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JUDD HIRSCH: `DEAR JOHN’ TAKES A TV BREAK AND GOES BACK TO THE THEATER

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There are some TV stars who, during a break from their series, make a TV movie in Los Angeles. But some who began in New York theater come back here, see a few plays and dine with a playwright.

Judd Hirsch is in this category. He spent the Thanksgiving break last month from his "Dear John" series on NBC demolishing a turkey with Herb Gardner - whose "I'm Not Rappaport" on Broadway earned Hirsch a Tony award in 1986.Although the actor expects that NBC will renew "Dear John," in which he plays one of love's walking wounded in a support group full of same, he did talk theater with Gardner, specifically his new play-in-progress.

"Yeah, you get very personal about a playwright," says Hirsch. He grins when asked if perhaps he might team up again with Gardner. "Well, I always get the privilege of reading" his new plays, he says.

That may be expected. He first met Gardner's work, but not the writer, in summer stock in 1964, when he did the playwright's whimsical, memorable first effort, "A Thousand Clowns."

In later years, having met the writer, Hirsch did a one-act Gardner work off-Broadway, "I'm With Ya, Duke." He also starred in the 1986 movie version of a Gardner play that hadn't fared well in two Broadway attempts - "The Goodbye People," a comic tale of Coney Island memories trying not to die.

Hirsch, whose film career includes a 1980 Oscar nomination for "Ordinary People," has had a good TV series run, starting in 1976 with "Delvecchio," then five "Taxi" years that earned him two Emmys, and now "Dear John," currently in its sophomore season.

But he always keeps returning for stage work here, where his dossier includes Lanford Wilson's "Hot L Baltimore" off-Broadway and Wilson's Pulitzer prize-winning "Talley's Folly" both off-Broadway and on.

Interestingly, nearly all the regulars in "Dear John," which he had a part in casting, have extensive stage credits. One of them, Harry Groener, the show's Ralph, was nominated for a Tony for his work in a revival of "Oklahoma" the same year Hirsch was nominated for an Oscar.

But Hirsch says he didn't specifically seek actors from theater when helping cast the series:

"No. But I'm always glad when they are. Because it's not just that I come from there. It's that my philosophy is this: You can't study for anything but the stage. You can't study for film and you cannot study for television.

"And if you do, you're the biggest fool that ever lived. You'll never get the kind of acting background that has any history to it, has anything to draw on."

Acting schools are not intended simply to teach, adds Hirsch, who studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and with William Hickey, in later years an Oscar nominee as the old mob boss in "Prizzi's Honor."

"Schools are like gymnasiums. They're workout centers. People like me, who didn't know what the hell he had or was - it was like, I went there to find a hall of mirrors."

A brisk, animated New Yorker, Hirsch, 54, may be the only TV star about with a physics degree from City College of New York.