Question: Here's a weird question. Do I remember something about Pierce Brosnan having a stroke when he was doing Remington Steele, or am I imagining that? Dana S., Betterton, Md.
Televisionary: You're not imagining it, Dana, but you're a little off. Brosnan, who costarred with Stephanie Zimbalist on the NBC sleuth show from October 1982 to March 1987, was hit with Bell's palsy, a partial paralysis of the face, just before a Tonight Show appearance. According to a 1984 TV Guide story and interview, the actor at the time believed he contracted a virus that led to the condition after shooting some shirtless scenes in a river. That may have been it, but months of 14- to 16-hour days didn't help his health, either, and when he walked onto the Steele set and collapsed, leading a doctor to prescribe 12 days off, Brosnan returned after just three.
Such was the drive of the Irish native, who grew up in England and, after appearing in the ABC miniseries The Manions of America, went back to London, took out a loan for repairs to his house and then used the money to move himself and his family to L.A. to look for work. After just two weeks of looking, he landed the Steele role.
Funny thing was, to hear Brosnan and then-wife Cassandra Harris (who died in 1991) tell it, both got more than they bargained for once he hit the big time. "I feel like I stepped into the lion's den," he said in a 1984 TV Guide interview. "I feel like there is no breathing space. I am like a mouse running around on a little wheel. I see Jeremy Irons doing a play on Broadway and I say, 'What am I doing? What I am doing is fast food.' Then I read that I am a hunk! I'm not a hunk! I'm an actor. Hunk is really a disgusting term and if I were really being honest, I would love to ram it down their throats."
Mind you, it's not like that kind of recognition just spilled on him by accident. During the show's first season, Brosnan, who was initially supposed to play a supporting role to Zimbalist on the show, hired his own press agent to get him into the publicity-and-interviews game. Still, he seemed to think he succeeded a little too well.
"I worry that I am selling out. I am selling out," he said. "I am thinking about doing a poster. Why am I thinking about doing a poster? Don't I get enough coverage in magazines? Don't I get enough publicity on television every week? Why would I do a poster? It's to promote Pierce Brosnan. Would Robert De Niro do a poster?"
Dunno. But I do know that the hunk status put some unwanted female pressure on Brosnan's marriage. "This is a pretty fast town, and the women are terrible," he said. "Some actresses do this whole number, proposition me, right in front of my wife, and sometimes I am just so naive that I don't get it until maybe 10 minutes later. I cannot believe the gall of these people."
The missus couldn't believe it, either. "These women are horrible," she said at the time. "They try to use me to become friendly with Pierce. Or else they just cut me dead, and only want to speak to him. Sometimes I feel like bursting into tears."
And how did all the attention affect Zimbalist, who watched her previously unknown cast mate eclipse her? It depended on whom you asked. "She was a name before I was a name because of her father [77 Sunset Strip and FBI star Efrem Zimbalist Jr.]," Brosnan said. "I was a name only to the people who had watched The Manions of America. I always got the feeling that they thought maybe Brosnan couldn't carry the show.... She's jealous, but we talk about it. I was always totally honest. I told her, I'm getting a publicist. Now you do it. Go for it.'"
"I am not sure we used that word," Zimbalist said, when asked about the jealousy factor. "We were sitting in the back of a limousine waiting for a shot, and we had a long talk about our insecurities. We acknowledged that we've both had them about each other and we needed to talk about it. It was a good talk. He is charming and funny to work with. He's a very good actor and I realize, in the end, if he does marketing and he promotes himself, then it's really for my good and we really are each other's pal. We are not in a race."