GLESS, SHARON

U.S. Actor

Sharon Gless, who worked primarily in supporting roles for a number of series and TV movies in the late 1970s and early 1980s, rose to stardom as Christine Cagney in the female cop show, Cagney & Lacey (1982-88).

Two of her more prominent roles before Cagney & Lacey anticipated aspects of the Cagney character. In a short-lived NBC sitcom, Turnabout (1979), Gless played Penny Alston, whose mind and spirit are exchanged with those of her husband. Gless's character thus explored gender differences through the split between a feminine exterior and masculine motivations. Three years later, Gless was tapped to take over the co-starring role in House Calls when Lynn Redgrave was forced out of the series.

It was the experience of trying to take over in the wake of a popular actor's departure that made Gless hesitate when she was offered the role of Christine Cagney. In the TV movie, Cagney had been played by Loretta Switt, and in the first season of the series, the character had been portrayed by Meg Foster. A CBS executive touched off a protest from fans, however, when he made a statement suggesting Foster was not feminine enough for the role, making the team of Chris Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey (played by Tyne Daly) look like "a pair of dykes." Renewal of the series was contingent on replacing Foster with someone "softer." Though initially seen by fans as a sellout to the network, Gless soon gained acceptance from the devoted audience of Cagney & Lacey. Ironically, she developed a substantial following among lesbian viewers, according to critic Julie D'Acci.

Not only did Cagney contrast with her married, working class partner, but, as played by Gless, Christine Cagney embodied a number of contradictions in class and gender. Her soft blonde beauty played against the tough shell she maintained both on the job and in many of her personal encounters. Her working class-Irish-cop identity, inherited from her father, clashed with the sleek, upper crust veneer she had acquired from her mother. Her career success contrasted with a string of unhappy romances in her personal life.

Although Gless has said she considers herself primarily a comedienne, Cagney & Lacey provided the opportunity for her to grow as a dramatic actor. In the first three years of the series, Gless was nominated for an Emmy, but Daly received the award for best actress in a dramatic series. The following two years, however, the Emmy went to Gless, and in the final year of the series, the Emmy went back to Daly. Gless took pride in her contribution to the substance and quality of the series: "We're pioneering. . . ," she said in a story for McCall's. "We're showing women who can do a so-called man's job without ever forgetting that they are women."

Since the end of Cagney & Lacey in 1988, Gless has married Barney Rosenzweig, who created another series for her, The Trials of Rosie O'Neill (1990-1991). In the role of the title character, Gless again portrayed a single, upscale character connected with the law--this time a newly divorced, well-heeled lawyer, working in the cramped, underfunded offices of Los Angeles public defenders. Gless won a Golden Globe Award for her work in the series before it was canceled. She has also joined Daly in several Cagney & Lacey reunion movies, and has appeared in a number of other made for television movies.

-Sue Brower


Sharon Gless
Photo courtesy of Sharon Gless

SHARON GLESS. Born in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A., 31 May 1943. Attended Gonzaga University. Married Barney Rosenzweig, 1991. Actress in television from 1973. Recipient: Emmy Award, 1986 and 1987; Golden Globe Award, 1985 and 1990; Coalition for Clean Air Crystal Airwaves Media Award, 1987; Viewers for Quality TV Best Actress Award; Milestone Award, 1988; SI Award, 1991; Gideon Media Award, 1992; Distinguished Artist Award, 1992; Hollywood Women in Radio and TV Genii Award. Address: William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, California, 90212, U.S.A.

TELEVISION SERIES

1973-74 Faraday and Company
1974-75 Marcus Welby, M.D.
1975-78 Switch!
1979     Turnabout
1981-82 House Calls
1982-88 Cagney and Lacey
1990-92 The Trials of Rosie O'Neill

TELEVISION MINISERIES

1978 The Immigrants
1978 Centennial
1979 The Last Convertible

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

1970 Night Slaves
1972 All My Darling Daughters
1973 My Darling Daughters' Anniversary
1976 Richie Brockelman: The Missing 24th Hours 1978 The Islander
1978 Crash
1979 Kids Who Knew Too Much
1980 Moviola: The Scarlett O'Hara Wars
1980 Revenge of the Stepford Wives
1980 Hardhat and Legs
1981 The Miracle of Kathy Miller
1983 Hobson's Choice
1984 The Sky's No Limit
1985 Letting Go
1989 The Outside Woman
1992 Honor Thy Mother
1994 Separated By Murder
1994 Cagney and Lacey: The Return
1995 Cagney and Lacey: Together Again
1995 Cagney and Lacey: The View Through the Glass         Ceiling

FILMS

Airport 1975, 1974; The Star Chamber, 1983

STAGE

Watch On the Rhine, 1989; Misery, 1992-93

FURTHER READING

D'Acci, Julie. Defining Women: Television and the Case of Cagney and Lacey. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

Gordon, Mary. "Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly." Ms. (New York), January, 1987.

 

See also Cagney and Lacey; Daly, Tyne