Question: My mom and I used to never miss Kate & Allie since she and a divorced friend used to live together for a few years. But she said Jane Curtin and Susan Saint James didn't really get along in real life. Is that true? Mary S., Northfield, Vt.
Televisionary: Nope, though there were some of the normal tensions brought about by the unfailingly ego-driven entertainment biz and the pressures of mounting a hit comedy during its 1984-89 run on CBS.
Take the time, for instance, that both were nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series after the show's first season. Saint James had already been nominated six times and had won once (for NBC's 1968-71 adventure series The Name of the Game). And she had it in her head that she was about to collect another when she headed to the ceremony. "Entertainment Tonight had sent a crew to my house and had cameras on my family," she told TV Guide in 1986. Also, Don Knotts was the presenter, and he had handed me the Emmy I won years earlier. I thought that was a sign."
Wishful thinking, that. Knotts ended up handing the Emmy to Curtin. "I'm not going to lie to you, I suffered," St. James said of that moment. "I had a lot of hositility aimed at Jane, and she didn't even vote."
If only it had ended there. When Curtin got up to accept, she inadvertently rubbed salt in the wound. "I should really thank Susan Saint James," she said to the TV audience, "because you can't do it with a trained poodle."
Ouch. "Most people thought it was an 'in' joke, something between us," St. James said. "It is now. I'm so different from Jane. If I'd won it, I would have said, 'I can't possibly consider this for myself because it's Katenallie, one word.' After all, you have months to think about what you'll say. But that's Jane. When all else fails, she thinks of a quick one-liner. Humor has been her way out."
Curtin felt appropriately guilty, though. "Susan wasn't wild about my acceptance speech and neither was I," she said. "I was in a state of shock when I won, because I was always the bridesmaid on Saturday Night Live. I have almost no recollection of what I did that night."
Fair enough. And Saint James got over it after a period of sulking. "Jane and I just can't not have fun when we work together," she said. "That rides over stuff like this, which is inflicted on us by society and never would have existed otherwise."
Good attitude, no? Well, it was put to the test once more the following year, when both were nominated and Curtin won again. That time, however, there was no dramatic moment. Saint James, sadly, suffered a miscarried pregnancy days before the ceremony and didn't attend. Curtin, too, elected not to go and thus wasn't there to accept. She chalked it up to a scheduling conflict.
Other than that, though, the two did get along well. I have to admit I find it a little odd, though, that this question never seems to come up with two male co-stars. No one asks me if, say, Larry and Balki got into fisticuffs when the Perfect Strangers cameras were turned off, or if Jack Klugman ever keyed Tony Randall's car after a day of Odd Couple shooting.
But the gals take what they can get, I suppose. Soon after Kate & Allie launched, portraying a supportive friendship between two divorced moms who moved in together, it was deemed so revolutionary that authors Barbara Ehrenreich and Jane O'Reilly, who shared a house together under similar circumstances, weighed in on it. "They neither jiggle nor scheme, and nobody seems to think they are weird, pathetic or somehow subverting the strength of the American family," the two wrote of Curtin's and Saint James's characters. "[T]he thoroughly grown-up presence Kate and Allie project is as good a picture of women's friendship as we have seen. But then, Kate & Allie is the first major sitcom that really shows what women are like when we are alone together."