Kathy Goes to Hollywood
miss may is probably the only tv starlet who runs her own orphanage
In a Hancock Park duplex not far from Beverly Boulevard, not far from the Hollywood Hills, not far from a whole block of neon boutiques, there is a little bit of Brookville, Ohio. You ring the bell, the door swings open and from then on, it's girls, girls, girls.
"There's no place like home," says Kathy Shower, model/actress/single mom, standing there in a yellow blouse and jeans, with a daughter attached to each leg. "Come in and sit down."
It's a dream of an apartment, a little girl's dream blown up to Panavision proportions, stuffed with toys and swathed in pastel shades. Kathy calls it The Orphanage. "I'm the Kool-Aid lady on the block. The neighborhood kids are always over here, and I like it that way." She shrugs. The girls -- Mindy is nine and Melonie is six -- entertain you with a soft shoe while Supermom, 32, runs to the kitchen. Rosie, the parrot, fluffs her feathers and squawks, "Hello!" The phone rings every minute or so. Kathy returns with a pitcher of ice water and fills a glass for each of the girls. Melonie says, "Nobody pours water like you, Mommy." The girls retire to the Cabbage Patch and Kathy sits down next to you.
She had second thoughts about posing nude, she says. If offered a nude scene in a movie, she thinks she'd want a body double.
"I talked with the girls about Playboy," she says. The girls spin in and out of the room, trading kisses for promises of Big Macs later on. "We talked about how pictures of a beautiful woman can be art, and they pretty much decided that if Mom did it, it was great. So the other day, we were driving past a Coppertone billboard, and Melonie wanted to know why that dog was pulling down the girl's pants. And Mindy said, 'Melonie, that's art!'" Kathy laughs. The girls, who have been hiding behind the couch, laugh even harder. Kathy grew up in Brookville, a little town not far from Dayton, where the only TV work is in TV repair. A self-described ugly duckling, she never even had a date until she was as old as some Playmates. Hollywood called shortly after she became a swan. A stint on Broadway as "the second-lead blank" (Brookville girls frown on profanity) in The Best Little Blankhouse In Texas led her to L.A., but Kathy wouldn't leave Brookville for the bright lights. She would take it along.
"People don't know me until they've seen my house," she says. "Here's this girl doing Los Angeles -- the New York-style work -- but living in Brookville, Ohio. "My work is hard work, long hours, constant running, but I know I can always come home, where it's Mom and the girls. Mine is the old story of the girl who goes from a small town to Hollywood, but it's been more grueling than glamorous. Still, I'm making it. I'm surviving."
Even thriving. You've seen Kathy on Three's Company, Scene of the Crime with Orson Welles, Airwolf, and Simon & Simon and in other appearances too fleeting to be remembered to anyone but a bleary tubeaholic, playing lovers and strangers, vixens and vamps. She gets respect from Hollywood, certainly, but just about everything else comes from the kids. "I've got to start dating again," she'll say. "I'm single -- very single." But tonight, the lady has more pressing concerns than dates or even work. How many neighborhood children will fit into one compact car?
"OK, let's go to McDonald's."
The girls applaud and outkick the Rockettes. Kathy goes to turn off the TV. On the screen, a pretty blonde is tumbling out of a limousine.
"No matter what I do, no matter how hard the day may be," she says, "I'm a star to the girls. When I come home, they'll run up and yell, 'Mom, we saw you on television!' "
Mindy and Melonie watch, but Kathy doesn't. "I don't sit at home and watch when I'm on TV," she says. "It's probably the same thing a lot of people feel -- I'm just not comfortable watching my picture on the screen. I don't usually get the blone-bombshell bimbos. So it's not that I'm disappointed in the way it comes off. But I still think of myself as that gangly ugly duckling in Ohio."
That girl was the one all the other kids said had personality -- adolescent code for "something less than killer looks."
"I didn't look...well, exactly the way I do now. I go back for reunions and they say, 'My, how she's changed.' "
These days, when she's not on the arm of the star of the show, Kathy is likely to be flying out of a fast-moving vehicle. That's the lot of the Hollywood blonde.
"Getting paid to fall out of a car is one of the things that make my best girlfriend yell 'Perspective!' I'll grumble a little about it, and she'll want to know if they need somebody to fall out of the other side."
Kathy smiles. Perspective means knowing that most people have nine-to-five jobs.
The girls wrestle with their shoes and socks as Kathy talks about her most recent, most eye-opening appearance.
"I can't quite comprehend being Miss May, the glamorous girl of the month," she says. "But I want to be seen as a complete woman. I'm a single parent, acting and modeling, singing and dancing, pursuing a career and, at the same time, being mother, father, grandparent, teacher -- all these things wrapped up into one. And being very appealing to the male audience, being aware of my sexuality. Sexuality is hard to put into words; I guess the pictures will speak for themselves. What I want to get across is that there are many faces to a woman. Not just me, all women." She smiles. "We're a pretty good breed."
Rosie, the parrot, says, "All right!"
Photography by Richard Fegley, Stephen Wayda