February 12, 1996 12:00 PM

A sweetheart whose business is bitchiness

SITTING IN A RESTAURANT IN CHILLY, blizzard-battered New York City, Morgan Fairchild is California dreamin’. It’s not so much the warm West Coast weather she misses since moving to Manhattan last fall to work on the new ABC soap The City; it’s her loved ones. There’s her boyfriend of nine years, Mark Seiler, 47, a film executive who shares her 1920s Spanish-style home in the hills of suburban L.A. There’s Maggie, her 8-year-old Himalayan cat. And there’s her rabbit, Chunnel—so named “because she chews through everything,” explains the actress. As Fairchild, 46, tells it, the tame cottontail burrowed under her backyard gate one day—and straight into her heart. “I said to Mark, ‘Please, please, please, can we keep her?’ ” Fairchild recalls. “In our neighborhood, the coyotes will eat anything you don’t take in.”

Could this be the Morgan Fairchild we all know and love to loathe—the feral, ice-blooded vixen from such prime-time ’80s sudsers as Falcon Crest and Flamingo Road—a woman who would surely have come down on the side of the coyotes? Not to worry: Fairchild keeps her tender side offscreen while playing The City’s ruthless media mogul Sydney Chase, who, she says, is “Rupert Murdoch in drag.”

And who wouldn’t play down a few personality traits for the $1 million a year industry sources say she’s receiving—a salary that probably rivals that of the queen of daytime jezebels, All My Children’s Susan Lucci. To Fairchild, it just proves an axiom she says a TV-movie director taught her in 1978, after she expressed regret at being cast as a siren in the long-forgotten The Initiation of Sarah. “He said, ‘Honey, I can get an ingenue anywhere. But a good bitch is hard to find.’ ”

ABC must have thought so. Last year the network did everything it could to transform the 12-year-old, perennially slumping soap Loving into the glistening City, letting a serial killer murder most of the cast and relocating the survivors to Manhattan’s swank SoHo neighborhood. The look of the show was jazzed up with techniques lifted from action series—swooping crane shots, handheld cameras, outdoor scenes. But something was missing. “We wanted a prime-time diva to get attention for the new show,” says Pat Fili-Krushel, head of ABC’s Daytime Division. “Morgan was my ideal. When you hear ‘Morgan Fairchild,’ you know what you’re getting. She is a business.”

Eager as ABC was to buy stock, landing the Dallas-born actress wasn’t easy. “I had no plans to go back to daytime,” says Fairchild, who started in TV in 1973 on Search for Tomorrow, and has recently been making cameos on popular sitcoms such as Friends (as Matthew Perry’s mom). But the clincher was what Fairchild calls ABC’s very interesting offer: a guaranteed TV movie and a series pilot.

So far, ABC’s investment hasn’t paid dividends. Though the show has won favorable reviews, The City is daytime’s lowest-rated soap. That’s not from a lack of effort on Fairchild’s part. “I pride myself on what I do,” she says. “I will give the same performance if you’re paying me $250 for dinner theater or all the money they’re paying me for this.”

She’s also given a wardrobe—being very petite and hard to fit, most of the size 2 Versace power suits and Manolo Blahnik boots Fairchild wears on The City are her own. And she delivers, apparently, almost all of her time. With a job that begins at 6:30 a.m. and often lasts past midnight, Fairchild claims to have no energy for New York nightlife. Her high-rise apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, she says, “looks like a college dorm.” Fairchild says she still needs essentials like “a vacuum cleaner and some dishwashing liquid.”

But on the set, everything about her is in place. “At the end of a 16-hour work day, I look like Woodstock,” says costar Catherine Hickland, “but Morgan looks completely intact.” Even Fairchild’s pals, like comedian Elayne Boosler, are amazed. “I have no idea how she stays in shape,” says Boosler. “At the gym, she’s hanging out. I never see her on a machine.”

For the record, Fairchild credits “discipline” for her unflagging crispness, though she admits, “I have lots of little tricks—like I blot all day with Kleenex so my makeup stays looking fresh.” As for the gym, the actress—who was born Patsy McClenny and remembers being taunted with the name Fatsy Patsy as a chunky teen—says she goes to the gym several times a week for hour-long workouts and does indeed use the machines. “I use a reclining bicycle—the StairMaster makes my behind too big,” she says. “And I lift weights.”

Shrewdly, Fairchild made it a stipulation of her agreement with ABC that she would get long weekends off to visit Seiler. “We get together every week or two,” he says. “Not as much time as we like—but in this business, sometimes people have to do this.”

In any event, the arrangement may not last long: Fairchild is under contract for only one year. Meanwhile, she seems to be cozying right into her new role. Asked what lies ahead for her character, Fairchild’s eyebrow arches reflectively. “Carnival in Brazil would be good—or the Paris fashion shows,” she says. “I haven’t talked ABC into that one yet. But I’m pushing.”


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