By Samantha Miller
February 07, 2000 12:00 PM

It was one of TV’s most memorable exits. In 1991, Diana Muldaur, as L.A. Law witch-in-heels Rosalind Shays, strode into what turned out to be an empty elevator shaft and plummeted to her doom. Viewers weren’t the only ones stunned. Muldaur had discovered her character’s fate only when leafing through her script days before shooting the scene. “I was as shocked as everybody else,” she says, adding with a laugh, “I thought maybe I had asked for too much money!”

Just as surprising was what Muldaur, a TV staple for more than two decades, did next: She ducked out of Hollywood completely. “I totally stopped acting and started living,” says Muldaur, 61, relaxing by the fireplace in the four-bedroom “dream house” on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., that she and husband Robert Dozier, 69, have spent the past few years renovating in between golfing and skiing jaunts. Sounds idyllic—but Muldaur says she’s still adjusting. “It’s much easier to fall out of bed each morning, get to the studio, somebody else puts your face on, somebody else puts your clothes on,” she says. “That’s easy. Real life is hard.”

The former president of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and veteran of scores of shows—from McCloud in the ’70s to Star Trek: The Next Generation in the late ’80s—gave showbiz the shaft not only because of burnout. Writer-producer Dozier had just been diagnosed with cancer, to which Muldaur had lost her first husband, actor James Vickery. “All the things I always thought were so silly and unimportant in life all of a sudden became very important to be together and do,” says Muldaur. “She was a trouper,” says Dozier, who underwent radiation and beat back a recurrence in 1997. “She has an effervescent effect on people.”

That’s been true since the ’60s, when the Brooklyn-born daughter of a magazine executive and a home-maker made her name on the New York City stage. She wed Vickery in 1969 and landed a recurring role on McCloud from 1970-77. “Even though I was hot property because I was young and beautiful, it was hard to find good parts,” she says. Still, she racked up credits including The Tony Randall Show (1976-78) and movies such as 1974’s McQ. “I loved playing bad guys,” she says, admitting she sometimes “came across too strong. I was told I made mincemeat of people.”

In 1979, Vickery died. Muldaur quit working for a year. “It was a tough time,” she says. She and Dozier began dating (“he was as nervous as I was,” recalls Muldaur) and wed in 1981.

Back on the scene, Muldaur scored two plum parts in the late ’80s, as Star Trek: TNG’s feisty Dr. Kate Pulaski and L.A. Law’s power-hungry Rosalind. She says she still gets “wonderful” letters from TNG fans—”they’ve named their children after me,” she marvels—but has not-as-fond memories of her year on its set. “Everybody was out for themselves,” she says. “I don’t think they were happy to have me there.”

The L.A. Law actors, on the other hand, were “the closest family,” says Muldaur, who insists her 1989-91 character “was just too strong for a lot of men.” When writer David E. Kelley offed Roz, says costar Susan Dey, “there was a fear of, ‘Who’s next?’ But we were envious because it was so brilliant and funny.”

Muldaur is now trying to find the right role to end her hiatus. “You don’t see many people my age on television,” she says, adding that she contemplated a face-lift but decided against it: “Somebody has to look the right age.” Her ambition, she says, is “to play all the great women’s roles.” Does that mean…. “Yes, of course,” she says with a sly smile. “I’d love to play Lady Macbeth.”

Samantha Miller

Natasha Stoynoff on Martha’s Vineyard