Girls throwing themselves at me on two continents. Before I hit it, that’s what I always wanted. But just when I got it, I didn’t want it anymore. I’d found somebody.” The sweet lament comes from James Carroll Jordan, 28, who by virtue of Rich Man, Poor Man and his current Wheels has become a TV miniseries idol. He does indeed have a growing corps of female admirers. The “somebody” who’s keeping them afar is actress Penny Peyser, 27, now Mrs. James Carroll Jordan. So much for her husband’s harem.
So much also for any illusions Peyser might once have had about love at first sight. She was playing Ramona Scott to his Billy Abbott in Rich Man, Book Two, she recalls, when one day, “As we left the set Jim slapped me on the ass with his script, and I thought, ‘That sonofabitch—he thinks he can have any girl he wants.’ ”
“It was just as well she felt that way,” says Jordan. “The script called for me to taunt her and she made that easy. When we had to kiss I planted a big one on her, just to irritate her. I wasn’t going to date actresses anyway. You know how actresses are.”
“The same way actors are,” sniffs Peyser.
They were five episodes into the series, and Billy was about to steal Ramona from his own step-brother, before Jordan asked Penny out. It was not until they had shot the eighth (Ramona and Billy were already pretty cozy) that they fell in love.
Jordan didn’t realize it until he was on a Rich Man promo tour in Amsterdam (“every bachelor’s dream”). “I was offered coke, hash and a couple of blondes,” he recalls. “But I didn’t want any of it. I was sure I’d be 30 before I was married, and I’d always liked much younger busty blondes. So I end up with a small-breasted brunette my own age. But she has great legs.”
At the time Peyser was still adjusting to Hollywood after moving out, full of qualms, from New York and the off-Broadway theater. ” ‘You might as well work in a used-car lot as go to California’ was the game we all played,” she laughs. “I snuck out of town.”
Stagestruck since 6 when she saw Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady, Penelope Allison Peyser later mimicked the English star in a high school production of The Boy Friend. After graduation from Emerson College in Boston in 1972, she waitressed in Manhattan, was “a glorified chorus girl” off-Broadway and played in Hot L Baltimore.
What pushed her West was a 90-second role in All the President’s Men, which she won over the objection of Robert Redford, the film’s producer-star. Penny’s father, Peter, former mayor of their Westchester village of Irvington-on-Hudson, was a three-term Republican congressman, and Redford wasn’t keen on casting politicians’ daughters. Fortunately for her, Pop was a liberal Republican who had criticized Nixon early and was preparing to challenge Conservative James Buckley in the Senate primary. (He lost.) “I talked to Robert Redford about my father and Nixon,” says Peyser. “Dad was tainted after Watergate, like a lot of other Republicans.”
The argument convinced Redford and, armed with her film snippet (she played Charles Colson’s secretary), she moved to Hollywood. In two months she landed the Rich Man role.
Jim—everybody calls him that, though he’s never billed that way since Jim Jordan is radio’s Fibber McGee—was born on Okinawa. His father, now a Continental Airlines employee, was stationed there as an Air Force pilot. As a child Jim was moved around NATO bases in Europe, attending 18 schools before he landed at Cleveland High School in the San Fernando Valley. He studied acting at nearby Valley College, at California State at Northridge, and in London as the first American scholarship student at the Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. After making spaghetti Westerns in Italy, he returned to California, where he won a role on the soap Days of Our Lives and also became a familiar face on the nighttime cop shows.
Since Rich Man, Peyser has become Judge Franklin’s daughter on The Tony Randall Show and Jordan has spent most of his time on Wheels. Meanwhile, they moved into a rented Brentwood house together last summer, but, says Peyser, “only after we had decided to get married.” The wedding—postponed six weeks because of the death from cancer of Jim’s mother—was an all-stops-out affair last Thanksgiving in the Episcopal church back in Irvington. It featured songs by Penny’s sister Carolyn, an aspiring operatic soprano, crowd sounds offstage from a gaggle of Jordan’s teenage fans, and a trumpet fanfare. “I was only going to get married once,” Jim explains, “so I wanted to get married loud.”
“He wanted to make an entrance,” Penny interrupts. “He’s an actor—let’s face it. But I don’t mind. I’ll give him the stage anytime.”
Their romance surprised a lot of their Rich Man colleagues. Susan Sullivan (she played Maggie Porter) recalls, “I told Penny I didn’t like the looks of the relationship. I thought Jim was terribly taken up with himself. But they’re wonderful together.” Peyser adds, “Everybody has times when they get on each other’s nerves, but since we’ve been married we snap back together more easily.”
Peyser and Jordan share their four-room house with a golden retriever, Shanny. Children are planned but, says Penny, “We have to wait a year for financial reasons.” They split expenses not 50-50 but according to who’s working. Currently that’s chiefly Peyser, who is in Northern California making a TV movie, B.J. and the Bear, about a trucker. She’s playing an ex-hooker in huge platform heels and short shorts. Sissy Spacek turned down the role; Peyser took it “because it’s the antithesis of everything I’ve done. I’ve always been an upstanding citizen.” (The switch may not help in the Jordans’ current joint project, campaigning for Penny’s father in his effort to return to Congress.)
The two of them try to avoid big parties. Jordan, who is less sociable than his wife, says, “She has a New York idea that she could go out without me, but if she did that in L.A. it would be all over town that the marriage is in trouble.” They prefer quiet evenings with actor friends.
Peyser and Jordan have auditioned together for TV and dream of starring in a stage production of Guys and Dolls. Penny also has a “fantasy nightclub act” that so far has been tried out only in the bathroom and kitchen. Meanwhile, they have acquired a videotape machine to preserve their own TV appearances and check the competition. After all, Peyser asks, betraying an attitude their employers would just as soon didn’t catch on, “Who wants to stay home and watch TV?”