Shepherd: Midlife Isis
By G. Von Dare
the Egyptian goddess Isis, Cybill Shepherd was first known for her
beauty and her ability to melt men into puddles of gibbering desire.
She is one of the few actresses to have made the transition from glamorous
young ingenue to seriously attractive middle age. Add her intelligence,
humor and intensity as a single working mom, and you have quite a
woman. As the California spokesperson for the new, fun image of Mercedes-Benz,
she reveals an even more surprising side of her self — speed demon
in a ball gown.
phone rings and I answer it. An office phone, angular, drab, charmless.
Hello — and there's that voice. Tangy as an orange. Intelligent, full
of energy and opinions, but also simple, vulnerable, and shy. Mostly
it is straightforward. Guileless. Amused. A voice used to saying what
voice sounds just like Cybill Shepherd because it is. She talks
to me as though we were old acquaintances. She doesn't hedge,
doesn't hype. This woman is quoting Aristotle and Zen philosophy
in a celebrity interview! There's so little of the me-me-me "star"
syndrome that I'm instantly intrigued, flattered, relaxed.
48, Shepherd is no longer the icy blonde maiden. She's still gorgeous,
to be sure. But now she concentrates on quality. On doing work she
likes and believes in, on experiencing the full cycle of a woman's
life. What a concept. She has said that she likes to think of herself
as a Christian who worships a Goddess. Because, "If you make God a
man, you make man a God."
was born and raised in Memphis, Tenn. She didn't really have aspirations
to be a movie star. Southern women are expected to be beautiful, but
also quiet and demure. Scarlet O'Hara was the exception, not the
rule. Although Cybill liked sports early on, she also adored music
and began singing with her church choir at age eight. Today, on her
latest album "Talk Memphis to Me," her voice is brash, bright, flexible
and she plays its strong upper register like a shimmering jazz trumpet.
a teenager, Shepherd concentrated on sports and singing. But her rapidly
developing beauty made her the target of animosity from her peers.
She went her own way.
was 'bad' from the first second I was on the screen in "Last Picture
Show." All the parts were like vicious murderers of men, destroyers
of men. This real fantasy that men have. All the things that I never
was but had a horrible fear of being. From an early age they said,
oh she's gonna be a killer; she's gonna break hearts when she grows
age 16, a friend suggested that Shepherd take voice lessons, and she
did. At the same time, a second cousin urged her to join the "Miss
Teenage Memphis" pageant. "I just never had any confidence. I never
thought I could do that. So, she filled out the application for me
and sent it in. And I won.
did consider trying out for a little theater in Memphis. But my best
friend Jane had tried out and gotten a rejection letter, so I thought,
'she's as funny as Carol Burnett, so if they rejected her, I'll never
make it.' So I didn't even try out."
she found herself in the high-powered world of fashion modeling in
New York. As a woman with a real figure, she has made some trouble.
She said in an article in Ladies' Home Journal that, "Designers don't
like breasts and hips because they make bumps in their clothes." For
Shepherd, modeling was a way to make a living. It put her nearer her
goal of that time, which was to live and study art in Florence, Italy.
1971, her life changed forever. Peter Bogdanovich, a film buff and
critic turned director, spotted Shepherd on a magazine cover and desperately
wanted her for the part of Jacy Farrow in her breakthrough debut film
"The Last Picture Show." She was an instant hit, an instant star.
A year later, Neil Simon convinced Elaine May to use Shepherd as the
lead in his "Heartbreak Kid." Her film career was off and running.
She also had a new lover in Bogdanovich.
speaks warmly of Bogdanovich as her lover and mentor, but the rest
of their collaboration was not as successful. Both "Daisy Miller"
and "At Long Last Love" were box-office disasters. Shepherd moved
on to other film roles, including her iconic performance in the powerful
"Taxi Driver."She swears to this day that she has not seen the ending
of "Taxi Driver." She doesn't like violence. Good for her. In
the late '70s, despite her strong performances, roles became hard
likes to quote Orson Welles about this time in her life, saying he
once told her that, "I started at the top in this business and have
been working my way down ever since."
her horizons, Shepherd turned to live theater. She starred in a wide
variety of material including "Shot in the Dark," "The Seven Year
Itch," "Last of the Red Hot Lovers," and other comedies and dramas.
She also created a cabaret act for herself. Her singing was a delight
to her, but critics were less kind. She took it in stride.
came "Moonlighting," featuring Shepherd as one half of a man/woman
detective team with Bruce Willis. "Moonlighting" was a landmark program — especially
on conservative network TV — that allowed its female star to be smart,
sassy, and independent. The program was wildly popular and made a
thorough comeback for Shepherd. However, the very success of the show
led to difficulties. There were rumors of tension on the set, fights,
egos raw and bleeding. As the program progressed through its four-season
arc, the character of Maddy Hayes that Shepherd liked so much in the
beginning began to change for the worse. Maddy became less assertive,
more dependent on men, and finally married a man she met on a train
in the last episode. Shepherd loved the show, but was glad to be out.
"Moonlighting" established her as a TV star, Shepherd worked on many
TV projects. She did TV movies including "Baby Brokers," and the mini-series
"The Long Hot Summer," to name just a couple. She also executive produced,
co-wrote, and starred in "Memphis," based on the Shelby Foote novel
the mid '90s, she put together the very funny "Cybill," a sitcom that's
frankly autobiographical and based on her life experiences in show
business. Like the character she played in "Cybill," the real Shepherd
is a twice-divorced, working actress, single mom grappling with middle
age. In exploring the elements of her own life, Shepherd has generated
some funny shows indeed--the one where she played opposite a little
pink pig (not unlike "Babe") was especially delightful.
is still a working mom who loves her children and is determined to
give them a good life. Her oldest daughter Clementine is in her late
teens and, like the younger Cybill, is a beauty. Zack and Ariel, her
10-year-old twins, get a lot of attention. Like everything she does,
Shepherd takes motherhood seriously. She even took a welter of criticism
for breast feeding her twins on the set of "Moonlighting," but she
did it anyway.
may truly surprise you is that Shepherd is such a car person. A few
years ago she took competition driving lessons at the Jim Russell
Racing School. She actually qualified for a racing license in Formula
Ford. Like a miniature Indianapolis 500 race car, the Formula Ford
packs its semi-recumbent driver into a tight, streamlined body while
the suspension and racing tires battle with the wind. These cars may
not do 200 mph, but they're real racers nonetheless.
was about to drive in the Toyota Pro Celebrity race, which is part
of the Long Beach Grand Prix weekend. Suddenly, at the last minute,
something warned her off and she withdrew.
most visible, and delightful, connection to the American motorscene
is her current role as spokesperson for Mercedes-Benz in Southern
California. For those who have not seen the ebullient billboards
or the series of delightfully engaging ads, Shepherd in her persona
as Movie Star and off-the-wall independent modern woman, shops for
a Mercedes-Benz, against a charmingly overmatched salesman. Many of
the commercials feature Shepherd taking the trembling salesman for
a high-speed demo drive, including leaping the car over bumps in the
road or careening along while vocalizing the "Ride of the Valkyries."
Smart, funny, hip, and more than a little tongue-in-cheek, these commercials
epitomize the new, fun-loving image that Mercedes is cultivating.
Shepherd was on board with Mercedes before it was on board with her.
She first bought her Mercedes years before the spokesperson gig started
and she drives the car for all the right reasons. Other cars in her
personal fleet are a Volvo, a Bronco, and a motorhome. All vehicles
with a practical personality. If our cars tell a lot about who we
are. Cybill Shepherd comes off as a person who likes to drive, but
has safety and reliability as her major concerns. Two items which
define the desires of a majority of women car buyers today.
her biological clock ticks off the final years of her 40s, Shepherd
is a heck of a woman by anyone's standards. She keeps herself in shape
by practicing good nutrition — she actually likes to eat but controls
what and when. She works out in a home gym in her garage and slams
her aggression into a punching bag in her living room, conveniently
located next to a grand piano. She rides a bicycle around Encino — unrecognized
in the winglike crash helmet. And she meditates to relieve stress
and to know herself better.
a recent issue of People magazine, Shepherd talked frankly, you might
say bluntly, about menopause, a subject many women still keep in the
closet. Shepherd left her doctor speechless when she declared that
she'd rather have an orgasm a day than hormone replacement therapy.
Now, she's reading books on the subject and taking it as it comes.
So far the hot flashes (she called them "power surges" on the set
of "Cybill") have been low in number and not a huge bother. She eats
a diet that delivers calcium and gets some phytoestrogen from soy
a long career with many ups and downs, Shepherd is still out there,
scrappy, sassy, sexy ,and with a fine head on her shoulders. Intelligent
and remarkably expressive, she not only starred in "Cybill," but was
an executive producer for the show. That meant taking responsibility
for casting, scripting, mounting, and taping the show, as well as
the intricate process of editing and getting the finished tape past
network censors who imploded at the word vagina.
is happily ensconced at her home in Encino, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb,
with three children and long-term man, Robert Martin, a composer and
arranger who wrote the music for her TV show. Although Shepherd isn't
looking for marriage right now, they make beautiful music together.
In fact, Martin provided most of the instrumental tracks on Shepherd's
latest CD, "Talk Memphis To Me."
one to sit still, Cybill is currently on a worldwide tour for her
new autobiographical book, Cybill Disobedience. She continues to search
for quality movie scripts and interesting TV projects. She's happier,
it seems, and more content than ever, despite an unknown future.
as beautiful young girl, provoked and gossiped about in her career
as an actress, and undervalued as a singer, Cybill Shepherd is still
smashing and savvy as a grown up woman. As a mid-life Isis, she makes
one heck of a role model. Now, if she just wouldn't drive so fast.....