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Joan Pringle's Twins Make Her Schoolmarm Role on TV's White Shadow a Family Affair

updated 09/15/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/15/1980 01:00AM

Though CBS' high school hoop opera, The White Shadow, has consistently scored critical (if not Nielsen) points by treating subjects like corporal punishment and teenage suicide, Joan Pringle fretted last season that she was about to bring too much realism to the three-year-old series. Pringle, who co-stars with basketball coach Ken Howard as the school's prim vice-principal, had just learned that she and her roomie, actor Teddy Wilson, were about to become unmarried parents. What would the PTA say? No problem. To explain her pregnancy, the show's writers gave her an estranged husband, played—surprise—by Teddy Wilson. On TV, they reconciled. In real life, Pringle, 35, and Wilson, 36, got married—each for the second time—after living together for three years. In both cases, they had twins.

Even devoted fans are confused. "Someone stopped Teddy in a liquor store and asked who that lady was on the show and suggested he call her up," laughs Joan. "He said he already had my number." So, apparently, does Shadow producer Bruce Paltrow, who lauds "Joan's great talent and obvious presence." In the coming year (shaky ratings and Screen Actors Guild willing), Pringle's role will expand with a promotion to principal of the series' Carver High. Her tots, Nicole Naomi and Robert Kenyatta, born by cesarean section last April, won't appear on-camera, but Teddy will be seen occasionally as her TV spouse.

Both feel they've learned to cope with Joan's greater earnings and prominence. "As the man," says Wilson, who now refers to himself as a househusband, "I feel I've got to bring something in every week." Adds Pringle: "It's a matter of my handling it too, because I'll start thinking I'm the big hotshot. We've had to thrash it out, but Teddy's as open a man as I've ever met." That meeting happened five years ago when they both auditioned (only he got a part) for the film of The River Niger. Joan was involved with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Michael (The Shadow Box) Cristofer. "At that time moody men really intrigued me," Pringle says of Cristofer, who is still a friend, but Wilson wooed her with picnics of "French bread, cheese and wine."

The elegant gesture may have appealed to her background. Though technically in Harlem, her home was a roomy apartment with a Hudson River view. Her Jamaican father, a bank manager, and city government worker mother sent her to St. Hilda's and St. Hugh's Episcopal School, where Joan was the only black in her class for eight years. Though interested in drama, she "didn't think seriously about being an actress" until she entered City College of New York, intent on a teaching career. Instead, she became involved in local theater, took classes from Uta Hagen, and in 1972 was signed by studio VP Eleanor Kilgallen (sister of the late columnist Dorothy) to a Universal contract. That led to parts on Ironside ("Raymond Burr was intimidating"), Marcus Welby and, in 1975, That's My Mama with future husband Wilson. Despite her interest in the co-star, Joan hated the role. "I wasn't secure enough to do comedy," she remembers. "And the material I was given was terrible."

These days there are few such annoyances. They fled Hollywood's "go-go" life three years ago in favor of an unpretentious house with pool in the quiet Canoga Park section of the San Fernando Valley. For escape, Joan paints, Teddy cooks (French, Chinese and African dishes), writes music and poetry and plays guitar, piano, trumpet and flügelhorn. Together they wrote a White Shadow treatment and plan to do a screenplay—perhaps with an eye toward TV's fickle nature. "One minute it's 'We love you more than ourselves,' " smiles Wilson knowingly, "and the next season you're gone." Pringle isn't worried. In her brief first marriage she thought of motherhood in terms of "How will it mess up my career?" Now the star of White Shadow glows: "If a woman can go through labor, she can do anything. Being a mother is my favorite role."

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