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Cybill Shepherd: Breaking the Ice

The star basks in the glow of television’s ‘Moonlighting’

Cybill ShepherdCybill Shepherd

Cybill Shepherd photographed on July 21st, 1986.

ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty

Braless and shoeless, Cybill Shepherd is lying on five paisley cushions she’s flung on the living-room floor of her house in the Encino hills. The thirty-six-year-old star of the hit television series Moonlighting has barely moved her five-foot nine-inch frame in an hour. She is wearing a sheer white cotton shirtwaist dress. “Interviews are like therapy,” she says, which perhaps explains her posture. “The only thing is, you don’t get the same kind of feedback. But it’s cheaper.” A week ago Shepherd visited her therapist after a year’s hiatus and resolved to start up again on a monthly basis. Now her hand goes to her brow, her eyes close hard, and when they open, she peers through her fingers, her gaze dulled. “There’s so much stress,” she says, “that, ah, I had an anxiety attack. About going back to work. I mean I was fine. But one day I woke up — I’d had this dream I was going back to work, and it was like … all the wrong —” and she stops short. “No, I don’t want to talk about it.” She’s cringing now. “Leave it at that.”

Shepherd’s dream occurred nearly two weeks before shooting was to begin on this fall’s premiere episode of Moonlighting, an ABC show entering its second full season. The brainchild of thirty-two-year-old producer Glenn Caron, Moonlighting has garnered critical raves and more Emmy nominations this year, including one for lead actress, than any other show. For the third-place network, the show’s ascendancy has meant a ratings jump and a bolstering of prestige and morale. For Shepherd, it’s a triumph that really can’t be measured in money or ratings points.

With her prime-time portrayal of the glamorous model turned private eye Maddie Hayes, Shepherd has finessed a show-business comeback worthy of a Frank Capra movie. If the renowned director were to mythologize the actress’s career, the story would begin with a brash Jean Arthur–type heroine. Overnight her beauty, brains and pluck — and her talented director-boyfriend — sweep her to movie stardom. But the dream sours. She’s cast out by sinister studio bosses and a cynical celebrity press. Seeking solace and self-knowledge, she returns to her hometown and her family to recover the values that nurtured her, marry a local boy and experience motherhood. In the last reel, she begins anew — at the bottom — singing to patients at a veterans’ hospital, perhaps, until a well-earned break lofts her into the stratosphere again. This time she’s made it on her own. Up music, credits.

Real life is rarely so tidy, as evinced by Shepherd’s pre-production jitters. But Shepherd, who once was characterized as “the most clobbered actress in Hollywood,” is undergoing a public resurgence she frankly admits is “enormous — a greater fame than I’ve ever experienced.” In an industry that had virtually blacklisted her, one is now hard-pressed to find a producer or director willing to give her anything but high marks for her talent and bankability. It’s as if a form of mass amnesia had overtaken studio executives. A little less than a decade ago, a Hollywood writer concluded Shepherd had come to be viewed in that town as “a no-talent dame with nice boobs and a toothpaste smile and all the star quality of a dead hamster.” These days she’s being hailed as the new Carole Lombard.

“I knew I had talent, but I just had to prove it to the world, I guess,” Shepherd says.

The actress’s slope-roofed, one-story house sits at the end of a cul-de-sac, looking deceptively small. Twin stone lions at the top of the steps survey a manicured lawn. At the appointed hour, I rang the doorbell, which seemed to activate a lawn-sprinkling system as well as summon the housekeeper. We were alone in the house. She poured me root beer in Shepherd’s stainless-steel and Formica-laden kitchen. An acrylic plaque read, “No Smoking Under Penalty Of Death … Cybill Shepherd.” Viewed from the street, Shepherd’s house looks like the dwelling of a moderately successful plastic surgeon. Inside, the feeling is California transient. She has lived here with her seven-year-old daughter, Clementine, for six months. Hallway walls are covered in royal-blue velvet, a design conceit inherited from the previous owner, whose style Shepherd tags “expensive bad taste.” Futon couches and a coffee table barely fill up one large room; a glossy black piano, Wurlitzer jukebox and a glass-topped wicker dining table furnish another. Two volumes of Montaigne essays and the Oxford Book of Eighteenth-Century Verse coexist in a small bookcase. Shepherd’s 1985 Best Coiffured Woman award from Helene Curtis hangs on a nearby wall. A compact-disc collection holds titles by Mozart, Michael Jackson, Verdi and Kenny Loggins. Magazines to which C. Shepherd subscribes fill a commodious basket, among them The New Republic, Ms., The Spectator, Gourmet, Rolling Stone and a dog-eared, well-underlined Money stuffed with clippings from The Wall Street Journal about Ginnie Maes. Sliding glass doors lead to a generous L-shaped pool, a cabinlike sauna flanked by potted tomato plants and a deck extending over a steep slope. The drama of the view is the pollution, which hangs in a cocoa-hued cloud over the valley.

The actress appeared forty minutes later with the dark-haired, tanned Clementine and Clementine’s friend Megan in tow. She was singing, “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-daaay,” in full voice and carrying pompons when she opened the door. She padded barefoot around her newly furnished Japanese dining room, inspecting its rice-paper walls and pausing to sit cross-legged on its tatami flooring. Satisfied, she walked to her living room and became supine.

In the late afternoon light, Shepherd looks younger than she does on Moonlighting, probably because the fuzzy “beauty shots” she’s framed in make her seem suspiciously older than she is. “I’m middle-aged,” she says, “and it’s fabulous. I’ve been acting since I was twenty. I’ve been acting sixteen years. It’s just getting fun now. I’m just starting to learn how to do it. I’m just sort of loosening up to do it. And I know enough about myself to enjoy life. And I do enjoy it. It’s so divine. I love it — being in the middle of my life.”

There are certain predictable moments during actress interviews in the Eighties. Shepherd, at least, avoids the clichés. She doesn’t confess that her goal is to be cast in a Woody Allen film. Nor does she confide that her heartfelt passion is less acting than it is writing or painting. In fact, Shepherd is reportedly a diarist, and her first imagined career path was that of a writer, not uncommon in a child who read as voraciously as she. She scripted a first draft of the Peter Bogdanovich–directed Saint Jack from the Paul Theroux book. She has also coauthored a screenplay from Shelby Foote’s novel September, September with writer and friend of fifteen years Larry McMurtry. Two of the characters in McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, Lonesome Dove, are said to be based on Shepherd as she was at twenty and as she is today.

Unlike others in her professional sorority, she will name roles she’s sought and lost. She also is as willing to drop a wicked bon mot about another actress as she is to praise one. Perhaps being the “most-clobbered actress” in Hollywood has given her permission to be the least coy. Asked to verify a quote attributed to her — that she had a poor education but read a lot — Shepherd looks insulted and, without missing a beat, jokes, “I think it was Jane Seymour who said that. That’s who said that. I had a marvelous education.” She reports she tried out for a role in Francis Coppola’s upcoming Gardens of Stone that went to last year’s Oscar winner Anjelica Huston. “I think it’s a compliment in itself that I was up for the same part as she,” Shepherd says.

Her own work has garnered few awards, although she earned a Golden Globe award last year for her Moonlighting role. Her performance in The Last Picture Show resulted in a Golden Globe nomination as the most-promising newcomer. “I didn’t win,” she says. “But you always have to remind yourself that Delacroix never won a prize, that Cézanne never sold a picture.”

It’s probably a small matter that Shepherd is mistaken in both cases; what’s important is her invincibility and resolve. What comes through in conversations with her is a certain toughness, even a slight implacability. Though she initially promises candor — “I’ll answer just about any question you have” — there are, in fact, topics she clams up on or answers cryptically, sometimes in ways that make her begin to seem hard or defensive. She is an ambivalent participant. Perhaps understandably, she is at her most reticent when the questions focus on her relationships with men. When she’s asked about the 1982 breakup of her four-year marriage to David Ford, a Los Angeles bartender who was an autoparts dealer in her native Memphis when she met him, she merely says, “We outgrew each other.” When pressed, she responds, “I’ve chosen this field where I make money by people knowing about me. I feel obligated to do interviews. I just don’t go into details.”

Director Peter Bogdanovich, who cast her in his first major movie, and hers, The Last Picture Show, and who became her professional collaborator and lover for eight years, is another cause for diffidence, even though the two are close friends.

His impact on her life has been fairly obvious. What impact did she have on his life?

“Why don’t you ask him?” Shepherd says quickly, her demeanor more defiant than friendly. She’s sucking on an ice cube and rattling others in her paper cup.

You must have some opinion?

“Yes, but I don’t know if I want to say.”

(Reaching, now.) Do you consider him your greatest love?

“That’s bullshit,” she parries. “I think that ‘great love of your life’ stuff is bullshit. That there’s one person, Prince Charming, who’s going to come in and sweep you off your feet, that you’ll never love again, all that dramatic — treacle.” She fairly spits the last word. It’s as if she’s remembering a lie she heard while a little girl in Memphis — and she’s still mad.

Years ago Shepherd said about her mother, “We tolerate each other.” She described her childhood as “an emotional survival course.” Today, she implies that any discord between herself and her mother is forgotten, and adds, “I think everybody’s childhood is an emotional survival course.” She does not elaborate. “Somehow I feel like those ghosts in my past are private. And I’m going to use them, to explore the ghosts of my childhood. I’m in the process of exploring them now.” Her parents divorced when she was eighteen.

Books, ideas, her own convictions are what animate Shepherd. Lately, she’s been reading Reynolds Price’s Kate Vaiden and Reign of the Phallus, which, she explains, is a “reevaluation of Attic culture by a woman classicist. It is marvelous.” She’s expecting a shipment of thirty boxes of her books from Memphis soon. She is a fan of erotic art and erotica authored by women. “Have you read the Kensington Ladies Erotica Society? It’s really neat.” She detests pornography. “As a woman, I’m humiliated by it. It makes me feel — less.” But she’s concerned feminists are “moving away from the area we really need to concentrate on, the impoverisation of women and children.” She is opposed to most nudity in films, because it strips actors of their “power” and “mystery” and because it’s gratuitous. “Women are expected to expose themselves, men aren’t. It’s not fair. And in my experience, men have had their clothes off a lot quicker than I did. In films, it’s usually the reverse.”


Actors dread being confused with the parts they play. To assume a connection is to insult their craft. Even so, it is often irresistible to wonder how much of themselves enters into their characterizations, particularly if, like Shepherd, they play the role more than once. Sixteen years have passed since Shepherd launched her career with her portrayal of Jacy Farrow, the teenage temptress. Yet Shepherd’s coolness, her bitch epitomized, was so convincing, she became an icon of the breed, a standard. When Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader conceived the part of Betsy in Taxi Driver, the pristine political aide courted by Robert De Niro, they fantasized a “Cybill Shepherd–type actress.” “It was Paul Schrader’s and my idea of what an ideal woman would be — an amalgam, a type,” Scorsese said recently. Scorsese searched for six months and came up cold. When he finally met Shepherd, he remembers, “She was perfect.”

Bogdanovich was waiting in a supermarket checkout line when he first saw Shepherd’s face — on a Glamour cover. He was riveted by her trademark gaze. Her heavy-lidded eyes communicated that she was in touch with, and enjoying, her own sexual power and that she was fearless. When they met, she sat on the floor of his hotel room and carelessly toyed with a rose. He was thirty-one; she was twenty. She told him she was reading Dostoevski, but when he asked her which book, she was unable to remember the title. She seemed unconcerned whether or not she would be hired for the part of man killer Jacy, a pivotal character in his first important film. It was her carelessness, Bogdanovich said later, that won her the job. Director Bob Rafelson, whose production company financed that film, still remembers what the young model was like when she read for the part. “I thought, ‘Jesus — here’s a really talented lady — so cool and poised,'” Rafelson says. “There was something in her eyes, a kind of collectedness. It was as if she was looking at you through sunglasses.”

Unlike Shepherd, Bogdanovich is positively garrulous when he’s asked about their relationship. When he’s reminded of that first meeting with Shepherd, he laughs, then he explains. “Cybill’s often used a kind of coolness to mask insecurity and lack of confidence. She also has a mechanism to seem impassive — on the surface. But there’s a lot happening.” And a few moments later, he adds, “She’s tough — she can be tough.”

Despite an occasional show of panic, it’s likely Shepherd has harbored a quality that could be variously labeled “self-possessed” or “collected” or “tough” or something worse, all her life. The label you choose to apply probably depends more on your own feelings than hers; it’s the reflection you see in those invisible sunglasses that determines your reaction to her. Reportedly, she’s been dubbed “the female Clint Eastwood” by her friends. To her Moonlighting costar, Bruce Willis, she’s merely “very self-possessed. She knows exactly what she wants and what she doesn’t. A lot of people react to confidence in different ways. A lot of people are intimidated by it.”

Shepherd was the kind of little girl who would chase a male cousin with such conviction she wouldn’t see a barbed wire strung over a fence. She was the best girl athlete in her high school, but she failed gym because she thought keeping a “charm notebook” was “a really stupid idea.” “I was sort of a smart aleck,” she says. “But once I failed gym, I stopped being a smart aleck. ‘Cause if people fail you, you’re the one that’s got to repeat the year.” As a model, she was so independent she would rearrange her photo shoots to make time for her college courses. She’s degreeless, but she attended four different colleges, majoring in art history and English literature. “I wasn’t interested in a degree,” she says. “Who cares? You don’t need it.”

Having reached her “middle age,” she is, in fact, a kind of macro-glamorous version of the self-realized Eighties woman: smart, disciplined, independent, hardworking. She race-walks on her lunch break during her twelve-hour days on the set; she rides her bicycle thirty miles on weekends. She does know what she wants. If she were in Maddie Hayes’s shoes, she says, broke and faced with a gaggle of dubious assets, “I wouldn’t have ended up with the detective agency. I would have gotten rid of it.” Neither, she says, would she have gone for David Addison, the wisecracking gumshoe played by Willis. Why? “He’s too immature.” Shepherd puts her money in real estate and Ginnie Maes; she wants a grown-up, not a hyperactive, jivey kid.

If, when she’s interviewed, Shepherd fails to evince the sort of breathless, gee-whiz, wide-eyed friendliness of the star who has just made it, she’s got her reasons. Her fall from grace was steep and rocky, and the press helped bring her down. A perusal of clippings about the actress over the last decade finds them scattered with comments from her like “If I didn’t have to talk to you, I could be sleeping.” One writer described Shepherd as “the pretty girl next door one might yet feel safer about if she lived a couple of blocks away.” Shepherd’s always been easy with photographers, but then photographers have always been on her side. Theirs was the medium through which she was earning $80,000 a year by her twentieth birthday. They have enhanced her life; journalists have denuded it.

It’s possible that Shepherd’s inherent toughness, her steel spine, is what hurt her in Hollywood. But it’s a fact that she was typecast, that when she tried to play something else, Hollywood turned her out. Years later, lying on the floor of her house with the velvet walls, she says, “The funny thing about fame is that you’re never really a famous person. It’s like you get famous, and you’re like a wick — you have this wick that you stick in this bottle of red oil, and the wick turns red very quickly, and you’re famous all of a sudden, and then after a while the wick dries out. And it’s like you were never famous. It happens very quickly. I saw it happen.”

Shepherd is really on her third career swell. Before she was a movie star, she was one of the country’s top models. Her image permeated late-Sixties culture. She was too cover-girl clean to remind anyone of a hippie, but she broke the standard of near anorexic daintiness that reigned among models of the early Sixties. Although she was too busy promoting mascara to be accused of promoting the cause of feminism, her ascendancy coincided with the feminist surge. “Cybill,” said Glamour‘s editor, Ruth Whitney, “has a strong, open face. There’s nothing cute or Kewpie doll about her.”

Shepherd was twenty-two when Elaine May cast her in The Heartbreak Kid with Charles Grodin. “She wasn’t supposed to be this loosey-goosey woman she’s developed into on Moonlighting,” Grodin says, “but you could see sparks of it. I remember standing with her and her mother once, and I saw a whole other person — a wisecracking, snappy young lady.”

Bogdanovich, too, saw a different side of Shepherd, which inspired his film adaptation of Henry James’s Daisy Miller. He’s still convinced his vision of Shepherd as James’s late-nineteenth-century American girl in Europe was apt. “There was a tremendous similarity between Daisy and Cybill,” Bogdanovich says. “Cybill flirts reflexively. Daisy was a relentless flirt. But Cybill, like Daisy, was often misunderstood. But there was an innocence behind Daisy and Cybill which was at odds with the flirting. Daisy Miller is about a whole society that doesn’t understand her.” In an instance of life imitating art, critics failed to share Bogdanovich’s vision. “She’s hard and snippy and artificially mechanical,” Pauline Kael wrote of Shepherd as Daisy. Rex Reed allowed that the actress looked more like “a Memphis baton-twirler” than a Jamesian heroine. “After Daisy,” Shepherd once told a reporter, “I could walk in a room and feel a concentrated hatred.”

Bogdanovich wouldn’t give up. A year later he cast Shepherd in his musical comedy At Long Last Love. There were other actors in that movie, which tends to top reviewers’ lists of 1975’s ten worst films, yet Shepherd was a lightning rod for media thunderbolts. “Cybill Shepherd cannot sing, dance or act,” Gene Shalit crowed on national television. No one seemed to care that Burt Reynolds, who played opposite Shepherd, failed equally. “As it happens, Cybill can sing pretty well — but Burt Reynolds? Come on!” says a defender.

Bogdanovich encouraged Shepherd to sing. She studied opera for three years. In 1974, the director produced her first album: Cybill Does It … to Cole Porter. He took the record to Fred Astaire for a publicity blurb. “Where do these kids get their talent?” the aging star effused. “She’s as good as Streisand.” Bogdanovich, pushing the outside of the envelope, sought Frank Sinatra’s blessing. According to press accounts, Sinatra listened to Cybill do it, then wired the following response to Bogdanovich: “Some guys will do anything to ball a broad.”

Shepherd’s love affair with Bogdanovich was gossip-column fodder for years. Bogdanovich’s wife of nine years, Polly Platt, gave birth to their second daughter only months before Shepherd and Bogdanovich consolidated their living quarters in the Ramada Inn of the Texas hamlet where The Last Picture Show was filmed. Shepherd remains free of guilt. “One person never ends a marriage,” she says.

Bogdanovich, says Shepherd, “was the first man who ever treated me as an equal intellectually. If you think of a person as a circle, I had a huge wedge of myself that was empty, which was confidence. And he helped fill that. And then he helped me get to the point where I could do things to fill myself up.” Shepherd and Bogdanovich flaunted their passion; they expected their affair to endear them to Hollywood. After all, in the movies the world loves lovers. When Hollywood failed to embrace them, they attributed it to envy. “We were too happy,” Bogdanovich says. The Peter-Cybill affair began to disintegrate along with their careers. Hollywood treated Bogdanovich like an artist who stumbled; it treated Shepherd like a fallen woman.

The director remembered that David Begelman refused to allow him to make his next movie, Nickelodeon, if Shepherd was cast in it. “You can’t entirely blame David,” Bogdanovich says today. “There was a kind of mood in the town.” Still, Begelman’s ruling was a blow. “It was a movie I wrote for her,” Bogdanovich says. “Most of it was Cybill as she really is, at her most vulnerable, together with her dangerous, sexy part, which she doesn’t have to work at — it’s just there.” Bogdanovich’s comment is telling; it was the part of Shepherd that’s vulnerable that she needed to work at. Ironically, the same executive let Shepherd be cast in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Shepherd would be allowed to play only cold, unobtainable ice maidens, roles she already had proved so capable of filling.

As her movie career bottomed out, Shepherd turned more seriously to her singing, performing in places where she could afford to make mistakes, like a local veterans’ hospital. In 1978, she went to New York for an engagement at a jazz club, the Cookery, but she was merely a curiosity to patrons. Why don’t you just come home? her mother asked. She complied. “You know, I had enormous fame,” she says, “and then I went to Memphis…. I’d go to the grocery store, and no one would even ask me if I was someone.” She speaks the words without a trace of self-pity. For her, the irony is that she’s famous again.

David Ford was working as a parts manager in a Mercedes-Benz dealership when Shepherd saw him at the bar of the Memphis club Blues Alley. “My brother invited him over for a drink,” she says. Bogdanovich, alone in his Bel Air manse, reportedly liked to refer to Cybill’s new love as “that garage mechanic.” “He wished he was a mechanic,” Shepherd says now. “They make more money.” But Ford must have offered the haven she needed. “He was a very nice man — very sweet,” she says. Neither Ford’s bearlike presence nor Memphis’s humid air, however, could sink Shepherd’s ambition, as much as she perhaps hoped they would. She married Ford, who promptly quit the parts-managing business to become his spouse’s manager. Six weeks after Clementine’s birth, Shepherd took her husband and her newborn on the road. In places like Granny’s Dinner Theatre in Dallas, she gained the experience she lacked when she was a star.

In 1983, Shepherd landed a part in The Yellow Rose, a TV series in which she played a tough, sexy rancher. Her character was not at all cool and definitely obtainable. Michael Zinberg, the show’s producer, remembers his notion to cast Shepherd was greeted with “pretty tough resistance.” He admired Shepherd’s willingness to read “not once, but many times, at the network and the studio. She was a real trouper,” Zinberg says. He applauds Shepherd’s departure from Hollywood, and her return. “It’s terribly courageous just to say, ‘Hey — I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to look in the mirror and find out who I am.’ A lot of people have turned to drugs or gone to the nut house for less. It’s like ‘Wow, there’s a woman who came back from just everybody in Hollywood dumping on her.'”


Nineteen people are crammed into Maddie Hayes’s office in the Blue Moon detective agency, a room with three walls on Twentieth Century Fox’s Stage 20. Sixteen of them are technicians. They are motionless and silent, spread around the edges and into the corners of the room; a few are slouched in chairs or hunkering on the floor. Executive producer Glenn Caron and his stars, Shepherd and Willis, are a mass of animation and noise in the center of the room. Caron, a portly man clad in an untucked Oxford-cloth button-down-collar shirt, dark pants and penny loafers, is trying to choreograph the actors’ movements in a way that will get maximum laughs in a particularly complicated scene. “How about if you did it like this?” he says to Shepherd. He grabs a chair on casters next to Maddie’s executive desk and gleefully races with it to the office door where a Blue Moon client will sit on it. “Come in!” Caron bellows, his expression comically maniacal, and he rushes the chair back to Maddie’s desk. Appreciative chuckles emanate from the crew and stars.

Before the client arrives, Maddie must get down on her hands and knees to search for a check that has fallen to the floor. The shot will open on her rear end, followed by David Addison’s entrance. Addison’s opening line will be “Are you praying — or have you finally come to your senses?” Shepherd is on hands and knees now. She looks behind her at Caron. “Glenn, wouldn’t it look more like I’m praying if I sit up like this?” “No,” Caron responds instantly, “because I’m less concerned about the prayer joke making sense than the fucking-you-from-behind joke making sense.” There are more laughs. Suddenly, Caron’s down on the floor demonstrating, his belly grazing the carpet. “I know you’re athletic, and you work out,” he says to Shepherd, who has risen to her full height above him, “but it would be even funnier, in fact, if instead of getting right up, you sort of look at him from under your heel.”


Shepherd, according to Caron, is an actress without star turns. We are in his cluttered office, a space made smaller by a pinball machine and a jukebox loaded with records by Ruby and the Romantics, the Doors, the Turtles and Tammy Wynette. A black-and-white glamour photo of Shepherd signed “… You’re the most sensitive and talented producer I’ve ever worked for — let’s do it for a long time …” hangs at eye level on the wall nearest his desk.

“I think one of the greatest things about her is that she’s had it, she’s lost it, and she’s got it again,” Caron says. “So, there aren’t a lot of airs there.” She is not averse to luxury digs while she’s working, however. Shepherd’s forty-foot Newell Coach, parked just outside Stage 20, dwarfs another mobile home twenty feet away. The smaller RV is Bruce Willis’s modest corollary, the standard trailer the studio provides its stars. Shepherd wanted a more commodious retreat, so she bought the Newell bus, valued at around $300,000, and charges the studio a sum equivalent to the rent Fox pays for Willis’s trailer. It’s outfitted with closed-circuit television as a security measure, cream-toned leather sofas and sea-foam-green carpets, a queen-size bed, a bath and shower, a microwave oven and skylights.

“She could buy a goddamn aircraft carrier as long as we could park it,” Caron says.

Two years ago, Caron was given carte blanche by Lew Erlicht, then head of entertainment programming at ABC, to come up with a private-eye series. Caron wrote about fifty pages and decided he was creating a part for Cybill Shepherd, whom he had never met. He claims ignorance of the Cybill bashing that went on in the Seventies. “I was John Q. Public when that was going on,” he says. “Cybill has always been an underappreciated and, I think, slightly miscast actress. The warmth has always been there, the spontaneity, the vulnerability. All those things that for years no one knew she did. There isn’t an actor in the world that hasn’t been in a picture that ill suited him or her. Brando or whoever. Cybill just had more of those than most people.”

Caron was surprised when, a day after reading the script, Shepherd asked for a meeting. “I saw her — and my chin hit the table and my tongue hit the floor. It really killed whatever negotiating strength I had.” Caron was impressed, too, by her insight into his material. “She understood that America thought of her as a slightly spoiled, bratty, uppity, cold bitch goddess, and that the script sort of took that and pricked it. She seemed very much to relish the idea of playing to that.”

If ABC resisted the notion of starring Cybill Shepherd in a prime-time comedy, Caron minimizes it. “There was some concern her coldness would be a problem on television. And I said, ‘It is precisely that perception of coldness that works in our favor.'”

Theories about Moonlighting‘s popular appeal have ranged from its feminist themes to its Eighties update of the battle of the sexes. Caron says the show is The Taming of the Shrew. Weekly, he lends new significance to the moon in Moonlighting. Generally, Shepherd’s sexuality is the fount of all titillation. Says Caron, “We’re doing a show about the battle of the sexes, so we’d be hard-pressed not to give the character certain sexual dynamics. I might say we have figured out what David’s sexuality is about, and we’re not above putting it up there on display.

“We’ve done twenty-seven hours of this thing,” Caron continues. “When it really cooks — this is going to sound pretentious — it’s like a band doing riffs. Cybill’s always saying she reads my mind, and I kind of read hers, and we both read Bruce’s, and he reads us. It’s very much like musicians passing a riff around.”

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