 1970s. The loss of the “Charlie Davis” role in Good Morning Miss Bliss must have been a disappointment; the original pilot shows the actor creating quite a different character from Dr. Riverside, a ‘normal guy’ and a very likable one, too. While continuing to turn in fine performances in some very small roles in television movies, plus occasional guest appearances on various hit series, Mr. Siebert was seen regularly on TV game shows such as the Pyramid shows through the 1980s; he was a popular guest star, and his appearances can be found easily on YouTube. Mr. Siebert told Greg Palmer that he liked the game shows, he felt he was good at them, so he simply called and asked for the spots.
Through the 80s and 90s, Mr. Siebert transitioned from acting to being primarily a director, and worked steadily in that venue on shows like The Pretender, Silk Stalkings, Mortal Combat, and of course the iconic Hercules and Xena series. In Xena-related interviews during the 90s, Mr. Siebert begins making fairly regular and somewhat self-disparaging comments about his age, being much older than the other directors, etc. Allow me to point out that you can find quite a few compliments on Mr. Siebert’s Xena work from his fellow directors and the Xena actors on the Xena fansites. As these concerned directing and not acting, they are not included in the bibliography section of this site.
Mr. Siebert did some stage performances (see the Theater section) in the 90s, and made his final filmed appearance in 1998 as Sisyphus on Xena, Warrior Princess – a wonderful performance, too. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, he directed regional theater and made an occasional stage appearance, but confined himself primarily to charitable work. Mr. Siebert, in his September, 2011 interview, said to Greg Palmer, “You’re probably the only person in the world who knows who I am.” Given the size of the Xena fan base, and the number of people posting and viewing game show clips and Trapper John MD episodes on YouTube, obviously lots of people know who Charles Siebert is, and I hope the good gentleman was just doing the “aw shucks” routine with this comment.
In November, 2011, Charles Siebert returned to the stage at the behest of an old friend, portraying Big Daddy in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Tallahassee Little Theater in Tallahassee, Florida. He had a noticeable glow about him when he took his bow, the night I was there. A few months later, Mr. Siebert opened Cat at the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa, California, on his 74th birthday. And somehow, I suspect that more is in store for us. I hope so!
I have always been fascinated by those who find their passion in life at an early age and never waver from it. Take, for example, W.C. Fields, or Harry Houdini, who developed their ambitions while still numbering their age in single digits, and pursued perfection in their chosen fields (juggling, magic) to an almost inhuman extent. Though a little older than that when he discovered his passion for theater and performance, Charles Siebert pursued it bravely and relentlessly through many obstacles, including the obligation to provide for his growing family, until he achieved success.
In a photo caption in the Theater section of this site, I refer to Mr. Siebert’s ‘amazing career’. Not everyone would use this adjective, I understand. In our society, we, sadly, are impressed too often only with the ultra, mega, super star. But Mr. Siebert did have an amazing career. He played roles in plays that were challenging and stimulating to both audience and performer. He worked with fellow performers who really were at the mega level, and he worked with performers who were in the initial stages of careers that would become mega. He found what he loved to do, and was fortunate enough to make his living doing it. I do call that an amazing career.
Wishing health and happiness to you and yours, Mr. Siebert.
A final confession: I have actually met Mr. Siebert, thanks to the mechanizations of my dear brother who, not to put too fine a point on it, thinks I am a freaking idiot. Actually, after meeting Mr. Siebert, I, too, and probably Mr. and Mrs. Siebert also, think I am a freaking idiot. I had so many good questions I wanted to ask, but did I? If I remember correctly, Mr. Siebert immediately began to talk about Father Walsh, and I said something like, “I know” which shut the poor man right up. Oh, well. I’m a bit of a philosopher, so when these kind of things happen which, in my youth, would have caused me to go out in the back yard, dig a hole, and crawl in, today I just say, “Well! I am a freaking idiot! Isn’t it good if people know that about me right away?”
At any rate, thank you so much for your kindness and patience, Mr. and Mrs. Siebert. Now I owe you more gratitude and frankly, I don’t know what else I can do – the site keeps me busy enough!