By Deirdre Donahue
November 04, 1985 12:00 PM

All hell is breaking loose inside Cybill Shepherd’s four-level, three-bedroom San Fernando Valley condo—the perfect setting, as it turns out, for a farce. The Sunday interview and photo session are meant to celebrate Shepherd’s ouch-she’s-hot success on ABC’s romantic-comedy hit series Moonlighting, her first unqualified smash since her 1971 film debut in The Last Picture Show.

This should be Cybill’s moment alone. No men. Hadn’t she spent years trying to kill her image as a no-talent blonde—the one blamed for stealing director Peter Bogdanovich from his wife of eight years and then setting his career back by taking starring roles in two of his flops (Daisy Miller and At Long Last Love)? Two days earlier, Cybill had set down the rules: “There are two men I see now, one I’ve known 15 years and the other only a few months. But I won’t tell you their names. I’m protecting the relationships.” There was more to it, as there always is with Spitfire Shepherd. “I’m my own manager now,” she added, “and I don’t like the men I’m dating telling me how to act.”

The funny part is that this modern-day Scarlett O’Hara can’t keep her men away. Cybill, 35, shares her $250,000 condo exclusively with Clementine, 6, her daughter from her four-year marriage to Memphis auto-parts dealer David Ford, and with Myrtle Boone, Clementine’s nanny, but suitors keep clustering. This day is no exception. With the interviewer arriving, Shepherd has stashed author Larry McMurtry (he wrote The Last Picture Show and figures to be the one she’s known 15 years) in the second-floor bedroom, where Cybill’s having a go at hair and makeup.

One hardly takes more than a glance at the mantle, where Lonesome Dove, McMurtry’s latest best-seller nestles when, ding dong, the doorbell rings. In walks Dr. Bruce Oppenheim, Cybill’s recently acquired chiropractor. “Don’t talk!” yells Cybill, clearly pegging Oppenheim as boyfriend No. 2. Before Cybill can silence the good doctor, jangle jangle, the phone rings. Is it ex-lover Bogdanovich, who says they talk about her new boyfriends, though she won’t give him names either? No, it’s ex-husband Ford, who instead of staying in Memphis after the divorce has taken a job as a bartender in an L.A. club to stay close to Casa Cybill. Everything is happening at once. There is even a photo hanging over the kitchen sink inscribed by Moonlighting co-star Bruce Willis: “To Cybill—my first, funniest and most beautiful leading lady.” But a romance there would break another Cybill rule (since Bogdanovich): “I don’t get involved with people I work with.”

An hour later Shepherd stretches out on a white couch and with relief expels a Tennessee hoot. It’s time to talk about her. The men have their duties. McMurtry will continue toiling on the screenplay September, September, which he’s writing for and with Cybill. The chiropractor has been sent off to the movies with Clem. Ford will show up tomorrow to take Clem to school in the Valley (she just started first grade). “Her father picks her up every day,” says Cybill in the charming, self-dramatizing manner of a Southern belle born with just the right knack of saying, “Go fetch.”

It’s not surprising that there are plenty of willing fetchers. The face that sold a ton of Cover Girl makeup when its owner was just 18 hasn’t lost its triple-decker dimples. And the periwinkle eyes still make her look as if she dipped them in dew each morning. Shepherd has always been a knockout. As Clem’s kitten Skipper snorfles contentedly at her bare tootsies, she comes right out with it. “People find it difficult to listen to what I have to say because they’re too busy looking at me saying it.”

If one thing distinguishes Shepherd’s male relationships since Bogdanovich, it is that now she invariably has the upper hand. Is she afraid of dominant men? No, she says, it’s a question of opportunity. Hers is the keening cry of every series star: “I don’t even have time to talk to myself, much less anyone else. I just go home and eat,” complains Shepherd, who has a 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. schedule on Moonlighting. “My social life is usually Friday night for about 10 minutes.” Of course, there are doctors. Shepherd’s chronic back problems have made her a waiting-room fixture. “I never see any other men but doctors,” she sighs. That’s where Oppenheim comes in. And if Oppenheim and McMurtry don’t exactly rival her Long Hot Summer co-star Don Johnson in the looks department, Shepherd isn’t bothered. Sexy to Cybill is “obvious intelligence, energy, patience and especially humor.”

Cybill’s fun too, says Bogdanovich. “She made me scream with laughter the first time I met her. She has such a twinkle in her eye.” Few of Shepherd’s films brought out that quality, though Moonlighting does. Her new success may stem from the fact that today she is showing the public what her men have seen in private all along. Bossy, bitchy, beautiful, yes, but hilarious too. (Cybill’s the type who thinks not wearing underwear brings good luck.) She shares her madcap quality with Maddie, the ex-model turned detective, whom she plays on the show. “Maddie is a million miles away from the ice bitches I tend to play. I’m finally funny,” says Shepherd with a satisfied smile. “And I can’t believe I’m finally in a hit.” She’s thrilled that a few critics have compared her to Carole Lombard. “Lombard pulled off being beautiful and funny,” says Cybill. “And that’s not easy.”

It still isn’t, which often makes life on the Moonlighting set a volatile affair. The rising Nielsen ratings have been credited principally to Shepherd; her reclusive co-star Bruce Willis (see below) has done little to promote the show. NBC confirmed Shepherd’s new status by hyping October’s The Long Hot Summer miniseries as a Don Johnson-Cybill Shepherd co-starring vehicle, when in fact Shepherd’s was a supporting role. Knowing she is Johnson’s matchup in the TV sex appeal sweeps has given Shepherd confidence. “I’ve worked hard and I deserve the credit,” she says. And the right, presumably, to throw her weight around. “Most people don’t get along with her,” says Don Johnson. He recommends a firm hand. The folks over at third-place ABC, where Moonlighting is the ace in the hole, are not so brave. “Cybill is terribly strong,” says Moonlighting’s executive producer Glenn Caron. “That’s why we had to find a co-star who could plant his feet, look her in the eye and hold his own.”

Shepherd wasn’t much help in the search. “They saw 3,000 guys for the part,” says Cybill. “They wanted me to screen-test with some of them, and I just wouldn’t do it. Why should I? I figured they should be able to decide.” Shepherd points out that, unlike Willis, she never had to test for her part. “Glenn Caron wrote the role with me in mind. He never thought he’d be lucky enough to get me.” What others call ego, Shepherd labels professionalism, which she defines as “a fine combination of art and business. You’ve got to be strong in both areas.” She’s getting there. No one calls her Shepherd the spendthrift. Cybill’s still driving the 1979 Caddy she bought in Memphis. Despite a few splurges (she blows $500 a shot buying CD recordings), Shepherd invests most of her some $35,000 weekly paycheck in real estate.

On the set she decides what’s best for her. She’ll wear heels only in long shots, and screw the show’s high-fashion gloss. “Heels are a form of bondage,” she says. “I won’t ruin my feet.” Below camera range, it’s always sneakers or flip-flops. Call her dictatorial and she’ll feign shock, flashing the smile that won her the Miss Congeniality award at the 1967 Miss Teenage America pageant. “I’m very cooperative,” she protests. She insists that her short-lived series, Yellow Rose, two seasons ago taught her responsibility. “You have to do it when you’re sick as a dog, when your child is ill, when your heart is broken by a boyfriend. You have to work through it all.”

She didn’t work, however, after the Bogdanovich split in 1978. She was an open wound. The critics massacred 1975’s At Long Last Love, the duo’s third and last movie together. Cybill recalls a Gene Shalit swipe:”Shepherd cannot sing, dance or act.” Says Bogdanovich, “Cybill took the heat for the film and our relationship. It was unfair. People like to put her down.”

Her first step was to retreat home to Memphis for, as Cybill puts it, “a little solace” from her mother. Her parents—mother is a housewife, father an air-conditioning distributor—were divorced after 25 years and have since married others. As a child Cybill always attracted special attention. Her sister, Terri, 39, is a nurse, and brother Bill, 31, produces commercials in Memphis, but Cybill (who won the Miss Teenage Memphis title at 16) was the belle.

She found additional comfort in Memphis with David Ford. “I saw him drinking at a bar and asked my brother, ‘Who is that?’ Bill brought him back to the table.” Eight months later they were wed; Clementine followed the next year. The marriage, says Cybill, broke up because “I didn’t want to be married any more.” Ford had given up his business to help manage Shepherd’s career. “I guess that was his job,” says Cybill, “to take care of me.” It was clearly quite a labor. “I drove him crazy,” Cybill admits.

What Shepherd wanted was to get back to work. She packed up Clem and toured jazz clubs, cutting a few self-financed jazz albums. Though she briefly studied opera, Cybill’s acting left her little time for voice training. Orson Welles (a pal from her Bogdanovich days) advised her to do regional theater to get experience away from the harsh big-city critics. “That’s when I really came alive as an actress and a singer,” says Shepherd, “but I was barely breaking even financially.”

In 1982 she was ready for a return to Hollywood. She says when she phoned her former agent, Sue Mengers, she was told bluntly: “Cybill, you’ve been in Memphis for four years. You might as well be dead.” It was another blow. She found a new agent, did a TV guest shot (“Oh hell, it was Fantasy Island,” she owns up when pushed) and quickly landed Yellow Rose. “The show went by the wayside, but I didn’t,” says Shepherd proudly. “I looked great. I had confidence. For the first time people in the business saw that I was standing on my own two feet, and I was no longer Peter Bogdanovich’s girlfriend.” Along the way Shepherd’s shell hardened. “I hid my fear by being aloof, above it all,” she says. “But that’s the furthest from who I am.”

But don’t take Shepherd for a softy, even with her Moonlighting success. Sure, she’s a good mom. “I see Clem every night and put her to bed,” Cybill says, “and I save the weekends for her.” At Shepherd’s rented Malibu retreat, “We read or walk or get in the hot tub together.” But Cybill’s real excitement is work: “I like to get into the scrap, get my nails in.”

She’s now hunting for a house with “a pool large enough to swim laps in.” Keeping a lean 130 pounds on her 5’8″ frame is a top priority. One diet secret: She eats oodles of brown rice. She also racewalks three times a week for 30 minutes, and though a driver follows close behind, Shepherd packs a .38 revolver.

No wonder. She’s protecting a valuable commodity: the newly resurrected Cybill Shepherd. The bad times, “when I was afraid to be myself,” are behind her. “I am strong willed. I am stubborn. I will never again give up my belief in myself.” She recites the words like an anthem. Of her fame she says, “I absolutely deserve all this.” Another marriage is merely a possibility. Nurturing her career, that’s the firm commitment. “Throw me a bone,” she says defiantly, “and watch me run with it.” Lost in her own thoughts, Shepherd becomes very still, but don’t be fooled. She is very much in motion.