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Alexandra Wentworth Shares WASP Recipes.

Actress and Comedian Alexandra Wentworth. She's the author of The WASP Cookbook (Warner), a collection of purposefully bland recipes (with nicknames such as Kiki’s Cupcakes and Nummies) and plenty of standard drinks. Wentworth has acted on Seinfeld,In Living Color,Jerry Maguire, and Trial and Error.

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Other segments from the episode on November 17, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 17, 1997: Interview with Cybill Shepherd; Interview with Alexandra Wentworth.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 17, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 111701np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Cybill Shepherd
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Like many actresses, Cybill Shepherd had a hard time getting roles when she hit her 40s. She solved that problem by producing and starring in a sitcom about an actress in her 40s who has a hard time getting roles. Her CBS show premiered in January of (Unintelligible). It's revived Shepherd's career and made a TV star out of stage actress Christine Baransky (ph), who plays Cybill's best friend Mary Anne (ph).

Here's a scene from an episode in which Cybill's at home with her daughter Zoe and Mary Anne. Cybill's mother is coming for a visit, so tensions are high. Plus, Cybill is dealing with the onset of menopause.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "CYBILL")

ACTRESS AS ZOE: Mother, when I woke up this morning, the air conditioning was on so high I could see my breath, and when I got out of bed, I snapped off a toe.

CYBILL SHEPHERD, ACTRESS, AS CYBILL: Zoe, I'm really sorry. I hope these hot flashes will be over soon. Bear with me, OK?

ZOE: I will, mother. I realize that this is a tough time for you, but it would really help me to be supportive if I could make insensitive jokes at your expense.

LAUGHTER

SHEPHERD: Of course, honey, we'll get through this together.

CHRISTINE BARANSKY, ACTRESS, AS MARY ANNE: What a tender, yet terrifying Hallmark moment. Is this also a symptom of menopause?

SHEPHERD: Not symptom, sign. Menopause is not a disease. It's a natural transition. Lately, I've been feeling every sensation with my whole body -- like I'm bubbling over. More than that, I'm bursting. No, what's the word I'm looking for?

BARANSKY: Prozac?

GROSS: Cybill Shepherd started her career as a beauty queen and model. Her movies include "The Last Picture Show," "The Heartbreak Kid," "Taxi Driver," "Daisy Miller," and "Chances Are." From 1985 to '89, she starred with Bruce Willis in the comic detective series "Moonlighting."

She's also recorded six albums. Her new one is called "Talk Memphis" and it features songs associated with the city where she grew up. Here's "Beale (ph) Street Blues."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "BEALE STREET BLUES" FROM CD "TALK MEMPHIS TO ME")

SHEPHERD SINGING: You'll see pretty browns and beautiful gowns
You'll see tailor-mades and hand-me-downs
You'll meet honest men and pickpockets, too
You'll find that business never closes 'til somebody gets killed

If Beale Street could talk
If Beale Street could talk
Married men would have to take up their beds and walk
Except one or two, who never touch booze
And the blind man on the corner who sings the Beale Street blues

He says, I...

GROSS: That's Cybill Shepherd from her new CD Talk Memphis To Me. Cybill Shepherd, welcome to FRESH AIR.

SHEPHERD: Oh, I'm happy to be here.

GROSS: You grew up in Memphis, and Memphis is the theme of the new CD. What music did you hear when you were growing up?

SHEPHERD: Well, I heard a lot of different kinds of music. There were some blues. My parents were big band fans. They had all these big bands stuff. We had Louie Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra.

Also, every Sunday was a Grand Ole Opry, which I turned my nose up at for years. I mean, I think I was a snob about country music, really, until I did the film -- my first film The Last Picture Show -- again, to hear some of the classic country hits of -- and became a country music fan.

But there's a lot of influences. There's blues; there's country; there's rock; there's a great STAX period of music of Memphis. Memphis is really the only city in the world that's contributed three unique kinds of music to world music. One is, of course, the rural blues coming up out of the fields; and second would be rock and roll with Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins; and then the last would be the STAX -- great STAX recordings, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding.

GROSS: You said you turned your nose up early on at country music. What about your parents' big band recordings? Did you actually like Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald and the big bands when you were a kid, and rock and roll was on -- was the music of your generation?

SHEPHERD: Well actually, the Beatles were the first band that as a teenager I ever got into. But before that, my parents -- my mother and father were considered the best jitterbuggers in Memphis, and I was taught to dance like with my dad, doing the jitterbug and all kinds of dances, like, at eight years old.

GROSS: Were you good?

SHEPHERD: So I love that -- I love that music. I was pretty good, yeah. I was pretty good.

GROSS: On the liner notes from your new CD, you write: "My love of music and life has given me all I've needed to keep singing, in spite of some critics' past opinions."

Tell me more about what you're referring to there?

SHEPHERD: Well, I think there are probably some people who just appear on the scene and do things perfectly and are just loved for it. But I think probably that most human beings have to try something quite a bit before they get good at it. Certainly, that's my case with singing. I mean, I've been singing all along, but I had some early experiences and albums that were very brutally reviewed, and I almost quit. And I'm really glad I had people to encourage me to keep doing it, because you know if you keep doing something long enough, you can end up doing it pretty well.

GROSS: Am I mistaken in thinking that in your blues singing on the CD you sing in a fuller voice than you do when singing standards on your earlier CDs?

SHEPHERD: Well, I'm also older. At 47...

GROSS: Hmmm -- Mm-hmm.

SHEPHERD: ... I've been studying singing, now, actually with the same teacher, for 20 years -- over 20 years. And your voice does get richer and fuller, and I've continued to sing. And I'm glad I didn't give up.

GROSS: Cybill Shepherd is my guest, and she has a new CD called Talk Memphis to Me.

It's funny, your career is -- seems to be much sturdier now -- now that -- just at the time when most women are complaining that they can't get roles, you're in a period where you're playing an actress who's considered over the hill, and playing that actress has totally revived your career. Do you know what I'm saying?

SHEPHERD: Well, I just heard a couple weeks ago that Redbook's decided that they don't want anybody on their cover over 42.

GROSS: Redbook?

SHEPHERD: Yes.

GROSS: Wow.

SHEPHERD: And I did a Ladies Home Journal cover with my daughter Clementine a few months ago that was a huge seller. So, I have no right to complain because I am blessed and I'm very grateful. But if somebody doesn't complain -- if I don't complain, nobody will, about the fact that I don't get as many covers.

Basically, they want women to shut up and go quietly into the night after a certain age, just as we're starting to get our power. My show's the only show really in the history of television that is dealing with this subject -- that women, we're not going to get invisible. We're going to make more noise -- and nobody is writing about it; not a single media, feminist or otherwise, has even noted about the content of my show; that we're dealing with menopause as a change continually -- not a word about it.

We dealt with mammograms last year -- not a word about it. You're better at what you're doing in your mid-40s to late-40s. You really understand it. But you no longer, like, can pass for that, like, young sex object. So, it's scary to people.

GROSS: You know, you mentioned that you're dealing with issues like menopause on the show. There was one, you know, hot flash-type of episode where you were talking about, you know, menopause and using the word "period" and I -- it's -- there was -- you don't hear people talking about their period a lot on sitcoms.

SHEPHERD: Well, it was a huge controversy.

GROSS: Was it? I was wondering.

SHEPHERD: It was a huge controversy. Matter of fact, last Valentine's Day we did an episode where we used words like "vagina" and "labia." The network came to us and said "you can't say vagina, but it's OK to say labia."

GROSS: Is that because people wouldn't know what it meant?

LAUGHTER

SHEPHERD: Well, maybe they didn't realize 'til it was broadcast, and there was this huge, like, response and then they came down on us. They said: "we cannot refer to women's cycles as any other thing but cycles." They said we can't say "period." We can't say "uterus." We can't say "cervix." We actually had a joke about the cervix. We had to take it out. We can't say "ovaries."

Now, they let us do a menopause episode, and they said you can't say "period." Well, finally it came down to we said: "I'm sorry, but we have to say 'period.'" First of all, the whole nature of these characters -- we'd already had a scene last season where Mary Anne said to me: "well, are you still getting your Aunt Flo every month?" And I corrected her, as Cybill Schared (ph) on the show: "come on, say it -- it's period, menstruation" -- and we made a joke with the waiter, you know, being, like, horrified or something.

And suddenly they don't want us to say "period." Well, we got "period" in there. But let me tell you, it's a struggle. But I think it's a mistake. I mean, the major networks are losing viewers to all these other kinds of networks, why should they make us be more safe? Why shouldn't they let us be more on the edge?

GROSS: You know, you were talking about how you feel like you've come more into your power as a woman in her 40s, both in terms of your acting career and your singing career, and I guess your personal life as well. But did you always feel that way about getting older? Or was there a period where you were worried about, you know, "losing" your looks or getting beyond the age where there are roles or good roles for women?

But let's go back to losing your looks. Is that something you worried about as somebody who started your career in modeling?

SHEPHERD: I started worrying about losing my looks when I was 18 years old and looked as close to perfect as I ever would. Because when you're a model, there's just a constant influx of more beautiful women. There's this tremendous amount of competition. I was very worried about losing my looks.

I remember being hung up on when Marilyn Monroe died. I think she died at 36 years old. But I always figured, well, she looked so gorgeous right before she died, that I'll still look OK until I'm maybe -- but I thought she died at 40, and then at 40 years old, somebody said "no actually she died at 36," so I'd felt OK for four years, and if I'd really realized it, I might have been upset.

I had a period like during Moonlighting, when I would see, like, the director of photography that I was working with come in and call makeup over, and they would go like "psst psst psst" and look at the -- and then the makeup artist would come in and they would start trying to put more makeup under my eyes or trying to do something like that.

And I learned at a certain point to say: "you know, y'all, short of surgery, it ain't going to get any better." But it's still scary. I think probably the most -- one of the most important things that I have to, or I want to learn, as well as I think it would be so great for all women to learn, is that -- and it's hard for us to learn 'cause the odds are against us that we will learn it -- is how to love ourselves as we age.

I think I'm getting better at it sometimes, but also I'm growing up, looking at myself on screen. You know, I'm growing up. I see myself when I'm doing rough-cuts on my show and I'm very involved. We'll look at maybe four -- look at the episode five or six times before it goes out on the air, changing cuts. So I see myself a lot, so I'm kind of getting more used to it.

Then I'll see myself, like Last Picture Show, or something and I'll be -- I'll just be so shocked. Or even on Moonlighting -- how young; how much younger I look. I got -- I had no idea I looked that good then.

What is it about women, and I think we all experience this: we're never good enough. But it starts at puberty. I mean, I'm a feminist -- radical feminist mother. I think, now, Clementine, my oldest daughter, she's not going to worry about measuring her thighs. That's not what her life's going to be about. But guess what? It is.

I mean, not so much now, but there was a period where all girls are required to aspire to an impossible ideal, and it never gives up for women; never lets up.

GROSS: You were saying that you sometimes want to say to people: "listen, short of surgery, this is as good as it's gonna get." "Short of surgery" being the operative words there. I think there's a lot of pressure on actresses and on actors as well now -- but probably more so on actresses -- to get surgery. Even if you don't want to, there's a lot of pressure I think to get it in order to look like how you're supposed to look on-screen, whether it's the big screen or the small screen.

Have you been feeling that pressure? And I wonder what your response to it is?

SHEPHERD: Well, I've noticed that when I go to doctors, like, because I have an eye infection or something, that the doctor said to me: "you know, we could take" -- I said "I'm a little puffy" -- he said: "I could take that out -- a laser, in like two minutes, we'll get rid of that." It's like doctors kind of like volunteering stuff.

I don't want to hold it against anybody that does it, 'cause it certainly is an option that people should feel free to do. But I also think that it's really -- should be a viable option not to do it. It's very interesting.

First of all, I don't think cosmetic surgery necessarily makes you look younger. I don't think it gets you more jobs. It certainly would get you stuck in playing the kind of thing that I'm interested in not playing the thing the rest of my life.

I'm interested in what I'm really going to look like. But I also reserve the right to change my opinion. We all have the right to change our minds at any time.

GROSS: Right, right, right. Are there things that you feel you learned from Moonlighting that you wanted to apply in doing your current show? -- things that your wanted to do differently or, you know, do the same because it worked well, whatever.

SHEPHERD: Well, one of the things -- going back to surgery and the women having to aspire to a perfect ideal. Eva Marie Saint played my mother on Moonlighting. She gave a brilliant performance. It was very moving. But there was so much diffusion put on because of her age. You couldn't see her performance, and nobody really noticed it.

So, one of the things I've been careful about on my show is that particularly when we do emotional scenes -- very careful don't have too much diffusion because you can't see the emotion.

GROSS: "Diffusion" is what?

SHEPHERD: Diffusion on the lens to soften the look, to blur the look. You can't see the tears that are being shed if there's too much diffusion on the lens. In other words, if you -- it's not sharp anymore; to try to soften the edges, so to speak.

GROSS: My guest is Cybill Shepherd. She has a new CD called Talk Memphis to Me, and she has her own sitcom on CBS. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Cybill Shepherd, star of the sitcom Cybill.

You grew up in Memphis, and I think, you know, I'm not from the South myself, but when I think about the South and women, I think of the two most popular images of women, which seem to be, in the South, which seem to me -- the big blues mama or the pampered Southern belle. Were those the two images that were most common when you were growing up?

SHEPHERD: I don't now. I'm always suspicious of dichotomies.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

SHEPHERD: You know, whatever you want to say, women are -- women -- it's either the madonna or the whore. It's either the -- that whole, like, Southern idea -- Southern women, whatever their skin color, are some of the most amazing women in the world. And I didn't grow up with any of the -- any of the -- neither one of those things were really part of my life. I just knew a lot of different people.

I grew up in the segregated South -- 1968, the year I graduated from high school, 2.5 miles from where I stood on the high school steps, Martin Luther King was assassinated. And we're very shortly going to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his death. And I've been involved with the National Civil Rights museum.

I wish I could have been more involved sooner. But you know, I didn't know. There was actually a thing going on in Memphis where I didn't know what was going on downtown. I didn't know about the sanitation workers' strike.

So a lot of my -- about growing up in the South -- it's a very painful thing, you know, the color of your skin. And I remember the signs that said "colored only." I remember that hate. And so, there's a lot of history there and a lot of sadness, and hopefully a lot of coming together.

GROSS: You -- you were, I think, a beauty queen as a teenager. Tell me how you first aspired to that; what made you think, "oh, let me enter a beauty pageant?"

SHEPHERD: I did not want to enter the beauty pageant. I hate beauty pageants. I didn't want to model. My cousin entered me. I won Miss Teenage Memphis, and then went on to the Miss Teenage America Pageant and didn't even make it in the finals.

I think that the -- I've had some significant failures growing up in Memphis that were very instructive. One was failing gym and having to repeat it. And another was not even getting in the finals of the Miss Teenage America Pageant. It was a -- it's very interesting to lose. I decided I didn't want to lose anymore. I wanted to win the next pageant I was in.

And I knew from then on to be careful about how rebellious I was, because having to repeat gym and not learn to type was a real drag.

GROSS: Why did you fail gym?

SHEPHERD: Well, the last grade, which was the determining "F" that made me fail gym when I was 15 years old, was a charm notebook. We were supposed to go through Glamour and Seventeen magazine and cut out all these articles on how to be charming; how to do our hair and makeup and stuff. I mean, this was 1965. That was stupid, as far as I was concerned, and I did a bad job at it. I just threw some pages of a magazine and some construction paper, turned it in. She gave me an "F." That's what I failed on was the charm notebook.

Two years later, I was on the cover of all those magazines. That's the irony of it.

GROSS: That's pretty funny.

SHEPHERD: Hmm.

GROSS: So, your winning the Miss Teenage Memphis...

SHEPHERD: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ... led you to be a model by the time you were in your late teens. What did you like and not like about that?

SHEPHERD: Well, I hated being a model 'cause it was boring, 'cause most of the photographers didn't care about you and there was nothing going on with your mind, mentally. They sort of came to Memphis. They went all over the country looking for people to be in the "Model of the Year" contest and they wanted me to come up and be in it. And I said "no."
I want to go to Italy and study the history of art.

And they made the point -- see, at that point, I was supposed to go to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and Stuart Calley (ph) at Stuart Models said: "you know, you're going to be a lot closer to Florence, Italy from New York than you will be from Baton Rouge, Louisiana." And that made sense.

So, I went up there. And I wanted to win that contest because I didn't want to lose any more contests, but also because it meant I could be financially independent, get out of Memphis. One of the most important things for me in the first 18 years of my life was to get the hell out of Memphis.

Ten years later, I was really ready to come back to Memphis.

GROSS: Yeah, Memphis is a pretty interesting place.

SHEPHERD: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You started your movie career with a director Peter Bogdanovich, who was both your director and your lover. And I've always thought it's a very tricky relationship when your lover is your mentor as well; you know, and like your lover's your teacher or your director or something. Was that difficult?

SHEPHERD: Well, it was very difficult, but it was a fantastic school of film to go to. I went to the Peter Bogdanovich School of Film, and he's really extraordinary teacher about movies, and also a wonderful director. It was difficult. Towards the end of our relationship, we were very criticized.

We were the first non-married couple openly living in sin to be on the cover of People magazine, if such a thing -- you can imagine, that would be a shock, right?

But it was actually a shock then, and we were hated for it -- criticized and snide, awful articles were written. And we weren't necessarily really wonderful about that either. We kind of flaunted it in people's face.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. I think a lot of people assumed that because -- I mean, I know a lot of critics wrote this actually -- that because Peter Bogdanovich was in love with you, that he insisted on casting you in his movies, and it was, you know, ruining your career and ruining his career. What did that do to your self-esteem, reading this kind of stuff?

SHEPHERD: It was very painful, and I think -- you know, I started my career with The Last Picture Show. I remember waiting outside the New York Times building for the reviews, and reading these incredible reviews. And then it was -- you know, I mean, you just don't have that every picture. There's no way you can have that.

So it was just part of growing up, and learning that you can also be despised and hated. And it was very painful. I mean, you can't help but take it personally, and yet I think it helped me to feel it and get through it and know that I would survive. But it was very -- it was a very painful -- actually, the man that I live with now, Robert Martin (ph) and I, have a very significant creative connection. It's the first real creative connection I've had with a man that I've been involved with since Peter.

I think it is an important part of longevity for me with the men in my life. Robert Martin produced, played all the instruments except trumpet, and did all the background vocals on the CD Talk Memphis to Me. He's also the musical director of the show Cybill. He's also the musical director of my act.

GROSS: Oh.

SHEPHERD: So, we're very involved creatively. The music is something that we have great fun doing.

GROSS: I think you briefly dated -- is that the right word? -- Elvis Presley?

SHEPHERD: Yeah, you can use that word if you want. Yeah, I did.

GROSS: So, how -- how did you meet him?

SHEPHERD: George Kline (ph) was a mutual friend. George Kline was a DJ -- well, I met him at a television station, actually. He was the MC for the Miss Teenage Memphis Pageant. So I knew him and he knew Elvis, and he called and asked -- said that Elvis wanted to meet me, and I was terrified. So I said: "well, OK, I'll come, but I'm -- I have to bring my best friend, and best girlfriend, and my little brother and his best friend." So, I took them all with me to meet him 'cause it was a little scary.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: What was Elvis' reaction when you came with this whole protective entourage?

SHEPHERD: Well, he didn't see me, see, because we went in -- he would run movies like at midnight. He would take over the Cross-Town (ph) Theater and run movies for his 50 closest friends. So when I got there, he wasn't there yet. So about, I don't know, about half-way through the movie, everybody in my row got up and moved down a seat. And he came in.

So, that's the first time I ever saw him. Actually, more than "seeing" him, was the way he smelled, I remember, 'cause it was pretty dark in the theater. He smelled good.

GROSS: Like after shave?

SHEPHERD: I don't know what cologne he had on, I mean -- I don't know what it was -- "Canoe" or "Jade East" -- I mean, I don't know. He smelled good. He had something on. I don't know -- maybe just Elvis.

GROSS: Cybill Shepherd is the star of the sitcom Cybill and she has a new CD called Talk Memphis to Me.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with Cybill Shepherd. She stars in the CBS sitcom Cybill and she has a new CD called Talk Memphis to Me. Early in her career, Shepherd co-starred in Martin Scorcese's now-classic film Taxi Driver. I asked her how she got the part.

SHEPHERD: Actually, Marty Scorcese called my agent, Sue Mengers, and said: "I'm looking for a Cybill Shepherd-type." And Sue Mengers said: "well, how about the real thing?" And I went over to the St. Regis and met with Marty and I got the part.

You know, most of the time that I ever went up for parts or read for parts or -- I never got them. I don't know what it is. I can't tell you the number of parts -- I never get a part if I usually have to read for it. I think there's only been two that I got. I got Heartbreak Kid when I read for that. That was only because she'd rejected me -- Elaine May -- and they'd cast this other girl, taken her to Florida, and her hair fell out or something.

GROSS: Marty Scorcese didn't, like, audition you in front of a camera? He just met with you?

SHEPHERD: Mm-hmm. He just met with me and talked to me.

GROSS: What did he talk with you about to feel you out?

SHEPHERD: We talked about Hitchcock a lot, you know, 'cause he's a real Hitchcock fan.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

SHEPHERD: And we talked about some of the things about acting that we'd learned over the years from classic movies like -- Hitchcock said "don't put a lot of scribble on your face;" Cagney said, you know, "to be a good actor's easy -- just stand up, look the other guy in the eye, and tell the truth." And we just talked about that. So that's basically -- I love Marty Scorcese. I hope I can work with him again.

What we did was we improvised off of the script. Paul Schrader wrote the script, but I don't think I said but two words that he wrote. I -- we sat in that hotel suite with a video camera and DeNiro and I or Albert Brooks and I improvised, and Marty videoed that and then later on, he went through and picked out the lines that he wanted out of our improvisation. And that's what we ended up playing in the movie.

GROSS: It's -- you know, Taxi Driver is a very disturbing movie, and that's part of what makes it so great. And I'm wondering what it was like for you the first time you actually saw the whole movie, and saw how disturbing the character was?

SHEPHERD: I never saw the whole movie, because the violence in Taxi Driver I cannot handle.

GROSS: You still haven't seen it.

SHEPHERD: I left the theater. I knew where the violence was coming, and I had to leave the theater. I don't know what it is about me, but I -- I've never been able to handle even the violent television shows. I get very disturbed by that. There's just very few violent movies that I can handle seeing.

GROSS: How do you feel about being in a movie that you can't watch?

SHEPHERD: It's disturbing. It's disturbing.

GROSS: But on the other hand, you recognize that it's a great movie?

SHEPHERD: Yes, and I feel that I was fortunate to be a part of the movie and I think Scorcese's a great filmmaker. But I do find it very disturbing -- that violence.

GROSS: Hmm.

SHEPHERD: I also was not in a position to turn it down. I was a support -- a mother supporting my child. Actually, I didn't have a child. What am I talking about? I can't let myself off the hook for that. I needed the job.

GROSS: Did you relate to the character at all? I mean, the character that you play is a very kind of sheltered, middle-class woman who's working in a presidential campaign, and she's kind of naive about why this taxi driver is lurking around and wanting to go out with her.

SHEPHERD: Well, I found Robert DeNiro incredibly disturbing, and it was easy to act that I was grossed out by him. Also, we had that scene in the movie theater where he takes me to this like pornographic movie. I hate pornography like that. I hate that -- just ugh -- that's easy to act. I was real.

GROSS: He'd take you to a movie theater on a little date, and when you get inside you realize it's just people having sex on screen.

SHEPHERD: It's really gross. What a turn-off.

GROSS: So tell me what it was like to act opposite him in this movie, as he gets more and more disturbing as the character's, you know, kind of pathologies come more to the surface.

SHEPHERD: He was very scary, and I just steered clear of him. Early on, during where he liked to rehearse a lot and he made a lot of notes in the script, which I do also, and he was very kind. But once he was in that character and started going off the deep end, I didn't really talk to him or make like chatty conversation; you know, just didn't feel comfortable.

GROSS: When he was in character.

SHEPHERD: Yeah, once he was into that part of the movie, the -- Robert DeNiro as an actor was gone and the character had taken over. And I felt he was the character the whole time.

GROSS: Oh, oh, oh.

SHEPHERD: And I was like, we would say "cut," and -- but he would still be that character. I just kind of avoided -- you know, I could tell. I didn't want to -- he was that character, and I wasn't going to mess with him.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Cybill Shepherd is my guest. Let me skip ahead a little bit. How did you get the sitcom Moonlighting?

SHEPHERD: I needed a new agent, so I went to -- I was living in New York and casting director for "Fantasy Island" called me and said: "Come to Fantasy Island."

LAUGHTER

I said: "I can't do that." She said: "look, we'll pay your way out here. We'll give you $5,000 and I'll find you a new agent." Now, that was an offer I couldn't refuse.

So I came out to do that, and I was not even the first guest star. Mark -- Markie Post was the first -- had the first billing. I was second billing guest star. I didn't even get to arrive on the plane; that's what a small part.

But I did get a new agent and I got another pilot that was really terrible that I didn't get the lead in. I forget what it was called. And then I did "The Yellow Rose" for a year. And then I got -- they sent me 50 pages of a script called Moonlighting and I knew it was the part of a lifetime; something I'd been wanting to do my whole life.

GROSS: What did you like about the character of Maddy Hayes?

SHEPHERD: Well, you know, I'd been -- I'd become a big fan of Carole Lombard and knew that a blonde would be funny and smart and make fun of herself and do physical comedy. And I wanted a chance to do that. I got to be funny. I got to be angry. I got to, like, climb all over buildings and do schtick.

GROSS: For any of our listeners who don't remember, she had her own detective agency. Bruce Willis played your assistant. And anyways, it was a very funny series.

I'd like you to choose a song from your new CD that you would like to play to end our talk.

SHEPHERD: Well, I would guess I would choose "You Never Know Where You'll Find a Friend." I think that -- it's a song written by Sid Selvedge (ph) from his opera "Roll, Big Muddy" (ph). It's become a signature song for me. I always end -- it's my last encore when I'm performing live. I think that friends are so important.

The show Cybill -- the first draft of it that came to me, written by a woman, my character had no women friends. And I said to her: "this will never work. This is not true." I have a number of women friendships that have sustained me through -- have lasted through the husbands and through the boyfriends, and women's friendship -- friendship between two women has really been at the center of my life, of me surviving the difficulties that I've had.

So You Never Know Where You'll Find a Friend is about -- you know, don't take them for granted and find them where you can, and love them, and be there for them, and don't give them up just because you have a new boy friend or girl friend, that sort of thing.

So I would say that -- that would be how I'd like to finish.

GROSS: OK. Cybill Shepherd, thank you very much for talking with us.

SHEPHERD: Thank you.

GROSS: And Cybill Shepherd's new CD is called Talk Memphis To Me.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "YOU NEVER KNOW WHERE YOU'LL FIND A FRIEND")

SHEPHERD SINGING: You never know where you will find a friend
And you never know when you will need them
Sometimes, you will find them where you least expect them
But when you find them, please don't neglect them

They come in sizes large and small
Young and old and that's not all
I tell you it's no rumor
They don't even have to be human

You never know where you will find a friend

GROSS: Coming up, comic Alexandra Wentworth.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Cybill Shepherd
High: Actress Cybill Shepherd. Her TV sitcom, "Cybill," continues in its fourth season on CBS. She also has a CD, "Talk Memphis to Me." Shepherd is known for her roles in the films The Last Picture Show, Taxi Driver, and Married To It, as well as her starring role opposite Bruce Willis in the TV series Moonlighting.
Spec: Movie Industry; The Last Picture Show; Television; Women; Cybill Shepherd
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Cybill Shepherd
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 17, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 111702NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: The WASP Cookbook
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:35

TERRY GROSS, HOST: You can't exactly rely on jokes about the 'hood or the goyim when you're a comic named Alexandria Wentworth and you're a descendant of the captain of the Mayflower. Wentworth's mother was Nancy Reagan's social secretary.

But Alexandra Wentworth still found a style of ethnic humor about being a WASP. Now just in time for the holiday season, she's written "The WASP Cookbook" filled with all sorts of bland fare.

Wentworth was a regular on "In Living Color" and has made frequent appearances on the Tonight Show, often spoofing the world of supermodels. I asked her share a recipe that screams "WASP."

ALEXANDRA WENTWORTH, ACTRESS AND COMEDIAN, AUTHOR, "THE WASP COOKBOOK": Prune whip -- Yes.

LAUGHTER

Prune whip is, well I love the reaction it gets, first and foremost. It is -- WASPS have never been big on sweets, so prune whip is a pretty typical dessert. It's also sort of bland and it's got that kind of blah color which is a trademark of our culinary treats.

So I would say prune whip, but I would also say some of the -- the basics are like chipped creamed beef on toast and tomato aspic. Things like that are things that are kind of recurring in -- on WASP dining room tables.

GROSS: Were you served a lot of prune whip in your formative years?

WENTWORTH: I was. I don't know if it stunted my formation, but I had prune whip on quite a few occasions, that my mother made.

GROSS: So how much of the food that you ate when you were young was prepared by a cook at home? And how much was prepared by family?

WENTWORTH: I would say 85 percent by other people -- a cook or -- occasionally, my mother, she socialized a lot and she had a lot of parties, so she would hire people to come in and cook. And they would also cook for us, you know, at 6:00 and then cook for the dinner.

And then my mother cooked, usually on Sunday nights, and she had a tendency to take everything in the refrigerator, put it in the cuisinart, put mashed potatoes on top, and bake it in a casserole dish.

GROSS: I hope she's not listening now.

LAUGHTER

WENTWORTH: So, Sunday was a fasting day for us kids.

GROSS: Then let me ask you, in rapid succession, a couple of questions...

WENTWORTH: Yeah.

GROSS: ... that you pose in The WASP Cookbook. First is: what distinguishes a WASP wedding from any other wedding?

WENTWORTH: There's no food at the WASP wedding. There's plenty of alcohol. There's no food.

GROSS: And how -- yeah.

WENTWORTH: Which more and more people have responded to that by telling me: "That's so true -- I went to a WASP wedding last year and there was no food. They served crackers and cheese and that's it." And I found myself on many occasions being at a wedding -- one of them was a wedding off an island in Cape Cod. And so you were kind of boated in there and you were stranded there for 24 hours. And there was no town. You know, there was no Dominos Pizza. There was nothing.

So, you were kind of in the hands of these people. And they literally served crackers and cheese for dinner, and then we had nothing until the next day. And I was with my six-foot-four Jewish boyfriend who needs to eat, you know, plenty of protein a day or he gets protein headaches, and I promised him the next day at brunch that there would be, you know, Eggs Benedict and things.

And we got to brunch, and they served tiny little danishes and coffee. And he told me he was going into the house to call the Red Cross 'cause he found it -- he found it irresponsible and horrible. And a lot of my Jewish friends have said, you know, it's the opposite at Jewish weddings. It's all about the food. There's tons of food and that it's part of the ritual of a wedding is, you know, eating this great cuisine -- which is not the case at a WASP wedding.

GROSS: Another question you raise: how can you tell a WASP funeral from a luncheon?

LAUGHTER

WENTWORTH: I think I said solid colors at a funeral; stripes at a luncheon. It's all about fashion.

GROSS: Explain this joke to me.

WENTWORTH: Well, you would never -- you would never wear a pin-striped suit to a funeral. You'd wear a pin-striped suit to a luncheon because it's a little more festive and a little lighter. But you'd wear your dark gray flannels, your Brooks Brothers suit, to a funeral.

GROSS: That's pretty somber dress for the luncheons, huh?

WENTWORTH: That's right. And you know, a white -- a big kind of white chiffon hat at a luncheon, and of course a black, possibly Chanel if you've been to Europe, black hat at a funeral.

GROSS: Your last name is Wentworth.

WENTWORTH: Yes.

GROSS: I'm not sure if Noel Coward has written a song with Mrs. Wentworth in the title, as he has for Mrs. Worthington. But if he didn't, he could have.

WENTWORTH: Absolutely.

GROSS: What did you think of your name when you were growing up and what it signified?

WENTWORTH: I liked my last name growing up because it seemed very common to me. I mean, because there were Whitfords and you know, Saltonsalls and all kinds of names like that. It seemed very normal to me to be "Wentworth." It was "Alexandra" that I had the problem with, 'cause "Alexandra" seemed like an outrageous name to me when I was little because everybody was "Kate" or "Elizabeth" or "Anne," and so "Alexandra" seemed -- it was very ethnic 'cause it was Russian to me.

So I always felt like "Alexandra" was the problem area of my name, much more so than Wentworth.

GROSS: Why were you named Alexandra?

WENTWORTH: My mother, when she was pregnant, was reading the book "Nicholas and Alexandra" and thought it was so wonderful to name me after Queen Alexandra. And then she finished the book after I was six months old and Alexandra gets shot -- this very horrible, tragic ending to her life. But it was too late to change my name.

But, the funny thing is that all WASPs have nicknames that are completely irrelevant to whatever their, you know, full-name is. So I grew up with a nickname my whole life, and so...

GROSS: OK, what was it?

WENTWORTH: It was "Dabber."

GROSS: "Dabber?"

WENTWORTH: D-A-B-B-E-R -- which was -- I was named after "Dr. Dolittle's" duck, Dab-Dab, because she used to talk a lot. But everybody in my family -- my older sister's name is Elizabeth, and she's been called "Sissy" her whole life, to the point where I don't think people know that Elizabeth is her real name.

So it's very typical to have a very, kind of long, grand name and be called "Binky" or "Bootsie" or you know, something ridiculous.

GROSS: Well, your mother was "Muffy," right?

WENTWORTH: Yeah. But her real name's Mabel, but she was called "Muffy" since she was very, very, very little -- and you know, back when it wasn't kind of a preppy nickname. It was a cute -- I think it was short for "Muffin" or something at the time.

GROSS: Did you have a coming out party?

WENTWORTH: I did, yes. That was sort of the beginning of the end, because I had a coming out party, and I wasn't looking forward to it like every other girl, and I didn't, you know, go on a diet to fit in my beautiful white silk dress like everybody else. I didn't care about the dress and I wouldn't wear the long white gloves.

And at a debutante ball, you're supposed to have, at the time for us -- and when I came out in Washington -- now, "coming out" in the '90s means a completely different thing.

GROSS: Right.

WENTWORTH: This was a cotillion ball. And you invited seven male escorts to escort you to the ball. And everybody had these kind of, you know, fancy, aristocratic WASPy boys, and I had long-haired hippies and all kinds of crazy guys that didn't know -- didn't even understand what a debutante ball was.

So that was sort of the beginning of -- that's when my mother raised her eyebrows and thought: "oh, my God, I've raised a non-traditional WASP."

GROSS: I'll confess, I don't really understand what a debutante ball is.

WENTWORTH: Well, I didn't understand it either until I was -- I was briefed on it a couple weeks before the actual event, and my parents said: "you're marrying society." And I said: "how awful. I don't want to marry soc -- that's a lot of people to marry."

But that's sort of what it is. You're presented to society as a upstanding and fit lady to be, you know, to be approached for marriage. You know, they're saying you're the -- from the right family and you're adequate, if not more, marriage material. As well as you're sort of married to society.

And I remember we had these -- these little pastries that were swans -- kind of doe swans with vanilla ice cream in it and raspberries. And somebody stood up and said: "tonight, you've gone from little ducklings to swans." And I thought: "what a horrible image."

So I didn't know much about it, and having gone through it, I can say it's not worth it. All you little girls out there, read a book.

GROSS: Did you ever want to be a member of a righteous, oppressed minority group, instead of the group that's used as short-hand for privilege in America?

WENTWORTH: I don't -- no. I don't think there's any group I ever wanted to belong to in any way. And anyway, I mean, even politically, I'm sort of a free-floating political person. But there's no -- there's no group per se, except maybe the Beatles.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: I think that your mother was a social secretary for Nancy Reagan when Mrs. Reagan was first lady. Is that right?

WENTWORTH: That's right, yeah, she was social secretary to the White House.

GROSS: Wow, that -- your mother must have traveled in a very, you know, powerful social circle.

WENTWORTH: She did. She was -- she was quite a big hostess in Washington, and then as social secretary, you know, she was responsible for all the social obligations, all the state dinners -- you know, the social reputation of the president and Nancy Reagan at the time, which is a lot of pressure. I mean, it's -- you know, it's beyond WASP. It's just everything you do has to be right.

You know, I remember there was this whole, like, table cloth and china debacle back then, and you know, my mother didn't sleep for a week, it was so horrible. We'd spent too much money on the china and it was on Newsweek and Time. And I thought: Mom, you know, these are interesting problems for somebody to have, you know, especially when everything she did was looked at through, you know, through the nation's eyes.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Alexandra Wentworth. She's a comic and writer and author of the new book The WASP Cookbook. You may have seen her also on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Let's take a short break and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

WENTWORTH: Great.

GROSS: Back with comic Alexandra Wentworth. You might have seen her on the Tonight Show, driving around the country in a $7 car, or reporting on the fashion world. Her new book is called The WASP Cookbook.

How did you get cast as a member of In Living Color? My understanding is the auditions were for an African-American man when you got hired.

WENTWORTH: Yes -- one of the freaks of my life. I -- I auditioned -- I had to audition a few times, and I came in with each time five different characters and monologues that I had written. And I kept hearing they were looking for an African-American male. At the time, it was to replace Damon Wayans, who was leaving the show.

And they -- I was -- I kept being informed of that, but yet I kept having another audition. So I thought, well, I mean, something's going right, or they're going to hire me to be a fly-girl or a makeup artist or something on the show.

And then they finally hired me, and I was, you know, I was incredibly surprised and thrilled, because at the time I was very involved in sketch comedy and loved that world. And I mean, for my parents, it was a huge surprise. I mean, by telling them I was going to be an actress, you know, it was shocking to them anyway.

And they sort of assumed that I would go off and do, you know, Yale Repertory Theater with Jeremy Irons and do Tom Stoppard plays.

LAUGHTER

So when I called them, and I said "I got the show In Living Color." You know, they didn't know what it was, and they watched it a few times, and it's -- they didn't really understand it. But they just -- they understood that it was good that I got a job.

GROSS: You've made a lot of guest appearances on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. How did you start appearing on the show?

WENTWORTH: I came on when I was on In Living Color as a guest to, you know, promote In Living Color. And they were very nervous about it. They kept going over my segment, you know, hundreds of times, 'cause they thought: "oh, this poor little blond girl. She's not going to know what to do, and she's going to sit there and shake in her chair."

And I kept saying "no, no, no, I" -- you know -- "I can't wait to do this. I love to talk." And I went out there and actually had a great time with Jay. I don't think he ever asked me a question. I think I was so full of adrenalin that I just, like a bulldozer, I just went through my whole interview.

And just told some funny stories and did impressions and we had a great time, and they said, you know, we'd love to have you back, and so they had me back pretty soon after that. And then they had me back again, and then they were -- you know, they'd call me because Melanie Griffith had the flu and could I come in and, you know, tell some funny stories and be a guest.

And then I had done it so many times that I finally said: "look, is there something else I can do on the show" -- because I -- you know, I think people are going to get sick of me coming in and talking about, like, you know, how I stuffed my chicken last night.

So they -- Jay actually came up with the idea of buying the $7 car and driving it across country.

GROSS: Yeah, tell us the premise of that.

WENTWORTH: Well, he -- there's a car dealership in Atlanta, and every year, the car dealer sells all his cars that are remaining in his lot for $7 each. And this is absolutely true, and people line up for a week before. I mean, sit there with a thermos of coffee and a sleeping bag, waiting to get a car for $7.

So, Jay bought one of these cars -- a white Brougham -- and wanted to see if it would make it across the country; if I could drive it across the country. And so that was the premise, but that's pretty much all we had. And I was sort of sent on my way with a crew.

And every day, we would be in a different spot and I would, like, make a short film about whatever happened that day. If we were in Texas, I was eating a 72-ounce steak which, you know, if you finish the whole thing, you get it for free. Or, you know, we went through Oklahoma, and I would make a five-minute film on what I did that day. And then I would go live from wherever we were to the Tonight Show with Jay.

So it was probably the hardest week in my life, because we were not only traveling at night, but I would be shooting -- you know, you'd be in the middle of a, you know, cow paddy in Nowheresville and I'd be trying to think of -- OK, what's funny? What can I grab that's funny? What can we shoot?

And you know, so I ended up relying on a lot of physical comedy and a lot of, you know, Cheez Whiz in my mouth kind of thing because sometimes we weren't around a lot. And then I would be writing jokes because Jay and I would be going live and, you know, I wanted that to be kind of funny and crazy, and here I was somewhere in America.

So it was incredibly stressful, and I remember I was eating, like, three Big Macs and french fries and milkshakes every day, and I lost like five pounds.

GROSS: So, how was the car -- how did it hold up?

WENTWORTH: Car held up great. It made it all the way across the country. And I believe that the Tonight Show still has it on a lot somewhere. They were going to give it to me, and I very politely said "no."

But it was a great car. It really was, I mean, definitely worth $7.

GROSS: Alexandria Wentworth, she's the author of The WASP Cookbook.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Alexandra Wentworth
High: Actress and Comedian Alexandra Wentworth. She's the author of The WASP Cookbook, a collection of purposefully bland recipes -- with nicknames such as Kikis Cupcakes and Nummies -- and plenty of standard drinks. Wentworth has acted on Seinfeld, In Living Color, Jerry Maguire, and Trial and Error.
Spec: Movie Industry; Television; Books: Authors; The WASP Cookbook
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The WASP Cookbook
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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