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11 Quick Questions for Actress Sharon Gless

The role of Christine Cagney put the 'Cagney & Lacey' star on the map, and her new memoir reveals a life of struggle and triumph

Sharon Gless, star of the 1980s TV show "Cagney & Lacey"

Keith Barraclough

 

Not many of her fans know that Sharon Gless almost did not become the cool, collected Christine Cagney of the 1980s primetime cop show Cagney & Lacey. That casting was NOT destiny, a fait accompli, or any other guaranteed certainty. How it came to be? Let’s just say her eventual costar, Tyne Daly, knew how to woo.

That’s just one of many behind-the-scenes stories Gless shares in Apparently There Were Complaints. It’s a refreshing, witty memoir about growing up in a California family with Hollywood ties, striving to become one of TV’s leading ladies in misogynistic, body-shaming times, dealing with a controlling grandmother, a submissive mother and an out-of-the-picture father. And did we mention her alcoholism? Don’t worry. She does.

We asked some questions about it all. Here, Gless, 78, answers with characteristic honesty.

Your memoir is a fun read. You let people in on a lot of personal information. Did you enjoy writing it?

It took me seven years! I didn’t expect to write it. I was invited to a meeting at CBS with the heads of comedy, drama and new series. I walked in expecting to talk about a new series. I walked out with a book deal to write my life story.

 

"Apparently There Were Complaints" book by Sharon Gless

Simon & Schuster

The title is intriguing. Tell us the story behind it.

In the book, I deal with my alcoholism, about which, by the way, there were complaints. I was in [Minnesota treatment program] Hazelden, the Harvard of treatment programs, for seven weeks and there was a lot of scandal around it. [Some years later] a friend asked about why I decided to get sober and I tried to make light of it. I said, “Apparently there were complaints.” I knew then it was the title of the book.

 

You amassed quite a collection of friends throughout life and career, among them such names as Robert Wagner and Rosie O’Donnell. What’s the secret to keeping them?

I have one very best friend and a handful of friends now, but I think the secret to keeping friends is to be a good friend. I’ll tell you who’s one of my best friends now —Tyne Daly. I’m much closer with Tyne now than when we were working long days on Cagney & Lacey. We didn’t have time to be friends then.

 

As people grow older, some look back and can identify a thing or two that shaped them. I looked for that in your book. Is there one thing?

I just knew I didn’t want to become who I was raised to be. I didn’t want to get married, do charity work and have beautiful children. I think being a mother is one of the most difficult jobs there is and I knew I couldn’t do it.

 

You talk much in the book about body weight and how you look because you are in a business that puts priority on that. Are you at peace about all that?

My weight is under control now but in my industry what you look like is so important. I’m affected today by complaints about my appearance. But I have been blessed in this business and I’ve lasted a long time.

 

When all is said and done, what do you think will be the work for which you are most remembered? Is it the work you would choose it to be?

Cagney & Lacey was pivotal, and I am very proud of it. But I did another series with [now husband] Barney Rosenzweig, Trials of Rose O’Neill, about a woman who is 50 and her husband leaves her. She becomes a defense attorney in downtown L.A. and I’m very proud of that, too.

Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly act on the set of the 1980s TV show "Cagney & Lacy" with police cars in the background.

CBS via Getty Images

Sharon Gless, left, starred as Chris Cagney, with Tyne Daly as Detective Mary Beth Lacey in "Cagney & Lacey." The police procedural drama ran for seven seasons, 1982-1988.

Cagney & Lacey was eventually rightly seen as a feminist breakthrough show. A touchstone for women in an era of struggle. Were you a feminist?

I wasn’t a feminist. I wasn’t anti feminist. The first feminist I ever met was [Cagney & Lacey creator] Barney. 

 

Speaking of Barney, you have been married for more than 30 years. But you share with your readers that there were times you two were near divorce. What kept you together?

I left town! I went to Canada for five years [to make the hit dramedy Queer As Folk]. But I think we just hung in.

 

You say you’d like to find another character or role. Do you have something in mind?

I don’t have a dream of a particular who or what I want to play. I just know when I see it…I know when something is good. I’ll just know.

 

Series or movie?

I love doing a series. TV has been good to me. I love the routine. I never get tired when I am doing something I love.

 

What about writing another book?

I can’t even imagine it.

 

Lorrie Lynch joined AARP as a website editor in 2010. She is director of feature content and senior executive editor for AARP.org. She is an award-winning writer and author of the journalism textbook Exploring Journalism and the Media; she was a senior editor and columnist for USA Weekend magazine and a founding editor of USA Today.


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