Kevin arrived on April 3, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois, at the peak of the stock market euphoria that preceded the Great Depression. His parents were professional ballroom dancers, Haakon Olaf Hagen and Marvel Lucile Wadsworth. But it was as HERBERT & LUCILE that they toured the country's fairs and amusement parks, performing and conducting group lessons in the dances made popular in the movies of the time, Waltz, tango, rumba and foxtrot. When Kevin turned five and was ready for school, his parents opened a dance studio in Joliet, Illinois, near Chicago, where Kevin's uncle, Doctor H.V. Wadsworth, had recently established his medical practice as an Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat man. (Years later the eye men were separated from the ear, nose and throat fellows, an occurence which Kevin playfully discusses in his one man show, A PLAYFUL DOSE OF PRAIRIE WISDOM.) Before Kevin was six his world had turned upside-down when his father walked out one day and didn't come back. From that moment he was raised by his mother, two aunts and grandmother, with some important help from his uncle, Doc Wadsworth. Perhaps a glimmer of future days since Kevin often tagged along with his uncle on house calls in his '37 ford.
By the time he was in high school Kevin had attended 7 different grade schools and two high schools either in Joliet or the Chicago suburbs of Oak Park and Berwyn. When he was fifteen he drove his unique family out to Portland, Oregon, (none of the ladies drove) where his Aunt Alverteen, a teacher, had taken a job with the schools in the pre-fab city of Vanport, built to service the families building the ships that carried men, weapons, ammunition and supplies to the battlefields of WWII. He spent his last two years of high school at Jefferson in Portland, where he sang in the choir, lettered in football and baseball, was sports editor of the school paper, and in the summer after graduation pitched a shut-out to win the Oregon American Legion baseball championship. An event that remains one of the high points of his life, since he arrived from Chicago a rather unhappy fat boy of 250 pear-shaped pounds. By the following summer he had dropped 60 of those offensive pounds, had his first hernia operation, and was getting favorable attention from the opposite sex. His family had returned to Chicago during that championship summer so Kevin followed at summer's end and enrolled at Northwestern University, intending to study at their famous Medill School of Journalism. But Oregon had spoiled him for the streets of the 'Windy City,' and before the semester started he got on a train and headed for Oregon State College.
After his freshman year there he enlisted in the navy with a couple of his high school buddies for a two year hitch, and never went to sea. He played football and baseball at the Naval Training Center and North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego, and was sports editor of the air base's weekly newspaper. A re-run of his two years at Jeff High. However those two years of service bought him four years of college under the G.I. Bill, and he spent them at Lewis and Clark College in Portland and the University of Southern California, from where he graduated with a B.A. degree in International Relations.
He parked cars in the summer, sold his own car, and sheepskin in hand, booked passage on the Queen Elizabeth to England from where he continued to Wiesbaden, Germany via Holland, Belgium, and Paris. In Wiesbaden he stayed with a German friend he had roomed with at U.S.C. while he looked for a job, winding up working for the U.S. Government right there in Wiesbaden, a charming city boasting an elegant gambling casino and thermal baths untouched by the war.
Kevin enjoyed tremendously the excitement and satisfaction of traveling throughout Europe, visiting cities and historic sites he had only read about, meeting and establishing friendships with people of so many nationalities and cultures. He soon discovered, however, that he didn't like the rigid structure and bureaucratic nonsense of government service. At the end of a two year contract he returned to California, making the ocean voyage back to the 'States' in a 'Victory' ship built in one of the Portland shipyards in which he worked one summer while going to high school. He remembers reading 'The Caine Mutiny' while making the stormy voyage, a book that had just come out which featured a devastating hurricane that laid waste to an entire naval fleet during WWII.
Back in Los Angeles in April of 1953, he applied and was accepted at U.C.L.A.'s law school. While waiting for the fall semester to begin he taught ballroom dancing at an Arthur Murray Dance Studio to pay the rent and the bills, not surprisingly finding he had a natural talent and liking for it. At the end of his first year in law school, he remembers looking around at his fellow students and asking the question: "Do I really want to become one of them?" He remembers thinking as well that the practice of law would be less the pursuit of justice than a matter of winning at whatever cost to the conscience. So he dropped out. He sampled several "executive training" programs in banking, finance, sales, retailing and insurance, but found them unworthy of the rest of his life. He walked about in a fog of indecision, knowing only what he did not want to do. The death of his mother at this time of breast cancer at a youthful 54 finally propelled him to a decision he would never regret. He tossed away forever a concept known as SECURITY, the concept on which many build their lives only to find too late their lives had been built on pillars of sand.
Now the fun began! He just happened to read in the Santa Monica Outlook, a local newspaper, that a tryout was being held for a play called 'Blind Alley' at the Ebsen Playhouse in Pacific Palisades. He discovered that the playhouse was a dance studio during the week (a good omen he thought) run by dancer-actor Buddy Ebsen's sister Velma, and was a community theater on the weekends. Although he had never acted in his entire life, he tried out for the leading role of a psychiatrist who is held hostage with his family by a convict on the run. He didn't get the part but did help behind the curtain, and played a policeman who has a line or two off stage. The fellow who got the part of the psychiatrist? Harvey Korman, just arrived in town from the Goodman Theater in Chicago, and who would star with Tim Conway some years later in The Carol Burnett show. The next play was James Thurber's 'Male Animal.' Kevin played the lead, Professor Tommy Turner, and was singled out for his "outstanding performance" by the reviewers in the Los Angeles papers. More importantly, Kevin knew he'd discovered his future..sink or swim.
He also realized that wishing does not make it so. Kevin eagerly began to build the foundation of his new-found craft in Hollywood's version of New York's 'Off Broadway' theaters on Melrose, Santa Monica and La Cienega Boulevards. In addition he took part in a series of acting workshops. The best was that of the wonderfully talented and classic character actress, Agnes Moorehead. Her classes were held in a theater at 20th Century Fox Studios, and he remembers the thrill of being admitted beyond its famous gates. The question now became: how to enter those gates as a professional actor?
Kevin in "Desire Under The Elms"
The question was soon answered when he played the part of a powerful, domineering patriarch, Ephraim Cabot, in the play DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS by Eugene O'Neil. A highly successful actors' agent, Meyer Mishkin, who had a client in the play, came to see his work and, impressed with Kevin's performance, agreed to represent him. It was a critical breakthrough. Then and now, television networks and movie studios cast only those actors who are members of the Screen Actors Guild. An actor is not admitted to the Screen Actors Guild unless he has obtained a job with a signatory network, movie studio, or producer, and no one can enter the doors of a network, movie studio or producer, looking for a job, unless he is represented by an agent who usually won't sign anyone unless he has a list of paying jobs to his credit. Catch 22 in the entertainment business.
Kevin in his first paying role on "Dragnet"
Through his agent, Kevin got that first paying job, a role on the half-hour TV show, DRAGNET. It began a 35 year career that happily culminated in the fruitful years of practicing medicine on the prairie. After those final prairie years Kevin, then a single parent, concentrated on being there for his son, Kristopher, who is now a Special Ed teacher and baseball coach in California. (click here for a list of Kevin's television shows, movies and plays.)
In 1991 two events transpired that would shape Kevin's twilight years. His Knees that had withstood years of athletics, horses, fights, falls and high speed foot chases (after the heavy or escaping from the hero or the cops) had finally protested so loudly and painfully that he had them replaced. He then decided to escape Hollywood's mean streets and settle down back in Oregon, choosing Grants Pass in the Rogue Valley where, he has been heard to say: "It's peaceful..and green..and friendly. Not too many people runnin' around tryin' to see how much they can buy before they die." But retired? Hardly. Since moving to Oregon he has performed at So. Oregon's Rogue Music Theater in THE BEST OF BROADWAY, OKLAHOMA, WEST SIDE STORY, and Sondheim's, THE FOLLIES. For several years he was seen and heard riding atop the Valley of the Rogue Bank stagecoach in commercials he also wrote. In the familiar attire of the prairie doctor known so well by three generations of 'Little House' fans, he has presented his original one-man show, A PLAYFUL DOSE OF PRAIRIE WISDOM, at theaters, dinner shows, conventions and pageants throughout the country. As DOC BAKER he takes his audience on a jocular journey, an amusing, informative words and music live painting of the people, animals, weather, home remedies, superstitions, outhouses and unknowns that made the profession of prairie doctor so challenging in the waning days of the 19th century: As he jovially remarks as Doc:
"Not long before that infernal combustion engine was hitched up to the horseless carriage and the world began to choke on the foul fumes of that unfortunate union."
Kevin enjoying a clebrity golf tournament.
Before moving to Oregon, Kevin re-discovered his voice and the joy of singing shortly after LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE'S final curtain when he felt the need to contribute more than a smile and handwave at celebrity golf tournaments. It's important to note that as a boy in Chicago he was payed 50 cents a week to sing in a church choir, and in high school was a soloist and second tenor in the choir and quartette. He also earned pocket money then singing at weddings and funerals. But he'd sung nary a note since. Working with a vocal coach in Los Angeles, he slowly coaxed back his voice and patiently built a repertoire of his favorite songs of the century. From the great Broadway musicals and hits of Tin Pan Alley to the more personal songs of Hoagy Carmichael, Harry Chapin, Billy Joel, his friend, Jimmie "Honeycomb" Rodgers, and a few anonymous ballads. A repertoire as wide as the range he rode for so many years in Hollywood. Today in his September years, he freely admits that he would rather sing than act....or even... to play golf. He either sings his songs in a second act with PLAYFUL DOSE OF PRAIRIE WISDOM or separately in concert, dinner shows, or wherever he can find an audience. Many are included in his 72 minute CD entitled: A KID ON THE HOOD OF A '29 CHEVY .
In yet another twilight passage, after 3 wives and some 20 years of single parenthood, KEVIN finally married the woman he could not live without. He lives with Jan near the banks of the mighty Rogue River. He doesn't plan on returning to Hollywood's celluloid jungle no matter how irresistible it may become. He'll go only as far South as Bakersfield, California, where his 34 year old son, Kristopher, is a high school baseball coach and Special Ed teacher. KEVIN will root for KRISTOPHER'S team as he did during his little league and college games. Then he'll return home to the Rogue Valley, to answer a stack of letters and email, read the books he hasn't read, sing the songs he hasn't sung, and walk the dog every day, whether or not he has one.