This is the week the outdoor kid-stuff Olympics finally ended and the adult main event of the television season began. Lindsay Wagner is cast (some say typecast) as Billy Ikehorn, the imperious yet vulnerable and richly libidinous heroine of CBS’ three-night miniseries Scruples. Given its origin (Judith Krantz’s steamy best-seller) and the production excess (Lindsay has 76 costume changes in six hours), Scruples is a ripe target for the superserious critics who don’t like much of anything that isn’t on PBS. They want the 30-year-old actress to suffer forever for bouncing around those three seasons as The Bionic Woman. By the time of the show’s premiere, however, Wagner was oblivious to their scribblings. She had been picked personally by Sylvester Stallone to star opposite him in his new police melodrama, tentatively titled Hawks, and the reviews she was getting from Sly suggested there was something heavier afoot.
“Lindsay has an undefinable something, an unbridled passion and a range that goes from A beyond Z,” he marveled just two weeks after she arrived at Hawks’ Manhattan location. “Most of all, she has a smile that challenges the sun’s luminesence.” If that sounds like the Bionic Woman has knocked Rocky silly, let the record show that Sly publicly denies all the rumors. No, the script’s not the same as it was with Joyce (Paradise Alley) In-galls, his last location romance. No, Wagner has not replaced old Golden-girlfriend Susan Anton. And what does Lindsay say? “Are you kidding? No way,” she snaps. Then she points out that she’s dating producer Jack Haley Jr., Liza Minnelli’s ex-husband. Of course, Jack is once again in L.A., 3,000 miles away from the excitement. The one certainty among all the titillating confusion is that Wagner is not about to wind up at the altar with anyone on either coast.
“Just like Billy Ikehorn,” explains Lindsay, “I have been married too much at this point in my life. For me to settle down with anybody right now would be repeating history in a very dumb way. It would be silly, impractical and cause more pain than anything,” she stresses. “I don’t want to do that to myself again—or to anybody else.” Wagner’s skittishness stems less from her two-year union with a music publisher that ended in 1973 than to her legal separation from actor Michael (Promises in the Dark) Brandon last August. After two years of living together and two and a half of marriage, they have had a bitter parting. Brandon, now starring with Bo Derek in the upcoming A Change of Seasons, scoffs at reports he demanded alimony and joint real estate in L.A. and Idaho. “I didn’t ask for anything. It is still a painful subject to me,” he says. “I wanted the marriage, but perhaps the timing was wrong.”
Lindsay says their problems started when her career exploded four years ago. A $1,000-a-week Universal contract player on series like The Rock ford Files and Owen Marshall at the time, Wagner did a guest spot as Lee Majors’ doomed love on ABC’s Six Million Dollar Man—mostly as a birthday present for her 11-year-old half sister Randi, a Majors fan. The ratings were cyborgian. The public practically demanded creation of The Bionic Woman, and her hustling manager, Ron Samuels, landed her a contract still talked about by the industry. Overnight, Lindsay became a national celebrity, earning $500,000 a year not counting a five-movie deal and her 12.5 percent piece of the Jaime Sommers merchandising action. She also had to work 70 hours a week. “I was so involved in my career that I couldn’t see objectively anymore who I was personally, or what I needed in a mate,” she now reflects. “That kind of rush is frightening, trying to keep up so that you don’t get trampled by the pace. I’ll have to be excused for anything I did then.”
By the time the Nielsen families had had enough of The Bionic Woman, Wagner was equally burnt out. She wrote the script for the show’s last episode in 1978 herself. “How Jaime Sommers was feeling—not like a woman but like a kind of robot—was the way I was feeling about the series,” she says. “I had constant disharmony, inter-studio battles and no personal life. I couldn’t deal with it anymore. I wanted to experience myself as a person for a while.”
Medical problems added to Lindsay’s misery. She nearly lost her streaked tresses due to side effects of the Pill. She suffered from anemia and was scarred on the lip and scalp after an auto crackup. By the time she filmed CBS’ The Incredible Journey of Doctor Meg Laurel (one of last year’s highest-rated made-for-TV movies), Wagner had become petulant and demanding on the set. She tripped several times on the film’s rugged Sierra Nevada location and thereafter insisted that a stagehand remove all sticks and stones from her path. Some co-workers defended her, however, suggesting that the real problem was the pressure imposed on her by Hollywood executives. “I was raised by the Golden Rule,” says Lindsay elliptically. “But no one in this business has heard of it. At one point I found myself talking to God, yelling, ‘You forgot the movie industry!’ My biggest fear was that I might lose my sense of caring. If I played their game, I was afraid I would become ‘it.’ ”
Her childhood in low-rent North Hollywood did not give her a stable foundation, particularly after her commercial photographer father and contractor mother broke up when she was 7. She moved in with an aunt, and then her grandmother, she says, “while my parents grew up. Divorce is not an easy thing on a child. I took a certain amount of guilt for it, so that made me down on myself. By the time you grow up and understand what divorce is, it’s too late.” At 13 she was “bottled up emotionally” and found acting classes with L.A. teacher James Best a life-changing release. The following year she became a Nina Blanchard model, and at 16 she had an ulcer. After graduating from high school (during which she babysat for Glen Campbell), Lindsay was a cocktail waitress, sold dresses in a boutique, and sang with a rock band. At 22 she finally broke into acting for Universal at $162 a week.
To keep her balance amid the star frippery that followed, Lindsay has long kept a mountainside cabin escape in northern Oregon. That rusticity contrasts strongly with the lavish elegance of her hacienda estate in L.A.’s Cold-water Canyon, outfitted with electric gates, a Doberman guard dog, a guest house, Spanish-tiled swimming pool, king-size water bed and sauna. The staple of her wardrobe is non-designer blue jeans, but she is a splashy party giver. At the Scruples wrap, she rented an Amtrak train, a band and strolling minstrels and loaded all 230 guests aboard for a boozy trip to San Juan Capistrano. “We served coffee on the way home, and by the time we got back to Los Angeles everyone was sober,” Lindsay giggles. The estimated tab was $10,000.
She is excited about her current project and even more so about her Italian Stallion co-star. “Stallone cares about his audience, and I find so few people in this business who do. They don’t care what effect they have so long as they sell tickets or get ratings. That infuriates me.” Sly has expanded her role considerably from the original script and made all the changes she requested. She won’t be more precise about Sly, but says of Hawks, “I’m a sucker for morality plays.”
For the future, she and manager Ron Samuels have acquired movie rights to the life story of anthropologist Margaret Mead. Well, maybe better that Wagner play the role than Samuels’ wife, Lynda (Wonder Woman) Carter. Lindsay, meanwhile, has reconciled with her mother and hired her as business manager. And though she obviously admires both Haley and Stallone, serious attachments don’t interest her. “Like the character I played in Scruples,” sums up Lindsay, “I would like to just cruise around for a while.”