Flashback: Actor Fernando Lamas was rehearsing for NBC’s live Jane Wyman Theater, when the hospital phoned to say that his wife, actress Arlene Dahl, was about to give birth. Lamas sprinted from the set, leaving star Wyman complaining that it was almost show time and she had no second act.
Cut to: A Burbank studio 23 years later, where handsome Lorenzo Lamas, Fernando’s now grown-up son, is being introduced to the woman with whom he’ll co-star on CBS’ Falcon Crest. Jane Wyman said, “I’m pleased to meet you—I hope you won’t leave me without a second act.” Reports Lorenzo: “I assured her I would not.”
He hasn’t. With Wyman, 68, as the scheming matriarch of a thriving California winery and Lamas as her grasping grandson, Falcon Crest became the only new show last fall to break into the Nielsen Top 10. This season Falcon Crest‘s producers will create yet another bird of prey—actress Ana Alicia, 26, who joined the cast as Lamas’ clawing wife last spring. Although Lamas’ Latin-lover looks and fine pectoral muscles have no doubt pumped the show’s popularity, he claims he keeps things in perspective. “I’m not too secure about my looks,” says Lamas. “They can always change. I was heavy and overweight as a teenager, so it’s hard to be cocky or egotistical.” What he is sure about, he says, is that the reclusive Wyman is the force behind Falcon Crest—on-and offscreen. Says Lamas: “She never actually pressures changes, but people on the set feel compelled to listen.”
For the most part, cast and crew speak of Wyman, and her power, in awestruck tones. A veteran of 40 years in showbiz—including such films as Johnny Belinda and Magnificent Obsession—and the only ex-wife of a President in U.S. history (she was married to Ronald Reagan from 1940 to 1948), Wyman treats the press guardedly. “I’ve seen her walk away from an interview when Reagan’s name is mentioned,” says one observer. “She feels that all ended 34 years ago and has no relevance to her life now.”
On the set she is on time, on cue and, say observers, a tough cookie. Once, when a director complimented her on a take, she shot back, “Of course it was good!” The air fairly crackled when another screen legend, Lana Turner, 62, came on the set for a guest shot last spring. Reportedly, neither of the women would cross the stage to break the ice. Later Wyman cracked of Turner’s pampered ways: “Well, I did think it was a bit much when she took a limo to go to the loo.” When Turner’s appearance rocketed the show’s ratings to No. 3 for the week, Wyman acceded to the producer’s request that Turner be brought aboard for five more episodes this season. But, says one crew member of Falcon Crest‘s First Lady, “It’s still her set.”
Although Lamas lacks that sort of power, he has been allowed to add some subtlety, and even humor, to his reptilian character, Lance Cumson, who originally came equipped with little more than a Corvette and a sneer. “He had no redeeming qualities whatsoever,” explains Lorenzo. “Now Lance is showing some vulnerability.”
So is Lamas, who last August separated from his wife of 10 months, model Victoria Hilbert, 36. He insists their 12-year age difference was not the issue. “The marriage didn’t work because I tried to force it to work,” says Lamas. “The separation is still at a very early stage, and I’m still working it out and we remain friends. I still believe in marriage,” adds Lamas. “But I’m not ready to dive into another full relationship straightaway.” Meanwhile, he admits, “There are a couple of girlfriends.”
Despite the romantic uncertainties, Lamas says he feels “older than my years in the way I take responsibility and the way I handle my career.” His parents divorced in 1960 (his father married aquamaid Esther Williams nine years after), and Lorenzo recalls that at 12 he “couldn’t handle going back and forth from parent to parent” and asked to be sent to New Jersey’s Admiral Farragut Military Academy. “I’d been a lousy student, and there was that inner radar telling me I had to get things together. It worked. I became an officer with 250 cadets in my charge. If I had been at home, it would have been me, me, me.”
Nowadays, he stays relatively close to both parents: Fernando, now 67, directed on Falcon Crest last year and will do another episode this season; Arlene, 54, has a new book, Beyond Beauty, which sits prominently on a shelf in her son’s two-story wood house in Laurel Canyon. Dahl is proud of having such a dutiful son, but admits she was a bit thrown when he opted for career over education at 17. “He phoned and said, ‘I want to be a star… ah, I mean actor.’ I said, ‘I heard you the first time,’ ” she laughs.
His best friends may be his Harley-Davidson cycles—a stock 1340 cc Super Glide and a behemoth 1750 cc he customized himself. “I’m young on my bikes,” says Lamas, who found refuge on them after his 1980 TV show, The Secrets of Midland Heights, flopped. “This business is very transitory, and if you take things like that personally, you’re in big trouble.” At the time, Lamas dropped out for six months to ride with other bikers. “They didn’t know what I did for a living, because I didn’t tell them. We didn’t create any disturbances or anything—we just liked to ride.”
Although he says that period is past—”I’m relaxed now, because I have a job, and I feel secure in it”—Lorenzo admits he is not always as smooth as he appears onscreen. “I can be brutally honest, which can be hard on others, but I’m a good friend,” he says, “and good friends have always been my cocaine.”
Newcomer Ana Alicia is a convincing argument that you can’t tell a falcon by its feathers. On camera, she’s an elegant, conniving bitch. Offscreen, “I have trouble even saying that word,” says Ana, a “Catholic and conservative” girl from El Paso. “At first I worried about the overt sexuality of the role,” she says. “And I wasn’t comfortable about the prospect of wearing low-cut dresses.” She confessed her fears to Wyman, who referred her to Father Bob Curtis, a Catholic priest who occasionally plays that role on the show. “He told me that drama started in the church, and that someone had to play evil,” says Ana. “The better you played evil, the better it made the good things look.” Later, after doing a vicious scene, Wyman quipped to Ana, ‘Oh, honey, Father Bob will love this.”
Ana’s own definition of the good things apparently has little to do with Rodeo Drive. She lives in an unchic $300-a-month West Hollywood apartment, favors blue jeans and still dreams of finishing the law degree she started four years ago. “As it is, I run my own corporation and read my own contracts,” says Ana, who did guest shots on series like B.J. and the Bear and Quincy before alighting on Falcon Crest. She has never married nor lived with anyone, and after four years in Los Angeles, she is “just beginning to find people I like here,” she says. “I’m naive because I choose to be. I’m not saying I haven’t stuck my toes into the water a few times, but never the whole leg. I’m not sheltered or anything. I go riding with the roughest cowboys, and they use every word in the book, and it doesn’t bother me.”
Born Ana Alicia Ortiz in Mexico City to a clothing exec mother and an entrepreneur father, Ana and three siblings moved to El Paso with their American mother after their Mexican father died when Ana was 4. A bright kid and a ham, she accepted a scholarship to Wellesley College but dropped out after a year to work in an El Paso theater while earning a dramatic arts degree at the University of Texas. She turned down law school scholarships to move to New York and work on the soap Ryan’s Hope (she played “a 17-year-old virgin type”), then moved to L.A. in 1978 to become a contract player for Universal, attending law school at Southwestern U at night. She dropped out, she says, “when I came to realize that I couldn’t do both well.”
She also dropped out of a serious relationship with an El Paso accountant last year. “I felt that if I gave up acting, I might always regret it—and he was as aware of it as I was.” Nowadays she lives with Chica, a 5-year-old Pekingese-poodle, rides horses at a stable north of L.A. and tries “to imagine what I’ll be like when I’m 80.” Well? “I’ll want someone to love,” she says, “something to do and something to dream of.” So far no romance has developed with her handsome co-star, but Lorenzo’s teasing retort is pure Falcon Crest: “I could get very fond of that lady.”