Peter Breck is fondly remembered for playing the hot-headed middle child Nick Barkley on the popular western series The Big Valley. Like many popular actors of his generation, Breck found his home in the world of TV westerns, appearing on numerous classics over the years in addition to his starring roles.
Hailing from Haverhill, Massachusetts, Breck grew up the son of a jazz musician, Joe Breck, who was known as the "Prince of Pep." Peter and his brother George were separated during their parents' divorce as young children with George going with the mother and Peter staying with Joe. They actually wouldn't reconcile for over 20 years until George saw his brother on television and felt they had some resemblance. That must have been a real surprise for both of them!
After serving in the United States Navy and attending the University of Houston, Breck got his start in Hollywood by landing a contract with Warner Bros in the mid-1950s. He made his television debut in an episode of the police drama The Sheriff of Cochise before eventually finding his place in the Wild West. He appeared on episodes of Tombstone Territory, Wagon Train, and The Restless Gun before landing the lead role of gunslinger turned lawyer on the short-lived TV show Black Saddle. He went on to play Doc Holliday opposite James Garner in a handful of episodes of Maverick before taking on the role of Nick Barkley on The Big Valley.
Nick was the middle child of matriarch Victoria Barkley (Barbara Stanwyck)'s children along with Jarrod (Richard Long), half-brother Heath (Lee Majors), and Audra (Linda Evans). Prone to losing his temper, Nick managed the family's California ranch but was always up for a fight. He was a memorable character who always kept you on your toes.
Over the years, Breck continued appearing on various TV series including episodes of The Virginian, Perry Mason, Lawman, Gunsmoke, Fantasy Island, Bonanza, Cheyenne, 77 Sunset Strip, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Fall Guy as well as numerous films like Thunder Road (1958), I Want to Live! (1958), The Beatniks (1960), Portrait of a Mobster (1961), Lad: A Dog (1962), Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor (1963), and Benji (1974).
Breck moved to Vancouver, Canada with his wife Diane in the 80s where he opened up an acting school. They lost their only son Christopher to leukemia when Breck was only 28 years old and never had any additional children. Breck himself passed away in 2012 after suffering from dementia. While he was able to be a part of Hollywood's "golden age," he really wasn't a fan of how things changed after his days in the spotlight.
In a 2006 interview with Scott Holleran, Breck reflected on what it was like working with the talented Barbara Stanwyck on The Big Valley. The two remained close even after the show ended.
"I'd get chills," Breck explained. "She would look at me with those eyes and our characters had a bond. Barbara was a tiger."
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