Actress Crystal Bernard stays genuine
the high-ambition world of Hollywood
By Gregory Von Dare
Crystal Bernard was born in a small town outside Dallas and she carries small-town
values with her today, the way you might keep an old but valuable
handbag long after it was fashionable. She believes in love, in friendship,
in having a good time, and in letting the inherent strength of a womans
healing and sustaining nature come forward. Its not that she
doesnt believe in doing well in life, but she has seen the damage
wrought on others by their ambition and she doesnt want to go
you think this sounds a little like country music, score one for yourself.
Actress, movie star, songwriter, performer: Crystal Bernard is on
the charts and moving up. Her latest CD is called Dont
Touch Me There, and its about, as she says in a hushed
voice, things that make me cry.
gets very quiet over the phone when she talks about her emotions,
just as she gets loud and laughy when she talks about cars, boyfriends,
and auto racing, all big deals to her. But a question about her childhood
or how she copes as a woman in the exploitive world of big-time show
business makes her thoughtful.
goes on to talk about her family in quiet tones: I was born
in Garland, Texas, but I lived in Houston all my life. My father was
a minister, and so we all would sing in church. I would sing every
weekend with him. I guess I was about eight or a little younger when
he became an evangelist. (She mentions that theres no
connection between what her father did and the overblown evangelists
we see on TV today).
would all go to where there would be 30 or 45 people in the church,
she said. And he would preach and sing. Every night we
would visit the old folks homes; visit the shut-ins, and feed
people. He would try to remind these wonderful people what were
here for and put their eyes back on God. What a wonderful man he was.
had one sister at that time, when I was really young, who was older
two and a half years older, Robin. And about six years later
came two other sisters. We are still a very close family. As they
grew up and got old enough to sing, they would sing with us. I wouldnt
give it up for anything. It was the most incredible upbringing.
I mention that it seems like a long way from Garland to the bright
lights of Hollywood, she connects the dots in what is a remarkable
success story. Crystal knew that she loved singing, and she was certainly
attractive. She thought modeling might be a part of her future.
were in a church in Santa Ana [in Orange County, south of Los Angeles]
when I was 17, singing there, she recalls. And I was
thinking, Im just 45 minutes from Hollywood and I may never
be this close again. So I asked my father if I could stay and he gave
me $100 in remember those zip bags you used to make deposits
in? And a guy in the church who managed the Ramada Inn let me stay
in the storage room. I rode a bus into town and the first call I made
was to Nina Blanchard.
backtracks for a moment to explain that she had seen Nina Blanchard
on The Merv Griffin Show talking about modeling. She phoned
and found out that there was an open call on Wednesday at three
oclock. Ill never forget.
stood in line and finally presented herself to a commanding woman
who picked potential new models out of the crowd. But at 5-foot-3,
she was told she was too short and was turned away, couldnt
even see Nina Blanchard.
thought, God, that was the only name I even knew, she said.
What was I going to do? I went in the bathroom and I remember
crying in the stall. And I just sat there thinking about what I was
gonna do. And I waited till everybody was gone, and I went right back,
just straight through to Nina because that other lady was gone.
was sitting there smoking her Benson & Hedges and leaning back
on her desk just exactly like it would be in the movies. And she said
[Crystal puts on a deep, scratchy voice], Well, honey, youre
a Goddamned midget, but I think youre gonna be a star!
knew her business. She sent Crystal on two interviews that day. One
for a Perrier commercial, which Crystal got, paying her $1,400 a day
for four days. The other interview was with the casting director for
Happy Days. He sent her over to Gary Marshalls office
and she was cast in the feature film Young Doctors in Love that same
day, an almost impossible double-whammy.
she worked on that film (with the notorious Sean Young), the casting
people told her about a part on Happy Days for which they
wanted her to audition. She read for it and got that too.
upbringing had everything to do with it, she says with enthusiasm.
I think I was too uneducated to be inhibited at all. I thought
I was good. But then on the set of Happy Days I realized
that everyone was so far ahead of me, technique-wise, that my nerves
kinda took over. And I got my ass into acting class so fast.
after doing a variety of scenes, including what she calls morbid
stuff, Czechoslovakian stuff, Crystal began to hit her stride.
She developed style, got some tools, as she puts it. She
stayed in acting class for years, all through working on Happy
Days and into another show called Its a Living,
which ran for four years. Directly after that, she was cast in Wings,
which was on the air for eight highly successful years.
didnt know I wanted to be an actor, she says candidly.
I wanted to be an entertainer. Thats all I knew. I knew
music and skits.
asked to recall something from her career that is important to her,
she doesnt hesitate: I knew Ginger Rogers the last five
years of her life; she was my friend. I met her at a Bob Hope dinner.
Her assistant came over to me and said, Miss Rogers would like
to meet you. Youre her favorite actress.
I was her friend from that moment on. I was a huge admirer of hers.
There were things I learned from her and other experienced, seasoned
actors with careers going through phases. Boy, it told me that ambition
means nothing. Passion means everything.
explained to Crystal how liberating it was to lose the driving ambition
that makes so many people in show business unhappy. Instead she had
learned to appreciate her talent, her family, and her health. She
also learned to enjoy her co-workers and all the richness of experience
they brought to her life.
is an undeniable sweetness about Crystal, a likable, genuine personality
that comes through when she speaks. Shes that way on camera
and also in a long, wide-ranging conversation about her life that
generated this article. She knows what she wants to say, even if the
words arent immediately there. But as she talks, she finds a
way of expressing herself thats just right.
calm and centered and it shows both in her little-girl seriousness
about the larger issues as well as in her hearty laugh and spirited
sense of fun when the conversation turns to automobile racing, a major
passion in her life.
started racing offhandedly; she almost passed it by. A few years ago,
she was asked to participate in the Toyota Pro-Celebrity Race as part
of the Long Beach Grand Prix. The Long Beach venue is one of the regular
stops on the CART circuit, home of the high-speed, open-wheel missiles
that used to be called IndyCars.
agreed to drive one of the cars specially prepared Toyota Celicas
because there was a connection to a charity. Then, two weeks
before the race, she was told that she must make a pilgrimage to Willow
Springs, a small but challenging race track about 60 miles north of
Los Angeles for (of all things) driving school. There, a retired racing
pro, Danny McKeever, would attempt to keep the celebrities from killing
themselves on the race track. As he lectured the group about vehicle
dynamics and handling, Crystal found that she understood what he was
saying; it really made sense. When she got out on the track, she had
fast appealed to some previously unknown part of her personality,
and it made a very big impression. Today she regularly competes in
the Dodge Neon Challenge, another spec series of identical
cars in which the talent of the drivers means more than some technical
trick to increase horsepower.
oh, guess what, she exclaims. I had never driven a stick!
I was cluelessly carless! But I understood what they were saying.
So after that I rented a stickshift for a while and worked on getting
smooth so it would be second nature.
has done well in racing, not winning vast amounts of money or becoming
a star like Lyn St. James, but having a great time and experiencing
bliss she didnt even know existed until she tried it. She sums
it all up with a typical understatement: Funnest thing I ever
with everything else Crystal does, she applies herself. Its
that Texas work ethic.
about obsession, she chuckles. I will sit at the arcade
for hours on end with the Virtual Reality racing machines until I
have got them totally dialed and know every pebble on their race track.
Then I get my friends to come over and smoke em.
first time I went out with Eddie Lawson, who was a five-time champion
of 500cc motorcycles, I think he picked me up on the set of Wings.
And after we had dinner, we were passing by the arcade and I said
[she puts on a little-girl voice], Theres an arcade. Do
you want to maybe stop by there and see whats going on?
knowing full well that were heading straight for the Sega VR
machine. So we got a bunch of tokens and put them in and I kicked
who also raced IndyCars, was astonished.
I could hear next to me was, No way! she says.
I did that for a long time till he caught on. And we stayed
there till they kicked us out.
though Crystal drives a relatively boring Lexus 400LS on the street,
automobiles have even crept into her love life. Shes currently
dating Billy Dean, who lives in Nashville, and she says that the top
three things they have in common are songwriting, music and racing.
see him probably about once a month, she explains, which
actually makes it quite exciting and fabulous. He gets here and
oh, God, Im so glad to see him and I hug him and kiss him and
we go and have sushi. We love sushi. And then we get in the car and
go to the Malibu Grand Prix. We buy about $100 worth of tickets, and
I beat him, even though hes very good. Definitely not
your average relationship. Still, her standards are high. She says
with some disdain, There is nothing more unattractive about
a man than when he drives over his ability.
gets quiet again when asked about what women can accomplish in the
entertainment industry and in society overall.
do have some controversial feelings on it. When I began to be successful
I noticed no resistance. I wasnt competing against a man. So
everything flowed very well for me. I was welcomed. I was not put
down; there were no prejudices because I was a woman or because I
encourage women to know who they are, how powerful they are as human
beings. To evolve is your greatest attribute, so that you can actually
offer something to your line of work. Women really have something
unique and different to offer because guess what they do! I
feel that is the magic way. Be rational and be reasonable and try
to fix it, not fight it. In a fight, everyone puts their guard up.
I think a more gracious approach will draw people to you.
Crystal races ahead to the future, things look very good.
did three movies last year and toured, and my album is doing well
and Im happy as well as its doing, even if it never does
any better than this. And Im developing another series, with
Paramount. At this point its called Truck Stop.
I just think its adorable, and its so American.
of the things I got to do with the music is tour. I would go to these
concerts and, as I started, I was on the bus and I thought, Oh my
God, is anybody gonna come?
course, her fears were not realized. The concerts were well-attended,
with people waiting for her in the rain and standing in long lines
to buy tickets, a compliment to any performer.
I walked out on stage the first night, she remembers, as
the lights were going around and around in the auditorium, I could
look at them and they were smiling and clapping and I thought, Oh
yeah, theyre just people. This is America and I know these people.
two years ago, these two writers wrote this script with me in mind
and I just completely responded. So were developing it for the
fall, if not for midseason next year. And I own this truck stop and
run it and its not an illiterate piece at all. Its smart.
And the rigs are very important to us, as well as if someone orders
decaf coffee and they dont get that. We have merchandise in
the truck stop, too. You know, belt buckles...
as the pressure of time calls her to other things, she rolls around
to women and work again: Theres a unique and valuable,
valuable quality in the nature of a woman. If they can let that flow
out of them and see what they have to offer in a situation, the momentum
of that will take them to where they want to be. I believe.