CYNTHIA GEARY ADMITS THAT childbirth can be beautiful. At least it is on Northern Exposure, where she plays Shelly Tambo, tavern waitress, onetime Miss Northwest Passage and, as of two weeks ago, mother. On the Jan. 31 episode of the hit CBS series about a flaky Alaskan town, Shelly—with 64-year-old husband and employer Holling Vincoeur (John Cullum) by her side—gave birth to Miranda (played in shifts by 1-month-old twins, Brittney and Clarissa Posner). "When they handed me that infant, I cried," says Geary, 28, an effortlessly upbeat, blue-eyed blonde. "It was intense." But Geary is in no hurry to have children in real life. "Labor and childbirth really scare me to death," she says. "I have a joke with friends that I'm waiting until you can put the egg and the sperm in an incubator, turn the timer on and nine months later it dings and you take the baby out."

Besides, Geary says, she doesn't have time to lake a vacation, let alone start a family. On Feb. 25, she will appear on the big screen in 8 Seconds, a biography of the late rodeo champion Lane Frost, starling Luke Perry of Beverly Hills, 90210 as Lane and Geary as his wife, Kellie. Aside from that, Northern Exposure, which films in Roslyn and Redmond, Wash., is completing its fourth year. At the moment, Geary—who commutes from her three-bedroom home in the Seattle area, five miles away—is in her trailer, surveying the purple-blue miniskirt, macramé blouse and baby-blue cowboy boots the costume department has provided for the rustically funky Shelly this week. "The key to her is that nothing goes together," says Geary. "I could never dress like this. Everything I wear is muted, subdued and loose."

Couture, however, is not character. Geary—the youngest of four children raised in Jackson, Miss., by stockbroker Jack Geary, now 63, and his wife, Shirley, 62, a music teacher—"was a happy-go-lucky, fun-loving girl," says her mom. "She would stand on the table and sing if anyone would listen, even the dog." At St. Richard's church, Shirley was the choir director, and Cynthia got the lead in all her mom's plays. "Figure that?" Cynthia says. "But when I got to high school [Jackson Preparatory] and my mom wasn't the director, I didn't always get the lead. It was devastating."

Like Shelly, Geary did shine on the pageant circuit: She was Jackson's Junior Miss in 1983, then first runner-up (twice) in the University of Mississippi's campus pageant. When she transferred to UCLA to major in music, she kept mum about her contest history. "People don't take women that do pageants seriously," says Geary.

Breaking into showbiz was the usual not-so-pretty story of waiting on tables, changing agents and doing commercials. Then she auditioned for Northern Exposure in 1990. "We were looking for someone who had a certain innocence and a sexiness to her," says co-creator Joshua Brand. Cynthia's major Hollywood exposure has delighted but amazed her parents. "We thought she would slay three or four years," says Shirley. "Then she'd come home and many a nice southern boy and settle down right here like the rest of the family."

Mom's just whistlin' Dixie. "I've already met Mr. Right," Cynthia says, referring to Robert Coron, a 32-year-old real estate broker. "I tell him he's a Renaissance man. He knows everything about music, plays even-instrument, and he's athletic." They met on a blind date in L.A. in 1990. When she moved north to be with Northern Exposure, he followed her to Seattle. He stayed put, however, when she headed to San Antonio last spring to film 8 Seconds. Just as well. "There were torrential rains," says Geary. "And you're dealing with wild animals." (She means the bulls, not Perry. "He was a supernice guy," she says. Perry returns the compliment: "She's a great chick and we just clicked.")

Now reunited, she and Coron like to do the Seattle art scene or water-ski on the lake in front of her home. An engagement is nowhere in sight. "We're working toward marriage very slowly," says Geary. "And by the time I'm 50, maybe I'll have a baby."

TOM GLIATTO
TOM CUNNEFF in Seattle

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Cunneff.