It was an odd message for a husband to be sending his wife on their 16th wedding anniversary. "The door's still there, and no one's gone through it yet," James Brolin scrawled on the card he gave his wife, Jane, in October 1982. "Hope to see you here next year."

Happily, the earth has completed another revolution around the sun, and the Brolins are still together. People who don't know them, though, might find their connubial arrangement a tad unusual. Theirs is a marriage built on independence. Jim, 43, does his thing (film and TV acting) mostly in Los Angeles. Jane, 44, does hers (caring for wild animals and running a restaurant and bakery) mostly around Santa Barbara, about 100 miles up the coast. They usually get together on weekends. Says Josh, 15, the elder of their two sons, "Dad and Mom do have a weird, weird relationship."

They have had their share of hard times, admits Jim, "but we've never split. I think Jane and I are always close in each other's minds." Jim has always been the more visible. At present he is starring in the role of Peter McDermott, the patient and sagacious manager in ABC's new series Hotel, one of the season's few bona fide hits. Brolin, of course, is best known to TV viewers as the eager Dr. Steven Kiley, a role he played for six years to Robert Young's Marcus Welby, M.D. His film credits include Gable and Lombard, The Amityville Horror and Capricorn One.

While Jim is away on location or at the studios, Jane is hardly at loose ends. She takes care of Josh and his younger brother, Jess, 11; tends the popular Rocky Galenti's restaurant in Santa Barbara; and runs a café and bakery distributorship in San Luis Obispo. The food businesses are in her name. "The way I feel is that I better set myself up now," says Jane. "If he decided to leave tomorrow, where would I be?"

For one thing she would be in the midst of her own minizoo. Jane's present lineup of household pets consists of four dogs and two cats (all but one of them had been abandoned), four parrots and two macaws. In addition, backyard pens hold three mountain lions and a bobcat. Over the years Jane has played host to at least 40 creatures of the wild—lions, cougars, bears, wolves, coyotes, foxes and even a wild boar named Olivia.

Her menagerie got its start when, three months after they married, Jane accompanied Jim to South Africa for the filming of Cape Town Affair. On impulse they had a baby lion shipped home. As the cub grew to adulthood their attitude on jungle beasts as pets changed. "They're expensive to keep and dangerous," Jane now warns. "No private party should own a wild animal."

Jane rechanneled her involvement with wild animals. She learned to care for them by joining wildlife organizations and eventually gained a permit from the U.S. Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service to handle confiscated animals. The Brolins put up the wild beasts temporarily until they can be placed in zoos or wild animal parks, given to trainers for use in movies or, in some cases, released safely in the wilderness. For Jane it is a labor of love. Costs, which run some $3,500 annually in feed and vet bills, are borne entirely by the Brolins.

"At the risk of sounding egotistical," says Jane, "I'm just really good with animals. I've never been hurt by any of them." The boys lend a hand, as does Jim (when he's home), repairing the cages and exercising the animals. "They've helped bind us together as a family," says Jim. "Even the children will tell you the animals have created the most feeling and love between us."

The Brolins have other shared interests, of course. "Real estate is something else that's kept us together," Jim says wryly, "looking at land, buying land, building houses, renovating, moving." To date the Brolins have lived in eight different establishments. Their present headquarters in Montecito, just outside of Santa Barbara, is an eight-bedroom, 10-bath affair on five-plus acres with an ocean view. It was built in 1923 as a vacation lodge by the Swift meat-packing family of Chicago. Now, however, the Brolins have decided that 10,000 square feet of living space is too much for them, so they're selling (asking price: $2.8 million), hoping to move soon to a smaller house they are building on an adjacent lot.

Land deals come naturally to Jim, who is the son of a Los Angeles building contractor. As a boy he considered a career in flying or aircraft design. "I was also a big moviegoer," he recalls. "One day I got a tour through a studio, and I was hooked." He attended Santa Monica City College and UCLA, leaving in 1958 to study acting full-time. In short order he was under contract, first with 20th Century-Fox, later with Universal. "I've never really starved," he says.

Jane Agee, the daughter of high school teachers in Corpus Christi, Texas, was always free-spirited. "In any small town you either stayed there, got married and went to the PTA, or you got out," she says. "I didn't want to marry right away." So a month before her 18th birthday with $90 in her purse, she took off for L.A. without exactly informing her parents, who made it to the airport in time to see her plane roll down the runway.

"Knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have done what I did," Jane admits. "But I was lucky. I met wonderful people right away who really helped me." She found a job at a financial company, where her boss's best friends were Clint and Maggie Eastwood (who, though now separated, remain friends of the Brolins). With their assistance she got into the film business, doing a little bit of everything—production, story editing, publicity, casting—and eventually meeting James Brolin. "I proposed on the ninth day," Jim says, "which was totally unlike me. I usually think things out for a while." They were married three days later. Jane admits she didn't know her future husband very well; in fact, she remembers pointing to the altar and asking Eastwood (who gave her away), "Which one is Jim?"

The biggest adjustment that the new bride had to make was getting used to her husband's penchant for disappearing. "It's a habit I got into as a kid," he explains. "I was never out doing anything I shouldn't be doing. I just like the feeling of infinite possibilities, that if I decide to turn this way or that, I can." He adds: "We're both people who can't stand fences. We tried that at the beginning; it didn't work. But rather than split up, we looked at our relationship from another direction."

Jane suggests that total marital togetherness may be overrated. Jim stays with his brother Brian, owner of a Hollywood recording studio, when he is in L.A. He and Jane are not in the habit of phoning each other daily. "Yet when we are together we've got more to talk about than most people who are together every single day and have nothing to say," Jane notes. "Maybe our marriage has survived because we don't spend as much time together as the average couple."

  • Contributors:
  • Sheila Liebergott,
  • Hilary Evans.