Joseph Peter Breck (born March 13, 1929 in Rochester, NY; died February 6, 2012 in Vancouver, Canada) was an American actor. He was best-known for his role of Nick Barkley on the television series The Big Valley.
When Robert Mitchum saw Breck in George Bernard Shaw's play The Man of Destiny in Washington, D.C., he offered Breck a role as a rival driver in Thunder Road (1958). Mitchum helped Breck to relocate to Los Angeles, California. As Breck then did not have his own car, Mitchum lent him his own Jaguar. Mitchum introduced Breck to Dick Powell who contracted him to Four Star Productions where Breck appeared in the CBS western anthology series, Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater. He also appeared with fellow guest star Diane Brewster in the 1958 episode "The Lady Gambler" of the ABC western series Tombstone Territory starring Pat Conway and Richard Eastham. That same year, Breck appeared in an episode of the syndicated Highway Patrol starring Broderick Crawford. He was also cast in an episode of NBC's The Restless Gun starring John Payne.
From January 1959 to May 1960, Breck starred as Clay Culhane, the gunfighter-turned-lawyer in the ABC western Black Saddle, with secondary roles for Russell Johnson, Anna-Lisa, J. Pat O'Malley, and Walter Burke. Unlike in The Big Valley, in which Breck played an easily angered rancher, he is low-key, restrained, and considerate as the lawyer Culhane.
Breck was later a contract star with Warner Bros. Television, where he appeared as Doc Holliday on Maverick, a part that had been played twice earlier in the series by Gerald Mohr and by Adam West on ABC's Lawman. Breck appeared in several other ABC/WB series of the time, such as Cheyenne, 77 Sunset Strip, The Roaring Twenties (as trumpet player Joe Peabody in the episode "Big Town Blues"), and The Gallant Men. He was cast as a young Theodore Roosevelt in the 1961 episode "The Yankee Tornado" of the ABC/WB western series Bronco starring Ty Hardin. That episode also featured Will Hutchins of the ABC/WB western series "Sugarfoot" in a crossover appearance.
Breck's first starring role in a film was Lad, A Dog in 1962. The next year, he played the leading roles in both Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor and the science fiction horror film The Crawling Hand. Between 1963 and 1965 Breck made three guest appearances on Perry Mason, including the roles of defendant William Sherwood in the 1964 episode "The Case of the Antic Angel" and defendant Peter Warren in the 1965 episode "The Case of the Gambling Lady". During this time, he also appeared on episodes of the television series Mr. Novak, The Outer Limits, Bonanza, and The Virginian.
Breck claimed to have been considered for leads in two successful television series produced by Quinn Martin: The Fugitve (1963) and 12 O'Clock High (1964), with Breck commenting that "If you are a leading man in Hollywood you either draw $250,000 like Steve McQueen or you had better be in a series"
From 1965 to 1969, Breck starred on The Big Valley, having portrayed Nick Barkley, son to Barbara Stanwyck's character Victoria Barkley. The second of four children, Nick was hotheaded, short-tempered, and very fast with a gun. Always spoiling for a fight and frequently wearing leather gloves, Breck's character took the slightest offense to the Barkley name personally and quickly made his displeasure known, as often with his fists as with his vociferous shouts. Often this proved to be a mistake and only through the calming influence of his mother and cooler-headed siblings, Jarrod (Richard Long), half-brother Heath (Lee Majors), sister Audra (Linda Evans), and Eugene (Charles Briles; written out after season 1 when he was drafted into the Army) would a difficult situation be rectified. Having been a Barbara Stanwyck admirer since the 1940s, when he was teenager, Breck developed an on-and off-screen chemistry with her, practicing longer lines and even being a ranch foreman on the set. After the show was canceled, he stayed close to her until her death.
In 1969, Breck was cast in an episode of The Donald O'Connor Show. Most of his roles in the 1970s and 1980s were television guest-starring performances on series such as Alias Smith and Jones, Mission: Impossible, McMillan & Wife, S.W.A.T., The Six Million Dollar Man (again with Lee Majors), The Incredible Hulk, and The Dukes of Hazzard, as well as roles as himself on Fantasy Island (with Ricardo Montalbán) and The Fall Guy which also starred former television "brother" Lee Majors.
In the mid-1980s, Breck moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with his wife Diane and their son, Christoper. He was asked by a casting director to teach a weekly class to young actors on film technique. That one-a-week class became a full-time acting school - The Breck Academy - which he operated for ten years. In 1990, Breck appeared in the Canadian cult film Terminal City Ricochet.
On January 20, 1990, while teaching at the drama school, Breck was notified of Barbara Stanwyck's death. She requested no funeral nor memorial. In the 1993 movie The Unnamable II: The Statement of Randolph Carter, Breck played Sheriff Hatch. In 1996, he appeared in an episode of the new version of The Outer Limits. Breck provided the voice of Farmer Brown in "Critters", a 1998 episode of The New Batman Adventures. His last television performance was on an episode of John Doe in 2002. Prior to his death, most of his film performances have been in undistributed films that are shown only at film festivals.
In June 2010, Breck's wife Diane announced on his website that the actor had been suffering from dementia and could no longer sign autographs for fans, although she said that he still read and enjoyed their letters. Despite this diagnosis, she said he was still physically healthy and did not require medication. Thereafter, Diane Breck reported that her husband was hospitalized on January 10, 2012. On February 6, 2012, Peter Breck died from his illness at the age of eighty-two.
- The Crawling Hand (Experiment #106) - as Steve Curan
- The Beatniks (Experiment #415) - as Mooney
- The Sword and the Sorcereor (RiffTrax) - as King Leonidas