“She gained a husband and a salary,” says Greg Evigan, 26, star of B.J. and the Bear, about his marriage last June to former actress Pamela Serpe, 30. “I gained a wife and a manager.” Says the more aggressive Serpe of her sometimes shy client: “If I think Greg is being taken advantage of, or a situation is not working in his favor, I get angry. I don’t care who knows it.” B.J., in which Evigan plays a Vietnam vet truck driver whose best buddy is a chimp named Bear, has been weaving precariously around the bottom half of the ratings. So to play it safe, Serpe is shrewdly pointing Greg toward feature films and music.
The couple insist the Svengala arrangement works. “There are no secrets,” she says. “We know all the time how Greg’s career is going, and we don’t hide things from each other. That often happens with actors and managers.”
B.J. is the major television break for Evigan. Born in South Amboy, N.J., near where his father still works as an electrician, Greg took up classical piano at age 8. Too short for sports in high school (he’s since sprouted to 6’3″), Greg played organ and sax, sang in three rock bands and hung out with stagestruck kids in an informal repertory company.
After graduation in 1971 he was pondering a $110-a-week job in a shoe store and marriage to his steady when he went to New York to audition for the upcoming rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar. After 15 tryouts, he landed the role of Annas (a Jewish high priest), toured for nine months, then spent a year in the New York cast. Next he won the lead role of Danny Zuko in the Broadway cast of Grease and repeated it in Chicago with Marilu Henner, now of Taxi, and a young actor named John Travolta. Evigan recalls him as “the sweetest, shyest guy you could ever meet. It was hard even to talk to him. He’d just sort of mumble a ‘Hi’ at you. We all talked about going to California, making the big move,” Evigan adds. “Some of us did.”
Evigan’s move came in 1974 when music producer Don Kirshner landed him a role in a Norman Lear pilot about a rock star who sells his soul to the devil, Hereafter, later renamed A Year at the Top. (Imitating Kirshner, Evigan says, “He called and said, ‘Heeeey, Babe! We’re gonna go to L.A.’ “) The young actor hung around Hollywood waiting for the pilot to air. “At first I liked California,” Evigan says. “I bought myself a Pontiac Grand Prix, which is the sort of car that makes you a real big shot in New Jersey. But after nine months, I wanted to go home where it wasn’t so hot and so hard to breathe.”
Greg’s bags were packed to return in August 1975 when he accepted a $1,200 movie job in Seattle, followed by forgettable but life-sustaining parts in TV shows. He had to turn down Welcome Back, Kotter because he was still contractually tied to A Year at the Top, scheduled for January 1977 in prime time. It was canceled the day Evigan was to appear on the Dinah Shore show—”They stopped me from going on because I would have nothing to say.” Top finally ran for five weeks the following summer and bombed. So did a rock LP Greg made with Paul Shaffer, now Saturday Night Live’s musical director.
With that background, Evigan approached B.J. and the Bear skeptically. His audition, he felt, was “just ordinary. I never expected too much.” The series, one of NBC’s few successes in recent years, has been on the air a year. Its spin-off, The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, is eight months younger.
Pam Serpe came from a Long Island showbiz family. Her father was a producer with Dino De Laurentiis and her mother taught ballet, which Pam studied at 4 as therapy for her knock-knees. (They straightened out. Her legs later graced a Billy Preston album sleeve and the July 1977 cover of Playboy.)
At 17, she won a dance scholarship to the celebrated Harkness School of Ballet, and then quit. “I had a strange childhood because our family fortunes went up and down so often,” she recalls. “We lived in a 34-room mansion at one point, yet all our belongings could be stuffed into one car.”
She tried out for Katharine Hepburn’s Broadway show Coco 11 years ago and made the chorus. After moving to L.A., she landed dancing parts on shows like The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I was getting $300 per show for waving my arms about.”
After two “terrible films,” clerking at Budget Rent a Car and working as a dentist’s receptionist, Pam turned to modeling, “until one day I looked at myself in the mirror, realized I was worried about a broken nail and a pimple, and decided to quit.” After rejecting several “dumb parts” on television and accepting others she liked (Police Woman and The Eddie Capra Mysteries, for instance), Pam joined casting director Phyllis Carlyle in a two-woman talent management company.
Evigan was among their original roster of 15 clients; Serpe first saw him from the back. “I clearly remember those cheeks, walking down the hall,” she jokes. “But I knew he was younger, and I thought—I don’t date kids.” When they met later that day in March ’78, she says, “I saw those eyes looking down at me and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, I’m in trouble.’ ” Greg eyed her back and a few weeks later asked Pam to go on a picnic.
They lived together for six months, then got married because, Greg says, “You can’t know about marriage until you try it.” The relationship, Pam says, “was very physical, of course, but it was the fun part of him I liked. The child in me had never come out.”
After the wedding in the garden of the elegant Hotel Bel-Air, with Evigan’s co-star, Sam the Chimp, attending in tuxedo, Pam ceded the other 14 clients to Carlyle and devoted herself to Greg. She works out of their home in Hollywood Hills and pays herself a manager’s percentage. She frequently visits her husband on the Universal set, where he films B.J. in a $100,000 rig. His 14-hour days are nearly as grueling as those faced by authentic 18-wheel jockeys.
He has no illusions about the series: “I know there’s no time for great moments—they just end up on the cutting room floor, because the show has to be all story.”
Evenings he works out on the drums, sax and piano in his private music room, preparing for an album with his band, GhettoWay City. Pam’s trying to master the bike Greg gave her. “I must be the only 30-year-old in Los Angeles who has a 10-speed bike with training wheels,” she sighs.
They’re “working on a child” under the watchful eye of a Chinese fertility goddess statue his mom gave them for Christmas. “We’ve decided that whatever we do, we’ll do it together,” Evigan says. “If we can, fine. If we can’t, it’s not worth doing.”