08 July 2007

Cathy Moriarty

A scene from Soap Dish: "I was in that picture!"

At a CBS dinner for affiliates in Los Angeles, many years ago, I met the actress Cathy Moriarty. I was there with Dan; she was there with Andrew “Dice” Clay. She was his partner on a new sitcom that was supposed to resurrect his career. The show didn’t last long, but the dinner threatened to last forever.

An affiliate dinner is the culmination of a week of glad-handing and back-stabbing, and it’s an unnerving undertaking at best. The network hosts resent their affiliate guests, the affiliate guests despise their network hosts, and everybody is kissing up to the TV stars, all of whom, without exception, sit with waxwork grins and road-kill eyes while they wait, silently but desperately pleading with God to let them get the hell out of the ballroom and go home. But alas, the TV stars are contractually obligated to see the dinner through, acting sociable from the “Parade of Stars” that starts the evening (in alphabetical order, so that Dan entered just after Rhea Perlman and just before Della Reese) right to the increasingly bitter, wine-drenched end.

So there was Cathy Moriarty, and there was I. Both of us were bored by the dinner, and each of us had stolen out to the lobby. She mistook me for a waiter and asked if I would get her a glass of wine. Already, romance must have been in the air: I didn’t tell her right away who I really was; I wanted to play chivalrous knight to this fair dame. I told her I’d be glad to help, and when I came back with her drink, we sat and talked a good long while.

She may still be as beautiful as she was that night, as beautiful as she was in Raging Bull, and the contrast between her blonde radiance and her raucous, street-tough voice was even more startling and seductive in person than it was onscreen. She was not a TV star, she was a movie star, the genuine article. Though she’s made relatively few films, she’s got the charisma, the allure, the mystery. TV is too small a screen for her, and maybe the movie screen was too small, as well, because only in person could she demonstrate that all those magical qualities were hers by right, and not tricks of the camera. Suddenly I was kin to Fitzgerald and Faulkner, to every writer who’d come to Hollywood and knocked back a drink, and run smack into purely mortal divinity.

We had a marvelous time, and there was something fluid and dream-like about it, not only because it wasn’t the first glass of wine for either of us. We were sexy and flirtatious, and there was absolutely no chance of our having sex; we laughed and we mouthed off about everything and everybody, and although I don’t remember much of what we said, we were in complete agreement about all of it. It was a true meeting of minds between two people who'd never met and who would never meet again, a perfect romance between strangers, and exactly what you want a conversation with a screen goddess to be.

At one point I mentioned the movie Soap Dish, because my friend Nate Goodman worked on it. “I was in that movie!” Cathy Moriarty exclaimed, almost triumphantly.

“I know,” I replied. “You’d be surprised to know how seldom that picture comes up in conversation, except among people who worked on it.”

At last she was summoned back to the ballroom; the dinner was nearing its end. There was a fleeting hesitation on her part. I suspect she was debating whether to give me her phone number. But what good would it do? It wasn’t as though we could call each other up for a cup of coffee or a movie date. We lived on different coasts, and though I was Dan Rather’s assistant, I might be a psychopath anyway. (Plenty of people thought Dan was nuts; why not his staff, too?) She did suggest that I drop by the pizza restaurant she and her husband ran, because she spent a lot of time there, and I urged her to call Dan’s office the next time she was in New York. But, with a handshake, the spell was broken, and she was gone.

I’ve never seen her again, onscreen or off, since then. It’s not for lack of interest in her work, so much as it’s a desire to preserve for as long as possible the delicate perfection of the moment we shared.

She forgot all about it the next day.