Danville Express

Column - January 26, 2007

Diablo Views: Having lunch with Annie

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Annie Potts and I had lunch together in downtown Danville last week. OK, there were about a dozen others there as well to break bread with the delightful, high energy star of "Designing Women" and other TV series and movies.

The fairly intimate lunch was hosted by Jerry Hettinger in the designers' work area of his business, J. Hettinger Interiors, at Hartz Avenue and Linda Mesa. One of the designers, Robineve Cole, who also designs clothing, is an old friend of Annie's. When "Designing Women" with Annie as Mary Jo Shively began in the mid-1980s, she didn't think her assigned wardrobe was right for her character so she asked Robineve for help. Since they were the same size, Robineve went to her closet, chose about six outfits she'd designed for herself, and sent them to her. A week later, there were her outfits, walking across the TV screen.

Annie, 54, was in town to perform in the play "Love Letters" for one night at the Dean Lesher Center for the Performing Arts in Walnut Creek. When she first arrived at J. Hettinger Interiors, Robineve helped her find appropriate furnishings for the two-person play, in which a woman and a man read letters they have written to each other throughout their lifetimes. Annie said she's performed the play many times but never with this co-star so they arrived in town early to rehearse.

When we sat down to the delicious catered lunch, Annie shared her excitement at having completed a two-and-a-half-year remodel of a hacienda in Tarzana, built in 1932. She suddenly jumped up to run out to her car to get her laptop to show us photos of her renovated home. What a delightful place - colorfully brought back to its original glory and then some. It was the home of Robert Young for many years; later Robert Wagner lived there.

Annie's design skills were evident in the colorful hacienda, and she has a real hands-on approach. She'd asked the bricklayer to lay a walkway helter skelter to look as though it had been assembled from the odds and ends of stones and had shifted over the last 80 years. He listened politely then proceeded to lay the stones in perfect order. She took over herself - and the walkway is now perfectly imperfect, she reported. But, she added ruefully, she broke every last fingernail plus she couldn't stand up straight for a week.

During the remodel, she used the home's outdoor barbecue and burner for all her cooking, and even made pies for Christmas using the barbecue. Her pictures showed outdoor wicker chairs at a table. She'd moved them in temporarily, she said, then found she liked them. She also has a pool table in the cavernous living room, left by the previous owners, who didn't want to trouble to move it. She said no one ever went into the living room in their last home, but the current one is well used by her sons, ages 26, 14 and 11. She is married to TV producer and director James Hayman, who had just won a Golden Globe Award for best comedy TV series for "Ugly Betty."

I couldn't resist asking about her role in the film "Ghostbusters" as Janine Melnitz, the Ghostbusters' bored receptionist. If I come across this movie on TV, I can't resist watching. She said she has no trouble turning it off because when her sons where young they watched it again and again - and again. She said she played her jaded New York character as it had been scripted, unlike some of the other actors. "I don't know if Bill Murray ever even looked at the script," she noted wryly.

The designers were interested in her views of the new television shows featuring remodels and room redesign that are currently popular. They felt a little discouraged at the idea being propagated that with one day and a few hundred dollars, a home can be remade into a showplace. Annie agreed but said her favorite design shows are those that aim to help people having problems by improving their surroundings. It can cheer up a person considerably to have their room painted yellow, she noted.

And it can make a person happy to have lunch with the charming Annie Potts.

-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.

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