Sharon Gless article

Sharon Gless strolls barefoot along the sandy path that leads from her Malibu refuge to the pounding sea. The path cuts across a ridge of sand dunes blanketed with blooming ice plant, a vivid swath of fuchsia and green. The wind whips her hair, and she is in her element. "I really am a Southern California girl," she says. And then she waves a hand at her loose cotton pants, baggy T-shirt and pale denim blouse and lets out that trademark throaty laugh. "I hate shoes," she says. "This is dressed up."

But appearances can be deceiving: The low-key, beach front existence doesn't come naturally to Gless. In fact, she has worked as hard at it as she once worked turning the high-heeled, high-strung Christine Cagney into one of television's institutions. That part won her two Emmys, but her six rugged years on Cagney &Lacey, the 11 years she spent as a contract player at Universal before that, and the hard-drinking lifestyle that for her always accompanied hard work, took their toll. By the last season of Cagney & Lacey, in T988, she found herself facing emotional and physical exhaustion.

Gless bought the fully furnished estate on an impulse. "It was an emotional buy," she says. "I thought, I'm going to just walk away from everything. I'm going to go move out to the beach." Using the house as her spiritual refuge, she says, she struggled to bring a sense of balance to the uncompromising drive that characterized her earlier career. She entered rehab to deal with the drinking problem in i988. These days she still loves her work (one of the popular Cagney & Lacey reunion movies aired in October, and another in January), but she doesn't live for it. Gless pauses to watch a long Pacific roller spend itself on the sand. "I went 17 years without stopping work," she says. "Now I like a little time off.

Inside, Gless cozies up on an overstuffed sofa with husband Barney Rosenzweig. Rosenzweig was the producer of Cagney & Lacey, as well as of The Trials of Rosie O'Neill and the reunion movies. The two met when he pursued her for the role of Christine Cagney. They share Southern California roots: She's a fifth-generation Angeleno; his father grew up on a street named for Gless's grandfather, an influential Hollywood lawyer.

The couple married in 1991, after a long romance, and now divide their time between Rosenzweig's Hollywood town house and Gless's Malibu retreat. "One morning before we got married, Barney called me into his room," recalls Gless. " 'I have failed twice now in marriage,' he aid. 'I really want this one to work. You've never been married. I need to know what your expectations are so I can try to meet them.' And I said that the only thing I want is to have a house together, something that's ours together." She laughs that laugh again. "To this day we still have my house here at the beach and his town house, and things have never changed."

Now the two are inseparable. And her vintage Cape Cod offers the right mix of what both desire in a home: cozy oceanfront solitude with plenty of space for family and friends. The first floor of the main house is one big room, with a combination dining and living area. The master bedroom suite, created from two smaller bedrooms and a former deck, occupies the upper floor. But the property also boasts two guest cottages, one of them with its own kitchen and living space. On summer weekends, the guest quarters often fill up with extended family, which includes Gless's brothers and cousins, Rosenzweig's three daughters and two granddaughters-and even his first wife JoAnne Lang, her husband and son. The arrangement may seem unconventional, but they insist they count Rosenzweig's first wife among their closest friends. "She came to our wedding!" says Gless. "We all like each other," says Rosenzweig. "We spend a lot of time together, and this house is a place that allows that to happen.

In the main house, Gless had the existing furniture reupholstered in muted shades of red and beige, and she painted the walls a pale rose tone that subtly changes throughout the day with the shifting sunlight. "The two basic colors that I wear are black and cream, but I don't like black and white in my home," she says. "It's too severe. I like surrounding myself with warmth and softness. I'm rough-edged enough."

When she's with Rosenzweig, Gless's rough edges seem to soften. He rests a calming hand on her arm, never losing physical contact with her while they sit and talk. Unlike Christine Cagney, Gless is clearly comfortable with married life. "When I was young, the thought of marriage never occurred to me," she says. "But I always knew I wanted to feel a certain way. When I met Barney I got the feeling. It's like being home. I found where I was supposed to be."

Even with the settling influences of home and husband, Gless continues to bring a certain intensity to all aspects of her life. And, like every actress of a certain age (she's 5z), she has to contend with the changing nature of her career. "As I get older, the parts are harder," she says. "They're fewer. I'm one of the very, very few my age who still work." Rosenzweig watches his wife as she picks her words. "Being in a state of transition is not comfortable for me," she goes on. "I no longer play the cute ingenue, and I don't know how I want to play the next step."

"Sharon's life is based on her work," Rosenzweig adds. "That's where her strength is, that's what she loves, and that's what she's good at. She's not good at inventing the rest."

Suddenly Gless is peering closely at a spot on the bare wood floor. "What is this?" she says. There's red stuff in the wood." Now she's down on her knees, scraping at it with her fingernail.

Rosenzweig smiles. "Maybe we ought to get the Oj. people over here to took at that."

"No, it isn't blood. It's pink. Somebody was probably dyeing Easter eggs and spilled the dye." She is clearly distressed.

"Anybody we know?" he asks, arching an eyebrow. "Who would be dyeing Easter eggs in this family?"

She looks up sheepishly. "Me."

They laugh. Rosenzweig has seen this behavior before. "If you're as compulsive as she is, there's always some corner to dust or some toothbrush to get out to clean the crevices in the shower," he says. "Simple pleasures make her happy. She loves to fluff and fold."

"I do," she agrees. "I do laundry." Full-size machines in the garage handle the laundry of the household, but Gless prefers to wash her things herself. Upstairs, in her immaculate, white-tiled private bath, Gless opens a closet door, revealing a small washer and dryer. "But I don't iron," she says. "I do not iron."

Not surprisingly, Gless's favorite spot in the house is nearby. A plump chaise in the sitting area of the master suite keeps her close to the spin cycle-and offers a soothing vista of garden, dunes and sea.

It is here that Gless comes to meditate and dream. Despite the fact that she has publicly endorsed popular new age guru Lazarus and that a collection of his inspirational audio tapes are stored in one of the guest houses,

Gless says only, "I am on a search of my own."

"I love sitting here looking at the beauty of it," she says, rearranging a pillow on the tidy chaise. "I daydream. But I never daydream unless the pillows are plumped and the laundry is done. Everything has to be just so."