Marrying David Lander Wasn't Like Becoming Mrs. Squiggy, Says Kathy Fields, Gratefully
As the new wife of one of TV’s most moronic sitcom heroes, photographer Kathy Fields, 32, is still getting used to the same infuriating question. “When people find out I’m married to Squiggy,” she scowls, “they ask if he’s really like that. Do / look like I’d live with Squiggy? Do / appear that weird?”
Happily, the answer is no. Unlike the duck-tailed turkey he plays on Laverne and Shirley, David L. Lander, 32, is all sensitivity and maturity at home. Says his bride of six months: “There are times I go running to David as though he were my father.” Adds Lander: “Squiggy has been a big part of my life but a small part of my emotions. I can switch it on and off. If I didn’t switch it off at home, I wouldn’t be home much.”
David met Kathy nine years ago when he was married to photographer Theá Poole. Kathy was living with a friend of theirs, and both couples hung around with Lander’s old pal Michael McKean (who plays the equally creepy Lenny on the ABC series) and his wife, Susan. Says David of his attitude toward Kathy then, “It wasn’t that I lusted after her.” That began seven years later, explains David, “when Kathy came to the Laverne and Shirley set to work as a photographer. We got together and spoke as two people with a lot in common.” She had long since split with her boyfriend; and Lander had separated from his wife and begun dating what he described as “an all-star team” of women—including co-star Cindy Williams. Kathy had nothing to do with the Landers’ breakup. She credits her husband’s ex-wife with sparking her interest in photography, and says they all remain very close. “A great deal of her influenced him, and all of that is part of what I love,” says Kathy. “But this life-style was wrong for her, and she really needed to be out in the country and have a settled life. [Theá now lives in Oregon.] I can support David in his work, because I know how difficult it is. I grew up in it.”
To say the least. Kathy is the daughter of actress Edith Fellows and Freddie Fields, a high-powered Hollywood agent (he represented Judy Garland, Henry Fonda and Paul Newman) turned producer of such films as Lipstick and Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Her parents divorced when she was 7, and Kathy was raised by her dad and stepmom Polly Bergen. After graduating from Beverly Hills High (Rob Reiner was a schoolmate) and Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., she landed small acting roles in films like Richard Brooks’ The Happy Ending and Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun. But she began to feel that acting “didn’t fit my nature. I was more unhappy working than not working.”
Part of the reason was her dad. “I’m sure I put a lot of the pressure on myself,” she concedes, “but I felt I couldn’t really gain my father’s approval unless I could reach a certain height in my career. I’ve never been a great competitor. David can sit in a meeting with five strangers and be himself, while I’d be worrying, ‘What do I look like? What do I sound like? What do they think of me?’ ”
Her dad, she says, greatly admires Lander professionally and is pleased with the marriage. Freddie has measurably helped Kathy’s career as a photographer. After doing location stills on The Towering Inferno and The Betsy, she got the assignment to shoot the somber, mood-setting singles bar photographs seen under the opening credits in 1977’s Mr. Goodbar. Richard Brooks, who directed, had thought Kathy an “excellent” actress but as a photographer, he says, “she was marvelous, exceptionally good.”
David was born in the Bronx to high school teachers Sol and Stella Landau (David has used several variations on the name over the years). He enrolled at Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh, where he met McKean, and in 1965 they started doing the raunchy comedy skits that evolved into the Lenny and Squiggy characterizations. They also skipped enough classes to get kicked out of school, and after briefly returning home to attend New York University and compose one-liners for columnists Walter Winchell and Earl Wilson, David headed for California. Though he did some writing for Reiner, whom he had met through Carnegie Tech buddy Albert Brooks, Lander soon found himself toiling for an answering service to survive.
In 1971 Lander and McKean teamed up again with the radically satirical group Credibility Gap. Four years later Reiner and his wife, Penny Marshall, invited them to perform at a party which was attended by the staff then noodling Laverne and Shirley. Lander and McKean were in from the first episode.
Not long after the new sitcom became an instant hit, Lander bought the two-bedroom house in Hollywood Hills where he and Fields live. Though David doesn’t do his share of the housework, Kathy seems unconcerned. “I don’t expect him to, because I know it’s not part of his personality,” she says. “We don’t paint the garage together on Sundays. I either do it myself or hire someone.” Lander’s escape, to the point of madness, is the Pittsburgh Pirates. “He’s been called the world’s greatest fan,” laughs Kathy. “It’s his drug, his way of unwinding.” Fields goes to ballgames with him and has learned to keep score and even joins him on the road with the team occasionally. She prefers a day at the beach or a drive in the mountains, but says she’s not as good at relaxing as her man. “There’s constant dialogue in my head,” she complains. “I have an uncontrollable imagination.”
Children? “We’ve kicked the baby thing around a bit,” says Lander, “but we’re too busy having fun with each other. We may be selfish, because we’re not bringing another life into the world right now, but we’re also not hurting anyone.”
Kathy has a good reason for postponement, having just begun a one-year fellowship with the American Film Institute in which she will make three half-hour films. “Everyone in this town wants to be a director,” she says, but that excludes David. He and McKean have, so far, had indifferent success parlaying their TV smash back into a club act or record, much less into a spin-off series of their own. “I really can’t guarantee even my own enthusiasm,” David says candidly, “and I can’t guarantee the public’s.” He does have ambitions to write and star in his own movies and plays, though he won’t try to direct himself (“I like Marty Feldman, but what suddenly made him a director?”)
He doesn’t rule out working with his wife. “I respect her taste and talent,” he says, “and that’s not just silly love talk.” Kathy, ever the Hollywoodbred pragmatist, adds cautiously, “Life is constantly throwing curves, but whatever does happen—if we stay married or not—there will always be a relationship.” David the romantic won’t sit still for any of that sort of negativism. “There was a time,” he says, “when I thought I’d never get married again. Now I know I won’t.”