Catching Up With … Parker Stevenson from “The Hardy Boys”
Parker Stevenson poses for a portrait in 1979. Photo: Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.
The actor talks Hollywood, The Hardy Boys and his passion for photography.
Parker Stevenson doesn’t consider himself much of a teen idol, even though he spent three seasons starring on ABC’s The Hardy Boys alongside singing sensation Shaun Cassidy.
“I’m sure it’s cliché to say this, but you could have put a thousand other guys in same show, with all the same marketing, posters and merchandise, and it would have happened to any one of them, too. It definitely wasn’t because my acting was brilliant,” Stevenson laughs during our recent phone chat.
“I never took particular credit for what happened on that show. It all goes to the studio, the network, the marketing people and Shaun for turning it into a success.”
One could argue, however, that Stevenson is just being humble. With his sandy blonde locks, clear blue eyes and considerable charm, the actor definitely made a sizable impact on the success of the series, especially among its core teen base.
The Hardy Boys, which aired 46 one-hour episodes between 1977 to 1979, chronicled the escapades of brothers, Frank (Stevenson) and Joe (Cassidy), as they solved a new mystery each week. Based on the popular series of books created by Edward Stratemeyer, the show often crossed over with the Nancy Drew Mysteries, starring Pamela Sue Martin (later replaced by Janet Louise Johnson), allowing the three amateur sleuths to join forces against evil. Although it lasted only three seasons, the series drew legions of teenage girls — thanks, in large part, to Cassidy’s blossoming music career and Stevenson’s boy-next-door appeal.
Since the series’ cancellation — a turn of events that he found “unsurprising” considering the always-moving time slots — Stevenson went on to guest star on such major TV series as The Love Boat, Falcon Crest and Murder, She Wrote, before landing the role of Billy Hazard in the critically-acclaimed miniseries, North and South: Book II, alongside Patrick Swayze.
Yet, for someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time reflecting on his days as a teen idol, Stevenson still maintained that appeal for a new generation of fans as Steve McMillan on Melrose Place and Craig Pomeroy on Baywatch.
Although Stevenson has continued to work steadily in the film industry since The Hardy Boys first kicked his career into high-gear — he currently stars as the school principal in the family-friendly Netflix series, Greenhouse Academy — the 66-year-old father of two (with ex-wife Kirstie Alley) has indulged in an entirely different passion for the last 20 years — photography.
With countless photography exhibits already under his belt, Stevenson shares some of his acclaimed work on his website, Shadow Works.
“What’s been a real lifesaver is having these two passions [acting and photography] and being able to go back and forth between them,” Stevenson says.
We recently caught up with the actor to talk Hollywood, The Hardy Boys and his passion for photography.
LAURA GRANDE: What do you love most about photography?
PARKER STEVENSON:The independence of it, and the fact that’s it’s not collaborative — with the exception of portraits where you really go on a journey together with someone. Otherwise, the whole process is very personal and very specific and it’s nice to have a product that is wholly mine. It’s a reflection of me. When people want to know more about me, I tell them to look at my images. That will tell you more about me than any interview.
LG: I read that you landed your first photography gig as a teen.
PS: I was always shooting pictures growing up, but when I was 12 going on 13, I got asked to shoot a neighbours wedding — and I don’t know why, but I said yes. (laughs) I clearly remember the panic as batteries would die or as it took time to reload spools of film. The end result was that there were some lovely pictures, but I have not shot a wedding since. (laughs) That is a responsibility that I don’t want again. But it’s all a learning process. Every day I learn something more, especially going from film to digital.
LG: You’ve taken photos of everything from portraits to landscape and architecture. Do you prefer shooting one over the other?
PS: My favourite is portraits. I don’t do them that often, but when I do it’s such a personal, unique experience because it’s about the chemistry between two people. I think, having acted all these years, I’m sympathetic to what that experience is like — of being looked at or having someone ask you to do certain things. Why do we stop when we see certain headshots? It’s because there’s something about the energy in that photo, something that touches you. That’s what a portrait is to me.
LG: Is there something you really want to shoot but haven’t yet?
PS: Well, I want to do more experimental images where I’m in the middle of a crowd of people. I had a show this past December-January that was part of PhotoNOLA, which is an annual photography convention in New Orleans. What I selected to show were images I took from Prince’s Second Line Parade, a celebratory funeral event that took place in New Orleans when Prince died. They’re big images, 3×5 feet, of these crowds of people and there’s so much emotion. They’re crying, they’re dancing, they’re laughing. It is a celebration of Prince, but it has a mix of emotions. (See the photo here.) That was a really important experience to me. The PhotoNOLA show sold out, which was a nice validation. That kind of journalistic photography has turned out to be really exciting for me.
LG: Do you have any tips for photographers just starting out?
PS: People write me sometimes and ask me that question. They get so worried about the equipment they need, but it’s really not that important. Get something that is very straight-forward, not too expensive and has decent resolution. I have a G Series Canon camera, which is small with a nice zoom on it. It fits in my hand. It’s much more comfortable to walk around with. It’s not heavy or intrusive and people aren’t intimidated by it. At some point, as you become more familiar with the camera and you have a better sense of what you want to shoot, stop thinking about it. If you look up and see something, just shoot it. Don’t frame it, don’t focus it, don’t over-compose it or else you’ll miss the shot. You’ll instinctively develop your own aesthetics. I sometimes just get in my car and take off and drive down the coast to see what I run into. Did you see the picture of the American flag that I put up on my website? The one that’s sort of in tatters? That’s an example of just going out and exploring.
LG: By the time you finished high school you had more than 120 commercial credits under your belt. Do you remember your first?
PS: Yeah, it was a Clearasil commercial. I really just wanted to get out of the house, honestly. (laughs) It was summer, I was restless and 14 and I was thinking, ‘I’m dying here,’ so my mother — who was an actress — gave me the OK to go to New York and try to do commercials. I was there all summer and didn’t get a single job until that last week before I was ready to head home. All I had to do for the commercial, which was shot in a really tight closeup, was put Clearasil on my cheek. (laughs) That’s all I had to do. No dialogue. You can’t even see my whole face. They ended up cutting it into multiple commercials so I made a small fortune. I remember my father said to me, ‘I think you’re getting a false sense of the value of a dollar.’ (laughs) Which was his way of telling me that this was not a good thing. I went back to school, but I liked the independence shooting commercials gave me because I had money coming in. So, I did that all the way through high school. I still didn’t want to be an actor, though, after all that. I actually went into a graduate program for architecture at NYU, but I only lasted a week. Shortly after, I auditioned for The Hardy Boys and thought, ‘Well, lets go see what this is.’ And that lasted three years.
LG: Was it during your time on The Hardy Boys (1977-1979) that made you realize you wanted to become a full-time actor?
PS: I actually had done a little movie called Lifeguard [1976, starring Sam Elliott] while I was still in college and I was only out in California for two weeks shooting it, but that director, Daniel Petrie, was so amazing. He was a really gentle, connected director. When I went back to college after that small part, it haunted me because I’d never had that kind of experience before on set. From working with him I realized acting had the potential to become something other than just learning to hit your mark. So I think that’s why I hesitated on finishing my degree. I wrestled with whether this was a legitimate way to spend my life — doing something where everyone would always be telling me what to do. But Daniel Petrie showed me that the experience of it is where the gift is; that these moments of work can be rewarding in and of itself.
LG: Tell us about the audition process for Frank Hardy.
PS: As I remember, Shaun [Cassidy] was hired quite early in the process — he was one of the first people they saw. They were having trouble casting the role of Frank, though, and they flew me out to L.A. I think I was actually the last person to read for the part and I tested with Shaun. He was only 17 when we did those auditions and couldn’t even work the whole days yet because of union restrictions. We’re so different, yet compatible — and we still are! The show did great, considering the moving time slot, and I think that credit mostly goes to Shaun and his music career.
LG: What is your fondest memory from the set?
PS: There was one guest star, Ray Milland, who was so interesting to talk to even though I think he was only there for a couple episodes. I took every chance I got to talk to him about his Hollywood career and what the studios were like in the 1930s and 1940s. All those stories were just so interesting, so cool! Another fond memory was when Shaun and I would run off onto the studio backlots. We’d get so bored on set so we’d ride our bikes around and just play in the backlot with all the stuff that is part of the Universal Studios tours. Shaun and I still keep in touch. Usually, what you have in common with a person is that shared experience of filming a show and when that ends you don’t have anything to talk about and go your separate ways. So, it’s been a nice surprise that our relationship has lasted this long.
LG: You were also part of the original cast of Baywatch, which is also where you made your directorial debut.
PS: When I was first approached about directing, I passed. But I called the producers back an hour later after realizing I probably wouldn’t get another offer like that again. I knew the cast and crew so well and loved that group. A lot of that had to do with David [Hasselhoff]. He has a great energy and a wonderful presence on the set. I knew I would be in good hands. But what I didn’t know was how much I knew. I didn’t realize that, after having spent decades on film sets, there was a lot more I’d absorbed about filmmaking than I thought. I realized I was supposed to be doing this a long time ago.
LG: You’ve gone from photography to acting and now back to photography. Is it safe to say that taking photos is your No. 1 passion?
PS: It shifts depending on how engaged I am either by the shoot I’m doing or the movie I’m working on. Every project you go into, you go in with your heart and soul, with some aspirations as to what the final product might be like. Sometimes it’s better than what you’d hoped and sometimes not. (laughs) What’s been a real lifesaver, though, is having the two [passions] and being able to go back and forth between them. Once I really got serious about my photography, about 20 years ago, it gave me a whole other creative outlet and that’s been a real blessing.