Actress Barbara Hershey, 31, ruefully calls herself “a lady with a past,” and she certainly would have no trouble getting a substantial advance for yet another of those now modish showbiz autobiographies. For six mellow years in the ’60s and early ’70s, Barbara was the archetypal Hollywood hippie, playing Michelle Marvin to David (Kung Fu) Carradine’s Lee. Hershey gave birth out of wedlock to a son she named Free, bringing him into the world at home in Laurel Canyon (with David playing piano and guitar to ease her 20-hour labor). She and Carradine turned up salaciously nude together in Playboy, and Barbara later unbuttoned her sweater to nurse her son while the tape was rolling during a Dick Cavett interview. Hershey also changed her name—to Seagull—in remorse after killing one in a movie location accident on New York’s Fire Island. “I felt her spirit enter me,” she explained later. “It was the only moral thing to do.”
Now Barbara Seagull is reclaiming Barbara Hershey—both in name and in spirit. “I was naive,” she admits. “I just did a lot of growing up in public. I am older now, and I have changed.” For one thing, Carradine has been out of her life for five years. For another, Hershey is finding the right parts again after her share of TV and movie clinkers. She just finished her first film in four years, The Stunt Man with Peter O’Toole, which the director, Richard Rush, calls “her best role ever.” And this week she turns in a stunning performance opposite David Niven and Michael York in the NBC spy yarn A Man Called Intrepid. “I really believe she has found her equilibrium,” says co-star York, who praises Barbara’s “inner strength and wisdom” as well as her acting.
Shaking her super-flake reputation has not been easy. “The disturbing thing is that in the ’60s I became better known as a personality than as an actress,” Barbara reflects. “I was a symbol of that period in a lot of people’s eyes.” She also “ran away from the star trip.” Invited to be an Oscar presenter, for example, Barbara turned it down. “I said I was doing something else. I know now it was fear.”
Yet she had always dreamed of an acting career while growing up in Hollywood. She was born (and is still legally) Barbara Herzstein, the third child of a Daily Racing Form statistician. Her mom was and is a department store clerk, now at Bullock’s in L.A. “As soon as I could talk, I acted,” Barbara recalls, and the family nicknamed her Sarah Bernhardt. At first she was traumatized by school. “I was petrified of people; they thought I was deaf,” she reports. “Then all of a sudden when I was around 9 or 10, something clicked and I became a straight-A student.” At Hollywood High, her drama coach sent her to an agent who miraculously landed her a part on TV’s Gidget with Sally Field. “Sally said, ‘I hear this is your first job. If you need any support I’ll be here,’ ” Barbara remembers. “I’ve always loved her for that.” By 17, Barbara had a starring role in the ABC series The Monroes, but it was yanked after a year.
Then came 15 films, mostly turkeys, but Hershey herself got good notices in Last Summer (1969) and The Baby Maker (1970). She met Carradine on the set of Heaven with a Gun, and by the time they co-starred in Boxcar Bertha, Hershey publicly announced that they filmed the movie’s sex scenes “without having to fake anything.” After Free was born, she revealed they had planned to eat the afterbirth (“It’s very nutritious”) but buried it instead beneath an apricot tree “so he can eat the fruit nurtured by our own bodies.”
Barbara and Free and their hound dog, Bird, now live in comparative conventionality in a two-bedroom aerie in the Santa Monica Mountains. Free, 6, attends private school and sees his father frequently. Barbara and David (now married to Linda McGuinn, Roger’s ex) have no custody rules—or problems. “Free is his name, and the beauty of it is that he is free to change it if he wants,” Barbara notes. “So far he likes it.”
As for his mother, “My life is richer now,” she says. “I love to cook [mostly organic] and garden and play piano and flute.” She still drives her old (now chic) ’65 Ford Mustang and has lately taken to wearing dresses. “I’m not a shopping kind of woman,” she says. Nor a public one. “I’ve never been one to have many friends,” admits Barbara, “and I just don’t go discoing.” She and her secret current man—a showbiz type whom not even her pals have met—both avoid the Hollywood scene. The one thing that troubles her new serenity is that she won’t find good parts “after the glamor is gone at 35. Ideally, in my uppermost dreams,” says Hershey, “I want to affect people emotionally with my work. Everything,” says a lady who ought to know, “doesn’t have to have a Doris Day ending.”