Like many stories on the Emmy-winning Cagney & Lacey, last week’s episode touched a nerve. Investigating a bombing at an abortion clinic, detective Mary Beth Lacey (Tyne Daly) and her partner Christine Cagney (Sharon Gless) both come out in favor of a woman’s right to an abortion. Lacey reveals she had an abortion as an unwed teenager. That angered the National Right to Life Committee which demanded that CBS and its affiliates yank the show or provide counter arguments to abortion by showing a 30-minute film, A Matter of Choice, following C&L.
Producer Barney Rosenzweig defended C&L: “We emphasized the anguish that women go through when they make [that] decision.” He was backed by Barbara Corday, co-creator and consultant on the series, whose own illegal abortion at 19 made her a role model for the Lacey character. That producer and consultant happen to be husband and wife didn’t weaken their argument. CBS aired the show without changes. Like Cagney and Lacey, Rosenzweig and Corday are a pair you don’t push easily.
The dark-eyed Corday, 41, may favor feminine dresses over “dress for success” suits, but as president for 16 months of Columbia Pictures Television, she’s a Hollywood powerhouse. The 48-year-old Rosenzweig, her husband of six and a half years, is a brash veteran of the TV wars, who sells Cagney & Lacey with the fervor he once brought to his job as “first Jewish cheerleader” at the then white-bread University of Southern California.
When disputes arise over characterization, says Tyne Daly, “Barney and I bargain. We hassle. He exaggerates, I scream. When Sharon and I get to the point where we can’t stand Barney, we call Barbara to soothe things over.”
A respected executive who oversees production of Crazy Like a Fox, Lime Street and other TV series, Corday believes that women bring a fresh sensibility to the business: “Men—including Barney—want to talk only about ‘the project.’ Women take the time to ask ‘How’s the baby?’ I think my way is healthier and more productive.” Even with her 12-hour day at Columbia, Corday still reads all the C&L scripts, watches rough cuts and occasionally visits the set.
In their marriage (both are divorced parents), Rosenzweig credits Corday with waking him up to women’s issues. “Barbara was the first working woman and single parent I knew,” says Barney, who met Corday in 1974 when he hired her to work on a TV series, Sons and Daughters. Corday pursued Rosenzweig vigorously. “She was very smitten with me, obsessive actually,” Rosenzweig says, laughing. Admits Corday, “I was convinced he was just scared of another relationship.” They lived together for a year and a half and then broke up. But when Rosenzweig was in Europe on business, Corday decorated his bachelor apartment. Recalls Barney, “She handed me the key and said, ‘Now you can enjoy your single life—goodbye.’ I realized then that what I wanted was Barbara.” They were married six months later.
Barney came up with the idea for Cagney & Lacey in 1974, and he asked Barbara to write it with her partner, Barbara Avedon. The networks first passed, but CBS went for it after a C&L movie got high ratings. “It was the first TV series to show women in a working partnership,” says Corday.
Born in Brooklyn, Barbara was the daughter of an editor of the Jewish Forward and a vaudevillian turned housewife. “I am from a working-class family, where all the women as well as the men worked, and they were almost all in show business,” says Corday. Skipping college, Barbara moved to Manhattan, where she got a job at a public-relations agency (she handled nightclubs) and in 1966 married a publicist. A year later, a pregnant Barbara moved to L.A. with her husband. They divorced in 1969, Barbara winning custody of daughter Evan, now 17. Working with Avedon, a pioneer woman writer in TV, Corday was story consultant on various TV series (Fish, Executive Suite) before moving to ABC as director of comedy development. After going out on her own as a producer, she was tapped as head of Columbia TV in 1984.
Rosenzweig, whose father was a schoolteacher and mother a civil servant, was born in L.A. He gravitated to show business after graduating from USC; he had married JoAnne Lang, the stepdaughter of producer Aaron (The Glen Miller Story) Rosenberg, in his senior year. Starting in the MGM mail-room, he quickly rose to a position as movie publicist. A self-styled “hot commodity” who hated his job, Rosenzweig got into TV production (Daniel Boone) in 1967 through his father-in-law. In 1968, after having fathered three daughters, his marriage fell apart. Then, in 1972, he made a disastrous film, Who Fears of the Devil. “Suddenly I was a divorced, broke failure,” he says. Friends like actors Bruce Dern and Sidney Clute (whom he later cast as Detective LaGuardia on C&L, and who died last month) helped him through financially until he found employment again with Men of the Dragon, a kung fu movie.
Befitting their A-list position, the Rosenzweigs own a lavish, gated mansion in Los Angeles. Barney’s daughter, Allyn, age 23, lives with them; Erika, age 25, an actress, lives in Connecticut; Torrie, age 21, is an art student in New York. On a free night Barney and Barbara come home at 9 o’clock after a fast-food hamburger. “To this day she’s never cooked a meal,” Barney says teasingly.
In their spare time Barney and Barbara are landscaping the lot adjoining their house. The lot is Barbara’s project, says Barney, “only because my vision of it was incredibly expensive. Barbara tends to remember her roots; I do everything to forget mine.”
He’d also like to lose sight of his former backer Mace Neufeld, who owns 37 percent of Cagney & Lacey, compared to Rosenzweig’s 12 percent. Neufeld is suing over revenues on the hit series and to replace Barney as producer. According to Rosenzweig, Neufeld also has asked him what members of the Rosenzweig family work on the show and at what salaries. “It is as if I were stealing vast sums by employing a few relatives,” says Barney. “My wife receives scale [$3,173 a week]. My mother-in-law plays our bag lady, she is paid scale [$361 an episode]. My daughter Allyn, who is a member of the costumers union, is paid scale [$14.51 an hour].” Rosenzweig is fuming. “The man isn’t content with the fact that I’ve made him a multimillionaire,” he says.
However the suit turns out, Rosenzweig is determined to run with his C&L success. His new development deal with Columbia to set up his own TV production company should do the trick. “I can produce crap,” he jokes, “and I’ll still make a lot of money.” But he won’t get away with it. Although Barbara won’t be Barney’s boss, you can bet that he will have to answer to the president.