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Chez Alley.

It's easy to think you made the wrong turn off the freeway in San Fernando Valley because the place looks like Noah's Ark. Fifty animals of one variety or another are scampering and squawking about: cockatoos, parrots, cats, dogs, rabbits, a crow, mice, and a miniature horse. The overseer of the menagerie is the most beautiful creature of them all, the mistress of the house, Kirstie Alley. She and her husband, the actor and exHardy Boy Parker Stevenson, live happily ever after in a 22-room ranch-type brick mansion on a lush three-acre spread in Encino, California.

"I thought the only way I could live in Los Angeles-I guess because I'm from Kansas and I'm used to land and space-is if we found a place that's flat," says the stunning star of television's "Cheers." "It had to be flat. I mean, I'm not used to hills." She's wearing old leather pants from France, Peter Fox-laced shoes that she describes as "safari looking," and a purple and black mohair cowlneck sweater. Her dazzling green eyes look around her domain proudly. She pauses and indicates the foot of the driveway. "So we came through those gates, and I said, My God, a flat piece of land!' " They almost didn't buy Chez Alley because ownership of the pond of koi fish, multicolored Japanese beauties that have been there for 20 years, was in dispute. "At the last minute, the seller decided to take the koi," Alley says. "Those koi are beautiful; they're wonderful. I told her that would break the deal. She was going to sell them, and I told her, No koi, no sale.' " Her parrots, Redrum and Roger, are chirping in the background. "They have to scream all day long, whenever they hear my voice," she explains. Like so many of the houses in this part of California, this mini-mansion was occupied by someone notable before Kirstie and Parker. Real-estate agents delight in telling prospective California buyers that "Kirk Douglas lived here." Or, "This was Barbra Streisand's house before she moved to the beach."

"This was Al Jolson's house," the current occupant says. "He built it for Ruby Keeler. And the funny thing is it has more history than that. I guess Al Jolson and Ruby got a divorce, and then. . ." she pauses to make sure she gets the lineup right, "then Don Ameche bought the house. Then Al Jolson remarried and he told his wife to go out and look for a house, and she came back and said, 'Al, I found a house that looks like it was built for you.' It was this house, and they bought it again!"

So Alley says that if they ever sell the place, the real-estate agent can say, "This was the Al Jolson, Don Ameche, Al Jolson, Kirstie Alley-Parker Stevenson house."

She laughs at the thought and adds that the agent could also point out that Don Ameche wrote his name on the hall wallpaper. "The pattern is of riding scenes in Virginia," she explains, sounding like the decorator she almost became back in Kansas, "and right in the middle of one part is Don Ameche's autograph!" How Alley and Stevenson came to live in it is another story. Their "courtship" would make a great script for a TV sitcom or a comedy flick. Nobody bothered to introduce the prime time players. Kirstie took care of that little matter herself. Never one to stand on ceremony, she was having dinner with the actress Mimi Rogers one night (before Rogers became Mrs. Tom Cruise), and across the crowded room, there he was, all blue-eyed and kind of daring and solid at the same time.

She picks up the story as the plot thickens. "He was with a blind date. And I thought I arranged what happened next, but he thinks he arranged it. I told some friends of mine to ask him to go dancing afterwards, and then when we got there, he didn't know I had set the whole thing up because I wanted to meet him.1,

She admits that things got off to a rocky start. "On our first date I said I will never go out with this guy again because I thought he was too conservative," he recalls. She giggles and again pushes back her thick mane. "A week later he took me to watch him race cars. And he got out of the car and he was really mad, and I thought, Yeah! He has the fire!" That was a half dozen years ago, and today she claims she likes being married, especially to an actor, because "they're die only people who understand why you're gone till 2 o'clock in the morning and why you have to get up again at 4, and when you're shooting out of town and you're crazy and you come in and you've worked too much ... they totally understand. You don't have to explain anything. If I was married to a librarian, I don't think he'd understand.

"I think three months is too long to be gone from each other. That's pushing it. So we go back and forth to each other's locations and make the

effort to be with each other."

Among her locations were those of Summer School, with Mark Harmon; Shoot to Kill, with Tom Berenger; Loverboy, with Patrick Dempsey; and the current movie Look Who's Talking, with John Travolta.

And before her movie career was her TV period, in A Bunny's Tale, as Gloria Steinem; in Prince of Bel Air, a TV movie with Mark Harmon; as the corseted abolitionist in North and South, Books I and II; and ... ta da. . . "Cheers." The latter came about because its creator-director, Jim Burrows, had seen her four years ago on stage, as Maggie in a local theater production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

"I was kind of shocked when I was picked for the role," she says, because nobody had seen me do comedy. I wondered, Why me?" But the former Wichita resident quickly dispelled any qualms as to whether she'd be able to replace Shelley Long on the popular long running show. As the uptight and beautiful manager of the famed Boston bar Cheers, she has been able to change the show without upsetting its balance. It's still in the top ten. And the chemistry between Rebecca and Ted Danson's sexy Sam Malone is still searing.

"He's real easy going and easy to be around," Alley says of her popular costar. "He's goofy. It's very hard for me to be around actors who take themselves really seriously. Ted's not like that at all. He's very funny, and that makes him sexy. And he's a very good kisser."

When Shelley Long left the show to pursue a film career, replacing her was painless for the 33-year-old actress. Alley had no fear of being labeled as a TV actress because I've gone back and forth between films and TV. I think Shelley is doing movies because she's a good actress. I don't think it's because she did TV or didn't do TV. I think good actors can do anything they want to do. When you hear actors say, You know, I just can't make that change over into film,' they can't act. They weren't that great on TV." And she laughs devilishly at her daring pronouncement.

But how did they change her character on "Cheers" after Shelley Long had made it her own for four years?

They designed the role around me, with the same kind of quirks," she explains. "Becky likes to see herself as very powerful. But she's kind of on the outs with the corporation she works for. This is her last chance, so one part of her is competent and brave and successful. And the other side is totally neurotic. I wanted her to be very neurotic about physical things, about her body. A lot of

ut their bodies."

Is Alley one of them?

With a smile and a wink of those eerie green eyes, she confides, "I get hangups about silly things. Like do I have a mustache or do I not? Or if I get something on my face, is it skin cancer? It's always something dramatic. Not so much are my thighs big, but goofy things. Are my fingers too wrinkly looking? Are my knuckles too big? I get obsessed with little things."

But Alley has no fear about big things involving danger ... well, not much. A scene in Look Who's Talking called for a stunt double to hang precariously, i la Harold Lloyd, from a huge clock. Alley decided to try it herself She was lifted by a crane and attached to the clock's ticking hands. "If she wasn't so terrified of heights," said the movie's writer and director, Amy Heckerling, "she might have had more fun up there."

Even though Alley's not in Kansas anymore, you can't take Kansas out of her. She speaks wistfully about her middle-class, conventional family life as the middle of three children. Her dad owned a lumber company and "loved to play poker three or four times a week. He likes very basic things. And I was always different than that. I always wanted fast cars, horses, land. I should have been on Dynasty,' " she says with a laugh.

Tragically, her mother was killed and her father seriously injured in a car accident the same week she landed her Star Trek H part as Lt. Saavik, Mr. Spock's protege. One of her greatest regrets is that her mom never saw any of her real success. "She was a real character," Alley says lovingly. "She was funny ... because she thought meat needed to be cooked well-done. And her pork chops were always bowed. And I'd bring boyfriends over and would be embarrassed because the pork chops looked like leather."

Kirstie spent time at both Kansas State University and the University of Kansas and was building a reputation as an interior decorator, but the acting bug was always there. "I always knew I wanted to act. I remember carrying around a picture of Linda Darnell when I was three years old, and I knew that was what I wanted to be."

She made it, and she's proud of her success-and of her husband's too.

Alley and Stevenson are a working family now: he on television's "Baywatch" and she on "Cheers." Same NBC network, and noncompetitive. Seems euphoric for this delightful actress zookeeper, but she's well aware of the ebb and flow of the business, as well as the problems when a woman's career overtakes her husband's.

"I think you're both hot at different periods. You both make more money at different periods, different decisions. Parker's made decisions that he wants. He's changing from boy roles to man roles. There was a big difference in income when we were first together, and I just think it goes up and down. I don't take it too seriously. I have always had the goal to support myself in the manner that I was never accustomed to. If I was married to [arms dealer] Khashoggi, I wouldn't be a happy person unless I knew I could support myself the way I wanted to. I wanted to be able to buy my own house and do all of that, even if I was with someone else. And Parker's the same way," she says. "You know, he left home when he was 14 and bought his own cars and bought his own vacations and put himself through school. So we both have that thing of financial independence."

Married since 1983, she has changed her original ideas about what marriage is all about. "My parents were married for 35 years and loved each other madly, but they had a certain lifestyle. They ate dinner, then they ate Snickers and drank Cokes and watched TV, and they loved each other. And I thought that was the secret to marriage. Parker and I never lived together before we were married. So when I first got married I thought, This is the shock of my life." She roars at the memory. "Because we were so different. And I thought, This isn't what marriage is. This is weird. And now it's more than I had imagined it would be. Now I love it. But then too, you know, it can go boom."

And with that the doorbell goes buzz. She spots a tourist bus outside.

"Who is it?" she asks.

"Does Don Ameche live here anymore?"

Her laughter fills the house and drowns out the squeals, squawks, and barks of the animals.*
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Title Annotation:Kirstie Alley
Author:Robbins, Fred
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Previous Article:The costly retreat from marriage.
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