Heaven Can Wait

Married 30 years and still moonstruck

THE PRODUCERS BROUGHT HIM IN, THE barrel-chested actor raised near the Chicago stockyards. They auditioned him for the part of the husband in an off-Broadway play, opposite a black-haired beauty born of Greek immigrants near Boston. They watched as the two working-class actors hit it off. Then they didn’t give him the part.

Nine months later, though, Louis Zorich got the role in real life by marrying Olympia Dukakis. Today, after a 30-year love story filled with struggle, sacrifice and three children, their mortar-and-brick union has never been better—and their careers have never been hotter. Zorich, 68, shines as grandfather Jules Berger on the critically acclaimed CBS series Brooklyn Bridge. Dukakis, 61, best known for her Oscar-winning role as Cher’s mom in Moonstruck, stars in the CBS miniseries Sinatra, due in November, playing the crooner’s manipulative mother.

Their busy schedules often keep them separated, but when Dukakis shows up at the sparsely furnished Hollywood apartment Zorich uses while filming Bridge, the affectionate zingers fly as soon as she walks in the door. “Yak, yak, yak, to everybody he meets,” says Dukakis of her garrulous husband. “He has to have a relationship with everybody.” Zorich admits, “If the mailman comes, I have to know where he came from, what his dreams are. Olympia, on the other hand, walks into a situation and says, ‘Where’s the enemy?’ ”

“I’m not that bad anymore!” she yells, her Boston accent rising to the surface. In fact, Dukakis (first cousin of former Massachusetts Governor and 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis) has mellowed since the days when she was a struggling actress with more moxie than money. Her passion for drama was shared by Zorich, who trained at the famous Goodman Theater in Chicago before coming to New York City in 1960.

There he met Dukakis at the fateful audition and not long after asked her on a date. “I recognized there was something special about her, and all of a sudden we were living together,” says Zorich, who moved her into his cramped Greenwich Village apartment. Strapped but silly in love, they wed in a civil ceremony at City Hall. Zorich bought his bride a 98-cent ring from Woolworth’s, and the reception was held at a nearby Schrafft’s restaurant, where guests dined on Ritz crackers and cheese.

“Were we a class act or what?” laughs Dukakis. In lieu of a honeymoon they couldn’t afford, the newly-weds went back to work.

They did plays, bit parts in movies, commercials, anything to make ends meet. In 1965 they had the first of their three children, Christina, now 27, while they were on unemployment. (Later arrivals were Peter, 23, a recent college graduate, and Stefan, 21, a Drew University anthropology major.) In 1971 they escaped the city and moved to Montclair, N.J., where they started a small, nonprofit ensemble called the Whole Theatre Company. While Dukakis minded the kids and the company, Zorich brought home the bacon doing stage work and TV ads.

The idyll ended in 1977 when a car accident left Zorich with a fractured hip and crushed kneecap. The actor’s painful rehabilitation over the next year was also rough on his wife and kids. “Louis was such a presence, and the kids were used to that,” recalls Dukakis, who took a part on Search for Tomorrow to make money. Peter remembers, “Dad had been the primary source of income and suddenly couldn’t walk, much less work. He wasn’t a happy person.”

Even after Zorich got back on his feet, the long layoff made it difficult for him to find work. Fortunately, in 1988 Dukakis got her big break in Moonstruck, which earned her an Academy Award and instant fame. She went on to appear in films like Working Girl and Dad, the latter directed by Gary David Goldberg, who would soon create Brooklyn Bridge.

Goldberg remembered Zorich visiting the set of Dad and thought of him when casting Bridge. “The memory I wanted to create was of my own grandfather, who had this joy of just seeing kids together,” says Goldberg. “Louis has that great joy.”

Although they can afford a 100-year-old home in Montclair and a getaway house on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, the couple’s late-in-life success hasn’t much changed them. “When I met Olympia, I felt that what I was truly interested in was for her and me to grow together,” says Zorich. They’re still doing that. “Believe it or not, we get into very interesting discussions, even after 30 years,” says Dukakis. “We spend a lot of time just talking.” A few minor peeves aside (he likes clutter, she abhors it), neither could be happier. “I found the woman of my dreams,” sighs Zorich, who clearly plays the man of her dreams for Dukakis. “It’s true,” she says. “It just makes you want to laugh.”



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