An Actress Named Swoosie (Yes, It's Her Real Name) Charms Broadway and Sidney

updated 04/05/1982 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/05/1982 01:00AM

'I go crazy in everything I do—I'm real critical'

When his daughter was born in 1944, Col. Frank Kurtz was already well-known for piloting the famous Flying Fortress nicknamed "The Swoose" (half swan, half goose). A patriotic nurse wrote the name on the birth certificate, Mom said okay, and the baby forever after became Swoosie Kurtz. Despite the name, she has never bombed. For 15 years Swoosie has been amassing an enviable array of theatrical credits, capped by her 1981 Tony-winning performance as the foul-mouthed hippie heiress in Fifth of July. Now, at 37, the self-confessed "late bloomer" is scoring her most popular success as the unwed mother who lives with gay bachelor Tony Randall on NBC's Love, Sidney. Raved one critic of Swoosie: "She combines the charm of Sally Field with the comic timing of Soupy Sales—and somehow looks like both."

However, when Randall, 62, sat in the Fifth of July audience last year to check her out for his TV show, she was less concerned with her looks than her lines. "He's going to hate me," she fretted. "I said f—every other word in the play. I thought he'd be very uptight, the image you see on TV." Swoosie, a Broadway partisan, wasn't enthusiastic about TV, but three days later she was offered the part. She took it because of Tony ("He's wonderful") and because the sitcom was to be shot in New York. A confirmed Manhattanite since 1967, Swoosie "wasn't thrilled" when a foul-up over studio availability switched production to Burbank for eight episodes. (She bunked with her parents in nearby Toluca Lake, Calif.)

She's even more outspoken about NBC's reluctance to bring Randall's character out of the closet. The caution is "absurd," she fumes. "Sidney's as gay as a $3 bill. We're talking five feet off the ground." At first, she adds, the thought of a standard network contract optioning her services for five years "paralyzed me." But she got over her fright by comparing her contract to the uncertainties of marriage. "You can always get divorced. I was thinking about things too permanently." Swoosie has had little experience with staying put. Born in Omaha, she attended 17 schools in eight states because of her father's nomadic military career. She studied drama at USC from 1962 to 1964, followed by two years at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She made her film debut as a hockey wife in Paul Newman's 1977 Slap Shot and appeared in 43 on-and off-Broadway roles, notably in Molière's Tartuffe. She just finished playing "a New York hooker" in the forthcoming The World According to Garp. "I missed the ingenue trap," she notes. "I've done a string of neurotic, foul-mouthed women."

Now back in her one-room New York apartment, Swoosie reads, does yoga and eats out "all the time." As for her personal life, she states, "I have a very good friend I see all the time. But we're not engaged." The friendship reportedly is social rather than romantic. "If you say you live with someone, everyone figures, 'Oh, hell, she's taken!' If you say you're not, they wonder, 'What's wrong with her—she's an old spinster?' I'll tell you some dirt," she winks. "I usually wind up with dark, Jewish types, but there's no commitment. I'd love to find a wonderful man—and I'm always looking."

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