There had to be a flip side of Barbra Streisand or Diana Ross, and she is Cybill Shepherd. Cybill wanted to be a movie star, she says now at 29, mostly to get into singing. She just completed a two-week gig doing jazz numbers and a bit of Bessie Smith at Reno Sweeney’s in Greenwich Village and has an album out titled, aptly, Vanilla. If nothing else, Cybill has paid her dues to sing the Memphis blues.
She parlayed a Miss Teenage Memphis title into Glamour and Vogue covers and Hollywood stardom in The Last Picture Show in 1971. The director was Peter Bogdanovich, and he became her mentor and lover as they moved into the Bel Air mansion of Clark Gable’s widow. During their seven years together, Shepherd took voice lessons and has had no fewer than four teachers (including one for opera). Occasionally she would make unpublicized singing appearances around L.A.—”anything from shopping centers in Anaheim to concerts with Harry James,” she says. But her first attempt to go public—with a 1974 album produced by Bogdanovich entitled Cybill Does It…to Cole Porter—was, she confesses, “an embarrassment.”
When their careers floundered—two movies they made together, Daisy Miller and At Long Last Love, were disasters—they split professionally and soon after personally. Cybill felt their relationship brought out the bitchiness in reviewers and complains: “We could not be judged for the work we were doing.”
Almost immediately her life and singing hit an upbeat when, on a trip back home to Memphis, Cybill met saxophonist Fred Ford. He urged her to cut the Vanilla LP that is the basis for her current show. But the real Ford in her future was David (no kin to Fred), a two-years-younger Memphis State dropout who was working “just to eat” in an auto parts shop. “I felt like I’d always known him,” says Cybill, who married Ford in Gloucestershire, England in 1978 after she wrapped a remake of Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s 1938 classic, The Lady Vanishes.
Shepherd lives with David (who now backs her on guitar) and their 7-month-old daughter, Clementine, in a 1928 bungalow on a tree-lined street in mid-town Memphis. The Fords are planning to move to a riverfront condo so they “can see the Mississippi.” When the weather is good, they like to picnic on its banks at sunset. Around town Cybill, who gained 40 pounds during pregnancy, wears a T-shirt, skirt and bobby socks—and often an emerald-and-diamond necklace. She takes Clementine out for air in her buggy and serves up Southern dishes like turnip greens and cornbread.
She professes not to worry about the future. The Lady Vanishes has not been released yet, and neither her club nor her recording career has exactly taken off. “I don’t have a five-year plan,” she says. “I don’t even have a plan for today. I’m just enjoying my life.”