By Nick Thomas
Not even a youthful warning from her grandfather, a powerful entertainment attorney during the Golden Age of film, could prevent Sharon Gless from attempting the journey to Hollywood.
Neil S. McCarthy, who counted Cecil B. DeMille, Katharine Hepburn, and Lana Turner among his clients, cautioned his young granddaughter that the movie industry could be a “filthy business.” Aided by loyal friends and associates, however, as well as possessing a fierce determination to succeed, Sharon beat the odds to find stardom as recounted in her December autobiography “Apparently There Were Complaints” (see www.sharongless.com).
Appearing in just a half-dozen feature films, Gless focused her career on television. Since 1970, she guest-starred in numerous TV movies and series and received wide acclaim for starring roles in several popular shows including the 80s CBS crime drama “Cagney & Lacey.”
“It changed the history of television for women,” said Gless from her home on private Fisher Island, a short ferry ride from the coast of Miami. Gless portrayed New York detective Christine Cagney alongside Tyne Daly (detective Mary Beth Lacey). The tough but flawed duo regularly dealt with serious social issues.
During the show’s run, Gless and Daly dominated the Emmy season, winning for Best Lead Actress in a Drama each year (four for Daly and two for Gless). Of her co-star of six years, Gless has only praise.
“You might think we’d be competitive on the set, but not at all,” she said of Daly. “When you’re working, any sort of competitiveness is good for no one. She was a real pro and we were totally there for each other throughout the series. Since COVID, we talk on the phone almost every day.”
Gless credits others for guiding her journey including Monique James, head of the talent department at Universal Studios where Gless was under a seven-year contract. “She was so tough I always felt she would protect me, and she did. When I left the studio, she came with me as my manager for many years.”
Barney Rosenzweig was the executive producer of “Cagney & Lacey” and with whom Gless began an affair towards the end of the show’s run. Despite their on-and-off-again personal relationship, Rozenzweig remained a loyal supporter of Gless’s career. The couple would eventually marry and remain together today. “We have an interesting history together that’s outlined in the book, but love and respect each other enormously.”
Gless followed the hit crime show with other successful series such as “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill,” “Queer as Folk,” and “Burn Notice,” receiving multiple award nominations or wins including a Golden Globe for Rosie O’Neill. And although she stumbled along the way (leading to the title of her book) with alcohol problems, weight issues, recurring pancreatitis, and complicated relationships, she never found Hollywood to be the “filthy business” her grandfather labeled it.
“It hasn’t always been an easy road, but I made my own way helped by people who believed in me,” she says. “Television is an amazing medium and I’ve been fortunate to be part of it.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, in Alabama, and has written features, columns, and interviews for numerous magazines and newspapers. See www.tinseltowntalks.com.