Single Again, Thirtysomething's Polly Draper Brushes Up on Becoming a Sexy Working Girl

Some people go into acting for the fame, the fortune or their footprints on Hollywood Boulevard. Polly Draper, the froggy-voiced actress who plays confused career gal Ellyn Warren on ABC’s thirtysomething, admits that she had a different motivation. “I got into show business because I had never gotten kissed before and I wanted this boy to kiss me,” says the actress, who got her big break as Guenevere in a seventh-grade production of Camelot. “I didn’t know how you did it, and I wanted to do it right. The first rehearsal was such a failure that the teacher said, ‘That’s okay, Polly, we’ll do it later.’ It was pathetic.”

Judging from some of the sexpot roles she has played since, it seems that Draper has finally sharpened her technique. Fitted with falsies for the lead in 1982’s off-Broadway play Hooters, she was dubbed a “bombshell” and “a perfect 10” by critics. “I became known for my big boobs,” she says resignedly, “having never owned a pair in my life.”

In the wake of her thirtysomething success, the accolades keep coming, even if they aren’t the stuff of a former wallflower’s dreams. “At a wedding this priest came up to me and said, ‘Every Tuesday night when I hear your voice, I almost lose my vocation,’ ” she says, “And I just got a letter from a foot fetishist who wanted a picture of me in my boots. Or just a picture of the boots.”

Polly, 33, admits that she has long been an attention junkie. “I beat up about 15 boys in fifth grade,” she says. “They were following this little blond number around, and I wanted them to be paying attention to me.”

On that particular count, some might say that Draper still has her dukes up. She has a reputation for being the most neurotic actress on the thirtysomething set. Polly concedes that last year, during the show’s first season, there was some on-set friction. “There were a couple of times early on in the show that were hard for me,” she says. “I don’t think that people were willing to trust me. I’m very spontaneous as an actress, and I don’t do things the same way twice. They [the producers] apologized a lot to me last year because they felt they didn’t use me enough—until I got nominated for the Emmy [for best supporting dramatic actress].”

For the record her colleagues are complimentary. “Trying to get her to hit her marks and walk around the left side of the table instead of the right is always a challenge,” says actor Peter Horton, the Björn Borg ?lone who, in addition to playing Gary Shepherd, has directed several episodes. “But Polly is really fun to work with. She’s very directable.”

“She’s more critical of herself than she needs to be about her acting,” adds actress Brooke Adams, a friend since meeting Polly off-Broadway in 1980. “But it keeps her from being stuck up.”

“She’s befuddled, overwhelmed and totally insecure,” says comedy writer Merrill Markoe, another friend. “But I always think of Polly as having a really nice, positive, sunny outlook for an insecure person.”

If there are any storm clouds looming, they are the ones shadowing her marriage to screenwriter Kevin (Working Girl) Wade, from whom she separated last year, four years after the couple exchanged wedding vows on Fire Island, N.Y. “We really love each other, but living apart just turned into a bigger problem than we ever thought it would,” says Draper, who moved to the Coast for the series while Wade stayed in Manhattan. “We thought if anybody would be immune to problems, we would be. It’s sad to talk about it now, because you can’t say in retrospect, ‘And we lived happily ever after.’ ”

“We lived out the basic show-business cliché: the writer and the actress, the high-powered careers,” says Wade, 34, adding that the couple harbors hope of maintaining some semblance of a relationship. “And it split the marriage. The cliché is true.”

So, it seems, is the one about leading an otherwise charmed life. The daughter of an affluent Palo Alto venture capitalist (father Bill now lives in New York, where he heads the United Nations Development Program, and mother Phyllis is a retired Peace Corps administrator), Polly put her Yale magna cum laude degree to work not long after graduation in 1980. “I always worked, always made enough money to get by and was always almost getting the leading roles in movies,” she says—at least until landing thirtysomething in her very first series tryout.

Now she seems destined to live out yet another cliché. There are two gardeners who tend her pool table-size West Hollywood front lawn, a star’s requisite burglar alarm system, and house calls for her two cocker spaniels, George and Joe, from a Hollywood doggie psychiatrist. “The two of them hate each other,” says Draper, looking on the bright side. “But now, at least they’re not killing each other. Now they’re just like North and South Korea.”

—Susan Schindehette, Michael Alexander in Los Angeles

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