Fame & Fortune: Cybill Shepherd

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Cybill Shepherd scored early big-screen hits with “The Last Picture Show,” and “Heartbreak Kid,” and then spent a decade trying to regain the respect of Hollywood’s fickle industry.

It seems almost everyone is familiar with her story — a quick rise from top model to actress-of-the-month, and eventually, a Golden-Globe winning television actress with sitcom hits “Moonlighting,” “Cybil” and lately, a regular role on “The L Word.”

Over her 40 years in show business, singer and actress Cybill Shepherd has always struggled to disprove those who said she was just a pretty face.

Bankrate: Your comedy “Cybill” just came out on a DVD set after 10 years. Why so long and why is it being released now?

Cybill Shepherd: It was like being buried in a salt mine. This is very emotional for me because I couldn’t even get the footage to see the shows. When I called to ask them for this particular footage, they said oh, it’s buried in a salt mine in Utah someplace. And I felt that my career and my show was buried, but it turns out it wasn’t; it turns out they had it on a computer and they could give it to me if I paid $4,000 and that way I could get to see my scenes.

Bankrate: What caused everything to unravel at the end?

Cybill Shepherd: The studio made the deal where the network had to pay the money and the studio was going to pay the network back once it went into syndication. They made a deal that will never be seen again, one that benefited the studio as opposed to the network. Consequently, the studio made sure it was never syndicated because then they would have to pay the network back. CBS sued (independent producer and distributor) Carsey-Warner and I think they paid them $53 million because they never tried to sell it.

Bankrate: It’s so vicious — but not to sound so naïve in Hollywood happenings — was it a malicious thing or did they not care?

Cybill Shepherd: Well, the executive head writer at the time, as soon as I was off camera, refused to allow me into the editing room to continue my collaboration as a producer. And why did he do that? Because he could. That was really a shock. Plus, 10 days after the show went off the air, I had emergency surgery, I had a double twist in my small intestines. It was a crazy time. It was stressful.

Bankrate: So who stepped up to the plate?

Cybill Shepherd: Carsey-Werner finally decided that they were going to let it loose after 10 years, maybe. I don’t know. I’m really happy that they did it. I mean, I’ll never make a penny and I totally understand that but I don’t care. I just wanted to get it out there.

Bankrate: How did you pick the episodes that are in this collection?

Cybill Shepherd: Well, we couldn’t have any that I sing in. One of my favorite episodes is when I sing “That’s Life” on top of the sushi bar. But it would have cost $65,000. I thought about paying for it myself, but then I thought with the economic crisis the way it is now and decided to save my money.

Bankrate: Cybill Sheridan, your TV character, worried about her finances on the show, being an actress and all. How did you relate to her at that time? You’re also in a tenuous business as well.

Cybill Shepherd: Yes, it’s very tenuous and yes, I’m in the same business. I can really relate to that. I’ve had many ups and downs. My career spans over 40 years if you count going to New York when I was 18. And I have definitely had times when I didn’t know what I was going to do. I mean, I went out and did dinner theater just to have some income coming in and that’s after I had already had a movie career. I hadn’t done “Moonlighting” yet. But being an actor is really tough. I’m very fortunate that I continue to work … very fortunate.

Bankrate: Ever think, as an actress and the tenuous nature of the business, I’ll produce my own projects? Have you and if you do, will it be films as opposed to TV?

Cybill Shepherd: It would be both. It would be everything. The show was the last thing I produced. It didn’t help my producing career that it kind of fell off the face of the earth and wasn’t available on DVD for 10 years (laughs). It really wasn’t good for my career.

Bankrate: Did receiving awards for the show make a difference? Did it give you any cache?

Cybill Shepherd: Yes. I’m actually working a lot now. But as a producer, this was really my strongest thing that I have ever done. So when it wasn’t available and disappeared, it was almost like I had disappeared. It was really a crisis. I was really in a financial and personal crisis.

Bankrate: You say you’re working a lot now — what are you doing?

Cybill Shepherd: Well, I’m guest-starring on “Psych” on the USA Network, “The L-Word” on Showtime and “Samantha Who?” I’m preparing to do my third low-budget feature film in three months. Suddenly, I’m doing all these movies. But there were times, I’d go and read for a part and they said they weren’t looking for a Cybill type. I even wore a brown wig with no makeup to read for a part and still didn’t get it.

Bankrate: When you were a little girl back in Tennessee, who inspired you to believe in yourself? What did they say that is probably still very real to you today?

Cybill Shepherd: I was very encouraged by my grandparents and my parents to do two things that would be very, very important for me. One was to sing. We always sang around the table. They forced me to try out for the church choir. The other thing was to be athletic. My mother and father coached me. My father taught me how to throw a football, receive a football and kick a football in the front yard. And if you go back and think about when that was, that was very rare. So I have this physical confidence. And we have found that young women particularly benefit … all kids do, but particularly women to get that physicality, to feel not so much to measure your thighs, but what you can do with your body. And then I was always told that “beauty is as beauty does.”

Bankrate: What’s your take on looking at the climate of television in the late ’90s compared to TV now? Has it changed for women? Is there more of an acceptance for them to own their own space in a way?

Cybill Shepherd: Well, we’re certainly coming back … women over 40 with Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Sally Field. There was a period when the “Cybill” show ended in 1998 where we vanished. It was like the Bermuda Triangle for women in television. For a long time, there wasn’t a show with a woman in her 40s or 50s at the center of a show. I don’t know when that started to change. We all went off the air — like six shows that went off the air at the same time….”Grace Under Fire,” “Murder She Wrote,” “Roseanne,” “Cybill,” “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” “Murphy Brown.”

Bankrate: Do you think it’s cyclical? Do you think it has anything to do with economics or politics of the country and where we are?

Cybill Shepherd: Well, they decided they wanted to focus on young males as opposed to the classic demographic. But yes, it could be cycles we go through as a society.

Bankrate: A lot of actresses become jaded in this business at a certain point; the first thing that goes is the way they take care of themselves. And then they’re negative and talk how the industry sucks as opposed to saying well, OK, my canvas has shrunk, as long as I get to do what I want to do and just turn your brain around.

Cybill Shepherd: I’ve always believed it’s OK to give up for two weeks. And then usually something will come along that will cheer me up — little, tiny things. There was a little piece in the “New Yorker” magazine that someone sent to me about the screening “The Last Picture Show” and little things like that that somebody still remembers. I’m not one to quit. I’m going to keep doing this.

I did a one-woman show called “Curvy Widow” and it was 90 minutes on the stage and I performed for three months. It was a great premise, the play was iffy, but I went and did it anyway and proved something to myself.

I went to a new acting teacher; I had a new dialog coach and had to get into shape. I went and found out everything that was wrong with me and started to fix it. I figured if I could do seven shows a week of a 90-minute show with nothing but me on the stage, I can do anything. Now, I haven’t stopped working since I did that.

The other thing, before “Moonlighting,” I went and sang the National Anthem at the Sugar Bowl to 67,000 people and I got them to listen. I thought, if I can do that, I can do anything. Hell, life is good!

Bankrate: You say you have worked ever since you did that one-woman show, but do you believe in saving for that rainy day? You said after “Cybill,” you didn’t work for a while. Do you ever sit back and think about saving your pennies for that rainy day?

Cybill Shepherd: I’ve always tried to do that. And I’m fine. Katharine Hepburn said all you need is enough money to say no. Gandhi said to make sure your needs never exceed your means.

Photo courtesy of Retna, Ltd.