Every day eager females wait outside an ABC studio in Manhattan for a glimpse of the nefarious, libidinous Tad the Cad. Those who can’t make the pilgrimage send love letters. One enterprising fan Federal Expressed her panties, perfume and a pillowcase. But when Michael Knight, 25, who plays seducer Tad Martin on one of TV’s top-rated soaps, All My Children, made a publicity appearance in the Bible Belt, the attention was different: “This crowd told me that I deserved to be shot, and wasn’t I ashamed of my behavior? I felt like saying, ‘You people deserve to be slapped. Don’t you realize this is a show? We are actors. You’re not supposed to believe this.’ ”
Whether the feelings that Knight arouses are amorous or hostile, ABC careth not, so long as they’re passionate. By making Tad the Cad the randiest teen on the soaps, All My Children hopes to lure a younger audience, staying a ratings heartbeat ahead of CBS’ increasingly popular The Young and the Restless. Tad’s specialty, when he’s not assisting at the local beauty parlor, is deflowering Pine Valley’s virgins in record time. No guilt either. He once even (gasp!) went to bed with his girlfriend’s mother (poor Liza, the daughter, went temporarily bonkers and became the town tramp).
Such luck can only be dreamed of by the average sweaty-palmed adolescent, but Knight is unimpressed. He thinks Tad is “a jerk” and compensates by trying to make him funny. He often succeeds through self-deprecating humor. “I think it’s better to have someone you hate be someone you can laugh at.” Knight, unlike Tad, is the kind of guy who allows only one woman to share his cornflakes, beat him at Trivial Pursuit, call him Boo-Bear and nibble his ears. She’s real estate agent Ann Cutbill, 22, whom Knight met at an airport. “I was picking up another date,” says Knight, “a typical Tad thing to do. Ann was meeting someone else. I walked up and said something stupid.” When Ann got home, however, she had forgotten Knight’s name. “I bought all these soap magazines until I saw his picture,” she says. “About two weeks later,” continues Knight, “I got a bouquet of balloons at the studio with a card saying, ‘Call me.’ We’ve been going out ever since.” Adds Ann, “I knew a fan letter would get lost in the mail so I had to do something big—I spent my last $30.”
Cutbill knows how to keep her live-in boyfriend humble. “Every once in a while she’ll haul off and kick me in the butt,” says Knight. “I’ll come home after a long day, and she’ll say, ‘Don’t give me an attitude, ’cause I see what you look like when you wake up in the morning and you’re no great shakes.’ The godsend is that she is not an actress. I’m lucky.” His breakup last year with co-star Marcy Walker, who played the girlfriend with the overly hospitable mother, left him wary. “Marcy wanted a relationship,” says Knight, “a very secure one. I didn’t want to be that heavily involved right away. Marcy did. That’s why we broke up.”
Those who have traveled with Knight on his many personal appearances say he does not take advantage of the young girls who fling themselves at him. “There have been many circumstances where I’ve had the opportunity but turned it down,” he says proudly. Most evenings are spent in his Upper West Side, one-bedroom apartment. “I’ll watch TV [Leave It to Beaver is a favorite], kick up my feet, have a beer and play with my cats,” he says. “That’s what makes me happy.” Next to Tad, Michael may appear as exciting as Walter Mondale. “I have an extremely strong sex drive,” says Knight defensively, “but I’ve also made a choice to be with someone. I don’t think that makes me boring.”
Traditional, yes. He was born in Princeton, N.J., the middle of three brothers. His father is an education administrator in Boston, and his mother is an art historian. When his family moved to California, Michael was sent to prep school in Ojai, outside Santa Barbara. “I was raised preppy,” he says, in defense of his affinity for Topsiders without socks, Izod shirts and sportswear. “My family is very close. My brothers and I are all loners, but we have an unspoken sort of bond,” says Knight, a graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut. “They get a kick out of seeing me on TV. They say, ‘Hey, there’s Mikey making a fool of himself.’ ”
Knight aches to do movies someday. But for now he’s happy being Tad the Cad, and he’ll have to endure women going gaga. He gives Tad and TV all the credit for the fuss. “I never thought I was good-looking,” he says. “Before All My Children no one was jumping my bones,” he admits. “I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: You take a penguin, put it in bed with enough people watching on TV and it will become a sex symbol.”