They have, at first glance, the kind of family life that Hollywood usually produces only in the most saccharine situation comedies. Racing around her country kitchen in Malibu, Calif., Cindy Williams fetches daughter Emily her orange juice, tends to son Zack’s runny nose, brews her own coffee, then reminds husband Bill Hudson that it’s time to pick up the take-out Chinese lunch. Indeed, the former Laverne & Shirley star and the eldest of the Hudson Brothers musical trio seem so taken with their roles as parents and spouses that they’re repeating them at the office, playing a similarly loving couple in Just Like Family, a new Wednesday-night Disney Channel series.
But both the personal and televised relationships of Williams, 41, and Hudson, 39, are more complicated than they initially appear. In Just Like Family—a spin-off of their 1986 ABC-TV movie, Help Wanted: Kids—they’re cast as Tom and Lisa Burke, a childless pair of over-achievers who, in order to give Tom the necessary family-man corporate image, recruit two neighborhood children to pose as their own. Offscreen, Cindy and Bill have no need to rent offspring; in addition to Emily, 6, and Zack, 3, their splintered and scattered family includes Oliver, 12, and Kate, 10, Bill’s children by first wife Goldie Hawn. “When Oliver and Kate are with us,” says Williams, “it’s like all the kids are brothers and sisters.”
Such interfamilial “quality time,” however, comes all too infrequently for Hudson, whose alternate-weekend visiting rights are applicable only when the children are in L.A. “When they’re in town, we have them as often as we can,” he says, “but Goldie travels a lot. She’s a megastar; she flies around the world. That’s fine, but my kids are in this whirlwind with her, and it’s hard for Cindy and me to plan anything for all of us together as a family.” Even when Hawn isn’t traveling, Hudson’s visiting rights are often brushed aside because Goldie has Kate and Oliver in Aspen, where she sometimes lives with boyfriend Kurt Russell and their son, Wyatt, 2. I don’t want to do battle with Goldie over the kids,” says Hudson, who has seen Oliver and Kate a dozen times since January. “But I don’t want to chase them all over the country. I’ve asked her to let me have them on a regular basis, and she tells me she’ll think about it.” (A spokeswoman for Hawn said that the star didn’t want to discuss publicly her “children’s problems with their father.”)
While lawyers try to hammer out a revised agreement, guaranteeing Hudson specific time with his children no matter where they are, Bill and Cindy must rely on their own counsel to handle the poignant repercussions of the present arrangement. “The last time we went to get the kids, Goldie and Kurt were gone,” recalls Williams. “When we left with Oliver and Kate, Wyatt, whom we all love, wanted to come with us. But we had to leave him behind with his nanny. Everyone felt terrible.” Equally upsetting was the time Oliver, then 6, first saw his newborn half sister, Emily. “He asked if his mom [Goldie] could come see the baby,’ ” says Williams, “It broke my heart.”
Cindy’s appreciation of the vicissitudes of motherhood was late in coming. When she first dated Bill in 1981, she was as single-minded as her TV alter ego, Shirley Feeney. “It was a test by fire—instant family,” she admits. “But it’s great now. I love these little people.” And, stresses Bill, “Cindy knows how to balance her family and her work. I never had that in my marriage with Goldie—no matter how she came on after our divorce as this abandoned little creature who was taken advantage of by men.”
At the beginning of his 1976 marriage to Hawn, Hudson’s career looked promising. Along with younger brothers Brett and Mark, he had a string of popular records and a prime-time musical comedy program, The Hudson Brothers Show. Goldie, on the other hand, was eight months pregnant and, despite fame as Laugh-Ins nincompoop nonpareil and an Oscar for 1969’s Cactus Flower, her career was progressing erratically. She was determined to return to the spotlight. “Goldie was on the comeback road and didn’t want to fail,” says Hudson, who often cared for their children when Hawn was on location. “Her priorities shifted when she started filming Foul Play, and our kids were sort of left as No. 2 priority. I couldn’t believe I was seeing that.” He moved out in 1980.
Several months later, Hudson, whose pre-Hawn dates included Jill St. John, Ali MacGraw and Loretta Swit, spied Williams cheering at a celebrity baseball game. Cindy gave him the thumbs down. “I thought he was a playboy,” she says. But when he sent her a book, Martha Lear’s Heart sounds, for Christmas, she relented and invited him for dinner. “Holy catfish!” she remembers thinking when he showed up. “He looks like a Greek god.” Two months later she was pregnant, and in another two months, after Hudson got his divorce from Goldie, they married. Hawn, who once chalked up her two divorces to ‘my success” and “sudden wealth,” seemed delighted by Hudson’s remarriage, “I’m mad about Cindy,” she said in 1986. “She’s great. The kids love her. She’s always buying Oliver shoes or Kate dresses or picking up medicine for them.”
After seven years of marriage, Bill and Cindy apply similarly gushy descriptions to each other. “He’s a Renaissance man,” says Cindy. “She cares more about other people than she does about herself,” says Bill. There are, thankfully, some signs of mortal discord. They fight, for example, about money. “I know what we can and can’t afford,” says Hudson, the comptroller. “And when we can’t, I don’t want to hear about it,” counters Williams.
Such feistiness rolls over to Disney’s Stage 4, where the couple report for Just Like Family. “Sometimes I say something to Cindy like, ‘Why don’t you do it this way?’ ” admits Hudson. “He says it,” interjects Williams, “like a husband. So I turn around and snarl at him.”
For the most part, Williams likes working with her mate “more than I don’t like it. But sometimes I just want to get him out of here and be alone for a minute! When we drive into the driveway, we change gears; now we’re a real mom and dad.” And occasionally that’s easier for Bill. “I don’t always have the patience you need to be a parent,” says Williams, who blames her short fuse on growing up with her alcoholic father’s explosive temper. “Sometimes I’ll say to Bill, ‘You’d better handle this because I’m about off the Richter scale.’ ” Hudson has been playing daddy as far back as the age of 5, when his parents divorced and his mother went to work on an assembly line in Portland, Ore. “I was a father to my brothers,” says Hudson.
Like Hudson’s first wife, Williams is diligent about her career and admired for her work—Family director Jim Drake, who has overseen episodes of Newhart and The Golden Girls, calls her “one of the top comediennes I’ve worked with.” But, says Bill, “unlike Goldie, Cindy doesn’t have to be ‘on’ all the time. Goldie perceives herself as Goldie Hawn, the Star. Cindy does not see herself as a star. She’s an actress.”
Despite their inextricably entwined schedules, the couple manage solo pursuits. Cindy is active in a number of humanitarian causes. And Bill, who has campaigned for the Democratic Party since he was 18, is considering a run as a Democratic congressional candidate in 1992.
As a Congressman, Hudson would like to improve the lot of the “global family.” As a father, he’s worried about more immediate relations. “Look at our situation,” he says. “Here are Oliver and Kate who belong to Goldie and me. Here are Emily and Zack, who belong to Cindy and me. Goldie and Kurt have Wyatt. And then Kurt has Boston [his son with ex-wife Season Hubley]. I just wonder what’s going to happen down the line. How are we going to arrange birthday parties and going back and forth? That’s a real sitcom plot.” He may need some clever scripting to keep the audience—and players—laughing.
—Margot Dougherty, Suzanne Adelson in Los Angeles