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Sally Jessy Raphael on the move.

Sally Jessy Raphael-successful, nationally known TV-talk-show and radio-show host-will cheerfully tell you that she has been fired 18 times.

People don't believe her. They also shake their heads when she says that after one such sacking, she gaily loaded her family (husband, kids, dogs, and cats) into the car to tour Civil War battlefields. Because they were too poor to stay in motels, they all lived in the car during the enfire trip.

How could somebody as engaging and talented as Raphael be fired 18 times? Her easy response: "If you're dumb enough and stubborn enough to stay with broadcasting and you

five that long, you'll have lots of firings."

But now, at the peak of her career, Rapfael, 46, sits in her dressing room at TV station

WTNH in New Haven, Connecticut, bouncing her pet poodle, Eloise, on her lap and happily discussing her colorful career. This is a rare moment, because Raphael seldom stsys in one place. Her day begins at about 5:30 a.m.; usually she heads out to the gym near her home in Westchester County, New York. If it's Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, by 7:45 she is in a limousine, bound for New Haven. She does phone work, studies for that week's shows, or reads to get ideas for future shows.

After her two-hour ride, Raphael gets made up and tapes one and often two 60-minute shows; then she bolts for the limousine to get back to New York by 6:45 p.m. She does her live, nationally broadcast radio call-in show from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Then it's home to spend some "quality time" with her husband, Karl Soderlund, and whichever of their eight sons and daughters might be around.

"Isn't it gruesome?" she asks with a laugh when asked how she manages it all. "I'm not sure how I do it; I don't stop to analyze. I'm not even sure how it came about. It's a defensive mechanism; it comes ftom having enough bad experiences. When you're struggling, you keep a lot of balls going in the air. You can't afford to say, 'All I want to do is just one thing.' Broadcasting is such an insecure profession.

"So one thing gets going, then the other gets going. More of them click than they used to, because you're smarter. You've learned from your mistakes. And success brings success. You should probably cut down, but you don't ever know what will happen. It could be over tomorrow. My history has been that this could disappear quickly and suddenly."

Although most people wouldn't tell their friends, let alone an entire country, that they have lost so many jobs, Raphael believes it is her duty to publicize this fact "I have a responsibility to people who call in to the radio show. I give advice three hours a night, five days a week. I hear what people worry about, what concerns them. A great big worry is that there is a huge establishment. People have low self-esteem; they say, 'I can never measure up. If I've been let go by a corporation, that's an indictment of me and my talents.' Well, that was one person's opinion of you and it was probably wrong. If I say, 'I've had that happen to me 18 times,' they'll say, 'If she can survive that kind of rejection, maybe that guy wasn't right. He was wrong.' "

Raphael notes that actors and actresses go through similar self-doubt every time a play closes; they wonder if they'll ever get another part. Or when a girl or woman loses a boyfriend, she may fret, "I'll never get another one."

Raphael never fretted. She just kept pulling up stakes, bringing along her flexible husband and kids and pets. She figures they have moved at least 25 times. "For most of the journey, it was great fun and high adventure. That's a mind-set, not a financial statement. You don't come home and say, 'Kids, mom's been fired again; we have to move.' You say, 'Isn't it fun to meet new people and see new places and go to a new school?' We try to make an adventure of everything."

When she was "lucky," Raphael would get dismissed at the same time the school year ended. This happened to her once in Florida about ten years ago, leading to one of the family's greatest "adventures." "We were heading north without a job, so we figured, why not see the South and visit Civil War battlefields?" she says. "But we didn't have enough money for motels and restaurants, so we packed lunches and shopped at supermarkets and slept in the car."

At that time, there were three kids along for the ride. Raphael never knows what number to use when people ask how many "kids" she has. "I picked the number eight because it makes people happy. I think it's laughable [that people need to hear an exact number] -but the hierarchy of corporations doesn't think it's laughable."

Here's how she arrives at that number: two daughters from her first marriage; two daughters from SoderLund's first marriage; a boy from Puerto Rico who came to live with them and decided to stay; a boy they adopted in Florida; and "two friends of friends from Ireland who came by and never left. After five years, you can call them your children."

Raphael describes her family situation as "a changing scene that boggles the minds of reporters." Members of her brood, now aged 15 to 30, come and go, occasionally moving out, then moving back home after discovering that their "dream apartment" has no hot water. "Some nights we'll have 20 people at our dining room table," she says, "and some nights there are two of us. But we all call each other every day."

When asked whether she sometimes has felt guilty about not having more time to devote to her family, Raphael says, "Guilt is part of having kids. But kids react differently. Some of them play a game called 'Gotcha,' where they blame you for not being there, for not doing this or that. As a person who's raised a lot of children, I've learned not to listen to that and not to feel guilty. One does in one's life what one has to do. 'If only' is a useless phrase. It's best to say, 'All I did was what I thought was right at the time.' "

She must be doing something right: the National Mother's Day Committee has named Raphael one of eight "Outstanding Mothers of 1989." (Other winners included Meryl Streep and the CBS-TV news anchor Faith Daniels.)

Raphael met Soderlund, now her manager, when he hired her to work at his radio station in Puerto Rico, a place she had spent many years of her childhood. Six months after she married Soderlund, he was fired. And they hit the road for their first "adventure."

During the couple's two decades of marriage and two dozen moves, their ventures have included running an art gallery, a perfume factory, and a wine bar. They still own and manage a bed-and-breakfast in Bucks County, Pennsylvania-just another "ball in the air," part of what Raphael calls "running around, dropping nickels in slots."

Raphael's broadcasting career took off in 1982, after she met Burt Dubrow, then the executive producer for "Braun and Company," a syndicated TV program in Cincinnati. Dubrow heard Raphael on her radio show and brought her in to guest host "Braun." He immediately saw her potential, and the two conceived the "Sally Jessy Raphael" show, which began airing in St. Louis in October 1983. "I just realized that Sally was very different," Dubrow says. "She wasn't this gorgeous, unapproachable person. Sally is very approachable." Within six months, the show was nationally syndicated. It now reaches more than 160 markets, including places in Canada and England.

Dubrow says he has never seen Raphael get flustered on-camera and she rarely gets upset off-camera. But she's very protective of her staff, as well as people she meets and animals. "If someone on the staff has a problem, that upsets her," Dubrow says. "She likes to fix up the single women with dates. And she's passionate about the animal-rights issue."

Who came up the idea of her trademark red glasses? "We didn't plan that," Dubrow admits. "She had to be able to read the Teleprompter; she bought the most inexpensive glasses she could find-and they were red."

Although Dubrow obviously is very affectionate about Raphael, hedoes have one criticism: "She is not a clotheshorse! The problem is, when she comes back from her vacations to different countries, she's always wearing clothes from those places and trying to slip them on the air."

The topics for the show come ftom the producers, viewers writing in, and from Raphael who "reads constantly," Dubrow says. Raphael likes to get involved with her guests and subject matter: for a show on female wrestlers, she climbed into a ring and demonstrated a headlock on one of the wrestlers; she and Soderlund performed as clowns for an episode on circuses; and in her most celebrated undercover role, she dressed as a prostitute and hit the streets of New York, accompanied by a real "professional." Raphael says she did this "to see ftom their perspective, to walk in their shoes before judging their lives."' This was one of the highest-rated programs in the show's history.

Raphael bristles when asked about charges that talk shows are resorting to "trash TV" tactics to boost ratings"This is the 'When did you stop beating your wife?' syndrome that the press does," she says. "If you went back six years and looked at what we were doing then, it's the same as what we're doing now. And if you went to Phil [Donahue], you'd see pretty much the same thing as years ago. Maybe it's our turn. For a while, it was Vanna White. Now it's us. It's getting boring. It shows a lack of understanding.

"You need to call a topic something glitzy to get listings in the newspapers. You have to have enough P.T. Barnum in you. If you're doing a show on PMS, which will help millions of women deal with it, it could sound pretty dry.

"So you do a promo that says, 'Hormones Made Me Upset.' The print people [newspaper reporters], who don't watch TV, read that and say, 'Look at how prurient that is.' But if you watched it, three doctors talked about monthlies! That's about as rip-roaring as it gets."

Raphael declines to comment on topics chosen by Morton Downey, Jr., for his show. But she admires his pacing and sense of "drama," and she says that off-camera he is "quiet, a gentleman." As for his aggressive handling of his guests, she says, "I think I'd be worn out. I wouldn't want to do that."

Raphael's approach to her guests is conversational: "You're a polite person at a cocktail party. You let your guest talk." Meanwhile, Raphael is thinking about the viewer. "I'm trying to reach one person. There isn't a crowd out there," she says"There's just one other human being and we're trying to figure out life together."

As Raphael speaks, her first taping of the afternoon is approaching, but she doesn't seem even slightly nervous at the prospect of going before a live studio audience and taping a show that will be seen by millions of people: "It's like guilt-nervousness is not an emotion I have."

But then she pauses and laughs at an embarrassing memory. "The only time I ever got nervous was when I met a devastatingly handsome manJulio Iglesias-at a cocktail party. I didn't have a crush on Julio; I just thought of him as a Latin singer whose voice I'd always heard," she remembers.

"The day before he came on my show, there was a cocktail party, both of us were invited . . . Julio was the epitome of Cary Grant! He has more charm adjusting his tie than most men do in their entire lives. I became mesmerized-I couldn't move. Somebody said, 'Go up and talk to him.' I said, 'Duh-duh-duh . . . ' But he made me feel so right. He said, 'I've seen your ' show, Sally.' When he stares into your eyes, you'd have to be dead not to be gone! They could hardly revive me. It was awful and wonderful.

"Of course you fantasize about flying away with Julio-but one does come to one's senses. You come home and see the dirty dishes!"
COPYRIGHT 1989 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Beach, Randall
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Biography
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Previous Article:A kinder, gentler marriage.
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