After a documentary team had filmed 300 hours of both trivial and traumatic events—including the disintegration of Pat and Bill Loud’s 20-year marriage, the gay excesses of eldest son Lance, and the growing pains of four younger kids—the family’s life became America’s first real-life soap opera. Scrutinized by 11 million PBS viewers, the TV-verité form of An American Family was hailed by Margaret Mead as “important as the invention of drama or the novel.” These days Pat Loud has less lofty sentiments: “We’re living as normal people, which we are.” Though split by the coasts, “an unbreakable family link remains,” says Lance. “I’ve always wondered if we’d be this close today if the series hadn’t been shown.”
Pat Loud, 52, may be remembered as the only woman with sufficient sangfroid to tell her unfaithful husband in front of an eavesdropping TV crew that she had filed for divorce. “Filming American Family was not an easy thing,” she reflects. “It’s all in the past now. I’m glad we did it—I don’t know why—but we all survived.”
She, in fact, floundered about for a career after the series before moving to New York. Though insisting “we never milked the publicity,” she lived a couple of years on the royalties of her candid memoir, Pat Loud: A Woman’s Story. She presently works for literary agent Ron Bernstein and reckons, “I’ve found my niche.” She has not remarried, and if it’s any solace, ex-husband Bill refers to her as “a nifty lady.”
Grant, 24, fled Santa Barbara to pursue his singing career in New York. He now performs oldies like Noel Coward in Village boîtes but is finding it difficult to make a living. Brother Lance is his biggest promoter and the two boys visit Pat for Sunday dinner. “The press panned us left and right personally,” figures Grant. “We had to pull together.” But, six years wiser, he can shrug off the TV stigma. “Professionally, I try to play it down as much as possible,” he says. “I’m not the same person now—it’s like living two lives.”
Bill’s remarried, with his two girls nearby in L.A.
“I quit smoking, drinking and chasing women,” reports Bill Loud, now 58 and remarried. “So about all I have left is work, and I truly love it.” That means constantly traveling for the strip-mining equipment company of which he is still president. Any complaints from the second Mrs. Loud, former art teacher Carol Lee Sutherland, 45, are kept in the privacy of their townhouse not far from the eight-room ranch that was once a national TV landmark.
Daughters Delilah, 23 (above center) and Michele, 21, shuttle from their L.A. apartments to spend weekends with Dad. “We’re just like Krazy Glue,” says Delilah. After moving with Mom to New York, she put in five years at an ad agency handling cosmetic accounts and now holds down a similar job with L.A.’s Chickering and Howell. She feels that her mother was hurt by the documentary but on balance regards it as “a valuable experience.” A tender 13 when it was filmed in 1971, Michele says she “hated seeing other members of our family unhappy. I think,” observes Michele, who’ll graduate from L.A.’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising next winter, “the cameras put my parents on the spot, and they made faster decisions.”
Back then, Bill seemed to bask in the klieg lights. “We liked the notoriety,” he admits. “People will do anything to get on film, and it was a matter of satisfying my ego. Lately I guess I’m more mature,” he hopes. “I don’t think I’d do it again.”
Kevin forgoes glitter for finance
Kevin, 26, will collect his M.B.A., in finance, from Virginia’s William and Mary College this spring. But he frets about getting hired because of the predicted recession. “People wonder why I’m looking for a job,” he notes. “They assume we made a few million off the whole thing. We probably should have.” After high school Kevin did rock gigs, first with Grant, then with Lance. But when the media shower of ink and TV ended with no lucrative tie-ins, he quit to major in economics at UCLA. “I’ve never had aspirations to be famous,” he says. It’s just as well. “A girl on the UCLA campus,” he relates, “once walked by me and said to her friend, ‘That’s Kevin Loud.’ The other girl said, ‘Kevin who?’ ”
Lance, more subdued, is riding rock’s New Wave
He didn’t just come out of the closet; he sprang out, flamboyantly splashing himself all over public TV. Now, at 28, Lance says people still expect me “to be the same crazy, nutty, footloose and empty-headed kid I was. But I don’t have long hair or wear hairpins or lipstick—I’m slightly more serious.” He quit rock writing (“most interviews were very dull”) and “chose art over money,” touring the East as lead singer of a New Wave group, the Mumps. The band’s own label has sold 3,000 LPs “like Girl Scout cookies, door-to-door.”
“Being ex-famous leaves one with a hollow feeling,” admits Lance. “Once you’re a little bit of a celebrity, you always want to be more of one.” He shares a Lower East Side apartment with a male roommate and doesn’t regret having exposed his gay life-style on TV. “I’m proud of who I am, who I was and who I will be. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”