The Phoenix of Bel-Air : Since Her Divorce From a DeLorean, Cristina Has Become One Red-Hot Ferrare

Times Staff Writer

"All of that unpleasantness," Cristina Ferrare pronounces, "is behind me."

She is sprawling across an upholstered sofa in the study of her Bel-Air home, a stunning 39-year-old woman wearing a big cotton sweater that saw her through her latest pregnancy.

Her daughter, Arianna, born less than three weeks earlier, is tucked inside a frilly bassinet, alternating between sleeping and cooing.

Cluttering the bookshelves are framed photographs of Ferrare's husband, producer Tony Thomopoulos, herself and the children--counting all the his and hers and theirs, a total of seven.

Vases of fresh-cut flowers grace the tables. Sunlight streams in from the garden. A maid brings in a tray of decaffeinated coffee poured into fine porcelain cups.

Signs of "all that unpleasantness" are nowhere in sight.

"I purposefully kept a low profile over the last few years and purposefully shied away from any publicity, just, you know, doing my thing, doing my job, taking care of my family," Ferrare says.

"And now, you know, with everything that is happening and all of these positive things, I feel more at ease and comfortable talking about everything."

The everything is understood. It means the arrest and trial of her husband of 12 years, former auto maker John Z. DeLorean, who was acquitted in 1984 of conspiring to smuggle $24 million worth of cocaine into the United States.

It means her role as the glamorous model-turned-wife-and-mother who stood by her man only to leave him within three weeks of the not-guilty verdict.

It means her marriage, two weeks after the divorce to DeLorean was final, to Thomopoulos, then head of the ABC Broadcast Group.

And it means her career as a television personality, which despite scandal and motherhood, is hotter than ever.

Viewers, it seems, want to know this woman. They idolize and they criticize, and then they keep watching to see what she'll do next. For a brief time earlier this year, ABC featured Ferrare in three time slots.

She has been co-host, with Steve Edwards, of "A.M. Los Angeles" for five years--a job she negotiated during the DeLorean trial. Then with John Davidson she co-hosted "Incredible Sunday," since canceled, and in January she joined Robb Weller as co-host of the nationally syndicated "Home Show." She returns to "A.M." and "Home Show" today after a five-week maternity leave.

Now, she's mulling over the possibility of making room for a television series, written for and starring herself.

"One of the shows is going to have to go," she says. "And I'm so . . . I love what I'm doing. I love doing 'A.M.,' and I really, really enjoy doing the 'Home Show.' I'm in a personal dilemma. . . . I'm in a transition period. I don't know what I am going to do yet."

A quiet happiness spreads across Ferrare's face. These days it seems to be an abundance of good fortune, opened doors and yet-to-be-tested opportunities that occupy her time.

Criticism still hurts, she says, but it doesn't cripple. Even when it comes from DeLorean, a man who since their divorce has publicly accused her of selfishness, treachery and stupidity.

"I don't care anymore. My husband loves me. I love him. We're happy. I don't care what people think."

With that, Ferrare makes a loud, taunting noise with her lips. Brrrrrr.

It is addressed to her detractors, the former friends, the hypocrites, the National Enquirer, the millions of Americans who wanted to know, "How dare she?"

Cynthia Cristina Ferrare was an international supermodel, a 23-year-old pulling down $3,500 for a shoot, when she married John DeLorean, flashy and brash and 24 years her senior.

It was her second marriage--a three-year union with personal manager Nick Thomas had ended in divorce--and DeLorean's third. The date was May 8, 1973, three weeks after he submitted his resignation to General Motors with plans to manufacture his own luxury sports car.

DeLorean brought his 14-month-old son, Zachary, into the marriage, and six years later, Ferrare gave birth to the couple's daughter, Kathryn.

"We were like the golden couple," Ferrare says. "We were living the high life. We were living in New York. We were invited everywhere and did things and then we fell from grace. I mean, we were a scandal ."

Ferrare's friends, the same ones she had kissed and gossiped with at countless parties, found the DeLorean affair unseemly. There were scenes straight out of Tom Wolfe's novel, "The Bonfire of the Vanities."

"A lot of them, in the first few days after the arrest, they all wanted to be in the know," Ferrare says. "So they all rallied around and then, once we got into it--you know, it dragged on for two years before it went to court--slowly, I would say 90% of the people we knew in New York, we never heard from again."

Margaret Weitzman, Ferrare's best friend and the wife of the attorney who defended DeLorean, recalls a trip to an exclusive spa during that time.

People Avoided Ferrare

"I remember we went to the spa," Weitzman says, "and there were women who literally stayed on the other side of the swimming pool because they didn't want to deal with Cristina."

But the real world, the world outside of New York high society, couldn't hear or read enough about the DeLoreans. Newspapers and television stations assigned reporters to chronicle Ferrare's apparent dress-for-acquittal strategy being played out on the fifth floor of the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.

Would her new, more conservative hair style win favor with the jurors? The serious yet striking look was in.

"Wasn't that stupid?" Ferrare asks, mildly annoyed. "I mean, my husband is arrested on a serious crime. My whole life falls apart, and all they could care about was writing about what I was wearing and what I looked like. Nobody ever cared about how it affected the children and how it affected me, how it affected John, our life, our marriage. No one cared about that."

And as for DeLorean, she says: "I staunchly believed in his innocence.

"To this day, even though there is no love lost between either of us, I can say that John neither conspired nor talked about buying or selling cocaine. They just got him on the wrong deal."

(DeLorean was later acquitted on the drug charges, as well as separate charges of fraud, racketeering and income-tax evasion in a federal case in Detroit and is still embroiled in legal disputes stemming from his defunct DeLorean Motor Co. of Northern Ireland.)

But Ferrare says the evidence presented in the Los Angeles trial, tapes of her husband meeting with undercover FBI agents and informants, revealed his private lies.

"I remember going to dinner with these people," she says. "These people were undercover agents--we had no idea--and this, this drug dealer, people who carry guns. And I felt betrayed (later). . . . He involves me in this whole thing with people that I didn't know who they were or what they were doing.

"He put me in a situation where my life could have been in danger, or implicated me, or involved me in some way. I didn't like that."

'Marriage a Sham'

And it was toward the end of the trial, Ferrare says, "when I realized that my marriage was a sham, our relationship was not what I had thought it was and that basically he lied to me for 12 years. And I guess the hardest thing that I had to deal with was that I really don't believe that he loved me when we married."

Ferrare pauses, and then her voice takes on an even more determined edge.

"I believe that John is a sociopath," she says. "John used me, and used his own flesh and blood to be able to attain or to get what he wanted. And he didn't hesitate to use any of us in any way for his own personal gain. It was a very hard thing for me to admit.

"I honestly don't think to this day that John has any idea how it affected me and how it psychologically affected the children. He doesn't understand it. He doesn't see it. And I think it's because he's incapable of seeing it."

The words stop. Ferrare's shoulders rise slightly as she takes a deep breath. Later she says it felt good, cathartic almost. "I haven't talked about all this in a long time.

"I'm a strong person," she says. "I have a great constitution. I love to laugh. Laughter and humor are great healers. That helps.

"And Tony has been a great healer for me because I have him to fall back on and he is there for me. . . . I have emerged a whole new person, with a better attitude about life. And I'm not even mad at John anymore. He can't push my buttons anymore."

DeLorean, who describes himself as a born-again Christian who spends most of his time with other Christians, was reached by telephone at his 430-acre New Jersey estate. (He got the real estate; she got the kids.)

He blamed the pressures of his trial for the break-up of his marriage to Ferrare and wondered about the suddenness of her marriage to Thomopoulos.

"You don't leave somebody one day and then the new guy moves in the next day and not know that person," DeLorean said. "But that doesn't bother me. I understand.

"The fact is, and Pat Robertson has said this, when I was in the middle of that government frame-up, that it is normal for couples to break up when they are going through such a stressful situation.

"For some reason, she has become hostile to me," DeLorean said of the woman he has described as "a painting who was hanging on my wall."

"What I don't understand is why."

It is the following day, almost noon on a Wednesday, and Ferrare is racing her Jeep Wagoneer through the immaculately groomed streets of Beverly Hills. The happy ramblings of daughter Alexandra, 2 1/2, drift up from the back seat.

Ferrare has been on maternity leave for not quite three weeks, but she's been getting a little antsy. Right now, she's about to do lunch with a friend. Then it's on to Alexandra's tumbling class. Yesterday it was shopping. Tomorrow, another lunch.

The car phone rings.

"Hi, Angel," Ferrare coos. "I'm on my way to lunch with the girls."

Then she starts. Ferrare and her husband have had this conversation before.

"I want to go back to work," she tells Thomopoulos. "I want to get out there. I feel the need to get back. . . . Well, I can't lose 32 pounds in a week!"

OK, they'll talk later.

Misses Partners, Staff

"I feel responsible, you know," Ferrare says later. "I have two partners. We are a team. I have producers, and staff. They are all terrific. I love them. And I miss them. I like working."

But Ferrare says Thomopoulos, 50, "is stuck between the old world and the new."

The other day, when she first mentioned the idea of returning to work earlier than the planned five weeks, they fought.

"He says, 'You're not going,' " Ferrare explains. "And I say, 'What do you mean, I'm not going? What are you, my father?' And he says, 'No, dammit, I'm your husband and you just had a baby and you're not going!'

"And I went, 'OK, I'm not going.' And I'm thinking, 'Whoooa, is that different for me.' "

But the dispute lingered, good-naturedly, until Ferrare's obstetrician finally sided with Thomopoulos.

Ferrare says she finds the whole thing amusing and endearing--"I'm stuck between the old world and the new (myself)"--and believes that her husband has her best interests at heart.

Calmer Now

She's calmer these days, Ferrare says, at ease and unthreatened. It shows in her children, she says, and it shows in her marriage, which she describes as a passionate partnership.

Not that it was love at first sight.

Ferrare says she and Thomopoulos met in 1978, when she traveled to New York to talk about possibly filling in on "Good Morning, America."

"I thought he was a pompous ass and he thought I was a rich bitch," Ferrare says.

She didn't get the job.

Their paths crossed several times after that, but Ferrare says it wasn't until shortly after the DeLorean trial that she and Thomopoulos got together at the 50th birthday party of a mutual friend in Los Angeles.

"I am sitting at a table, alone, and he's standing up, and he was with a date, and he just happened to catch my eye. And I looked at him, and I said, 'Would you care to dance?' Because I'm sitting there all by myself, and I felt like a jerk. And he said, 'No.' And I went, 'Oh, fine. What an ass this guy is, you know. I hate him.' "

But a few moments later, Thomopoulos had second thoughts.

"It's just like in the movies," Ferrare says. "It was so melodramatic. He turns around, and as he turns around, the moonlight was hitting his face. And he looked so gorgeous standing there, and I thought, ' God , what a handsome man.' And he came over to me, and says, 'Yes, I would like to dance.' "

So they danced. Ferrare liked his cologne and she liked him.

"It was like chemistry. I really felt weak in the knees. . . . And as he was holding me, I knew that I was in trouble because I was extremely attracted to him."

Ferrare says that both she and Thomopoulos were separated from their spouses at the time, although neither was yet divorced.

They met a short time later for what she says was their first date, dinner at a small restaurant in Manhattan. Their first kiss, Ferrare says, came in the back of a limousine.

"We kissed for the first time and he said, 'I love you. I want to marry you and I want you to have my babies.' And I thought, 'This guy is sick. We are both old people and he wants to have babies!' "

But Ferrare says she was already enraptured, even though she was still in the throes of the DeLorean scandal.

"Of course, there was a chemistry. I mean, you know, I wanted to have sex with him. I didn't want to marry him!"

Ferrare, the girl from Cleveland, and Thomopoulos, the boy from the Bronx, married each other about six months later in a private ceremony at the home of a friend in Beverly Hills. They will celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary later this week.

When the producers of "A.M. Los Angeles" and the "Home Show" try to put their finger on Ferrare's viewer appeal, they tend to fall back on what she is not.

She is not, they say, Barbara Walters, or Joan Lunden and certainly not Diane Sawyer.

On the air, Ferrare talks about her children, her marriage, her indigestion and her sex life. She laughs, a lot, and sometimes she even cries. Not long ago, she was so offended by Michael Edwards, who wrote "Priscilla, Elvis & Me: In the Shadow of the King," that she walked off the set of "A.M. Los Angeles."

"She'll be sitting there, and all of a sudden she is talking about how she sometimes shaves her upper lip because hair grows there," says Steve Edwards, Ferrare's "A.M." co-host and friend. "Now, I don't think Barbara Walters would ever talk about that. . . .

"She is salt of the earth. People relate to her. . . . In a way, it's like she represents them. She is as they would be if they were as beautiful, if they were as talented. I think that she has a special kind of magnetism. I think she has lived a bit of a soap opera in public. But more than that, she seems very accessible in terms of her life. She is very, exceedingly honest on the air."

And Ferrare says it is that very openness that can get her into trouble.

"There are some people who are truly annoyed with it," she says. "I get negative mail. 'I'm pushy. I'm too loud. I should keep my opinions to myself. I'm stupid. I don't know what I'm saying.'

"But I'm sure Phil Donahue gets the same thing, although I'm sure they don't say he's stupid."

Ferrare laughs at that one, but not too heartily. Yes, she says, the idea that she is a jet-setting bimbo, all show and no substance, still bothers her.

"I can get 100 letters just, 'I love you. Terrific. You're funny. You make my day. You cure my allergies. I can walk again.' I mean, all kinds of things. And then I get one letter saying that you should get her off the air, she interrupts too much, she's got a loud mouth. I don't like her. She's too fat, all kinds of things.

"And this one letter used to destroy me. It doesn't anymore."

Margaret Weitzman, who aside from being Ferrare's best friend is an associate producer on "A.M. Los Angeles," says that before she knew Ferrare, she, too, was prepared to dislike her.

"She is much more Beverly Hills than I am," Weitzman says. "She loves everything frilly and with bows. She oohs and ahhs over presents. We are complete opposites that way. But we are in sync on another level. And she's given me a softer edge."

Thomopoulos says his wife has done that for him too, making him "a more open human being," albeit by embarrassing him somewhat in the process.

"You should see me, I'm blushing," he says in a telephone interview during which he confirmed Ferrare's account of their first dance and, later, their first kiss.

(Thomopoulos, however, describes their meeting in 1978 this way: "She walked into the office and I saw this rather attractive, officious-looking woman, very elegant and so forth, and I was very busy and I said, 'Now, what does this dilettante want?' ")

"There is no guile to Cristina," Thomopoulos adds. "There are no two sides to her. If she doesn't like you, she will tell you directly. If you ask her a personal question, she will tell you directly. . . . There is this uncensored quality about her."

And Woody Frazier, producer of the "Home Show," says that when somebody is as forthright as Ferrare is on the air, "they're going to be a lot of people who say they don't believe that.

"Cristina is the kind of person who I would think is misread by a lot of women out there. A lot of women probably think she is this rich bitch. She is not. She is just the reverse. And, as you begin to watch her, you realize that she is this real person, this genuine individual."

"I think she has just grown into Cristina," Weitzman adds. "She is not Mrs. John DeLorean, not Mrs. Tony Thomopoulos. She is Cristina Ferrare."

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