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Sharon Gless: In conversation

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"I've been surrounded by movies all my life," said actress Sharon Gless. "And I dreamed that someday, I could do that."

Raised in an upper-class Los Angeles neighborhood, Gless grew up surrounded by the allure of Hollywood. "I used to go out there at night, and they had klieg lights going across the sky in those days," she said.

Her grandfather, Neil McCarthy, was a powerful entertainment lawyer in town. His clients included Howard Hughes, Cecil B. DeMille, and Louis B. Mayer.

Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz asked Gless, "Did he want his granddaughter to go into the movie industry?"

Actress Sharon Gless.  / Credit: CBS News
Actress Sharon Gless. / Credit: CBS News

"He said, 'You stay out of it. It's a filthy business!" she laughed.

Gless ignored Grandpa's advice, though she started late. At 26, a talent scout from Universal Studios happened to see her in a small play. It led to a seven-year contract as an actor, for waitress money: $186 a week.

"Somebody said: 'You don't wanna sign a contract at Universal. Nobody will ever hear from you again,'" Gless recalled. "I said, 'Nobody's heard of me now!'"

It all changed in the early 1980s. On "Cagney & Lacey," Cless earned two Best Actress Emmys playing Detective Chris Cagney to Tyne Daly's Mary Beth Lacey (who won four).

Now 78, Gless examines those highs – and some terrifying lows – in a new memoir, "Apparently There Were Complaints" (published by Simon & Schuster, a ViacomCBS company).

 / Credit: Simon & Schuster
/ Credit: Simon & Schuster

Gless is typically candid in print, including some PG-rated kissing-and-telling, like the time the studio set her up for one night out with a young, relatively unknown director named Steven Spielberg.

"He didn't kiss me," she said.

"One date?"

"One date. It was set up. We were assigned to each other, for the evening. But we never spoke."

But on the show "Queer as Folk," Gless did kiss guest star Rosie O'Donnell. "It's the first time that I had ever kissed a woman, and here it is on screen. Rosie sends me flowers the next day, sends me a dozen roses, saying, 'You're a good kisser!'" Gless laughed.

From there, a friendship grew. Then, years later, there was this one moment with Rosie … "One night I was building such intense feelings for her, I was really coming to love her," Gless said. "And I think I got confused: I'm married, she's married. And she said, 'Oh, Glessy! NO!' I said, 'Really?' She said, 'You're so straight!' She laughed at me!"

And then there's Barney Rosenzweig, her husband.

Mankiewicz asked, "Is Barney a good kisser?"

"Yes," Gless laughed. "What am I gonna say?"

Rosenzweig was also the boss – the executive producer of "Cagney & Lacey." He described the show as "not about two cops who happened to be women; it was two women who happened to be cops."

Mankiewicz talked with the couple at a legendary Hollywood restaurant, Musso & Frank. She's been coming since she was a baby, and it's where she met Rosenzweig for the first time. He recalled: "It was here that I offered her the job, and she didn't take it. So, it didn't go well."

"I thought he was arrogant, spending the whole lunch telling me how hard I'd have to work if I took this job," Gless said. "Excuse me? I know hard work!"

Gless had already turned the role down twice, and she was set to say no again: "I didn't wanna pack a rod. You know? I just didn't want to be carrying around the hardware … I just had other dreams."

Mankiewicz interrupted: "Could you say, 'I didn't wanna pack a rod,' again? Because it really is gonna be the most thrilling moment of my week!"

"Really? I just didn't wanna pack a rod."

"Yup. Yup. Yup. There it is!"

Tyne Daley and Sharon Gless, BOTH packing rods, in
Tyne Daley and Sharon Gless, BOTH packing rods, in

"Cagney & Lacey" became a hit – and Gless and Rosenzweig fell in love. And it was Rosenzweig who made a bold decision for a TV show in the '80s: Gless' character would confront her demons, speaking at an AA meeting: "My name is Christine. I am an alcoholic."

It was an eerily prescient television moment, because roughly a year later, life intimated art for Gless.

Mankiewicz asked Rosenzweig, "Did you think that Sharon was an alcoholic?"

"No, I did not."

"So, that was not part of your thinking at all?"

"No. No, no, no. I have trouble believing she's an alcoholic today. She never drank at home. She was a social drinker."

"But with blackouts," Gless added.

"As she got older and older, then the booze got worse and worse."

Gless spent seven weeks in rehab, stayed sober for 15 years, then she started drinking again, when one doctor gave her a grave warning: "He said, 'I wanna say something to you: if you ever have another drink again, don't call me, because I don't do suicide.'"

"And now, how long have you been sober?" asked Mankiewicz.

"I think seven, almost eight years."

"Do you miss it?"

"I miss the martini, yeah. Every day!"

In her memoir, Gless writes, "Being happy has always been my goal." So, here's a happy ending: She and Rosenzweig survived tough times and have been married 30 years.

Sharon Gless and Barney Rosenzweig.  / Credit: CBS News
Sharon Gless and Barney Rosenzweig. / Credit: CBS News

And the pandemic has brought a couple of old friends even closer. Rosenzweig said, "There's hardly a morning that goes by that Tyne Daly doesn't call my wife."

"In fact, I'm having dinner with her at Musso & Frank's next week!" Gless added.

READ AN EXCERPT: "Apparently There Were Complaints" by Sharon Gless

For more info:

"Apparently There Were Complaints: A Memoir" by Sharon Gless (Simon & Schuster), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available via Amazon and Indieboundsharongless.comFollow Sharon Gless on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Story produced by Jay Kernis and Robert Marston. Editor: Chad Cardin.

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