In the large garden on the grounds of actress Barbara Bosson’s Pacific Palisades estate, everything is coming up zucchini. Her beans, corn and apples are doing okay too. That Bosson has a green thumb, there is no doubt. There’s also little uncertainty about the tincture of her temper: It’s red-hot, and she’s happy to let the world know about it. Her garden notwithstanding, Barbara Bosson might be best at raising Cain.
On the surface, Bosson, 47, seems to have few causes for complaint. After reaping five Emmy nominations during her tenure as Hill Street Blues’ Fay Furillo—a veritable poster child for kvetches—Bosson is back among the boys in blue on ABC’s promising new series Hooperman. And her marriage to Steven Bochco, the hot-streak creator of Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and Hooperman, appears to be everything Hollywood marriages are never supposed to be: happy, secure and long-running (18 years, with two children, Melissa, 17, and Jesse John, 12). “To this day, Steve’s still the smartest man I ever met,” Bosson says of Bochco. Bochco, 43, says of Bosson, “She’s a great friend and a good cook.” Have even L.A. Law’s amorous Ann Kelsey and Stuart Markowitz ever sounded quite as moony as this?
But in spite of her adoring husband, attractive children and fistful of Emmy nominations, Barbara Bosson (sigh!) doesn’t have it all. Beneath the gardening overalls is an angry woman who feels her talents haven’t saved her from a succession of anemic, brainless second-banana roles. “If I could do anything else, I wouldn’t act,” she says. “Most of the time acting makes me unhappy, because I don’t get to do what I want to do.”
Even when she does, satisfaction is not guaranteed. Her stint as cantankerous Fay on Hill Street ended in 1985, during the show’s sixth season and shortly after husband Bochco was fired—reportedly because of budget problems. “I was supposed to be in it for another two years,” says Bosson. “But the producers let me stay on for four more episodes, then told me they never liked the character and since my husband wasn’t around to write it anymore, they didn’t want to continue using me.”
Now Bosson is playing C.Z. Stern, an aptly named police captain with a monumental, Fay-like temper who bosses around Det. Harry Hooperman (John Ritter). With some modifications, Stern and Furillo could have been based on Bosson’s personality. Not that she’s a dour-puss. She has a sense of humor—an often raunchy kind that makes Ritter say, “This is my kind of woman!” But Bosson is also a candid person who admits to a nose job, to early dope-smoking (a 1972 oil portrait in her gymnasium-size living room shows her holding a joint) and who offers up her disappointments as freely as she offers up her surplus squash.
Many of her present frustrations are rooted in her past. Doris and John Bosson’s daughter grew up in Belle Vernon, Pa., a mining town near Pittsburgh, with two brothers. Family life, Barbara says, was marked by emotional distance and her father’s bitterness. “He was a gifted tennis player,” she says, “but being a tennis pro in that area was like being a bubble dancer in hell. There wasn’t much of a market for it. He ended up working as a milkman and hating it. One of the saddest things I can imagine is living your life regretting you’ve never done what you wanted to do.”
What Bosson wanted to do was act. Since her family couldn’t afford college, she moved to New York and worked as a secretary, theater assistant—and Playboy Bunny. “I put up with a lot of leering men in fezzes to be able to study acting,” she says. In 1966 Bosson enrolled in Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie-Mellon). Also on campus was Steven Bochco. “He was real sensual,” she remembers, “but he was also married, and we didn’t date.” Bosson dropped out of Carnegie after her sophomore year to work with the improv group the Committee, first in San Francisco and then in L.A. There she was reintroduced to Bochco, then a divorcé.
After the marriage Bosson landed small and forgettable parts in film (Bullitt) and TV (Sunshine) before Bochco gave her what should have been a career-making role on Hill Street. “I struggled very hard for a kind of self-worth,” says Bosson. “Then after Steven was gone, to be told [by writers Jeffrey Lewis and David Milch] that my part wasn’t really worth anything—it was just way too painful.”
Lewis begs to differ with Bosson’s remembrance of things past. “As I recall, Barbara was creatively upset because we were planning to have Fay lose her job and fight to get it back. We were going to have Fay chain herself to her desk and get arrested. Barbara thought that was undignified.”
After Hill Street, Bosson decided that she wanted nothing more to do with chains and determined that she would never lean professionally on her husband again. But after two years of sporadic TV work, when Bochco offered Hooperman, Bosson waited a dignified millisecond, then grabbed. “I wanted to think that Steven didn’t have to take care of me, that I could take care of myself,” she says. “But the truth was, Steven was taking care of me.” Getting the role that way doesn’t thrill her, but at least Hooperman offers some saving grace. “This time I get to play a police captain,” says Bosson. “It’s good to finally have a little authority.”