- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2001

Beau Bridges who quite frankly thought his swash had buckled and his sword-fighting days were over at age 59 was "totally" thrilled to accept an offer to star in the action-fantasy miniseries "Voyage Of the Unicorn," which aired recently on Odyssey.

The family program from special effects-laden Hallmark Entertainment is based on James C. Christensen's "Voyage Of the Basset," a lavishly illustrated, award-winning 1996 children's book dealing with Dr. Alan Aisling (Mr. Bridges), a recent widower, and his two young daughters, Cassie (Chantal Conin) and Miranda (Heather McEwen), trying to cope with the horrible loss of a wife and mother.

Led by the sword-wielding Aisling (normally a mild-mannered professor of antiquities), the quest to rescue a friendly, magical dragon from evil trolls keeps the family together.

"I did a bunch of swashbuckling movies including a version of 'The Man In the Iron Mask' when I was younger, and knew that I had to get into shape before we started shooting in Vancouver," Mr. Bridges says. "I spent a couple of months swimming every day, lifting weights occasionally and working with a stunt guy on fencing. And because I had to swing on ropes in the ship's rigging, I had ropes hanging from every tree around my house to work with. The kids loved it."

He was not fully prepared, however, for a fight scene involving swords and battle axes on top of a moving water wheel some 100 feet in the air.

"Hanging from cables, we did a 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' thing somewhere in the stratosphere," Mr. Bridges recalls. "It was kind of frightening, to be honest, but all the people involved were pros capable of talking you through everything. But my dad taught me years ago to check the rigging myself before taking the plunge."

The former high school jock and general sports fanatic who last year also starred in such TV films and motion pictures as "The Christmas Secret," "Founding Fathers," "Songs In Ordinary Times," "Sordid Lives" and "Common Ground" came away from the "Voyager" shoot with only minor scratches and contusions. But while healing, he has been perfectly content staying on the sidelines, coaching the Jets, his 7-year-old son Zeke's excellent soccer team.

"We have only lost one game in two years and I take full credit for that accomplishment," Mr. Bridges laughs. "Things get pretty intense on and off the field, particularly when parents get emotionally involved.

"As a coach for kids' teams, most of the craziness takes place on the sidelines. During an important game a couple of years ago, I had to pry two mothers apart they were choking each other. They eventually made up, after their boys started playing on the same team."

But Mr. Bridges, the most laid-back and down-to-earth person in Hollywood, also is the first to admit that he gets carried away on occasion. The most memorable screw-up came when he coached his son Jordan's softball team 20 years ago.

"In those days, opposing coaches stood next to each other on the sidelines," he recalls. "The other coach's son whacked the ball into center field and kept running.

"Jordan was playing third base and was standing on the baseline, which he was not supposed to do, and the opposing coach's kid had to run around him. The boy was safe, but his father said, 'If that kid gets in your way again, knock him down.' That frosted me. Without thinking, I said to Jordan, 'If the ball comes to you and the kid runs home, hit him in the back of the head with the ball.' The poor little kids looked up at us, wondering what was going on. The other father and I lowered our heads in shame whenever we ran into each other for the rest of the season."

A fine baseball and basketball player in high school, Mr. Bridges was cursed by the fact that he only grew to 5-foot-10 in adulthood. Still, he managed to make the famed University of California in Los Angeles basketball team under legendary coach John Wooden as a short, slow walk-on during the 1961-62 season.

"Ironically, my moment of glory as an athlete though I never played was sitting on the bench with the greatest college basketball coach in history during my freshman year at UCLA," Mr. Bridges says.

Going nowhere at blazing speed, Mr. Bridges dropped out of UCLA a couple of years later and licked his wounds at the University of Hawaii for a few months "with a few interesting classes" and "lots of surfing."

When the novelty wore off, he returned to the place of his birth, Hollywood, to work with his dad, Lloyd Bridges, who had been the star of "Sea Hunt" (1957-61), and to serve his apprenticeship with an L.A.-based acting group called Theatre West.

Acting turned out to be his true calling, after a false start at age 6 in a bomb titled "Zamba," featuring old-time cowboy actor Crash Corrigan in a gorilla suit. He finally was able to stand on his own two feet after the feature film "The Incident" (1967).

So far, the three-time Emmy Award-winner has managed to work professionally with his late father, brother Jeff ("The Fabulous Baker Boys") and four of his five children. With the looming actors' and writers' strikes, Mr. Bridges and his wife, Wendy, intend to stay close to their Los Angeles home this summer.

"It's easier to keep track of everybody that way," he laughs. "My oldest son, Casey, 30, is in Thailand making a documentary about Buddhist monks trying to save the rain forest. Jordan, 26, is a successful actor who just finished a movie called 'Happy Campers.' Dylan, 16, is playing high school basketball. Emily, 14, is studying dancing. Zeke, 7, says he wants to be a stuntman. I don't think I can talk him out of it."

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