Hollywood invented the ideal--or idealized--American marriage in films like “The Thin Man” and “The Best Years of Our Lives.” But marriage in this company town has been more battlefront than beachfront. With very notable exceptions (James Stewart, Jack Lemmon), the community that thrives on illusion also thrives on separation. The Hollywood marriage too often becomes the Hollywood divorce.
So how do you cast a Hollywood couple? First by realizing that cliches (“One star to a marriage”) are as rampant as old Golden Globes. And just as useful.
For the record:
12:00 a.m. July 19, 1987 IMPERFECTIONS
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 19, 1987 Home Edition Calendar Page 98 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
In Paul Rosenfield’s “Reconcilable Differences” July 12, the movie “Baby Boom” was referred to as a 20th Century Fox picture. In fact, it is a United Artists release.
Surprising solutions to the severe strains of marriage are offered by the following five couples. Among them they’ve been married 15 times--but can any conclusion be drawn? Only one: Nick and Nora Charles were never for real.
Zanuck and Fini
THE ONLY WAY TO STAY TOGETHER IS BEING TOUGH
“There goes Federico Fellini,” said producer Richard Zanuck, watching his wife make a whizbang exit from their Beverly Hills offices. Lili Fini Zanuck had just finished directing a Michael Franks music video, and she had to be in a Hollywood editing room in seven minutes.
“Dinner at 8 at Laddie’s,” reminded her husband. “Do you remember which house?”
“Beverly Drive, with trees,” said the third Mrs. Richard Zanuck. “I’ll be a little late, but I’ll be there.”
“Goodby, Fellini,” said Dick Zanuck. Without a beat he turned to a visitor and added, “Lili unlocked in me a sense of humor most people don’t think I possess. We have 10 big laughs a day around here--10, minimum.”
It wasn’t always so. Dick Zanuck, 53, has been, as he puts it, “forever a husband.” Two previous marriages, nine years each, to two actresses (Lili Gentle, Linda Harrison) brought two daughters, two sons and two dark divorces. “I’ve been accused of having a fixation for the letter ‘L,’ ” cracked Zanuck, “Lili, Linda, Lili--I never have to switch the monograms, on luggage or linens. . . .”
Zanuck had to shift in other ways, though, to accommodate Lili Fini, who’s exactly 20 years his junior. Fini was fortuitously not an actress, but neither was she going to stay at the Zanuck homestead on Ocean Front Walk. Ten years ago, employed in marketing at Carnation, Fini was fed up with singledom in Los Angeles and on the brink of returning to Washington, D.C--after only six months here. Enter, stormily, Dick Zanuck. They met on a blind date arranged by Zanuck’s tennis partner, restaurateur Pierre Groleau.
“Lili was a tough girl when I met her,” said the producer (“Jaws,” “The Sting,” “Cocoon”). “She looked like trouble. My first reaction was, ‘Jesus, steer clear of this.’ Why I went on, I dunno. It was starting to feel like love, and I guess I was willing to go through the mine fields.”
“I was tough, I liked being tough,” Lili Zanuck had said earlier that day as the couple sat side-by-side in their office. A generation apart, they are nevertheless like pieces of a broken frame that’s been mended--together they fit. “When you are single a long time you need a veneer to protect you from glibness, from the lines men hand you.”
Added Zanuck: “The marriage succeeds because she is tough, was tough. Actually,” Zanuck said as if making a discovery, “Lili still has strength but she’s refined it.”
“Look,” simplified his wife of nine years, “Dick doesn’t pussyfoot around. If you aren’t tough you crumble. Because he expects perfection. And you gotta deliver.”
“Deliver” is a word of many meanings in modern Hollywood. “Deliver” means playing stepmother, business partner, socialite, soulmate, fellow athlete. (Zanuck’s daily five-mile runs are widely known; he claims not to have missed one day in four years. The two of them also exercise--separately--with a private trainer in the workout room that separates their two offices.) “Dick is the kind of person who has a checklist. Nothing gives him greater glee than to take the checklist and see if you got to every item. So you feel a pressure to deliver, and yet you are rewarded.”
“It’s actually easier if your mate is tough,” said Zanuck, “because you tune in and keep up.”
Zanuck knows about people keeping up. He’s the only son of the late 20th Century Fox czar Darryl Zanuck--the only mogul who won the Irving Thalberg Award three times and was generally considered to be the closest to Thalberg in terms of all-round talent and ability. If not fiber. In 1962, Zanuck pere installed Zanuck fils as the youngest-ever (28) corporate head of a studio. Seven years later, the father fired the son. Family politics mixed with Hollywood politics is not an unfamiliar conversation for Dick Zanuck. Not for nothing was his first job as a production assistant on his father’s “The Sun Also Rises.”
The subject of nepotism was inevitable, and Zanuck ran with it: “People said, ‘There goes Dick, getting married again. Younger woman. Third try. Only this time he’s going one step further. He’s bringing her into the office.’ I don’t blame anyone for saying that. It’s an obvious and natural thing to say. I wasn’t thrown because as a young person I remember the same thing happening. Dad appointed me head of Fox against very strong objections from heavy hitters on the Fox board. . . . So when Lili came into our company I think I showed small potatoes in the courage department. Still, I’m probably better than most husbands at dealing with arched eyebrows.”
What follows is shocking to anyone versed in the ways and means of Hollywood intimacy--and the way it’s offered and withdrawn almost simultaneously. “We haven’t spent one night apart in nine years,” said Lili Zanuck, raising an index finger as if to say ‘Let me explain.’ If her husband has been described as “tightly controlled,” his wife could be called “wound up and unwound both at once.” She is nothing if not forthcoming.
“We’re not in a race to be together every night,” said Lili, who co-produced “Cocoon” with her husband and his longtime partner David Brown. “This hasn’t been conscious. We may not maintain it, but we’ve been together nightly through the death of two fathers, a lot of traveling, some prolonged illnesses, etc.”
“For some couples that could spell poison,” said Dick Zanuck, dryly. “That’s why movie locations keep some couples together. The distance works in their favor.”
It’s simplistic to assume that Lili Fini simply saw a very eligible mate, got to him on a professional level, hooked him romantically--and then obsessively never left his side.
“No,” replied Dick Zanuck. “Lili was a loner, and I was a loner.”
She concurred: “I lived alone, usually took meals alone, and was married only once, for 90 days. My nature was very independent, so you can see the dent we made in each other. The reason is, we don’t play mind games like some couples do.”
“But let’s be clear. We don’t necessarily have breakfast or lunch together.”
“But we used to! In the early days at Universal we’d have lunch two or three times a week.”
They looked at each other and smiled, privately. “That’s when we were young and thrilled,” said Dick Zanuck.
If Fini was unthreatened by becoming a Zanuck (“because I had a sense of self”), was she ever threatened by the Zanuck family history of womanizing? Between marriages, Dick Zanuck was probably the town’s best catch; his father in his day was probably the ultimate rogue--on several continents.
“My father-in-law was from Wahoo, Neb.,” said Lili, analytically. “Out here, he became a kid in a candy store.”
But what about in Paris, where he lived in the ‘50s, and New York, where he lived in the ‘60s?
The son explained: “It wasn’t like he had male menopause after 20 years of running Fox and moved to Paris to be with girls. His nature was always, always that way. I was just different.”
“Darryl was surrounded by a bevy of beauties who were totally alluring,” said the daughter-in-law. “Dick grew up on the lot, and he was the boss’ son. So he didn’t have to work to learn methods of conquest like Darryl.”
“My nature was different, always,” said Dick Zanuck. “I was, and wanted to be, a continuously married man.”
Edwards & Andrews THE STAR TAKES ORDERS FROM HER DIRECTOR
“Us? Complicated?” Julie Andrews laughed out loud for what seemed like minutes. Blake Edwards, her writer-director husband, was down the hall in his office. When the laughter stopped, a pinch of a smile came over Andrews’ face. “Frankly, I’m surprised Blackie and I have stayed together this long.” Married in 1969, at the end of a decade in which both scaled Hollywood peaks, they survived “Darling Lili,” the 1970 Edsel that almost bankrupted Paramount, and resurfaced only in the ‘80s (with “10" and “Victor/Victoria,” among others). Even their detractors are awed by the team’s survival.
“Therapy,” replied Edwards, sticking his head in his wife’s office. “It’s our one-word answer for everything.” For one five-year period Julie Andrews was in psychoanalysis five times a week; her husband has been going on and off most of his adult life, lately to Dr. Milton Wexler--who was Edwards’ writing partner on “The Man Who Loved Women” and “That’s Life.”
(Wexler--a former student of the fabled Theodor Reik--presides over group therapy in Santa Monica, which Edwards attends, but Andrews doesn’t. At Wexler’s office on a recent afternoon, the soft-spoken doctor discussed not the Edwardses but the problem with modern therapy: “For the last 10 years of his life Freud spent an hour a day analyzing himself. The point was to know himself better. Now, though, there are too many therapies, too much narcissism, too much social chat about it. The question becomes: Who is stable enough to be analyzed?”)
Obviously Andrews and Edwards fit the bill. Without poking fun at therapists (as Paul Mazursky and Woody Allen have done) the Edwards-Andrews output (especially “Victor/Victoria” and “10") reflect psychiatry in subtle ways. On consecutive afternoons of interviewing at their Century City offices, the couple was surprised to be told that Edwards had brought out Andrews’ male side on screen--and not only in “Victor/Victoria.” They admitted that Edwards renovated Andrews’ “image.” Their effect on each other is both clear and complicated.
Said Andrews: “Last year, filming ‘That’s Life,’ Blake said, ‘Just be yourself.’ And I was aghast. When actors say ‘Who am I?’ they usually mean it. I’m not an exception. Blake makes you dig, because he digs. What’s happened to us as a couple borders on old-fashioned. You should see us at Gstaad.” (The couple has a house at the Swiss ski village, the only place Andrews says she has ever felt “completely secure.”)
“I’ve changed, darling, from knowing you. Because I had to change. And both of us getting help is why we’ve changed as a couple. Look--" Andrews said sharply, her long arms outstretched, as if to punctuate her thought: “There are such discrepancies in our personalities--we are such opposites--that we had to agree on an investigation of ourselves. Blake was known as complicated and talented. I was known as sweet, in some circles, and talented. Labels are much too easy.”
Is this Julie Andrews talking?
“I’m ambitious,” she said strongly, “and I’ve worked most of my life. But I’ll tell you one thing I know for sure. Marriage is the hardest work ever.”
In terms of defending one’s turf? Certainly this couple has different skills, not to mention different approaches. Even professionally speaking. Playboy once described them as Mary Poppins meets Godzilla. Whereas Andrews is primarily a pleaser , Edwards can be the opposite of gentle in business situations.
“It’s not about defending your turf,” answered Andrews. “It’s about coming to terms with who you basically are. You put aside ideas of good and bad. You grow up with a certain mind set, but you change it. In my youth I longed for family life.” Andrews means she went from being England’s favorite four-octave teen-age touring soprano to a mother with a daughter now in her 20s, and two adopted daughters in elementary school. The image of her driving in the Malibu car pool is accurate, but somehow the notion of handling Blake Edwards sounds more difficult. Andrews doesn’t disagree.
“Blake has softened up,” she said carefully, looking at her husband from the corner of her eye.
“OK, darling,” said Edwards, verbally shadowboxing. “Let’s say I’m less cynical.”
“More tolerant of me, too. Last year I went off to England to make ‘Duet for One,’ leaving Blake, who was in the middle of three projects. . . .”
Here a dilemma emerged. The one about separation anxiety. In the last decade--and even in the late ‘60s--Andrews had worked primarily for Edwards. As a tactic for marital survival? A way to be together? Or were those just the jobs being offered? No performer is going to say, “those were the only offers,” and nobody questions some of the Edwards-Andrews output. (In fact, his more recent films without her--apart from the “Pink Panthers"--are the most lambasted: “Blind Date,” “A Fine Mess.”)
Andrews fiddled with a finger sandwich and said, “A creative mother, or wife, who isn’t allowed to be creative isn’t going to kill her kids, or eat them, but she might damn well destroy herself. So last year I did two pictures back-to-back (“That’s Life,” “Duet for One”) because I’m only comfortable in my skin if I can express myself. There are years when I stopped working, but I didn’t feel trapped. That’s where Blake and I part company.”
Edwards kicked off a sneaker and made a hard admission. “I adore this lady,” he said cautiously, “but if given the choice between doing what I do and staying home and being a husband--it would not take three minutes to say I need the creative outlet more. If I had to stop working, I’d shrivel and die. Period.”
Because Edwards is male, must he work? And because Andrews is female, can she take time to nurture children? Both husband and wife shook their heads.
“Forget male,” said Edwards. “I just need a creative outlet. For sanity. I still need to play cowboys and Indians. Take it away, and I’m no good to anybody. I would be destroyed if I had to live without this lady. But probably more destroyed if I couldn’t be creative. Without success I’d have thought of myself as a zero.”
“Success on Broadway is easier if you are unmarried,” added Andrews. “And Broadway star mothers are a myth.” Though Andrews is mulling over a Broadway return in a revival of Moss Hart’s psychiatric musical “Lady in the Dark,” her initial Broadway period ended after her marriage to scenic designer Tony Walton and before her marriage to Edwards. For a time in the ‘70s, she played movie-and-TV star while Edwards played househusband, working at home (mostly in Switzerland) on scripts. Probably one day that period will emerge as a movie. Fun and games it wasn’t.
“I’d come back from working all day,” recalled Andrews, her voice deepening. “And Blackie would say ‘Guess what happened at home today?’ And I wouldn’t want to hear it! I must say, though, the house was never better run. . . .”
“We play various roles in life,” said Blake Edwards ambiguously.
Holbrook & Carter A BALANCE BETWEEN PRIVACY AND INTIMACY
Do married couples hold hands in Hollywood restaurants? It depends. At Le St. Germain in the tiny front room, holding hands is appropriate--nobody can see you. But is there an unlikelier romantic couple than Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter? Him serious and her fluttery--with what in common? Aside from acting?
“Hal is serious,” said Carter (who plays the giddy Julia Sugarbaker on “Designing Women”). “And I am perceived as giddy.”
“But you are not giddy,” interrupted Holbrook.
“But I am perceived as giddy.” Carter adjusted a shoulder pad in her Chanel blouse, and winked. In Hollywood, perception is all and this belle from Tennessee understands that, especially after regular roles on five TV series in eight seasons. “We were careful around people at the beginning because they were so stunned by us as a couple. . . .”
The actors themselves seem stunned at their progress. In 1979 Dixie Carter arrived in Hollywood “with two daughters but without a career or a husband, or a desire for one.” Marriages to actor George Hearn and businessman Arthur Carter failed. Now late 40-ish, Carter has a kind of Daisy Mae quality about her, until you listen closely and realize this is not a woman from Dogpatch. “Emotional imprisonment in a marriage is insupportable and disruptive,” she said, from experience. “No amount of aloneness is worse than not being understood. In the wrong marriage your oxygen is used up, and you are strangling.”
“You can’t turn an emotional conversation around,” agreed her husband. “A couple begins to use words that are no longer. . . .”
” . . . Working. Friendship was as much as I wanted from a man when I met Mr. Holbrook, as I called him for a week.” Carter pursed her lips, Southern-style. “Where I come from you don’t use first names unless you are told to. Mr. Holbrook thought I was doing a number.”
The number wasn’t working. Hal Holbrook, too, was a battle-scarred veteran of two marriages (to actresses Ruby Johnston and Carol Rossen). The actor who’s been Mark Twain forever and “Abe Lincoln in Illinois” and Henry IV at Stratford and Dorothy Parker’s husband in “Julia” can be as dark as night. Imagine a poker game with George C. Scott, Jason Robards and Ben Gazzara; the dialogue would be out of Eugene O’Neill via David Mamet--and Holbrook would hold his own.
“I was living a hermit bachelor recluse existence, and I was committed to it,” Holbrook said grimly. How committed? “Enough that I sailed around the world alone. I’m serious. I saw myself as a failure with women. My only ‘dates’ were with my daughter Eve. I decided I couldn’t live with anyone, but I could be totally self-sufficient. Miserably, but. . . .”
“Hal was an orphan,” put in Carter. “His momma and daddy left him when he was a kid. He has battles with melancholy, as do I. Hal was really looking for. . . .”
“The ideal,” picked up Holbrook, “which was to stay married forever. But in reality you sometimes have to save your life and get out. And go search again. The choice to save your life is sometimes then the choice to let someone into your life.”
Carter met Holbrook on a TV movie set in 1980. “Hal seemed to be crazy about me but not know that he was . . . “
“You never said that before!”
Are these actors role-playing romance? “You wouldn’t think us romantic if you saw us at breakfast instead of lunch,” cracked Carter. “Hal and I don’t twitter at breakfast.”
“Our breakfast rituals are separate,” said Holbrook, making a point. “Privacy is essential to both our lives.”
The conflict between privacy and intimacy may be Topic A with creative couples. How much time spent together or apart is always an issue. Especially with actors, who go off to locations for months, or off in their own worlds when not working. Friendship--as opposed to pure attraction--seems to be important to such roving couples as the Holbrooks. (Hal is just back from New York and his role as “Oliver Stone’s father figure” in “Wall Street,” while Carter gears up for the next season as Julia Sugarbaker.)
Recalled Holbrook: “I remember thinking, ‘I’d like to have this woman for a friend.’ I was attracted to her personality before the sex thing because I’d been hurt by the sexy part, with other women. Dixie was a real woman, not actressy. And I was trying firstly to be a friend to myself.”
Holbrook’s steel-blue eyes got steelier. “I was hard to be with. Because for a man to do well at an acting career . . . the price is his family, period. Luck doesn’t happen to grown-ups. A grown-up actor succeeds at the expense of everything else. How do you establish continuity with your family if you come home at night and you are--"
“Mark Twain Tonight?”
The relief was comic, and both actors loosened up. “Dixie is a very powerful presence,” said her husband of three years. “More powerful than she knows. She has the gift of being able to talk about anything. And she shared the gift with me.”
But what about the skeletons in the closet? The taboos? The downside to joining forces?
“Working together on stage almost destroyed our relationship,” said Carter, cringing. The play was Thomas Babe’s “Buried Inside Extra,” which they performed both in London and at New York’s Public Theater. The actors were taking the work home, and taking it literally.
“There’s meanness in the play,” said Holbrook. “We were properly directed to be vicious, which we were, and we hurt each other’s feelings. If you dig up terrible emotions, you might want to head for the bottle.”
“Put it this way,” said Carter directly. “We are not going to do ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ on stage. Ever.”
Shyer & Meyers THEY SHUT OUT THE WORLD TO STAY TOGETHER
“We are not a problem couple,” explained writer Nancy Meyers, who with writer-director Charles Shyer co-wrote “Irreconcilable Differences"--not based even loosely on their own Hollywood lives--and have just finished shooting “Baby Boom,” starring Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard. “We are not living on the edge,” added Meyers, whose pageboy hair and pearl necklace give her the aura of a successful, smart post-cheerleader. “We are at that point,” said Meyers, 37, “where either you’ve made it--and you want a real life--or you know you are never going to make it--and you too want a real life.”
Charles Shyer, early-40ish, looked across the 20th Century Fox editing room, nodding in agreement. The gray-haired, soft-spoken Shyer could be an actor, but he’s become a director (“Irreconcilable”). He and Meyers have been together a dozen years--the proverbial Hollywood cliche of six lean years and six good years applies here. Since 1981, after their script for “Private Benjamin” turned around Goldie Hawn’s career, this couple has been pretty much in control.
Shyer and Meyers are collaborators but not spouses. Awaiting the birth of their second child in October (the same month “Baby Boom” opens), they share a spacious San Fernando Valley house, much humor, most chores--but not wedding rings. Shyer looked knowingly (and lovingly) at Meyers when the subject arose. “Mrs. Charles Shyer? No, no. . . . " (The first Mrs. Charles Shyer was actress Diana Ewing.)
“Some people become ‘Mrs. Somebody Else’ and look what happens,” added Meyers. “Being a wife is not something I perceive as enviable. Do our friends feel this way? No. Well, Ryan (O’Neal) and Farrah (Fawcett) are our friends and they feel this way. The ironic thing is, we do have this love of tradition.”
Meyers means the movies. Even “Private Benjamin” deals with what Meyers calls “what marriage does to women.” This couple’s bond began with Hollywood images, romantic images. Pressed, they can pinpoint the moment they knew they were in love. “In bed, we were watching Preston Sturges’ ‘Miracle of Morgan’s Creek,’ and there was this moment when Eddie Bracken collapsed . . . and Chuck and I both fell out of bed laughing. That was the moment.”
Shyer picks another moment as a turning point. In the early ‘70s, collaborating with a male partner, he was on a deadline weekend of rewriting a film for producer Ray Stark--and Nancy Meyers, Stark’s story editor, was assigned to oversee the team’s weekend. “At one point she left the room and I missed her.”
“You fell in love with me right away.”
“I hadn’t thought of it before. But there have to be moments when you realize you would rather be together than apart. It’s like ‘His Girl Friday,’ when Roz Russell finally realizes she’d rather be with Cary Grant than Ralph Bellamy. That’s how I felt about Nanc. . . . “
The image of Rosalind Russell, careerist coincides with Meyers’ own dream: “Any movie that had a desk in it for a woman I liked. Chuck could see the writer in me. He has this way of encouraging writers, women or men, and how many women get encouraged in this community? Also when I met Chuck he needed new blood, and I was the new blood he was stuck with.”
The shorthand that collaborators develop is here very developed, and the downside can be a kind of 24-hour daily marathon that excludes everyone else and borders on writer-babble. Shyer and Meyers laughed out loud, and in agreement. “It helps when you have a kid, and the kid says, ‘Enough already about the movie.’ Our daughter Annie, 8, comes to the sets, but she can also get us off the subject real fast.”
But Meyers made a point that applies beyond Hollywood: “Growing up in Philadelphia I remember my father would sit at the dinner table talking about his work, so . . . I think it’s everywhere. We are living in a very business-y time. And I can’t complain. Let’s face it, I’m more fortunate than most women.”
“Nanc is her own boss.”
“My true image of myself is at home in an apron being a nice Jewish mother. I mean it. I go home and put on an apron.”
“But Jane Wyatt you aren’t.”
Nor are the women in the Shyer-Meyers movies--be it Hawn in “Benjamin” or the rebellious Shelley Long in “Irreconcilable Differences” or the driven Diane Keaton in “Baby Boom,” a script they finished on a Wednesday and sold to Fox on a Friday--for $1 million. Dollars aside, the team not only produced with Shyer directing, they also have it written into their contracts that no writers can be brought into their projects.
“It’s working apart that’s hard here,” said Meyers, being serious. “When we do meetings we have company, we have each other. We don’t have to face things alone. Being a writer alone could make you do one of two things--become a monster or go into retreat.”
The team isn’t retreating, not that they’re particularly social. In the divided community that is Hollywood--business and creative--they go for the creative people. “But,” added Shyer carefully, “one or two of our friends are executives.”
“They are?” Meyers giggled. “Every close friend is a writer. And we’re not really party people. Let’s speculate a minute. If Chuck had a male partner and the male partner had a wife--maybe she and I could pick up the social slack. But not now. You can’t do it all, and have it all, and be a good parent, too.”
“You were pregnant during ‘Private Benjamin,’ too, reminded Shyer, heading for the Fox commissary. “That means ‘Baby Boom’ could be a hit. Every other movie you get pregnant.”
Desiderio & Light SHE WORKS AND HE WAITS, THEN IT REVERSES
In and out of the Hollywood closet for years has been the issue of a couple’s competitiveness. When one is working, the other is often out-of-work. Envy can result. Before envy, though, comes the wait. Within the creative community waiting is a major problem--an actor waits for an agent to sign him, an actor waits for a job, an actor waits period.
Given the givens of actors’ lives--and the warnings even from performers themselves (“Never marry an actor”)--some actors marry. And a choice gets made immediately: If you are Joanne Woodward, with an Oscar-caliber career, you either let Paul Newman be the bigger star, or you work together, or you compete.
TV careers offer a good example of competitiveness: An actor gets a series, the series clicks; his actress-wife gets a series, the series bombs. Who’s happy then?
The reverse scenario applies to actress Judith Light (“Who’s the Boss”?) and Robert Desiderio (“Heart of the City”). Married two years, together for five, now in the peak of their 30s, it’s the wife who happens to have the hit and the husband whose show was canceled after 13 weeks.
Sharing a round table in the den of their house in the Hollywood Hills, the Desiderios don’t duck the issue.
“You’re working a 12-hour day on a series,” said Light, “and you are driving home tired. And, yes, you want to be pampered. Some days I get home and Robert needs something. What am I going to do? Give an ultimatum? I can’t, because that explodes into nothingness. I have a series now and he doesn’t. Is that terrible? Or does it give us a good start in the business out here? This is a business, this community, and if you want to do it correctly, you look at it with perspective.”
“Are we competitive?” Desiderio repeated. The handsome Bronx native met the blonde from New Jersey on “One Life to Live” seven years ago--and the chemistry was instant, both on and off camera. “You want to be competitive, but you don’t get very far with those feelings,” said Desiderio, resignedly.
“Some days you have to recover your potential all over again,” added Light, who just finished her first starring TV movie role in “Hit and Run” for producer Renee Valente and NBC. “You have to be willing to take business personally. So you have a dialogue ongoing between you.”
It’s very much a he-she dialogue. He’s Italian and she’s Jewish. He was a street kid and she went to Carnegie-Mellon. She’s darker in mood, but he lightens her up. He might spend a long day painting while she spends a day rustling (or relaxing) Tony Danza’s feathers on an ABC sound stage reported to be very emotional.
“In general,” offered Desiderio, “we probably don’t feel enough jealousy. If I lose a part I don’t say ‘What’s missing in me?’ I say ‘I want more.’ That’s greed, not jealousy.”
Her closets are walk-in and more crammed than his; on a tour of the house, one asked if they’re competitive about closets. They laughed, and led a visitor in another direction--to their workout room. But the image of the gowns in the closet linger. The actress, formerly a chubby brunette and now a subtle ash blonde, seems to read your mind. The question is, how does an actress stay a wife?
“We are not Cinderella here,” she said, arching an eyebrow. “But it could look like that. Say I’m in a limo in an Oscar de la Renta gown. Probably that evening I will be tired. Very tired. But I am shmoozing with an agent. Maybe it’s for the other one’s career. You care. You feel it’s appropriate. You wish you were home sleeping.”
The scene gets played out further. Stepping out of the limo the couple find paparazzi. Desiderio picks up the moment: “The photographers are pushing me away because I’m Mr. Husband. Of course my feelings are hurt. Do I want to haul off and punch the guy? Sure, but I don’t. I call this ‘paparazzi energy’ ”
The point is, the issue doesn’t go unspoken.
“You can’t analyze everything to death,” said Light, “but you gotta deal with the hurts. I want Robert to be working all the time because he’s good. But you prepare yourself. Careers go hot and cold. But if a couple goes up and down, they get hurt. And they can take it out on each other in small ways.”
Added Desiderio: “It’s not the eggroll, honey, it’s the last 40 years.”
Light laughed at her husband’s line, ran her hands through her blonde mane, and got confidential. “In those particularly ugly moments-- the ‘Will I ever work again?’ moments--he is the only one with humor. I get very dark.”
“You have a serious funny face.”
“But I can be bossy. I see it on the show. There are times when I want to throw shoes. But everything is worth it because Robert is willing to clear through the junk. To own it. That’s why you stay together. Somebody wants to know what happened today.”
“You don’t talk about making a commitment,” said Desiderio. “You make a commitment.”