July 21, 1980 12:00 PM

Sympathetic shoppers in a Studio City supermarket five months ago were quick to help the very pregnant-looking Kathryn Harrold pick groceries off the shelves. “I kept telling them I could manage, but they wouldn’t hear of it,” says Harrold, 29. “All the while, I could hardly keep from laughing out loud.” Her bulging stomach was Hollywood make-believe: She was simply getting used to the pads she had to wear under her clothes as Steve McQueen’s expecting girlfriend in the upcoming movie The Hunter.

Last summer her live-in boyfriend, Richard Cox, 31, did personal research of his own for a movie role too. Gearing up to play the homosexual killer in Cruising, he hung out in New York’s gay S&M bars. The offers he got had nothing to do with groceries.

Both members of the Cox-Harrold household tend to bring their work home with them, which is acceptable behavior in this careers-come-first relationship. Lately those careers have been taking them even farther afield.

In March Harrold portrayed Lauren Bacall in the TV movie Bogie. Though it was panned (“I knew it was bad,” Harrold says. “They filmed it in just 21 days”), her performance won compliments. She’s now filming Modern Romance with Albert Brooks. “It has a lot to do,” she explains, “with loving and fighting.”

The role has made life more combative than ever in the two-story frame house she shares with Cox in Coldwater Canyon. Both admit to being quick-tempered. “I played paddle tennis with Richard once and he hollered every time I hit the ball wrong,” Harrold says. “I quit on the spot and never played again.”

The affectionate hostilities began in New York five years ago when Richard spied Kitty (as he calls her) at the Performing Garage, a Greenwich Village experimental theater. “I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen,” says Richard. After they met a year later at a fund raiser, Harrold recalls, “I thought he was arrogant and pushy.”

Cox invited himself to one of her acting classes. “I reluctantly agreed to have a drink with him afterward,” she says. “I got a beer, he went for an apple juice, and we walked down to a pier on the Hudson River. I was wondering how I could get away from him when suddenly he spilled his drink all over the sidewalk. I saw how hard his hand was shaking and I realized underneath all that bravado was a sweet little guy.”

Soon they were living together in Cox’s 22nd Street loft. They moved to California in 1978 and bought the house. (The area is so remote that a coyote ate one of their cats.) They don’t spend much time together there. “One of us is always flying out,” Kathryn says.

Cox, 31, is still trying to find a niche in Hollywood. His just-completed film, King of the Mountain, with Harry Hamlin and Joseph Bottoms, he concedes, is “an ensemble piece, with all of us equally involved.” In the legitimate theater, however, his name has been in lights for years. A native of Manhattan’s Chelsea area—”a group called the James Street Gang beat us up regularly”—Richard is the only child of Gabe Zuckerman and Roseanna Cox, who both began as professional dancers. His father left show business to become a real estate agent. His mother, a psychotherapist, still performs every summer in Peterboro, N.H. “I started going there with my mother when I was a year old,” Cox says. “By the time I was 8,1 was playing opposite her.”

Cox went to private school and then to Yale. (“My parents wanted the best for me, even though we were never well-to-do,” he says.) He majored in drama and anthropology—an interest sparked by family friend Margaret Mead. As an undergraduate, Cox toured the Pacific on scholarship, apprenticing at a classical Japanese theater and studying dance and drama in Thailand and Java. Back at Yale, he quit the Whiffenpoofs, the university’s famed male glee club, to take part in Vietnam war protests on campus. After graduation he lived with his parents for 18 months, drove a cab and did experimental theater and off-Broadway shows.

His career and bank account got a boost from seven months in the soap Love of Life as con man Bobby Mackey. His character so angered viewers that a woman once whacked Cox with her umbrella on a New York street. He performed on Broadway with Ingrid Bergman in Captain Brassbound’s Conversion before hitting Hollywood in 1975 with the national company of Grease. That led to guest shots on such TV shows as Baretta and a co-starring spot in the CBS series Executive Suite. When that program folded after one season, Cox went back on the road. “My agent thought I was crazy to leave when I did,” Cox says. “I thought it was important to do a play.”

He did several: Richard III with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Streamers in Chicago, and in New York, Platinum, which won him the 1979 Clarence Derwent Award, given to New York’s most promising male and female actors, for his portrayal of a rock star.

Cruising was Cox’s first major film. During his research for the role, Kathryn says, “He would tell me what he saw in those bars—things I had never dreamed of. Finally, I asked him not to talk about it because it was really upsetting me.”

Harrold grew up on a farm six miles from Tazewell, Va. Her father, now retired, owned a small coal mine, and her mother is active in community affairs. They had five children, Kathryn last. “My sisters and I cleaned the house, did the dishes and helped put up the hay,” she recalls. “We also assisted when a cow had a calf.”

She always liked acting—”When you’re the youngest in a family of smart, interesting children, you have to struggle to make yourself heard.” But shyness kept her offstage until she took drama classes at Mills College in Oakland, Calif. After graduation she moved to New York, where she studied with Sanford Meisner and Uta Hagen, supported by her parents and unemployment checks, until she got the part of Nola Dancy in the NBC soap The Doctors.

She quit when her 18-month contract expired, but the network signed her for the 1979 miniseries Women in White, which brought her back to California. Her portrayal of a blind woman in The Rockford Files in 1978 aroused so much comment she returned in a sequel last season.

Harrold and Cox have never worked together, and their careers do not exactly promote togetherness. When they eat out, they go dutch, they split all household expenses fifty-fifty, and they sometimes even take separate vacations. But last month the two of them traveled to Connecticut, where Richard was best man at the wedding of Yale classmate and Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau and Jane Pauley. This spring they managed a joint trip to Tahiti. They also co-star in the kitchen with help from their mothers: Hers sent a cookbook, and his answers such long-distance phone queries as, “Mom, I’m on the gravy. What do I do next?”

Such touches of domesticity do not forecast marriage, about which they are both actively ambivalent. “We’ve never gotten to the point,” Harrold says, “where we both feel the same way about it at the same time.”

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