Sharon Gless reveals road to Hollywood in new memoir – New York Daily News

As many parts as Sharon Gless has played on TV, she’s played more in real life.
“I’ve been called a poor relative, a rich kid, a spinster, impudent, naïve, funny, darling, boring, fat,” she writes in “Apparently There Were Complaints,” her memoir. “I’ve been called a gay icon, a political liberal, a home wrecker, a sack of potatoes and a drunk.”
It gets to her.
“A more tough-skinned person would have ignored all of these labels,” she admits. “I’m many things, but tough-skinned isn’t one of them.”
With her book, Gless sets the record straight.
Born in 1943 in Los Angeles into two old-money families, her maternal grandfather was the high-priced attorney for heavyweights like Cecil B. DeMille and Howard Hughes. Her paternal grandfather’s family wealth went back generations, with real-estate holdings that once totaled over 40,000 acres.
By the time Gless arrived, though, her father’s family fortune was pretty much gone, and her mother’s money was primarily controlled by Gless’ tight-fisted grandmother, Grimmy. After Gless’ father walked out, Grimmy’s power grew stronger.
Grimmy had her granddaughter’s path all planned — boarding school, debutante cotillion, small Catholic college. But Gless hated little white gloves and loved having fun. By 19, she was sneaking off campus for keggers and sleeping with a married law student.
Suspended two weeks before finals, she slunk back home.
Her grandmother immediately announced there would be no more college for her wayward granddaughter – not on her dime. “I might as well have taken that money and flushed it down the toilet,” she announced. Gless went to work in a lingerie shop.
Then, one day, Gless’ mother pressed $200 into her hands, money she borrowed from neighbors. She told her daughter to get out while she could and start her own life.
“My mother was giving me my best chance to figure out my future, on my own,” Gless writes. “I cried for a bit, but I also knew this was what I wanted.”
It took her a while to figure things out. She sold or tried to sell aluminum siding —including on a brick house. Clearly, this wasn’t the right career. She ran a switchboard, and spent a few years in advertising, then in its three-martini-lunch days. “‘Mad Men’ was nothing compared to what really went on,” she writes.
Gless knew she wanted more. At 26, she enrolled in an acting class. That led to a small part in a play at a senior citizen center in Encino. Someone from Universal Studios caught one of the two performances. Gless was given a seven-year contract.
Starting pay was $186 a week.
Gless had to work hard for it, too. Universal would soon release blockbusters like “Jaws” and “The Sting,” but what predictably paid the bills in the early ‘70s were TV shows. “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” “McCloud,” “Ironside” — she guest-starred on all of them, eventually landing a regular part on “Switch.”
In 1982, Gless caught got a break. Lynn Redgrave had been fired from “House Calls” after daring to ask for breaks on set to breastfeed. Gless was asked to take over. At a preseason cocktail party, star Wayne Rogers introduced her to the rest of the cast and crew.
“She was not my choice,” he announced. “But CBS loves her.”
It was a warning of how uncomfortable working with Rogers would be. When the show ended that year, no one was surprised.
Gless was offered a starring role on another struggling show, “Cagney & Lacey,” which dumped co-star Meg Foster after six episodes. Gless was wary about taking over from another fired actress. She also knew that Tyne Daly, who starred as Lacey, wasn’t happy with the change.
Besides, Gless was initially offered the role of Cagney — and turned it down. Why take it now?
Then Gless and Daly met and quickly got drunk together. “I liked her,” Gless writes. “Very much.” Although neither actress was willing to give up top billing, showrunner Barney Rosenzweig brokered a compromise in which the honor alternated weekly.
The re-cast show took off while preserving its history-making appeal. As a quietly liberated TV drama with two female leads, “‘Cagney & Lacey’ introduced mainstream America to issues that were important to women,” Gless writes.
The show’s viewers were thrilled. The network, less so, and canceled the series after Gless’ first season.
Rosenzweig urged fans to write letters of protest. When the show hit No. 1 in summer reruns — and that year’s Emmy nominations included one for each star (Daly won), CBS had little choice. The show was brought back, eventually lasting seven seasons.
Off the set, though, Gless’ personal life began mirroring that of the free-living, risk-taking Cagney. She stayed up all night partying. She started a secret passionate affair with Rosenzweig, who was not only her boss but married.
“At least once a week, reality would crash in,” she says. “One or the other of us would become engulfed with regret, fear or guilt. One of us would break it off, Barney most often.” But they couldn’t stay apart.
Life increasingly imitated art. At the same time, Cagney was facing her drinking problem on the show, Gless’ friends were confronting the actress about her fondness for martinis. Her agent threatened an intervention if she didn’t go into rehab once the season ended.
Gless went, reluctantly. While she was there, “Cagney & Lacey” was canceled. When she returned home, after nearly two months, she was newly sober — and unemployed.
Sobriety turned out to be a bit of a struggle. Although there were relapses, Gless writes she has now been dry for eight years. Unemployment, though, was easier to handle, and Gless continued to work steadily, including roles on “Queer as Folk” and “Burn Notice.”
In 1991, she and Rosenzweig finally married.
Challenges have continued. Gless admits their relationship has been full of fights (and great make-up sex). Full of questions, too. At one time, Gless briefly wondered if she were gay. She hesitantly asked good friend Rosie O’Donnell if maybe, you know, they should …
O’Donnell quickly talked her out of it.
“So for all of you who thought since the first episode of ‘Cagney & Lacey’ that I was gay, well, I gave it my best shot with the number one lesbian on the planet,” Gless writes. “And she turned me down flat.”
But whatever her questions about herself, she is sure of what’s important and that was reinforced writing her book.
Acting remains a calling. Daly remains a best friend (they talk every day). And after 30 years, her marriage remains “hope-filled and heated, charmed and very challenging.”
Working on this book has allowed her to take stock.
“I realized that I have seldom felt as though I belonged,” she writes. “The only time I was sure of myself was when I was playing someone else.”
As an actress, she admits, “I never had a gimmick, or a killer body, or drop-dead looks.” And as a friend and lover, “I am loyal to those I love and as lonely as a foster child left on a doorstep.”
She has played many people on screen, she says — and contains just as many off.
But “It’s okay,” she jokes. “I’m in therapy.”

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