The multi-talented Richard Herd
By Nick Thomas
When actor Richard Herd returned home from a recent road trip to Colorado, his most prized souvenirs weren’t typical tourist trinkets.
“I stopped at towns along the way for directions to the local junkyards,” said Herd from his West Coast home. “People would stare at me and ask ‘Aren’t you an actor? Weren’t you on Seinfeld?’”
But 82-year-old Herd – who indeed appeared in several episodes of the popular ‘90s sitcom as ‘Mr. Wilhelm’ – wasn’t looking for recognition. His roving, artist eye was searching for unusual pieces of rusty metal to transform into art back at his Los Angeles home studio where he also crafts jewelry, writes poetry, and frequently paints.
In fact, “Richard Herd’s Journey: A Retrospective of his Paintings” will be featured at MRG Fine Art Gallery in Sherman Oaks, Calif., from July 18 to 28 (see www.richardherd.com).
“About a dozen pieces will be in the show, some new, some older,” said Herd. “I’m a primitive abstract impressionist and work with oil and acrylic.”
Herd developed an interest in the arts growing up in South Boston.
“I loved mixing colors as a kid. At 19, I went to acting school in New York and took some art classes with very fine teachers. After moving to Hollywood, I continued art classes on Saturday mornings for years.”
Learning from others also helped Herd developed his acting skills.
“During a two-year apprenticeship at the Boston Summer Theater, Claude Rains was there for three weeks,” he recalled. “One evening, he heard a group of us rehearsing Shakespeare and offered to come in early each night to work with us. He taught me you shouldn’t just get involved with the language, but look ahead for the intent and direction of the character you are portraying.”
A tough childhood also influenced Herd’s future career as a performer.
“As a child I had osteomyelitis, a serious bone infection, and almost didn’t survive,” he recalled. “Penicillin knocked out the infection and saved my life. Lying there, month after month, you become very stoic. It really stimulated my imagination and I think actually helped me later as an actor.”
With his strong background in theater, Herd soon found work in Hollywood and went on to appear in “All the President’s Men,” “The China Syndrome,” and “Private Benjamin.” And while noted for reoccurring roles on TV’s “SeaQuest DSV,” “T.J. Hooker,” and “Star Trek: Voyager,” he’s most often associated with ‘that show about nothing.’
“Seinfeld was one of the best jobs I ever had,” he said. “It got me a tremendous amount of recognition and still does because it plays all the time. There were no ‘stars’ on that show, they were all genuinely nice people to work with.”
In addition to appearing on “ST: Voyager,” as well as “ST: The Next Generation,” Herd has other connections to the Star Trek universe: working with Bill Shatner on “T.J. Hooker,” and with Leonard Nimoy and Walter Koenig on several projects.
For many years, Herd also played in the Enterprise Blues Band.
“It was made up of cast and crew from the five Star Trek series. We had a mandolin, violin, drums, piano, and I played the gutbucket, which has a hell of a good sound if you do it right.”
Several band members, including Herd, will be attending a Las Vegas Star Trek convention in August (see www.creationent.com).
“You never know, we might get to together and entertain the fans,” Herd predicted.
With more than 150 television and cinema credits behind him, Herd continues to leave his mark on film. This fall, he appears with Lee Meriwether in “A New York Christmas,” and he recreated his “ST: Voyagers” Admiral Paris character in “Star Trek: Renegades,” a TV movie currently in post-production.
And he joins a long list of actors who have extended their artistic talents to other areas such as painting.
“It keeps the mind alive,” says Herd. “I leave a part of myself on every canvas, a bit of my soul, imperfections and all.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 600 magazines and newspapers. Follow @TinseltownTalks.