With Ted Danson courting Whoopi Goldberg, the steamiest scenes from this summer's movies were simmering off-camera

By Shelley Levitt
June 07, 1993 12:00 PM

WHEN TED DANSON LEFT HIS five-bedroom Santa Monica, Calif., home in mid-April of 1992 and headed for the Oakland set of the movie Made in America, the actor seemed as devoted a husband as any in Hollywood. Danson, now 45, and his wife, Casey, 55, had been married since 1977, and they had stayed together through some tough times, including the paralyzing stroke Casey suffered while giving birth to Kate, the older of their two daughters, in 1979. “We are committed to each other, totally,” Danson said in 1989. “The idea of my having more relationships boggles my mind.”

Whoopi Goldberg—heading off to that same movie set—seemed an unlikely candidate to alter his course. For one thing, the feisty Goldberg had never even seen Cheers, the TV sitcom on which Danson played libidinous bartender Sam Malone. And though she had been twice married and twice divorced, the 43-year-old actress, mother to 18-year-old Alexandrea and grandmother to 3-year-old Amarah Skye, hardly cultivated a glamorous image. Her fans saw her as the character she played in Sister Act, a hip comic maverick with the love life of a nun.

And then…lights, camera, romance! Made in America, a comic love story that opened last Friday, took exactly 10 weeks to shoot. The gag-laden tale of an unlikely artificial insemination invoking a while car salesman and a black bookstore owner came in on time and on budget. But when the sets were struck, Goldberg and Danson were both in new and different places, emotionally and otherwise.

By the time of the publicity tour or the movie, their public sightings had become too numerous—and affectionate—to ignore. Ted and Whoopi had appeared inseparable in Washington during the Inauguration festivities last January. They had been spotted together at London’s posh Savoy Hotel. “I’d walk in Whoopi’s shadow for the rest of my life—I adore the woman,” Danson said, though he purportedly was talking about their future on-screen collaborations and not their private offscreen life.

Danson and Goldberg are not the only stars to have had their heads turned and their lives turned inside out of late by the intoxicating atmosphere of a movie location. Some 26 years after Haight-Ashbury, Hollywood is having its supreme Summer of Love. The set of Sliver, which came out in late May, saw so many mate trades that paparazzi could hardly keep pace with the new couplings. During the filming of Jurassic Park (opening June 11), Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum proved themselves more warm-blooded than their pseudosauropod costars. And Shannen Doherty, 22, of TV’s Beverly Hills, 90210, promptly dropped her boyfriend, cosmetics heir Dean Factor, 28, when fate cast her opposite Judd Nelson, 33, in a low-budget suspense thriller called Blindfold, shot in just 30 days in L.A. “There was an immediate attraction,” says a senior member of the crew. “She had a big crush on him, and he didn’t do anything to stop it.”

The small screen, too, has produced a heat wave of romances. Doherty’s TV twin, Jason Priestley, 23, recently set up housekeeping with his onetime onscreen squeeze, Christine Elise, 24. And Andrew Shue, 25, and Courtney Thorne-Smith, 25, are reportedly sweethearts not just on Melrose Place but in other, unscripted places as well.

Of course, such on-location liaisons have been happening since before Tracy met Hepburn while shooting Woman of the Year in 1942. (For some history, see photos, page 94.) “It doesn’t happen on the [studio] lot so much,” says screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, himself a player in the Sliver shenanigans. “But when you’re in a strange town, you go out at night, come back to the same hotel and it becomes a separate little world that consumes you.” A longtime movie publicist puts it more succinctly. “Actors on location are really no different than dentists at a convention,” he says. “People act like since they’re in a different area code, nothing counts.”

Still, at least one well-known director thinks all these couplings and uncouplings matter a lot. “In the past, [actors] didn’t have as many affairs when they went on different movies,” Francis Ford Coppola said recently. “Today, that’s your biggest worry: ‘My God, is she going with him? Her boyfriend’s on that other picture. He’s in town, so you know it’s going to be a nightmare, because she’s having an affair.'”

Coppola may be correct, generally speaking, but by all accounts the making of Made in America was a near heavenly experience. “I like my set to be a happy place,” director Richard Benjamin said, “and it was.” Cast and crew alike were struck by Danson’s generosity (many were invited to hitch weekend rides on his Learjet) and by both his and Goldberg’s utter refusal to behave like stars. Says one techie: “I was stunned at how easy and pleasant it was to work with them. There was an extreme affection and respect between them. It wasn’t syrupy lovey-dovey stuff, just genuine.”

While becoming enamored of Danson and Goldberg, many on the set failed to notice that the two stars were falling in love with each other. A close observer might have seen the spark struck a full two years before shooting began when the two appeared on the same night on The Arsenio Hall Show. In the closing moments of Danson’s segment, just before Goldberg walked on, Hall declaimed that while show business is filled with men both funny and good-looking, women were either comic or comely. Danson disagreed. “I said, ‘You’re wrong,'” Danson would recall with pleasure just last month. “‘Here comes a very sexy, very funny lady.’ This got Whoopi’s attention.” Indeed it did. “I floated on out to that couch,” she has said. “This was the first time that anyone had intimated publicly that I was actually very feminine and very pretty.” When the scene eventually changed from couch to set, the wooing continued. Just days after shooting began, Goldberg hired a three-piece chamber ensemble to serenade her leading man during the time he spent waiting between scenes. “We all sat in Ted’s trailer drinking white wine out of plastic cups and making requests like, ‘Can you play the General Electric theme song?'” says actress Jennifer Tilly (referring to the company that owns NBC, Cheers‘ network). In playful retaliation, Danson reportedly filled Goldberg’s trailer with balloons.

The two also spent a lot of their off-hours together. “Whoopi is smart, and what she’s seen in life is worth the trip,” Danson says. “One of the first nights we were together in Berkeley, I walked down Telegraph Avenue with her, and it was like walking with royally. I’m an actor, and I’m susceptible to jealousies and not wanting to be part of someone’s entourage, but I basked in the love that people poured on her.”

News of Danson’s relationship with Goldberg, meanwhile, seemed to seep into the media atmosphere. When asked about their romance at a recent L.A. press conference promoting their movie, Danson assumed a deadpan expression and held up a sign that said Personal; Goldberg flashed a card that said Next Question.

By that time, virtually no one was denying that the two were romantically involved. “When it was happening, I just assumed it was acting,” says Made in America cameraman Ted Churchill, who shot the scene in which Ted and Whoopi practically destroy her house while making love. “It’s hot in retrospect.” Said Made director Richard Benjamin: “I knew that what was happening in front of my camera was good. There was chemistry.”

Physics, too, as various bodies were put in motion. In late March, Danson moved out of his main residence and into his Malibu beach place—making, as his spokesperson said, “his separation from Casey official.” Casey Danson stayed in the Santa Monica spread with Kate, 13, and 8-year-old Alexis, the couple’s adopted daughter, but surprised some by showing up at the Cheers wrap party on April 8.

There was trauma to spare on and around the set of Sliver as well. When shooting began on the Paramount lot last October, Sharon Stone, 35, was dating 24-year-old musician Chris Peters; the movie’s producer, Bill MacDonald, 37, was newly married to Naomi Baca, 34, with whom he had had an eight-year live-in relationship; and screenwriter Eszterhas, 48, was approaching his 25th anniversary with wife Geri. By the end of production in February, all those couplings had come uncoupled. For starters, in late March, Stone announced that MacDonald’s marital status notwithstanding, the two were engaged. “We love each other very much and are committed to spending the rest of our lives together,” Stone said recently. “My life is full of joy. I’m in love, and I’m really, really happy about it.”

Considerably less happy was MacDonald’s bride, Naomi. Appearing on Fox’s A Current Affair April 6, she claimed that Stone had brought a calculated end to what had been a blissful marriage, causing Naomi so much stress she’d suffered a miscarriage. “What Sharon did was cruel,” Naomi charged, “cold-blooded and heartless.”

Naomi, however, was in no position to throw Stones. Just weeks after her teary TV appearance, she went from woman scorned to woman smitten. Her suitor: none other than Joe Eszterhas. “I’ve never been happier in my life,” he told Variety‘s Army Archerd, going on to confess that he had been a matchmaker with a motive, introducing MacDonald and Stone “to get Naomi” for himself. Left out in the cold is Geri, who, along with being Eszterhas’s wife, used to be Naomi’s best friend. Even by Hollywood standards, says one Paramount executive, “the whole thing’s weird.”

The set of Jurassic Park, by contrast, was a relatively calm place—until last September, when Hurricane Iniki stormed across the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where the film was being shot. If a trailer was still trembling when the 130 mph winds died down, that might have owed something to the romance of costars Dern, 26, and Goldblum, 40. Yet even hairdresser Lynda Guraisch, who saw the actress first thing most mornings, says, “I had no idea anything was going on.”

This is a couple with experience in on-location love. Consider that Goldblum met his ex-wife, Geena Davis, while costarring in 1985’s Transylvania 6-5000 in Yugoslavia. Dern, meanwhile, had a live-in relationship with actor Kyle MacLachlan, her costar-in 1986’s Blue Velvet. and then had a romance with Renin Harlin, her producer on Rambling Rose in 1991. And whatever happened, romantically, to Davis, 36, and Harlin, 34? They were recently photographed hand-in-hand at the L.A. premiere of the movie Dave.

In contrast to big-screen productions, which strike their sets after a couple of months of filming, TV locations have longevity going for them. Seeing the same person, day in and day out, for 22 weeks can encourage the heart to grow even fonder. Shue and Thorne-Smith began their roles as platonic apartment mates on Melrose Place, then on May 5 became onscreen lovers. Last fall the two spent a weekend in New Hampshire attending homecoming festivities at Dartmouth, Shue’s alma mater. “It’s definitely going on,” says a fellow Dartmouth grad of Shue’s relationship with Thorne-Smith. But the two keep a low social profile, spending time with Shue’s tight-knit family, cooking cozy dinners together and otherwise keeping the home fires blazing.

On TV soaps, points out Maria Wagner, a director of CBS’s As the World Turns, “if there is any attraction between the characters, it stimulates any real-life attraction.” But should real romance fizzle, it’s easy enough to burst the soap bubbles. Sometime after Michael (Duncan McKechnie) Swan’s 18-month romance with fellow ATWT cast member Margaret (Shannon McKechnie) Reed ended, Shannon was conveniently kidnapped to the jungles of Africa. Swan says it was obvious that the onscreen romance was over as well when he bid a teary goodbye to a hairy tennis ball that was a stand-in for the shrunken head of his suds spouse.

That may sound extreme—to those who have never experienced the powerful phenomenon of on-location love. In the filming of The Firm, which opens June 30, Nicole Kidman, 26, kept a close watch on husband Tom Cruise, 30, during his steamy love scenes with newcomer Karina Lombard, 24. “She flew in with me and left when I left,” Lombard has said. “She was on the set the whole time, watching, watching, watching.” Small wonder. Back in 1990, Kidman didn’t meet Cruise, then separated from Mimi Rogers, in a singles bar; she met him on the set of the movie Days of Thunder.