The funny thing was, Bert Convy had just come across her photo in his agent’s actors’ directory and had already felt the earth move. “Who’s that?” he asked his agent. No dice, the agent said. Anne Anderson was engaged or engaged to be engaged, or something.
But the next thing he knew, there she was. The year was 1958, and a mutual friend brought her to see Convy hoof and croon and joke around in The Billy Barnes Revue. It was a dream come true—only Bert kept looking over during the show and Anne didn’t laugh once. Worse, afterward, over drinks, she just sat there, as pretty as her picture and just as responsive. Little did he know that Anderson had already seen the show six times and was petrified that he wouldn’t like her. Fortunately, remembers Convy, the mutual friend was canny enough to plead a headache and ask him to take Anne home. “That did it,” says Bert, smiling rakishly. “I didn’t see the sunlight for….” Within 17 days they had become engaged.
The Convys have been skimming serenely across marital waters for 24 years now, which has to be some sort of record in Hollywood, where staying married is an alternate life-style. Now, to cap things off, Bert, best known as the Emmy award-winning host of the CBS game show, Tattletales, and Anne, actress/ mother/ writer, are working together in the same critically acclaimed prime-time sitcom—ABC’s It’s Not Easy. Anne, who has done scripts for One Day at a Time, Alice and Love, Sidney, is one of the show’s four writers, while Bert plays opposite Ken (The White Shadow) Howard, Carlene (Best of the West) Watkins and comedian Jayne Meadows. The situation is this: Howard and Watkins are divorced and live across the street from each other so as to share custody of their two kids more easily. Howard resides with Meadows, his brassy mother, and Watkins lives with Convy, her dapper new husband, who has a child of his own. Problems naturally ensue.
According to producer Pat Nardo, It’s Not Easy is “the family show for the 1980s because the divorced parents of today are like pioneers plowing new ground. They have no role models, no rules or guidelines to follow because their parents stayed married.” Actually, neither Convy nor Howard was originally slated for the sitcom. “Gerald [Simon & Simon] McRaney was to play Ken’s part,” explains Anne, who was there at the creation. “And Larry Breeding was to play Bert’s. Then, Larry was killed in a car crash last year, and Simon & Simon was picked up. Here we were with a 13-week commitment from the network and no stars.” Enter Howard and Convy.
This is not the first collaboration for the Convys, who are more than coy about their ages. (Anne is in her mid-405, and Bert is pushing 50.) Anne has helped craft Bert’s nightclub act and also written material for his appearances as guest host on The Tonight Show. After long days on the set of It’s Not Easy, they try to leave the show behind. But every now and then, Anne notes with a laugh, “I’ll tease him by saying, ‘Watch it or I’ll give that line you like so much to Ken.’ ”
The Convys both come from broken homes. Born in Tulsa, Okla., the only child of a businessman and a housewife, Anne attended the University of Oklahoma in Norman. She went to L.A. in the late ’50s with visions of becoming a dancer and studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. “Then I met what’s-his-name—Bart Conroy here—and had babies.”
Between diaper changes, she did TV commercials and appeared on shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Cheyenne, Father Knows Best, Sea Hunt. “I started writing a few years ago,” she says. “People had told me I should be a writer since the days in high school when I would do term papers in exchange for math homework. Frequently, at dinners, when Bert would have to say something, he’d whisper, ‘Quick, give me a line!’ The only thing was, I wasn’t paid for it then.”
Bert found his way to California earlier than Anne. He was born in St. Louis where his father was in the shoe business. When his parents split up, Bert, then 7, and his mother moved to the San Fernando Valley. Convy was class clown at North Hollywood High, a glib sort who got serious only on the baseball field where he played first base. After graduating, he spent two years shuttling between college and Philadelphia Phillies farm clubs in outposts like Klamath Falls, Oreg. and Miami, Okla. In 1952 he managed to get on stage at UCLA—even if it was a non-speaking role as a butler in Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid. No matter. He was smitten. “I remember the first day they gathered the entire theater arts department in Royce Hall,” he says. “The dean told the 500 of us, ‘If you are very, very lucky, one of you will make his living in this business… one!’ I remember walking out, feeling sorry for the other 499.”
Confidence has never been a problem for Convy. While still at UCLA, he joined a rock ‘n’ roll group called the Cheers. Their first single, (Bazoom) I Need Your Lovin’, was a hit in 1954; their second, Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots, sold a million copies a year later.
The Convys moved to New York in 1962; Anne continued doing commercials, and Bert did Broadway. He tripped lightly in The Fantasticks, and co-starred in the ill-fated Nowhere to Go but Up (mischievously renamed Nowhere to Throw but Up by Bert). He was in the original casts of Cabaret and Fiddler on the Roof and won rave reviews last year when he took over the lead in Nine. Yet it was in 1974, after he and Anne had moved back to California, that Convy took the role that has made a lasting impression on the American public: He began hosting Tattletales. “It made my whole life happen,” he says. “All of a sudden I was getting movies of the week I couldn’t get before because they didn’t know who I was.” Even now, in spite of the demanding schedule on It’s Not Easy, Convy devotes two weekends a month (shooting 10 shows a weekend) to Tattletales.
For the past seven years the Convys have lived in a sprawling five-bedroom house in Pacific Palisades. Their oldest child, Jennifer, 23, recently moved to New York in pursuit of an acting career, but Josh, 18, and Jonah, 15, continue to abide in the family menagerie, which features five dogs picked up from the streets by the tender-hearted woman of the house.
There’s one drawback to a blissful home life such as theirs: It does not provide much material for your average sitcom. Indeed, asserts Anne, “Only one incident from our marriage has ended up in the show.” She smiles at the memory. “Jonah came home from school one day and said that a kid had said to him, ‘You mean your mother and father are your original mother and father? How weird!’ ”