CBS' Dukes of Hazzard has flourished through three seasons on a very simple philosophy: Life is a demolition derby of high-octane cars and lowbrow Southerners. Yet somehow each week Dukes finds a different way to reduce an auto to smoking metal—and to overheat viewers with a languorous gander at chicklet Catherine Bach's drumsticks. As a roadhouse siren predictably named Daisy (who Mae or may not), Bach and her short shorts have come to symbolize TV audiences' increasingly raised eyebrows and lowered expectations. Yet, incredibly, only two series on all TV rate higher: Dallas and 60 Minutes.
"We do have redeeming qualities," defends Bach, 27 this month. "We honor the family. Someone's always saved from evil. And I certainly don't feel I've been exploited or have exploited womanhood." Still, worried that perhaps her curvaceous form was being overexposed, she recently checked out waitresses in L.A. and on location. "After spending some time in Georgia, I think maybe I'm overdressed," she gulps. "I'm doing a lot of joking around on the show, but nobody ever had me in the backseat of a car."
That kind of tease, though, has made Bach a top teenybop temptress, merchandising Daisy dolls, dresses, lunch boxes, notebooks and 300,000 posters last year. This fall she may sew up the ultimate status symbol—her own line of designer jeans, some of which, like Daisy's, will end barely below the belt. To cash in while she can, Bach has become almost driven. Aside from her typical 13-hour workdays on the set, she often labors two weekends a month making promotional appearances. Believably, she sighs, "I don't have a tremendous social life." Last month, after five years of marriage and a separation of nearly two years, she and husband David Shaw, 37, filed mutually for divorce. "I'll never get over him," she says of David, the son of English producer Peter Shaw and stepson of actress Angela Lansbury. "It's been hard not having him around."
Her troubles make the Dukes set an occasional emotional minefield these days. Co-stars Tom Wopat and John Schneider insist that Cathy is too professional to wear her heart on her halter, but supervising producer Rod Amateau reports cast and crew were "so anxious to keep Cathy from crying that they would take turns telling her jokes." The situation has been complicated by Bach's ricochet romance with stunt man Gary Baxley, nephew of sometime Dukes director Paul Baxley. "For six months we spent every day together," says Baxley. "For a long time she was kidding herself about a reconciliation with David. Then she confided in me. We were in love. I'm still in love with her." Rebuts Bach: "I dated him, but he didn't live with me. I think Gary is a great guy, but he has a big mouth and fabricates a little bit too. Gary's never been a serious relationship with me," she insists. "My mind has been on David. I didn't want to cloud the issue with other men."
Bach's divorce from Shaw seems one of L.A.'s most clear-cut cases of career-before-connubiality. "Cathy's show didn't end our marriage," Shaw reflects, "but her career did. I'm not a masochist. I don't want to be a small part of someone's life." Cathy's priorities were clear. "It was harder for us to have time together," she admits. "But do I compromise my vision of what my life's journey is about to come home and cook dinner? I can't have any brakes on me. When you're in love you should make a greater effort to rearrange your schedules. David and I couldn't make it work," she adds with a catch in her voice. "We reached an impasse."
Shaw, a Hollywood agent turned contractor after souring on showbiz, moved to a home he built himself on three acres in Malibu. Cathy retreated to a small Burbank apartment near the Warner Bros, studio. Until recently Bach clung valiantly to her hopes for a reconciliation, and still laughs about their seriocomic 1976 wedding at L.A.'s Self Realization Fellowship Center. "It embraced all religions, so I thought it would be the safest place," she relates. "Walking down the aisle, I reached David and started getting dizzy during the 'I do's.' I remembered Elliott Gould, a friend for years, telling me, 'Marriage is the most important thing you'll ever do except having a baby.' I put my head on David's shoulder and next thing I was in a heap on the floor." She took her vows dewy-faced from water sprinkled to revive her from the fainting spell. "Sometimes," she reasons, "things just mean so much to you."
Her overwrought feeling about marriage stems undoubtedly from childhood. Born Catherine Bachman in Warren, Ohio to a father of German descent and a Mexican-American mother, Cathy was traumatized at 6 when her parents divorced. She and her brother, Phillip ("11 months younger to the day; my parents were on a roll"), spent most of their time shuttling between their dad's South Dakota ranch (he's also an Air Force base comptroller there) and their mom's L.A. home. Cathy's favorite was her mother, a former secretary who just received her master's degree in science and plans to study acupuncture. "She exposed me to life and let me take the best and leave the rest."
Sadly, she placed her father in the latter category. Shortly after graduating from Rapid City Central High in 1971, Cathy fled South Dakota with $125 saved from a job as a Woolworth's salesgirl to become an actress in L.A. It was an enthusiasm her father discouraged. "He thought it was a nebulous, spacey way to go through life, that I had too much going for me to waste my time on such a pursuit," says Cathy, whose ambition was sparked at 7 by seeing a show with her uncle, local musical comedy actor Tony Verdugo. Her early years in L.A. led to performing with stock companies, bit roles in films like Clint Eastwood's 1974 Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and a lucrative commercial spot as a Chevrolet TV pitchwoman. Still, Cathy and her father never communicated. "Then, two years ago at Christmas, my brother put us on the phone," she recalls. "Now I feel we've finally put our problems behind us."
The father-daughter reunion took place last summer when Cathy returned to South Dakota frankly scared. Astonishingly, estranged husband Shaw, a more likely ally of Dad's, "arrived like a knight on an airliner" to aid Cathy. "He flew to South Dakota the week after I got there to hold my hand through those traumatic times," she marvels. "We spent all our time together, even when we returned to California, splitting our lives between his place and mine." David's recollection of those events is less idyllic. "I don't think we ever tried to reconcile our differences," he huffs. "My only intention in going to South Dakota was to be with Cathy, not even to try to salvage our marriage while she was in the middle of a TV series."
To be sure, Cathy is more strongly entrenched in Dukes than ever. "I have no desire to leave the show except for vacations," she says. "This show gave me my start and I owe them." She's investing her money in California and Texas real estate while looking for a "South Dakota dreamland." Trying to establish a permanent career, she saw her feature film debut stalled recently when a threatened writers' strike sped up the Dukes shooting schedule. Cathy is still searching for a movie role more challenging than her Daisy stereotype. More immediately, she hopes to capitalize on five months of singing lessons by "working state fairs" this summer. "I'd love to sing in front of people, but I'm not ready to record an album." At the very least, she'll be warbling a few country tunes on next season's Dukes, thereby fulfilling Daisy's own dream of becoming a C & W star.
Bach's personal life remains secondary, but lively. She denies talk of a romance with playboy neighbor Nels Van Patten—"I haven't even taken a tennis lesson from him"—but she has been seen lately with Tyler Hesse, a Seattle contractor she met at a Dukes auto show appearance. Meanwhile she has traded up to a San Fernando Valley home with pool, Jacuzzi whirlpool bath, garages for her Jeep and black Mercedes 450 SL, and dining room cum office for assistant John Couch. There is also a second bedroom, occupied by Carol Hayes, a friend from South Dakota.
Despite the divorce, Cathy looks forward to her weekly calls from David. New loves are the only taboo subject. "If he were seeing someone, I would feel a few tugs on my heart," frowns Cathy, and she's stoical about the split. "It's not fair to hold on, and the separation was a funny way of our holding on to each other," she concedes. "The reconciliation hadn't worked." Still, Cathy is not without her own version of Daisy's "ain't down yet" spunk. "Everybody downplays married life, but I think it's a hot situation," she smiles. "Life becomes better with sharing. Maybe I'm naive, but if David and I are meant to get back together, it would probably be more fun to remarry—and do it over again." But presumably Cathy Bach has seen enough now that she wouldn't faint.