"Jane ran a serious poker game" with the show's kids and crew, recalls Costar Susan Saint James "she always had a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, and the games were like Triple Card Cowboy and Blackjack over Easy!" Such play, however, never got in the way of work, says Saint James, "Jane and I were both moms. She wanted to get home, and I wanted to get home." At the time, Curtin, now 52, lived in Sharon, Conn., with her husband, TV producer Patrick Lynch, 54, and their daughter Tess, now 17. Today the family is bicostal because Curtin's current sitcom, 3rd Rock from the Sun, films in Los Angeles. Unlike Kate & Allie, Curtin said last year, Rock is "not about relationships or anxiety about who you are. We're just having a good time."
Susan Saint James
As soon as Susan Saint James came across the script for a Manhattan-based sitcom called Two Mommies, she grabbed it. The show, which would be renamed Kate & Allie, enabled Saint James to work without relocating her five children and husband Dick Ebersol, 52 (then producing Saturday Night Live, now chairman of NBC Sports), from their home in Litchfield County, Conn. But that's where the parental perks ended. "Of course, when we told our kids on the show, 'Go upstairs and do your homework,' up they'd fly," says Saint James, 53. "None of that worked for me at all!" What has worked for Saint James, who was recently certified as a master gardener, is raising her family, serving on the board of the Special Olympics and running her company Seedling & Pip, which sells gift baskets for newborns. She also keeps track of her TV kids, who became friends with her own. "I loved Susan," says her TV daughter Ari Meyers. "I went to her house many times and hung out with her kids." As for a comeback, Saint James is in no hurry. "I have a 10-year-old," she says. "Maybe by the time he's grown, I can do the remake of On Golden Pond."
An only child raised by a single mom, Ari Meyers found true sisterhood in her fictional family. "We'd hang out all day and come home and talk on the phone," says Meyers, 31, of her TV housemate Allison Smith. "My mom was like, 'What could you possibly have to say to each other?' " A lot, says Smith, who remains a friend. "Ari and I were tight as could be, which was a gift." Meyers skipped Kate & Allie's final season to attend Yale (majoring in philosophy and theater). "We were so proud of her," says her TV mom, Susan Saint James. After graduation, Meyers, who is dating actor Kevin Isola, 30, returned to acting and recently appeared on CBS's Diagnosis Murder. "Every time I see Jane Curtin," says Meyers, "she always says, 'You're all grown up!' "
Asked to name his most memorable moment playing Jane Curtin's apple-cheeked son, Fred Koehler says, "Well, the condom episode comes to mind." In that show, Curtin's character has a heart-to-heart with her adolescent son about the facts of life. "Everything Freddy did was so honest," said Curtin last year. "If you see that episode again, you'll see he blushes! And it was real. He was so natural." When Kate & Allie ended, Koehler, now 25, dropped out of public life to study drama at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University. "I could have gone right to working in Hollywood," he says, "but I wanted to become a better actor." After graduating in 1997, he landed a recurring role as a high schooler on All My Children, then relocated to L.A. and made the 1999 indie film Pumpkin, with Gretchen Mol. Recently the unattached Koehler ("Casual dating is great," he says) has shown up as a sexually precocious teen on Ally McBeal and as a neo-Nazi convict on the HBO prison drama Oz. Koehler's Kate & Allie big sister Allison Smith takes some of the credit for toughening him up for his grittier roles. "He was around two teenage girls at all times," she says. "I'm sure we terrorized him!"
When you're playing Rob Lowe's love interest on The West Wing, folks tend to be interested in where you came from. "I say, 'I was on this show Kate & Allie,' " says Allison Smith, 30, who played Jane Curtin's daughter. "And everyone's like, That was you?' " It wasn't always easy to keep a low profile, though. "Limos would pick me up at school. It was mortifying," recalls Smith, who grew up in Waldwick, N.J., and got her showbiz break at age 10 singing the title role in Broadway's Annie. Her TV mother helped ease Smith's transition. "Jane gave me good boyfriend advice," she says. Smith is still under a TV parent's watchful eye. "I'd be proud to have her as my daughter," says her West Wing dad, John Spencer. "When we go to lunch at the commissary, I find myself a little protective of her." But Smith, who recently bought an L.A. cottage and is dating music attorney Randy Grimmett, 31, doesn't need much parenting. "My personal life is as wonderful as my professional life," she says. "That's how it should be."
When divorced moms Kale McArdle and Allie Lowell teamed up to raise their children, TV's nuclear family exploded—and so did the ratings. By the end of its first season, Kate & Allie reached the Top 10 and went on to win two Emmys. "It was so ahead of its time," says Costar Susan Saint James. "Two women living together with kids—it was a solution."