Playing Against Her Type : Marion Ross, known for her role as the wholesome mom on 'Happy Days,' is happy to star as an impassioned woman falling apart in 'Love Letters.'


For most of her stage and television career, Marion Ross has portrayed wholesome, uplifting characters, epitomized by more than a decade as Mrs. C on "Happy Days."

But Ross is always eager to rebel against her snow-white image. This weekend, she'll get another chance in A. R. Gurney's "Love Letters" at Pierce College in Woodland Hills. The piece traces years of correspondence between two lovers.

"I like this role because a woman disintegrates," Ross said. "I'm so uphill all the time that I love to play someone going downhill."

Ross, a Woodland Hills resident, also appreciates the opportunity to help a school in her neighborhood. Proceeds from the shows will be used to send the school's Premiere Chorale to a conference in Sacramento. The chorale, founded in 1977, plays classical music, opera and jazz. Ross narrated its recent Christmas program.

For this year, she has no plans to appear in a television series. She's still fuming from the disappointment of "Brooklyn Bridge," a show that received plenty of accolades from the press but was canceled due to poor ratings. She played Sophie Berger, the family's matriarch.

"If people didn't like 'Brooklyn Bridge,' what will they like?" she asked. "We were all really burned by it."

This marks her third appearance in "Love Letters." She and her co-star, Paul Michael, a veteran of 14 Broadway shows, performed the play together last spring in Massachusetts and Minnesota.

"Love Letters," starring Marion Ross and Paul Michael, will be performed at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Pierce College, 6201 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills. Tickets are $10 general admission, $8 students and seniors. A reception to be held after Saturday's performance is $5 general admission, $2 for students and seniors. Call (818) 753-3306.

DIAL DOWNEY--Go ahead, touch that dial, but, here's a warning:

Morton Downey Jr. is back.

Yes, the first outrageous disc jockey/talk-show host to generate national controversy in the 1980s--sorry Rush and Howard--has resurfaced on Los Angeles airwaves. Since late last month, KIEV-AM (870) in Glendale has been carrying his Chicago-based weekday talk show live from 2 to 3 p.m.

It may be too early for ratings, but not for rave reviews from station management.

"We're getting a great reaction so far," insisted KIEV President Ron Beaton. "The more you listen, the more you like it."

Downey, 51, says he has transformed into a kinder and gentler version of the guy who offended practically every racial and ethnic group during the last decade.

"I can't be as nasty anymore," Downey said in a phone interview. "The times won't tolerate it. I've learned how to take out that element."

What he won't change, however, is his self-proclaimed role as a watchdog monitoring corrupt and inefficient Washington politicians. He said Clinton, though well-meaning and respectable, is overwhelmed by the task of governing a nation.

"He's absolutely inept," Downey said.

Downey started his new national radio show six weeks ago, and will soon be heard on about 125 stations. Most shows feature guests, although the bulk of the program is devoted to exchanges between Downey and his audience. He also hosts a television show, which reaches 44 markets.

Beaton said he plans eventually to broadcast two hours of Downey's three-hour program. Currently, KIEV carries only the first hour. He agrees that Downey has toned down his act from a decade ago.

"But he's still controversial," Beaton said.

SPOTLIGHT ON VALLEY--Can the Valley top its impressive performance of 1993, when three high school students captured $5,000 each as winners in the Los Angeles Music Center's Spotlight Awards? It certainly won't be easy--there are only six categories--but the quest has begun.

Competition to select the finalists in the events--opera, modern dance, classical instrumental, jazz instrumental, pop vocal and ballet--started last weekend, and will continue through mid-February. Of the remaining 75 performers, 10 attend Valley schools.

In each category, about a dozen teen-agers from throughout Southern California will perform before judges. The top two students will proceed to the finals, scheduled for March 29 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Funded by the Pacific Telesis Foundation, the Spotlight Awards select winners from more than 600 applicants, ages 14 to 18, who audition in November and December. Winners in each field receive $5,000; runners-up get $2,500.

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