The big day is Thursday on CBS’ Knots Landing. That’s when the stalwart Ben Gibson, played by Doug Sheehan, marries long-suffering Valene Ewing (Joan Van Ark). The soap’s fans are in a lather. After all, Valene’s not quite over Gary (Ted Shackelford), the father of her twin babies. So why the wedding? Try ratings; Knots—up against NBC’s unbeatable Thursday night lineup—needs bolstering.
With one exception the Knots cast is fatigued this overcast day at Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge, Calif., where the wedding scene is being shot. The jokester is Sheehan, who finds seriousness about this TV show amusing. When a pair of ducks from a nearby pond quack at a poignant moment, Sheehan faces the culprit with a straight-faced “I take thee, Daffy.”
Doesn’t this man care about losing the lucrative job he’s had for the last two and a half years? Yes, but the 36-year-old actor, who’s spent nearly four years on General Hospital and currently moonlights as the ooh-and-aah Aramis man (he took over from Ted Danson), sees his job as more than a salary. He wants to act and he’s not getting much of a chance playing a stolid second fiddle to Van Ark’s traumas, Lisa Hartman’s singing, Michele Lee’s bravura and Donna Mills’ eyelashes. “It’s like a nest of baby birds,” he says, “each of them with their mouths open, and the aggressive one gets the worm. I’ve never been aggressive and I’m being smothered.” Sheehan wants to get more humor into his character. “I think it adds humanity,” he says. But the producers “stifle that,” Sheehan insists. “My character has turned into one of the girls. He spends all his time in the kitchen baking brownies.”
Those Knots producers must have read Doug’s mind because they recently discussed improving his character. “They’re letting me spread my wings,” he says. And if they renege? With only a year to go on his contract, the mild-mannered actor says he can simply look for “someplace else to give.” Sheehan’s reserve reaches back to his childhood in Redding, Calif., where he lived with his father, an owner of an aerospace parts company, mother, a registered nurse, and two older brothers. “I wanted to get up on stage and impress little Ruthie Gray, a neighbor I had a crush on.” Shyness held him back. Then, in 1973, after three years plus in the Army, he studied drama at San Diego’s Mesa College. By 1977 Sheehan was performing at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre, in such classics as The Miser and Romeo and Juliet, and making an impression on dancer Cate Abert. “Right away I knew he was somebody I could talk to, then fall in love with,” says Cate, 34, who wed Doug in 1981. There are no children as yet.
Success has brought Sheehan an unpretentious two-bedroom house in Los Angeles and a cabin with 25 acres in San Diego, where he and Cate go “to get away from the insanity of this town.” There Doug can indulge his passions for polo, piano, bagpipes (which he learned as part of his acting training) and raising ducks and partridges. Socially, Doug admits he and Cate are not on Hollywood’s “A” list and don’t want to be. “Ambition is the biggest killer in this town,” he claims. Doug Sheehan expects to live a long and happy life.