Peter Breck ate his way out of a Warner Bros. contract
Warner Bros. wouldn't let him act, so he took matters into his own stomach.
Peter Breck is best remembered by MeTV viewers as Nicholas Barkley, the hot-tempered son of Barbara Stanwyck's Victoria on The Big Valley. Before that show, though, he was already a veteran of television westerns. He showed up in everything: Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Have Gun—Will Travel, Bonanza, and The Virginian made him comfortable in a cowboy hat and boots. But, there was more to it than just typecasting.
From 1959 to 1960, Breck was gunfighter-turned-lawyer Clay Calhune in ABC's Black Saddle. When that series ended, though, he found himself stuck. Breck was severely underemployed, but not for lack of effort. He would've loved to work more, but the decision ultimately wasn't his. During that period in his life, Breck lived within the studio system, and his once-enviable contract with Warner Bros. turned out to be a curse more than it was a gift.
"I was doing some Surfside 6 appearances and I played Doc Holliday on Maverick for about a year," said Breck in a 1966 interview with The Kansas City Star. "I wanted to do a series or movies or anything, but I couldn't get out of the contract. They had me doing guest appearances on nearly all of their series."
If, somehow, Breck managed to appear in some other studio's project, he and the producers would've been on the line for some pretty steep fines. The legal issues could've potentially jammed up the entire production. So, what's an actor to do, when the company he's contracted with won't let him act as much as he'd like?
"So I went on an all-food diet—I ate, and I ate until I weighed about 190 pounds. Then one day they called me in and said "Pass," and that was the end of my Warner Bros. contract."
Before he accepted the role as Nick Barkley in The Big Valley, Breck was offered the chance to star in The Fugitive. Ultimately, though, David Janssen won the role and spent that series chasing the One-Armed Man instead of Breck.
"I'm glad that David got it," said Breck of The Fugitive. "He's doing a tremendous job. I don't know how he does it. He carries that role every week, and, even when they've got a guest star, he's in every scene. These people who talk about David's drinking problem should try to follow him around every day."