January 21, 1980 12:00 PM

One of the most versatile actresses around, Ann Wedgeworth has brought distinction to the stage (Chapter Two), screen (Bang the Drum Slowly) and even soap opera (Another World). But her happiest notice came last fall when her daughter Dianna was asked by her second-grade teacher to complete the phrase “There’s no one like me because…” Unhesitatingly, little Dianna responded “…because my mom’s on Three’s Company!”

As Dianna knows, her flamboyantly auburn-haired mom was brought into the sexcom last fall (along with Don Knotts) to add a new subplot. But as the season went on, Wedgeworth noticed that her role was gradually being whittled away. The producers felt that the character wasn’t working but never informed Ann. Then two weeks before the holiday hiatus they abruptly dropped her option. “It was horrifying,” Wedgeworth admits. “I had no warning or explanation. Suddenly everyone was very cold to me. I went to tell John goodbye, and he was shocked—no one had told him. Joyce DeWitt, at least, called to say something to me about it.”

It’s been that kind of winter for Wedgeworth, who has had more than her share of career hard luck. Despite her Tony-winning performance, Ann lost the Chapter Two part she’d created on Broadway to the more billable Valerie Harper in the current movie version. Not given to pretense, Wedge-worth comments simply: “Sure I’m angry.” During previous setbacks, Ann, 46, confesses to having found solace in the occult. She recalls that in an emotional slump 10 years ago, “A voice coming out of another world talked to me when I was sound asleep. It said, ‘Ann, Ann, you can get up.’ I thought, ‘No, I can’t.’ But it came back and said, ‘Yes, you have to.’ ”

Similarly, Wedgeworth blames astrological conflicts for an unsuccessful five-year marriage to actor Rip Torn that ended with a Mexican divorce in 1961. “We both had violent tempers; two Aquariuses, you know. There was no way.” On the other hand, her second husband, Ernie Martin, a director and acting coach she wed in 1970, “is perfect. He’s so good to me. He’s a Sagittarius—fire—and I’m air.”

None of this high drama seemed to be in the stars for Ann back in Abilene, Texas, where her strict Southern Baptist father was a grammar school superintendent. Her mother died when Ann was 2 (“I’m not sure if I’ve made up my memories of her or not”) and she was raised by a family friend. They all migrated to Louisiana and then to Dallas, where Ann says she “ran with a wild crowd.” At SMU, and then the University of Texas, she showed an early flair for the stage, despite her father’s warning that actresses wound up hookers.

Enter Torn, who, after seeing a snapshot, told a friend that “he was going to meet me and marry me.” He did. The two of them started out together for Broadway and she produced their daughter, Danae, now 23 and an actress herself. Ann and Rip acted together in plays like Blues for Mister Charlie, but “We were too mean to live together,” she explains. “He’s moody, but not like those bastards he always plays,” Ann adds and, indeed, they’ve been friendlier post-divorce (even with his remarriage, to Geraldine Page). Later, when Wedgeworth found herself “living on unemployment and trying to get from one day to the next,” she says, “I went to pieces.” She eventually settled into a “dreary and horrible” six years in the soaps (she played Lahoma in Another World) before bouncing back in Chapter Two.

Ann and Ernie, who asked her to marry him on their first date, moved to California in 1976. She plunged into movies like Handle with Care but dropped out briefly after he underwent open-heart surgery. They’ve moved out of their original tiny apartment into a rented three-bedroom home in Brentwood. She’ll be seen next as Humphrey Bogart’s first wife in a made-for-CBS bio flick, Bogie: The Last Hero, but like any ex-Broadway actress, she still thinks legit. Significantly, she and Ernie have held onto the lease on their old West Side Manhattan pad, and their vacation home is in upstate New York. As Ann has every right to say: “You never know what’ll happen next.”

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